The Health Benefits of Olive Oil
“The weather becomes cold and the sea swells,
– it all tells me that winter has arrived for me –
and I must, promptly, pick my olives –
for the offer of virgin oil on the altar of my good god.”
– Frederic Mistral, Nobel Prize winner (1904)
Olive oil is renowned. Poems are written about it, biblical stories tell of Noah sending out a dove that brings back an olive branch, there’s even a convention (The International Conference on Olive Oil and Health) where people from all over the world can gather to discuss this important golden liquid.
Olive oil lost its popularity during the coconut oil buzz, but it’s making a comeback. Trendy eateries are tempting us with artisan bread with a side accompaniment of olive oil (try the recipe below). Dip it and stuff it in your face because it’s delicious and good for you.
Let’s go through how life-giving this common essential pantry item can be.
Olive oil is high in many antioxidants; polyphenols, tocopherols, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), linoleic acid and vitamin E.
As you can see there are a lot of goodies in olive oil, so for the purpose of this article we will just cover the MUFAs.
MUFAs are excellent in resisting oxidation1. This is very good news for the prevention and treatment of heart disease risk factors. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL – bad cholesterol) are damaging to our body’s artery walls2. The EUROLIVE study (2006) found that after a short, three week period of consuming an achievable 25ml per day of virgin olive oil — that’s just under two tablespoons — high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the good cholesterol) increased and circulating oxidised LDL decreased2.
The benefits were found more so in the consumption high-polyphenol olive oil2.
The process of extracting oil from the olive plant affects the nutrient profile of the oil. To be claimed as extra virgin olive oil, the olive fruit must be cold pressed.
Cold pressing retains antioxidants and vitamin E3 and the short processing time of six to eight hours captures the nutritive properties1.
Centrifugation, the processes of crushing the olive fruit, maintains the high phenolic levels4, approximately 150 to 350 mg per kg of olive oil2.
Other polyphenol-rich foods include cocoa and green tea2.
There has been some up-in-arms about the use of olive oil in cooking, mainly with frying due to its low smoke point. This is around the time coconut oil came on to the scene…
Olive oil’s smoke point varies between 160 to 242°C5. Anything higher than this temperature causes glycerol to break down in to acrolein5. Not to mention that the polyphenols which also contribute to flavour and aroma are lost when heated5. Acrolein may result in undesirable odour5.
Cooking your olive oil higher than 60°C with begin to destroy the polyphenolic compounds and increase unsaturated fatty acids6. A temperature higher than 180°C will damage any other nutritive components6.
However there has been a lot of back-peddling about the smoke point criticism. If you are getting to these high end temperatures using the fry pan at home on a regular stove top, you might want to call 000 and isn’t something you need to worry too much about.
If you would like to know more about cooking with olive oil, try this article from seriouseats.com.
To make the most of the health benefits of olive oil, use it in its original form, drizzled over a salad, in dressings or as a condiment.
Food Hermetica suggests trying this recipe from unsophisticook.com, with a wholegrain bread or bread alternative.
How do you enjoy olive oil? We’d like to hear how.
Place your ideas in the comment box below.
*Any information provided by Food Hermetica is a guide only and should not replace medical advice. Reader discretion is advised.
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- Cobram Estate. (2011b). Explore Australian olive oil: Myths and FAQs [website]. Retrieved from http://cobramestate.com.au/explore_myths
- Covas, M., , Nyysso¨ nen, K., Poulsen, H., E., Kaikkonen, J., Zunft, H., J., Kiesewetter, H.,… Marrugat, J. (2006). The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 145, 333-341.
- Cobram Estate. (2011a). Explore Australian olive oil: Classifications [website]. Retrieved from http://cobramestate.com.au/explore_ classification
- Salvador, M., D., Aranda, F., Gomez-Alonso, F., & Fregapane, F. (2003). Influence of extraction system, production year and area on Cornicabra virgin olive oil: A study of five crop seasons. Food Chemistry, 80(3), 359-366. doi: 10.1016/S0308-8146(02)00273-X
- Brown, A. (2015). Understanding food: Principles and preparation. (4th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
- Frankel, E., N. (2010). Chemistry of extra virgin olive oil: Adulteration, oxidative stability and antioxidants. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(10), 5991-6006. doi: 10.1021 /jf1007677