Olive Oil: The Salad Superstar.

Olive is not just a dietary staple in the Mediterranean region, but also enjoys the reputation of being a healthy oil in the United States. It is valued not only for its flavor, but also for its range of wellness benefits. Learn more about this plant-based oil – its uses (why I recommend drizzling it cold on salads, not cooking with it), health value, and how to identify and avoid good oil that’s gone bad.

What Is Olive Oil?

olive oilOlive oil is pressed from fresh olives and is made mainly in the Mediterranean, mostly in Italy, Spain, and Greece. It is available all year round. Just like in wine-making, several factors affect the character of the oil, including climate, soil, and the way the olives are harvested and pressed.

The flavor, smell, and color of olive oil can vary significantly, based on its origin and whether it is extra virgin (finest grade) or not. Generally, the hotter the country, the more robust the flavor will be.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades olive oil based on flavor, odor, absence of defects, and acidity. Extra virgin olive oil is described as having an excellent flavor and odor, and a free fatty acid content of ≤ 0.8 g per 100 g (0.8%).

Uses of Olive Oil

Olive oil can be flavored with herbs and spices, which you can steep in the oil for 10 days or so. If you’re using chili, you need far less time.

olive oil for spaHowever, it’s important to note that olive oil is not recommended for cooking – I prefer using it cold, usually drizzled on salads and other foods. Extra-virgin olive oil’s chemical structure and its large amount of unsaturated fats make it very susceptible to oxidative damage when used for cooking. Whenever you need an oil to cook with, I recommend using coconut oil instead of olive oil, other vegetable oils, butter, margarine, and other oils.

Good Housekeeping lists several surprising uses of olive oil, including for healthy skin. Olive oil has been used for centuries for moisturizing skin, partly because of its linoleic acid. You can consume the oil, apply it directly on skin, or add a bit to a warm bath for a good soak.

Olive oil can also be used as a safe, natural lubricant for a close shave and as a soothing aftershave (rub on an extra teaspoon of it after you rinse off). It can also help soothe chapped lips – make a balm by mixing olive oil and melted beeswax in a 1:1 ratio, and add an essential oil for fragrance. According to the website AltUse.com, it can also moisturize your cuticles when you apply it directly before applying polish or buffing nails.

Composition of Olive Oil

One hundred grams (3.5oz) of olive oil has 100 grams of fat – monounsaturated (77 grams), polyunsaturated (8.4 grams), and saturated (13.5 grams).

Apart from its large amount of unsaturated fats that make it very prone to oxidative damage, extra virgin olive oil has a significant drawback even when used cold: it’s still extremely perishable. It contains chlorophyll that accelerates decomposition and makes the oil go rancid quite quickly.

Benefits of Olive Oil

Olive oil is touted for a number of beauty benefits, including the following:

  • oil body massageMoisturizing skin
  • Improving skin elasticity and its regenerative properties
  • Providing antioxidants and good fats to fight free radicals and facilitate skin healing
  • Reducing under-eye wrinkles
  • Massaging dry, flaky scalp or dandruff
  • Massaging frizzy hair or split ends (lightly warmed olive oil)

But its benefits are not only skin-deep. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, helping lower your risk of heart disease. It may even benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, and therefore potentially lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Good-quality olive oil contains important vitamins and nutrients and is loaded with antioxidants. This oil is also noted to be gentle on your digestive system, and may help in preventing gallstones and soothe ulcers.

How to Make Olive Oil

The craft of making olive oil has been mastered in the Mediterranean region over thousands of years now. Each grower can have a unique way of tending the trees and producing the oil. The trees are matured for several years before they produce olives.

After olives are picked, they are washed and the leaves, twigs, and stems are removed. Afterwards, they are processed to extract the water and oil, which are then separated. The olive oil is stored in stainless steel containers at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent breakdown before bottling and shipping.

Extracting oil from olives is better reserved for expert growers and producers, but you can immediately enjoy high-quality olive oil in your salads and other no-cook recipes. Here is one you can try.

Thyme Chicken Salad

Ingredients:

2 cups dark-meat chicken, cooked & chopped
1/2 cup raw cashews
2 stalks organic celery, chopped
Small handful organic fresh Italian parsley, chopped (may also use curly parsley)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh, raw cream
1/2 teaspoon prepared mustard
Splash of organic olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon

Preparation:

  1. Place chicken, cashews, celery, parsley, thyme and onion in medium-sized bowl.
  2. Add lemon juice, raw cream and mustard (the secret ingredient).
  3. Add splash of organic olive oil.
  4. Mix well.

How Does Olive Oil Work?

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are found in both plant and animal sources, such as olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds, and avocado.

Some of the positive actions of this type of fat include:

  • Decreased breast cancer risk – A study of women in Sweden found that those whose diets were higher in monounsaturated fats (compared to polyunsaturated fats) showed less frequent incidence of breast cancer.
  • Reduced LDL or “bad” cholesterol level
  • Lower risk for heart disease and stroke – Diets high in MUFAs are linked to a healthy heart and fewer strokes.
  • Weight management – Research has found that switching to monounsaturated fat from diets with trans fat resulted in weight loss.
  • Less severe pain and stiffness for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers
  • Reduced belly fat – A study by the American Diabetes Association linked diets with monounsaturated fat with better belly fat loss than high carbohydrate diets.

Is Olive Oil Safe?

As previously mentioned, olive oil is ideal as a salad dressing and should not be used for cooking, as it can be easily damaged by heat. Polyunsaturated fats, which include common vegetable oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, and canola, are the worst oils to use – they have double bonds that make them highly susceptible to heat damage.

fresh olivesHere are four signs of defective olive oil, as reported by The Olive Oil Times:

    1. Rancidity – Remember that rancid olive oil smells like crayons, tastes like rancid nuts, and has a greasy mouth feel. So beware of leaving your bottle of olive oil right on the counter, opening and closing it multiple times in a week. Any time it is exposed to air and/or light, it oxidizes. The chlorophyll in extra virgin olive oil speeds up the oxidation of the unsaturated fats.

Treat olive oil as you would other sensitive omega-3 oils by keeping it in a cool and dark place, purchasing smaller bottles instead of larger ones to ensure freshness, and immediately replacing the cap after each pour.

  1. Fusty oil – Your oil should not have a fermented smell to it, reminiscent of sweaty socks or swampy vegetation. See this quality on table olives – brown and mushy Kalamata-style olives show the flavor of fusty.
  2. Moldy olives – If your olive oil tastes dusty or musty, it’s likely because it was made from moldy olives.
  3. Wine or vinegar flavor – If it tastes like it has undertones of wine and vinegar, it’s probably because the olives underwent fermentation with oxygen, which leads to the sharp, unpleasant flavor.
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2 thoughts on “Olive Oil: The Salad Superstar.

  1. I tried sending an email but couldn’t find a contact us. The post about fat in olive oil says that there is 1 gram of fat per 1 gram of olive oil. This is obviously a typo and I just wanted to let you guys know. If it’s not a typo I hope you will research this and realize how crazy it is to say that olive oil has a 1 to 1 ratio of fat to olive oil per gram. Also your proportions of unsaturated per 100 grams is wildly incorrect as well.

    I’m not meaning to be a jerk, just trying to help

    Composition of Olive Oil

    One hundred grams (3.5oz) of olive oil has 100 grams of fat – monounsaturated (77 grams), polyunsaturated (8.4 grams), and saturated (13.5 grams).

    Apart from its large amount of unsaturated fats that make it very prone to oxidative damage, extra virgin olive oil has a significant drawback even when used cold: it’s still extremely perishable. It contains chlorophyll that accelerates decomposition and makes the oil go rancid quite quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, is a major component of the Mediterranean diet. Populations from that region have longer life expectancies and lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, compared with North Americans and Northern Europeans.

      Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are considered a healthy dietary fat, as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats.

      This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.

      What is olive oil?
      Olive oil is a fat obtained from the fruit of the Olea europaea (olive tree), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean region, where whole olives are pressed to produce olive oil.

      The oil is used in cosmetics, medicine, cooking and soaps, and was also used as a fuel for traditional lamps. Although originating in the Mediterranean countries, today it is used worldwide.

      Greece has the highest olive oil intake per person in the world. Greeks consume, on average, 24 liters per-person-per-year, according to the North American Olive Oil Association1. Spaniards and Italians consume about 15 and 13 liters-per-person-per year, respectively.

      What are the health benefits of olive oil?
      Over the last 50 years, there have been thousands of studies examining the health benefits of olive oil. Below are some examples:

      Olive oil and the cardiovascular systemAceite de oliva españa
      In 2010, more than 45% of global olive oil
      production came from Spain
      Olive oil is the main source of dietary fat in the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a low death rate from cardiovascular diseases compared to other parts of the world.

      Maria-Isabel Covas, at the Parc de Recerca Biomèdica de Barcelona, Spain, carried out an extensive review of studies that had focused on the biological and clinical effects of olive oil.

      The study was published in the journal Pharmacological Research2.

      The study found that people who regularly consume olive oil are much less likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, and hyperlipidemia (high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels).

      Covas also found that regular olive oil intake helps reduce inflammation, endothelial dysfunction (problems with the inner linings of blood vessels), thrombosis and carbohydrate metabolism.

      Covas concluded “The wide range of *anti-atherogenic effects associated with olive oil consumption could contribute to explain the low rate of cardiovascular mortality found in Southern European Mediterranean countries, in comparison with other western countries, despite a high prevalence of coronary heart disease risk factors.”

      *Anti-atherogenic means preventing the hardening of the arteries and the development of atherosclerosis.

      Frying with olive oil does not raise heart disease risk
      People who regularly eat foods fried in olive oil do not have a higher risk of heart disease or premature death, researchers at the Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain reported in the BMJ (British Medical Journal).

      In this study, Professor Pilar Guallar-Castillón and colleagues surveyed 40,757 adults aged from 26 to 69 years over an 11-year period. They focused on the people’s cooking methods and dietary habits. None of the participants had heart disease when the study started.

      The team defined fried meals as food that had only been prepared by frying it. Participants were also asked whether their fried food was sautéed, battered or crumbed.

      The researchers concluded:

      “In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death.”

      Olive oil helps prevent stroke
      Dr. Cécilia Samieri, from the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux, France, and colleagues reported in the journal Neurology that olive oil may prevent strokes in older people.

      The team found that older people who regularly used olive oil for cooking and salad dressing or with bread had a 41% lower risk of stroke, compared with their counterparts who never consumed it.

      Dr. Samieri said, “Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.”

      Depression risk lower with olive oil, higher with trans fats
      People whose diets are high in trans fats – fast foods and mass-produced foods like pastries – may have a higher risk of depression, compared with those whose diets are rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

      According to a study carried out at the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain and published in PLoS ONE, olive oil appears to have a slight protective effect regarding depression risk.

      Dr. Almudena Sánchez-Villegas and colleagues added that their findings stood even after taking into account people’s overall diet, physical activity and lifestyle.

      The research team gathered and analyzed data on 12,000 volunteers over a period of 6 years. Their average age at the start of the study was 37.5 years. They had all regularly completed a 136-item questionnaire which had information on their dietary habits, lifestyle, and physical and mental health.

      The investigators counted the number of people with depression at the start of the study and then again during each follow-up. Cases of depression had to be those clinically diagnosed by a doctor.

      The study authors found that when they compared the volunteers who consumed trans fats regularly with individuals whose dietary fat consisted primarily of olive oil, the trans fat consumers had a 48% higher risk of developing depression.

      The amount of trans fat consumed was directly related to depression risk – the more they ate, the higher the risk.

      Olive oil may reduce breast cancer risk
      A team of scientists at the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain found a key mechanism by which virgin olive oil protects the body against breast cancer, in contrast to other vegetable oils.

      The researchers decoded a complete cascade of signals within the cells of breast tumors that are activated by virgin olive oil. They concluded that the oil reduces the activity of p21Ras, an oncogene, prevents DNA damage, encourages tumor cell death, and triggers changes in protein signaling pathways.

      The team found that while corn oil – which is rich in n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids – increased the aggressiveness of tumors, virgin olive oil had the opposite effect.

      They demonstrated that virgin olive oil is linked to a higher incidence of benign (non-cancerous) breast tumors.

      Olive oil helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels
      A Japanese study published in the Medical Science Monitor3 showed that LDL-cholesterol mean concentrations were lowered in 28 outpatients who were given olive oil supplements once a day for six weeks.

      LDL (low density lipoprotein) is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. The “good cholesterol” is called HDL (high density lipoprotein).

      The study authors concluded “These results point to an overwhelmingly beneficial influence of olive oil on the lipoprotein spectrum.”

      How extra virgin olive oil protects against alzheimer’s disease
      Oleocanthal is a type of natural phenolic compound found in extra-virgin olive oil. In laboratory experiments with mice, researchers discovered that oleocanthal helps shuttle the abnormal Alzheimer’s disease proteins out of the brain.

      As background information, the researchers explained that Alzheimer’s disease rates are lower in Mediterranean countries, where consumption of olive oil is higher than anywhere else in the world.

      Amal Kaddoumi and team set out to determine whether oleocanthal might help reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid, believed to be the culprit of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

      Their study was published in the journal Chemical Neuroscience.

      The team tracked the effects of oleocanthal in the cultured brain cells and brains of laboratory mice.

      They found that in both cultured brain cells and the mice’s brains themselves oleocanthal consistently boosted the production of two proteins and key enzymes known to be vital in the removal of beta-amyloid from the brain.

      The study authors concluded “Extra-virgin olive oil-derived oleocanthal associated with the consumption of Mediterranean diet has the potential to reduce the risk of AD or related neurodegenerative dementias.”

      Extra virgin olive oil helps prevent acute pancreatitis
      Extra virgin olive oil is rich in oleic acid and hydroxytyrosol, which affect the development of acute pancreatitis (sudden inflammation of the pancreas).

      Researchers at the University of Granada in Spain carried out an in vitro experiment which found that the components of extra virgin olive oil can protect from acute pancreatitis.

      Head researcher, María Belén López Millán said that “there is increasing evidence that there are oxidative-inflammatory processes involved in the origin of chronic diseases and that diet plays an important role in such processes.”

      Extra virgin olive oil protects the liver
      Investigators at the University of Monastir, Tunisia, and King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, carried out a study demonstrating that extra virgin olive oil may protect the liver from oxidative stress.

      Oxidative stress refers to cell damage associated with the chemical reaction between free radicals and other molecules in the body. Put simply, oxidative stress means cell damage.

      In this study, which was published in BioMed Central, Mohamed Hammami and colleagues reported that laboratory rats exposed to a moderately toxic herbicide that were fed on a diet containing olive oil were partially protected from liver damage.

      Hammami said “Olive oil is an integral ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. There is growing evidence that it may have great health benefits including the reduction in coronary heart disease risk, the prevention of some cancers and the modification of immune and inflammatory responses. Here, we’ve shown that extra virgin olive oil and its extracts protect against oxidative damage of hepatic tissue”.

      Olive oil protects from ulcerative colitis
      Ulcerative colitis, a fairly common long-term (chronic) disorder, is a disease that causes inflammation of the large intestine (colon). It is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that is similar to Crohn’s disease, a related disorder.

      Scientists at the University of East Anglia in England say that consuming more olive oil could help fend off ulcerative colitis.

      Dr Andrew Hart and team gathered and analyzed data on more than 25,000 people living in Norfolk, England. They were aged between 40 and 65 years. The volunteers were part of the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Diet and Cancer), spanning from 1993 to 1997. None of them had ulcerative colitis at the start of the study.

      The participants regularly completed questionnaires and kept detailed food diaries, which included information on their overall health and consumption of fats.

      In a 2004 follow up, the researchers compared the diets of those who had developed ulcerative colitis with those who had not.

      They discovered that the participants with the highest intake of oleic acid – a component of olive oil – had a 90% lower risk of developing ulcerative colitis compared to those with the lowest intake.

      Dr. Hart said “Oleic acid seems to help prevent the development of ulcerative colitis by blocking chemicals in the bowel that aggravate the inflammation found in this illness. We estimate that around half of the cases of ulcerative colitis could be prevented if larger amounts of oleic acid were consumed. Two-to-three tablespoons of olive oil per day would have a protective effect.”

      What is the nutritional value of 100g (3.5oz) of olive oil?
      Energy – 3,701 kJ (885 kcal)
      Carbohydrates – 0 g
      Fat – 100 g.
      – saturated 14 g
      – monounsaturated 73 g
      – polyunsaturated 11 g
      – omega-3 fat <1.5 g
      – omega-6 fat 3.5-21 g
      Protein – 0 g
      Vitamin E – 14 mg (93% of recommended daily intake for adults)
      Vitamin K – 62 μg (59% of recommended daily intake for adults).
      Olive oil and the U.S. Department of AgricultureOlive z02
      Olive oil is obtained from
      the fruit of the olive tree.
      The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is not a member of the International Olive Council, so their retail grades have no legal meaning in the U.S. Terms such as "extra virgin" may be used without legal limitations.

      However, as of October 2010, The U.S. Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil4 went into effect. The USDA's grading of olive oil is based on flavor, odor, absence of defects and acidity:

      U.S. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – has an excellent flavor and odor, and a free fatty acid content of ≤ 0.8g per 100g (0.8%).

      U.S. Virgin Olive Oil – has a reasonably good flavor and odor, and a free fatty acid content of ≤ 2g per 100g (2%).

      U.S. Virgin Olive Oil Not Fit For Human Consumption Without Further Processing – this is a virgin oil of poor flavor and odor.

      U.S. Olive Oil – this is an oil mix of both virgin and refined oils.

      U.S. Refined Olive Oil – this is an oil made from refined oils with some restrictions on the processing.
      These grades are voluntary.

      In many countries, including the USA, "light" or "extra light" olive oils are processed with heat and chemicals to take out impurities. The color and flavor is lighter, compared to virgin olive oils. Light olive oil is sometimes blended with other oils.

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