SUISSE news Summer 2017
Food & Beverage
July 2017

Olive Oil & Health - What Makes EVOO So Healthy

(Elena Lepori)


 The claims about the health benefits of the Olive Oil are often associated with a lifestyle that includes the so-called preferred “Mediterranean diet”.  Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the very essence, the cornerstone, or one could say the backbone of the Mediterranean cuisine. It is a real gourmet food with amazing nutritional values and not anymore a cheap commodity. To achieve the health benefits it is essential to chose a very high quality olive oil. It is crucial to know and understand a few very important basics facts about how a true Extra Virgin Olive Oil is made.     

Olive Oil is 98% constituted of very healthy mono-unsaturated fats. In order to function well and in harmony with our body and brain, these fatty acids are needed to maintain the cells structure and the membranes. This can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (ie diseases of the heart and the circulatory system).

Olive Oil contains high levels of mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and both are known to confer important health benefits. Our blood contains important compounds called lipoproteins, which carry the fats and the cholesterol in our body. There are two types:
  • The LDL’s (low density lipoprotein)
  • The HDL’s (high density lipoprotein)
LDL’s (low density) are the unhealthy lipoproteins because they deposit fat and cholesterol in the body tissues thereby creating plaques called atheromas, Atheroma’s* → they form atherosclerosis.

HDL’s (high density) lipoprotein on the other hand are good and beneficial because they prevent the formation of these atheromas’s* or fatty deposits in the arteries and ultimately help bring cholesterol cells that do attached our tissues back to the liver to be eliminated.

The high mono-unsaturated-fat and poly-unsaturated fats content of Olive Oil (linoleic & oleic acids) can have many positive effects on your health (contrary to the not so good saturated fats and trans-fats). They help lower these levels of LDL’s and other fats called triglycerides in the blood, without reducing the good ones, the HDL. So one could say that consuming good olive oil also increases the fluidity of your blood, acting a bit like a blood cleanser.

Olive Oil has also proven to play an important role in lowering our blood pressure, by both decreasing the Systolic (that represents the maximum pressure exerted on the arteries) and Diastolic (the minimum pressure exerted on the arteries) components of our blood pressure. This helps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease as well the reoccurrences of heart attacks from anyone recovering from a heart disease.

Etymology: Systolic (from the Greek systole = contraction) Diastolic (from the Greek diastole=dilatation drawing part) Blood pressure system: (is the force that blood exerts on the walls of blood vessels).

Studies have demonstrated that even in cases of obesity and diabetes a good olive oil rich in mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats can play a very important role in balancing and controlling absorption of sugar in one’s blood system. Such findings are consistent with previous studies that have linked a diet rich in Extra Virgin Olive Oil to higher level of insulin thus making it beneficial to the metabolism of carbohydrates to people with type 2 Diabetes, by helping to prevent and lessening the spiking of blood sugar levels especially after a meal containing Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has also been proven to be beneficial with controlling chronic inflammation of the tissues.

Olive Oil is rich in many important organoleptic compounds and oligo elements and most important antioxidants polyphenols and Vitamins A, C and E (tocopherol), (ii) chlorophyll and carotene resulting from the natural pigment of the olive skin (which gives the oil its colour).

What are the Polyphenols of the oil: They are highly antioxidant substances contained in the fruit of the olive when it is harvested and picked healthy but mostly unripe. Polyphenols are responsible for that typical bitter and pungent/pepperiness sensation to the taste in the back of the tongue and in the throat. This results in different degrees of intensity depending on the oil, that is if it is of a light, medium or intense fruitiness and on also of the proper characteristic of the cultivar variety.

It is the polyphenol’s that give the oil its true healthiness value! And EVOO’s high in polyphenols always come with a very low acidity point.   

What exactly are Polyphenols?

These are very complex biological substances that can slowdown and neutralize the damaging attack of ‘free radical’ to our cells by neutralizing their negative effects. ‘Free radical’ are reactive atoms produced in our body by natural biological processes and also by external sources, like tobacco, (smoking), ambient pollutants and toxins in our air, water, etc., which damage and alter the DNA structure of our cells, making them age prematurely. This can be especially noticed on our skin, i.e. dark spots.

Ultimately what makes up the difference between one olive oil and another in terms of quality, taste and style has a lot to do with the many important factors and steps of the olive oil production. Careful consideration, high skills and very strict rules must be followed during all the delicate phases of oil production in order to achieve the desired properties and high quality of the oil; all for the benefit of your health!              

Elena Lepori 
Olive Oil Sommelier, Taster, Educator and Consultant
Toronto  
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