Olive oil is the most basic fat source of the Mediterranean diet – a diet that most Greeks believe that they follow (although, the truth is that, older generations used to follow it much more than the younger ones!). As we have already said, people’s eating habits have changed a lot, especially over the past few years. However, olive oil keeps playing a very important role not only in cooking but also in the people’s health.
So, what is going on with this oil? It has been spread globally due to its nutrients and its health benefits. Are you aware of these benefits? Do you know how much is good for you to consume? What is the best way to eat it? Cooked or raw?
So, let’s go answer all these questions…
1. Protects us from cardiovascular diseases.
Due to the low rates of cardiovascular diseases that have been observed in Mediterranean countries, there has been a lot of relevant research in order to examine the reason behind these rates. So, research that was conducted in Greece, Italy, and Yugoslavia, showed that olive oil reduces the chance of cardiovascular diseases, because of its ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids. What does that mean? The monounsaturated “good” fats that it contains, and specifically the oleic acid, seem to reduce the bad LDL cholesterol, increase the good HDL cholesterol and helps to keep the heart healthy.
2. Is rich in antioxidants and vitamin Ε.
Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, phenols, and vitamin E. Specifically, the consumption of 50g olive oil seems to give our body 9 mg of phenols, while at the same time it is the oil that contains the most antioxidants in comparison to the others. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, and along with the phenols, they help with fighting the free radicals and protecting the skin from them. Moreover, there are positive indications that it may help protecting from oxidative stress and skin aging. Olive oil, also, seems to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
3. Contains the good “Omega-3’’ fatty acids.
The amount of Omega-3 EPA fatty acids that olive oil contains, is 32% of the recommended daily intake. The Omega-3 fatty acids help the brain’s development – especially in embryos- and the memory’s improvement. Also, recent research indicates that the consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids reduces the chance of getting autoimmune diseases, increased blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Especially young students and athletes have to consume olive oil, along with their lunch/dinner, on a daily basis since it may boost their concentration and performance levels.
4. Helps in maintaining a healthy body weight.
When you consume it in the right quantities (2-3 tbs per day), olive oil helps in maintaining a healthy weight while it has all the aforementioned benefits and nutrients for the body. This is the reason why it is a main part of the Mediterranean diet and so much research has been conducted around it.
The best way to take advantage of its benefits is to consume 3 tablespoons daily, to prefer the extra virgin olive oil due to the amounts of antioxidants that it contains, and also due to its strong flavor. Choose it for sautéing, for oven-baked or grilled dishes, raw in salads, vegetables, bread, and several other dishes. It would be good to avoid cooking it in high temperatures since when its bonds break, many trans and saturated fats are produced.
As you see, it is not only the special aroma and flavor that olive oil adds to food, but also all its nutrients that, in order to take advantage of, we have to consume it in the right quantities and in the right way.
This article was written in collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Sports Nutritionist Anna Maria Volanaki, MSc, BDA, SENr.