Olive oil has been thought of as ‘liquid gold’ due to its amazing health benefits. Apart from providing the body with much-needed, essential fatty acids, olive oil has been added to soaps, shampoos and conditioners due to its rich, moisturising properties. It has also been used in cosmetics and as fuel for oil lamps.

Grades of Olive Oil

Olive oil is a vegetable oil that has been extracted from crushed olives. There are over 750 million olive trees that have been cultivated worldwide, with about 95 percent being in the Mediterranean. The top producing countries of olive oil include Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, Portugal, the United States and France.

When it comes to culinary olive oil, there are various grades:

  • Virgin olive oil means that the oil was produced without any chemical treatments. This type of oil is generally darker than refined olive oil.
  • Refined olive oil means that the oil was produced using chemicals and is of lower quality oil than virgin olive oil.
  • Extra virgin olive oil contains no more than 0.8% acidity, while virgin olive oil has an acidity of less than 2 percent.
  • Standard olive oil has 1 percent acidity, however, it commonly lacks a strong aroma and flavour.

Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, which help to fight of free radicals causing damage to cells. It may help lower blood pressure and may protect the body against cardiovascular disease.

Olive oil plays an important role within the immune system as it protects it against bacteria and/or viruses. It also aids the digestive system by inhibiting gastric motility. This can help prevent ulcers.

Apart from its nutritional benefits, olive oil may assist with anti-aging by releasing antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenols and assisting in the lubrication of joints, thereby reducing the risk of bone degeneration.

Olive oil has been used in many beauty products as it provides excellent nourishment to the skin, nails and hair.

Nutrition Information for Olive Oil

One cup, or 216 grams of olive oil contains 1901 calories and 216 grams of fat. Of this fat content, only 29.1 grams are saturated, while 21.6 grams are polyunsaturated and 159.6 grams are monounsaturated. Both poly and monounsaturated fats are good for the body as they help fight off fat.

Olive oil is rich in MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acids) and is a major ingredient of the Greek, Southern Italian, and Spanish culinary traditions. When consumed as a substitute for butter or lard, olive oil appears to lower blood LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart attack. This may also help explain why CHD death rates are lower among Mediterranean populations. Their diets are higher in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products than the typical U.S. diet.

Furthermore, antioxidants in olive oil, fruits, and vegetables may protect body cells and tissues from damage by oxidation — a process that could set the stage for heart disease.

MUFA may also have other health benefits. In a study of 3,442 Italian women’s dietary habits, those who ate large amounts of olive oil (about 1.5 tablespoons) daily reduced their risk for ovarian cancer by 30 percent.

A survey of 5,632 elderly participants called the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging (ILSA) showed that the higher an individual’s MUFA consumption is, the lower the likelihood for developing age related cognitive decline — a mild deterioration in memory.

However, these results are preliminary. In the US, it is currently recommended that MUFA and PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) sources should be eaten more frequently than foods rich in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol — but within the parameters of 20 to 35 percent of total calories.

Olive oil for Eczema

Soothe flareups by applying olive oil directly to the irritated area, says Christopher Dannaker, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California San Francisco. Packed with antioxidants that can reduce the inflammation associated with eczema, olive oil is the basis for many moisturizers; when used alone, it lacks chemical irritants you may find in store bought creams. As a bonus, olive oil’s antioxidants help prevent and repair damage that can lead to wrinkles and brown spots.

Belly Buster?

Olive oil can help prevent belly fat accumulation, according to researchers at the Reina Sofia University Hospital in Spain. Add more heart-healthy olive oil to your diet by substituting it for butter in recipes and on bread, and by switching from your usual dressing to a mixture of olive oil and vinegar.

Buying Olive Oil

Olive oils vary considerably in taste and strength. Choose one with a flavor you like. In some cases we infused olive oils, such as chili or basil oil.

When purchasing olive oil, you want to look for olive oil packed in dark glass. This is because the dark glass protects the oil from degrading due to exposure to heat and light. It’s also a good idea to look for certified olive oil to be certain the oil is natural.

Infused Oils

You can buy these or make your own. To infuse oils, first wash and dry your chosen herb or spice and lightly bruise to release the flavor. Place the herbs or spices in a clean, sterilized jar or bottle and cover with warmed oil. Seal tightly and leave in a cool, dark place to infuse for about 2 weeks. Leave the herbs and spices in if you want a stronger flavor or a decorative look, otherwise strain. Use the oils within 2 months of initial bottling. Some suggested flavorings are basil, chili, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, cardamom, star anise or cloves.

Olive Oil Milkshakes

Olive Oil Milkshake: Blend 1 pint vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Top with flaky sea salt.

Olive Oil Almond Milkshake: Blend 1 pint vanilla ice cream, 1/4 cup almond milk and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Top with toasted almonds.

Olive Oil as a Folk Medicine

Internal uses of the oil in folk medicine include cholangitis, inflammation of the gallbladder, flatulence, constipation, gastrointestinal ulcers and kidney stones. Externally, it has been used for psoriasis, eczema, sunburn, mild burns and rheumatism. Its use as a lubricant for constipation and dry skin conditions appears plausible because of true oily characteristics. (Source: PDR for Herbal Medicines)

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