- Olive oil, especially when consumed at over half a tablespoon a day, can contribute to reduced risk of heart diseases and other health complications such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- As a key component of the Mediterranean diet, olive oil has high levels of monounsaturated fats that help lower “unhealthy” LDL cholesterol and boost “healthy” HDL cholesterol, aiding in reduction of disease progress.
- There are various types of olive oil available in the U.S. markets. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), extracted purely through mechanical and physical processes, is often recommended for its health and sensory benefits.
- Olive oil serves as a healthier alternative for cooking, replacing butter, margarine and other fats.
- The choice of olive oil or other plant-based oils should fit within a broader dietary pattern, focused on a moderate amount of plant-based fats and reduced intake of refined grains and sugars.
The ancients, particularly the Greeks, had long understood and lauded olive oil as the “elixir of rejuvenation and wellness.” Several studies continue to confirm their wisdom by shedding light on the advantages of inculcating olive oil into our daily nutritional plan.
It is theorized that consuming over half a tablespoon of olive oil each day could potentially attenuate the risk of heart diseases, basing on the findings of a 2020 research. A separate study, published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, presented data asserting that individuals who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil daily had smaller chances of premature mortality due to various health complications, such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and others compared to those who seldom or never included olive oil in their meals.
“Olive oil forms the cornerstone of a Mediterranean diet and its association with reduced mortality can be prominently seen in the Southern European countries. However, this is the pioneering long-term research showcasing such a health advantage in the United States,” stated Dr. Frank Hu, the study’s principal author, and a renowned professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
The Wonders of Olive Oil
Apart from notable plant oils, olive oil boasts the highest percentage of monounsaturated fats that decrease “unhealthy” LDL cholesterol and amplify “healthy” HDL cholesterol. It’s proven to lower blood pressure and contains plant-based compounds possessing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties instrumental in reducing disease progress, including heart diseases.
Olive oil is essentially derived from olive trees, primarily cultivated in the Mediterranean region for over 5,000 years. Spain is the leading producer of olive oils worldwide, with Italy and Greece following suit. In the 18th century, Spanish missionaries introduced olives to California, planting them along the coast. Currently, over 40,000 acres of olive trees are devoted solely for oil production across California, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, and Hawaii. However, local olive oil production constitutes a mere 5% of the 90 million gallons of olive oil consumed in the U.S. annually, as indicated by the American Olive Oil Producers Association.
The Various Types of Olive Oil
The U.S. markets are known to supply multiple grades of olive oil, ranging from regular to extra virgin olive oil – colloquially known as EVOO. EVOO is the primary fat source in a Mediterranean diet, often touted as one of the most healthful dietary patterns and a diet recommended by the American Heart Association to avert cardiovascular diseases.
EVOO is the fatty part of olive juice, extracted exclusively through mechanical and physical processes without any refinement. The absence of refinement ensures the preservation of both its sensory and health properties. Terms like “First-pressed” and “cold-pressed” accentuate that EVOO is a natural, unrefined product that has undergone a single, simple milling procedure without any additional processing to disturb its quality.
In contrast, regular olive oil undergoes a series of treatments such as refining, bleaching, deodorizing, and is later mixed with 5% to 15% EVOO. “Pure” or “light” are marketing terms designated for olive oil that has been refined and combined with a slight amount of EVOO to produce a product lighter in flavor, aroma, or color.
Dr. Hu’s recent study did not differentiate between the various grades of olive oil. Nevertheless, he cited European studies that showed superior health outcomes with EVOO, which contains a higher concentration of plant compounds and antioxidants than other edible oils.
The Versatility of Olive Oil
When cooking, olive oil can serve as a healthier alternative to butter, margarine, and other fats. For instance, substituting unhealthy fats with olive oil was correlated with a decreased risk of death in Dr. Hu’s study.
“Olive oil is an exceptionally healthier substitute for dietary fats, especially those derived from animals,” Hu stated.
Other liquid vegetable oils prove to be great substitutes as well. Significant evidence illustrates the heart-healthy benefits of soybean, canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, and other plant oils.
However, Christopher Gardner, the person in charge of nutrition research studies at Stanford Prevention Research Center in California, believes that no singular food or nutrient possesses as much health impact compared to the entire dietary pattern.
“A moderate amount of plant-based fat and reduced intake of refined grains and sugars are important goals for any healthy dietary pattern,” Gardner commented.
As EVOO can sometimes be more expensive than other vegetable oils, having a selection of several healthy plant oils handy can be beneficial for varying uses.
EVOO, known for its fragrant aroma and robust flavor, is best used for dressing salads or vegetables, replacing butter on whole-grain bread, or in traditional dishes like Thanksgiving’s mashed potatoes. Canola oil is virtually flavorless, therefore, it seems to perform well in baked goods. Other plant oils can be utilized for sautéing, marinades, and several other culinary purposes.