The Magic of Olive Oil
Olive oil has been commonly used
since ancient times, as a food, in cooking, as an anointing medium, a nourishing
lubricant for the skin and hair and as fuel for traditional oil lamps.
by Eva Urbaniak, N.D.
In more recent times, manufacturers of cosmetics, soaps and pharmaceuticals
have also successfully developed and marketed products containing olive
Olive oil has also become more popular among health conscious consumers.
Since the health status today of the typical American consumer is seriously
in jeopardy, there is more good news, through research, about olive oil.
First, let's delve into a few general facts about dietary fats.
Types of Dietary Fat:
Saturated, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated
- Saturated fats are solid
at room temperature and happen to be very resistant to rancidity. Animal
foods like butter, lard, and hydrogenated oils, palm and coconut oils
are all members of this group. (Although there has recently been more
research done on the benefits of coconut oil, it is still a saturated
fat.) Saturated fats contribute to heart disease by raising blood levels
of fat and "bad," or LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.
However, some saturated fats like those found in avocados, are actually
- Monounsaturated fats are
liquid at room temperature and are fairly resistant to rancidity (oxidation).
A type called oleic acid, concentrated in certain vegetable oils (olive,
peanut, canola, and new hi-oleic hybrids of sunflower and safflower);
helps prevent heart disease by reducing blood levels of overall fat
and LDL cholesterol.
- Polyunsaturated fats are also
liquid at room temperature but are highly prone to rancidity. In moderation,
they do not promote heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts,
seeds, whole grains, and common cooking oils (corn, sesame, sunflower
High oleic monounsaturated
oils, like olive oil, are consumed by Mediterranean peoples, and although
their diet is fairly high in fat, they enjoy low rates of heart disease.
The fat in their diet is primarily olive oil. However, their American
counterparts consume huge amounts of saturated and hydrogenated fats (margarine,
Crisco) through eating fast food and highly processed food, and heart
disease continues to be our number one killer.
Research now solidly backs up the health benefits of olive oil. Consuming
more heart-healthy oils like olive oil in cooking, dipping and salad dressings
is most certainly a wise thing to do.
So, not all fat is bad.
Until fairly recently, it was
believed that blood levels of cholesterol, other fats like triglycerides
and LDL cholesterol caused atherosclerosis. While overall fat intake is
a critical factor, new research has shown that the immediate cause is
oxidation of these fats in the blood. Olive oil is the only oil that has
the unique property of being able to directly lower circulating fats and
LDL cholesterol in the blood and to help prevent the oxidation of these
Some of the other benefits of
olive oil are that it contains no cholesterol, consists of approximately
82% monounsaturated fat, and can lower LDL cholesterol without affecting
HDL (high-density lipoprotein), or good cholesterol levels. And since
the ratio of these two levels (HDL should be higher and LDL lower) is
considered more important than overall cholesterol levels, improving the
ratio with the use of olive oil can directly lower the risk of atherosclerosis
(fatty deposits in the arteries) and heart disease.
Do you recall Morgan Spurlock, the "Supersize Me" man? He went
on a diet of nothing but fast food, and became so sick, his doctor demanded
that he stop his experiment or risk possible imminent death. Within a
very short period of time of eating these unhealthy fats, his blood lipids
went completely haywire.
One of the serious problems with fast food is that the oil in which French
fries are cooked is super heated over and over again and most probably
does not get changed on a daily basis. Each time the oil is re-heated,
it becomes altered and starts to break down. Decomposition of the oil
results in the creation of hydroperoxids and aldehydes. Aldehydes are
toxic compounds which create oxidative stress in cells, are generators
of free radicals, and are known contributors to degenerative illnesses.
I recall a patient years ago who wanted to make some positive changes
in his diet. He confessed to succumbing on a regular basis to fast food
meals, burgers and French fries, junk food, etc. I drew his blood and
put the tube in the centrifuge in order to separate the red blood cells
from the plasma, which contains water, serum, and protein substances in
solution. Normal plasma is clear, thin and colorless, or has a slight
yellow tinge. After centrifuging, all the red blood cells drop to the
bottom of the tube, and the upper half of the tube contains the clear
plasma. A few minutes later when I went to retrieve the blood sample,
I could not believe my eyes when I saw the plasma half of the tube filled
with a substance that looked like the filling from a chocolate eclair.
It was definitely not clear, but thick, yellow and creamy-looking. His
analysis came back with an overall cholesterol level elevated at over
300mg/dL (optimal is less than 200mg/dL), high triglycerides, above 400mg/dL
(optimal is less than 150mg/dL), high LDL cholesterol at 200mg/dL (optimal
is less than 100mg/dL) and HDL was low at just under 40mg/dL, (optimal
is higher, 60mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease).
What separated in that centrifuge visually and indisputably convinced
me that it was fat, thick, sticky, oxidized fat that was circulating in
this patient's arteries, laying down the groundwork for a heart attack
or stroke in his future if he did not change his dietary ways.
Olive oil was definitely part of his treatment plan.
Extra virgin olive oil, the purest and best olive oil, because of its
high levels of polyphenol antioxidants, also exerts anti-inflammatory,
anti-clotting, and anti-hypertensive effects. In both animal and human
studies, it brought about relaxing of the arteries, making them more elastic.
It is theorized that, in the long term, increased elasticity of arterial
walls reduces vascular stress and consequentially the risk of two common
causes of death-heart attack and stroke. This could explain the lower
incidence of both diseases in regions where olive oil and olives are consumed
on a daily basis. Olive oil also aids in bone mineralization, liver and
gall bladder function, and is even part of the famous liver flush regime
that has saved many people from having their gallbladders removed. It
also provides necessary fatty acids for normal growth and development
in children and prevention of calcium loss in the elderly.
Incorporating about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily may
reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. But the olive oil should replace
a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of
calories eaten in a day.
Breakthroughs in Cancer Research with Olive Oil
It has been known for some time now, that women who eat a Mediterranean
diet high in olive oil have a lowered breast cancer risk. A study published
in 2005 in the Annals of Oncology determined that the oleic acid in olive
oil suppressed the cancer-causing gene in breast cells grown in culture.
It also verified that oleic acid worked synergistically with an anti-cancer
antibody drug, killing cancer cells. This study confirmed the fact that
the Mediterranean Diet, and more specifically, olive oil, can affect cancer
cells. Olive oil is also accessible, safe, and inexpensive.
Commercial Grades of Olive Oil....What Kind is Best?
Maybe you have wondered, as I did, what the difference is between extra
virgin, virgin, and just plain olive oil. The greatest health benefits
of olive oil are found in extra virgin or virgin olive oil, and the price
range can go from reasonable to astronomical. Organic oil is also available.
The basic guidelines for an olive oil to be called virgin olive oil are
that the oil is extracted only by manual or mechanical means, and there
are no alterations to the oil by any kind of chemical treatment. Extra
virgin olive oil is a virgin olive oil with a free acidity of not greater
than .8%, along with meeting the other requirements for virgin olive oil.
This oil adds flavor to salad dressings, is delightful for dipping bread
combined with balsamic vinegar and can be used to enhance the flavor of
Most people are familiar with the expression "EVOO", thanks
to TV's Rachel Ray. (It is certainly faster and easier to say than "extra
virgin olive oil.")
Virgin olive oil has a free acidity of 2% and also meets the aforementioned
requirements for a virgin olive oil. This is a good oil to brush on meat
before cooking, or when stir-frying, or other high heat cooking methods.
It is almost as good as extra virgin olive oil but less expensive.
Olive oil is a wonderful natural product that can enhance health
in many ways, internally and externally. Try some today!
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