“A taste older than meat, older than wine. A taste as old as cold water.” (Laurence Durrell, Prospero’s Cell, 1945)
Olive oil is a fantastic product for your health no matter the diet you follow, but if you are willing to go vegan, then olive oil will be the real gold. It is especially precious for those who decide to stop eating meat and switch to a vegan diet thanks to its great effects on well being. It will keep you and your loved ones (including pets) in great shape, it will help you recover from illnesses, it will make your skin soft and hair shine, it tastes good and it makes a gorgeous present. Extra virgin olive oil is by far one of the best natural products in the world and it is perfectly suitable for vegan diet followers.
Attention though: five drops of extra virgin olive oil will not save you if your diet is based on products of animal origin and junk food. So let’s see what is it that makes it so nutritious, which are the health benefits you can achieve by adding it to your diet, and which types of olive oil are the ones you should choose?
Composition of olive oil
Please note that the below components refer only to extra virgin olive oil as oil made solely by mechanical ways without being processed by refining or blended with refined olive oil. It is wrong to assume that any type of olive oil has the same compounds and health benefits as the cold-pressed olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil contains mainly fats (triacylglycerols), antioxidants (polyphenols), squalene, tocopherols (vitamins), omega 3 and omega 6 acids, pigments and aromatic components, and a small amount of free fatty acids (acidity).
Oils contain mostly fatty acids (saturated, unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated). Unlike other vegetable oils, olive oil has more oleic acid (monounsaturated fatty acid) which makes it have a great oxidation resistance. This is an important attribute because oxidation affects the flavor and nutritional values of the oil. Oleic acid can be up to 83% of the composition of olive oil. It reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) which can create atherosclerotic plaque and increases the HDL cholesterol (the good one). There is no other natural oil to have such a big amount of monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has protective effects against chronic and degenerative diseases, attributed to the phenolic components of the olive oil. Polyphenols have the following health benefits: antioxidant activity, anti-inflammatory activity, anti-microbial activity, anti-atherogenic activity, anti-tumor, anti-platelet aggregation, anti-hypertensive activity, increased vitamin A and B carotene activity, anti-allergenic activity, and reduction in the levels of plasma cholesterol and oxidized LDL. Extra virgin olive oil contains at least 30 phenolic compounds. Generally, there are 5 mg of polyphenols in 10 gr of extra virgin olive oil.
Squalene is a natural organic compound and an important metabolic factor. It increases the synthesis of cholesterol, steroid hormones, and vitamin D in the human body. Squalene is used in cosmetics, and more recently as an immunologic adjuvant in vaccines. Some researches show that it has anti-cancer properties. Squalene content in olive oil is especially high, up to 0.7% (7 mg/g), compared to other oils and dietary fats. Squalene is found in high amounts in sebum (around 12% of its composition) and acts as a potent scavenger of singlet oxygen, inhibiting the lipo-peroxidation induced by ultraviolet (UV) radiations, thus having an anti-neoplastic influence on the colon, breast, and prostate, it has immune-stimulating properties and it can inhibit the development of various tumors. Also, it has a major protective effect against skin cancer.
Olive oil contains the tocopherols alfa, beta, gamma, delta. Tocopherols are compounds with vitamin E activity which is a natural antioxidant. Olive oil also contains Vitamin A, D, B complex, and K. Moreover, α-tocopherol defends the body against free radical attacks and prevents skin disorders, cancer, and arteriosclerosis. Some researchers have demonstrated a synergistic relationship between the antioxidant actions of some phenolics and tocopherols.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 acids
Olive oil contains both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential acids for the human body. Olive oil is generally 10% linoleic acid (omega-6 oil) and less than 1% linolenic acid (an omega-3 oil). Omega-3 fatty acids are important in preventing cardiovascular diseases.
Pigments and aromatic components
The color of olive oil comes from pigments like chlorophyll, pheophytin, and carotenoids. The aroma and the taste components are the result of enzymatic reactions. The color pigments and the flavor compounds increase the stomach secretion and help a better absorption of the natural antioxidants. There are approximately 280 compounds in the volatile fraction of virgin olive oils.
The free fatty acids are a result of the breakdown of the fats. Olive oil is classified according to its acidity (extra virgin can have a maximum of 0.8%). The lower is the acidity, the higher grade the olive oil will be. If the acidity is higher than 2%, the refining will lower the acidity up to 0.3% but will diminish its health benefits. Therefore a “pure” olive oil (as well as any other marketing term for the refined olive oil) with 0.3% acidity must not be considered better than an extra virgin with 0.8% or even a virgin with 1.5% acidity under no circumstances.
Health benefits of extra virgin olive oil
Cardiovascular diseases cause every year 25% of the deaths worldwide. Some of the most important causes of heart diseases are high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, inappropriate diet, obesity, alcohol, and smoking, but extra virgin olive oil has a solution for each of these factors. Switching to a vegan diet and replacing the animal saturated fat with extra virgin olive oil will help prevent cardiovascular diseases.
Cholesterol is a substance from foods of animal origin. The oleic acid from the triacylglycerols contained in extra virgin olive oil reduces LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) without decreasing the good cholesterol HDL, and by the contrary, in some cases increasing it. Researches show that olive oil consumption reduces the risk of heart disease and prevents recurrence after the first coronary event.
High-blood pressure. Almost 1 billion people globally suffer from high blood pressure and the number will increase by 50% in the next 10 years. Regular consumption of olive oil is decreasing both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Adding extra virgin olive oil to the diet without any other changes has a lowering effect on blood pressure.
Diabetes. Olive oil consumption can help prevent or delay diabetes by enhancing insulin sensitivity and controlling the level of sugar in the blood. It is a good treatment of the disease because it increases the HDL-cholesterol, lowers the bad low-density lipoproteins, improves the blood sugar level control, and lowers blood pressure. A diet, including olive oil, is perfectly suitable for people with diabetes.
Researches showed that extra virgin olive oil can protect the human body against certain malignant tumors in the breast, prostate, endometrium, and digestive tract by reducing cancerous lesions and making tumors less aggressive. Cancer can occur when toxins create free radicals that destroy DNA and create cell mutations. Antioxidants, polyphenols, and even squalene have a positive effect by fighting these free radicals. On the other side, oleic acid lowers the level of prostaglandins derived from arachidonic acid which is producing and developing tumors. Extra virgin olive oil might help prevent cancer and, in some cases, reduce its effects.
Extra virgin olive oil is very well tolerated by the stomach having positive effects on ulcers and gastritis. It reduces the risk of gastric juice coming up from the stomach to the esophagus. It facilitates optimal bile drainage, activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones much more naturally than prescribed medicines, and helps to prevent gallstones. Olive oil also stimulates the digestion of lipids and doctors recommend it if pancreatic function must be maintained (pancreas failure, chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, etc.). Has a laxative effect and solves the problem of constipation. It can also combat unpleasant breath.
Extra virgin olive oil diet has also positive effects on calcification of the bones and facilitates the absorption of calcium. This makes olive oil consumption very important in the period of growth and later for the prevention of osteoporosis. Studies show that people who consume olive oil have higher levels of osteocalcin which proves a healthy bone formation. Cases of osteoporosis are also fewer in Mediterranean countries than in the rest of Europe. Studies associate osteocalcin with preserved insulin secretion which may help prevent diabetes.
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, doctors recommend to consume more fat, preferably monounsaturated and to reduce as much as possible the saturated fats (animal origin fats). Olive oil consumption during labor prevents hypercholesterolemia and atherosclerosis, has a good effect on bone mineralization and development of the bones during infancy. Olive oil, as a great source of vitamin E, will help the mother provide this vitamin to the infant by breastfeeding and this will favor the hepato-biliary system of the newborn.
Beauty benefits of extra virgin olive oil
- oleic acid allows skin permeability
- an excellent moisturizer for dry skin areas, reduces lines and wrinkles, improves face color, and helps maintain elasticity
- offers protection from UV radiation (vitamin E and A, polyphenols, Squalene), soothes skin irritations and sunburn
- Squalene (a natural emollient, gives suppleness to the skin and great sunburn protection)
- The high content of antioxidants fights cell destruction and fragmented collagen
- the vitamins (all types of tocopherols) found in the extra virgin olive oil will heal the damage and not only hide it
- hypoallergenic and free from colors and dyes which can irritate skin
Ways of using it practically for beauty benefits
- – Perfect as a make-up remover, leaving soft pleasant skin
- – As a face cream, especially during the night
- – Very efficient to use around eyes to reduce the lines and dark circles
- – Perfect for body massage, reduces stretch marks
- – Basic ingredient for face masks or scrubs (alone or with other ingredients)
- – Helps relieve chapped lips
- – Perfect for dry surfaces like knees, ankles, elbows, and heels, heals dry, brittle nails, and softens cuticles.
How to choose the best olive oil
Olive oil is classified according to acidity given by the amount of free fatty acids as follows:
- Virgin olive oils with two subcategories;
- – fit for consumption (extra virgin with maximum 0.8% acidity, virgin with up to 2% acidity, and ordinary up to 3.3% acidity)
- – not fit for consumption (lampante virgin oil with acidity higher than 3.3%)
2. Refined olive oil
3. Olive oil (a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oils fit for consumption with acidity up to 1% after blending)
Extra virgin olive oil – this is the “Liquid Gold”!
What means Early Harvest Olive Oil? It is the cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil extracted from the first olives to be collected. This is a relatively unknown type of olive oil in the world, but it is highly prized in Greece. It is the juice of the green unripe olives and the production begins earlier than the one of extra virgin type, generally in October or early November according to the olive variety. These unripe olives have less oil inside but higher content of antioxidants which assures longer shelf life and higher nutritional values. The price is higher due to the cost of production. The Early Harvest olive oil has a dark green color, perfect flavor of freshness, and higher bitterness (given by higher content of antioxidants). Some refer to it as green olive oil.
Organic Early Harvest Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a nature’s masterpiece!
What means “cold-pressed”: the term refers to the temperature of a maximum of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or 27 degrees Celsius during the extraction. Extra virgin and virgin olive oil = cold-pressed.
Refined olive oil
Refined olive oil is obtained from virgin olive oils by refining, acidity after refining being 0.3%. Refining is a process that removes undesirable compounds such as free fatty acids, pigments, gums, unpleasant flavor, and odor. The most used type of refining is the chemical one when caustic soda and high temperatures will be used (at 180-270 degrees Celsius).
Refining of olive oil is a process in which the defects of the poor quality oil are removed. But it also removes the perfect attributes of olive oil. The high temperature, stripping gas, the thickness of the oil layer in the deodorizer, and length of the process create changes to the quality attributes of the olive oil: remove all the natural antioxidants and vitamins; increases the content of undesirable hydrocarbon stigmastadienes, a hydrocarbon formed because of thermal treatments during the refining process. Cold-pressed virgin olive oil will have an unmeasurable number of stigmastadienes (maximum 0.01 mg/kg), while the refined oil can have up to 30 mg/kg.
The refined olive oil is still a highly monounsaturated fat but processed and with newly added artificial features to create a similar but fake product. The refined olive oil has a yellow color and a mediocre taste. The oil might get oxidized easily and have a rancid taste. It is not advisable to consume it raw. If you tasted olive oil and you did not like it, I bet it was not the authentic extra virgin type but a refined blend most probably labeled as olive oil, pure olive oil, or light olive oil. Light indeed, not in calories (since all fats have the same calories) but in concern to all the rest.
Terms of marketing refined olive oils: olive oil, fino or fine olive oil, extra olive oil, light or extra light olive oil, pure olive oil, salad olive oil Etc. Do not bite it and do not buy it. By “marketing types” of olive oil, we mean the types that do not have the attributes of the extra virgin olive oil and were invented to attract consumers. These types of olive oil are commercial types, they do not exist in the legal classification and they are misleading the consumer by using the word “olive oil”. The world speaks more and more about the health benefits of olive oil without making it clear that this refers to extra virgin olive oil and not to whatever olive oil type.
Pure Olive Oil is not a clean, simple, genuine, absolute, mere, essential, unmixed, perfect, complete, harmless oil, but a blend of refined low quality that is not fit for consumption crude olive oil and a small amount of virgin olive oil. The Extra Light Olive Oil is not an olive oil with fewer calories but just another blend, another misleading label. Fino or Fine Olive Oil is another example. They do not have the benefits of extra virgin olive oil and they do not contain the natural juice of the olive fruit. These types are chemically controlled.
Basic rules to choose the best extra virgin olive oil:
1. Analyze the storing conditions of the retailer:
• Olive oil must be in a dry and cool place and it must not be exposed to light and heat.
2. Analyze the packaging:
- Never choose the transparent bottle because the light is affecting the taste and flavor of the product and if the manufacturer chose this packaging it means that olive oil was chemically processed.
- The packaging must be of dark glass or stainless steel can.
- The cap of the bottle is sealed and airtight.
3. Analyze the label
- Avoid the marketing types, choose exclusively the Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- The name and the address of the producer must be mentioned;
- Avoid the private label if the exact origin is not mentioned.
- Chose the product that was packed at its place of origin (if it was packed somewhere else, it means it was transported in bulk and it is very likely the product to have undergone oxidation);
- Check the expiry date: the natural products do not last forever! Olive oil is well preserved 18 months after packaging.
- The labeling “cold-pressed” or “by mechanical ways only” is an extra guarantee of high quality;
- Organic extra virgin olive oil is a better choice;
- P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin) and P.G.I. (Protected Geographical Indication) also inspire trust;
- If you still have doubts and do not know which bottle to choose between 2 or 3 different brands, choose the olive oil with the highest quantity of monounsaturated fats (some have up to 83% so check it out!)
Tips to recognize a good extra virgin olive oil when tasting it!
Smell it, pay attention to the flavor of fruits and freshly cut grass. You probably cannot stop enjoying its smell. But if it smells meaty, greasy, heavy, cooked or even chemicals, sorry, this is not the liquid gold. If you don’t like the taste of your olive oil, don’t buy that brand again, most probably it is a fake one.
The best way to taste olive oil is with a small piece of bread, preferably white (the black bread has a bitter taste and might be confusing). You will feel the aroma in your mouth and feel pleasure when swallowing it. It must feel good and must feel natural. A good olive oil must be bitter, but this bitterness is the best bitterness you ever tasted, given by the presence of antioxidants.
Hoping you have the authentic extra virgin olive oil in your hands, the only thing to say is “enjoy’!