A Mediterranean recipe for long life
The ‘Seven Countries Study' that was completed in 1980 traced the eating habits of the Mediterranean people. This study was the first international study which focused on the health-related benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet. The results of this study have lead to an abundance of further research which has both investigated and confirmed the nutritional, medicinal and disease-related benefits of olive oil.
It is well documented that the Mediterranean diet, which is high in antioxidants, appears to contribute significantly to its effect on age longevity. These antioxidants are found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Because it is the only oil to be obtained from a fruit, olive oil retains a host of substances, antioxidants and vitamins that give it added nutritional value.
Extra virgin olive oil (olive oil that has not been refined or industrially treated) like redisland and njoi, are particularly rich in these substances because they have not been stripped out by refining. These oils have a very strong antioxidant effect. The explanation behind this high content of antioxidants is probably that because the olive is a fruit that is exposed to the air, it has to defend itself from oxygen. It therefore synthesises a larger amount of antioxidants, which pass through to the oil.
So what are Antioxidants in olive oil?
Don't you just love how these terms are bandied around! Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), carotenoids and phenolic compounds (simple phenols such as hydroxytyrosol and complex phenols such as oleuropein) are all antioxidants which have been shown to help prevent certain diseases and help slow down some of the body's ageing processes.
The volume and type of phenolic compounds found in olive oil vary according to the climate in the growing area, when the olives are harvested and how ripe they are when picked. Australian olive oil like that used in redisland and njoi are high in these valuable antioxidants.
The production and storage methods of olive oil also have an influence. It is these phenols have countless biological properties, for instance hydroxytyrosol inhibits platelet aggregation and it is anti-inflammatory and oleuropein encourages the formation of nitric acid, which is a powerful vasodilator and exerts a strong anti-bacterial effect.
What is Oxidation?
Oxidation is a process that occurs not only when oil is being produced, but also inside our own bodies. Reactions occur continually inside the body, giving rise to the formation of free radicals (peroxidants). Oxidation is a complex, fundamental phenomenon in the process of cell ageing.
Cell membranes contain a large amount of fat and cholesterol and their composition depends on diet. When the diet contains a lot of olive oil, the cells are more resistant to oxidation, they do not deteriorate as much and ageing is slower. Approximately 1.5% of olive oil is made up of the unsaponifiable fraction, which contains antioxidants. Extra virgin olive oil contains the largest quantities of these substances and other minor components.
More Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Olive oil plays its part in a healthy diet by lowering the levels of total blood cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins (known as bad cholesterol or LDL-cholesterol), and triglycerides.
At the same time, it aids in maintaining and even raising the levels of high-density lipoproteins (known as good cholesterol or HDL-cholesterol).Therefore the ratio of LDL to HDL improves, lowering the risk of heart-disease. It is also thought that olive oil also makes LDLs more resistant to damage by free radicals.
Heart Disease and Blood pressure
Olive oil also contains compounds called polyphenols that can further lower your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Regular consumption of olive oil has been proven to have a decreasing effect on both systolic (maximum) and diastolic (minimum) blood pressure.
In 2006, olive oil was also proven to have a preventative effect on the formation of blood clots and platelet aggregation that can lead to arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Consumption of olive oil has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease (primary prevention), and in secondary prevention where it prevents recurrence after an initial coronary incident.
Obesity and abdominal fat
Olive oil is high in calories like any other fats and oils, but research states that there is less obesity amongst the Mediterranean people who consume the most olive oil. A diet rich in olive oil helps with greater and longer lasting weight loss when compared to a low fat diet. Moderate amounts of olive oil will also reduce abdominal fat, if eaten as part of a diet high in plant foods.
Research in 2003 also suggests that an olive oil rich diet is not only a good addition to the treatment of insulin dependent diabetes, but it may also help to prevent or delay the onset of the disease.
Assisting the prevention of cancer
Recent research indicates that the antioxidant properties of olive oil (Vitamin E, carotenoids and phenolic compounds) play a significant role in the prevention of certain diseases and cancers. These antioxidants have a protecting effect against certain malignant tumours in areas including the breast, lung, prostate, digestive tract, stomach, bowel, colon and ovaries.
It has also been shown that it has a protective result against childhood leukaemia. The monounsaturated fatty acid ‘Oleic acid' has significant protective effects against cancer as it has the capability of reducing the affect of an oncogene, a gene that will turn host cells into cancer cells. Research in 2003 also indicates that olive oil's squalene compound can aid in reducing the incidence of melanomas.
Research suggests that if regularly consumed, olive oil's antioxidant qualities can help to reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The specific compound ‘oleacanthal' which is also found in olive oil, has been proven to have an anti-inflammatory action similar to that of the popular painkiller, ibuprofen.
Olive oil is effective on the healthy development of newborns and infants. The regular consumption of olive oil also provides vital vitamin E for foetal growth and breastfeeding. It delivers essential fatty acids for the development of new-born babies and olive oil's high levels of oleic acid have a positive influence on growth, bone mineralisation and bone development during infancy. If women consume regular volumes of quality extra virgin olive oil during pregnancy, they are much more likely to give birth to children who are healthier in terms of height, weight behaviour and psychomotor reflexes than the children of mothers who do not consume olive oil.
Calming mild to moderate psoriasis
Recent medical research suggests that olive oil may also be helpful in the treatment of mild to moderate psoriasis, the skin disease that results in red or silvery scaly inflamed patches on the skin. Olive oil offers a much milder and gentler approach to calming the situation compared to the more chemically based therapies which can have many side effects.
Olive oil and age related diseases
Olive oil also acts like a natural anti-oxidant that slows down the natural aging process. Research suggests that as we age, olive oil appears to have a constructive effect on bone calcification and the prevention of osteoporosis.
Research also indicates that olive oil also has an inverse effect on age-related cognitive decline, memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Remember though that Olive Oil is only part of the equation and to protect your heart and health it needs to be part of an overall healthy diet.