Olives & Oils
From the proverbial olive branch grows a small green (sometimes black) fruit. The essence of this fruit is in the oil, a pungent liquid of light green-golden colour, with a reputation that spans generations and cultures.
In ancient times, olive oil was revered as a gift of the gods, for people to use as food, lamp fuel, medicine, aphrodisiac and cosmetic.
Today, olive oil has shed its mythical status, but it is no less important in the modern diet.
Laleli, founder of Laleli Olive Oil, who hails from Turkey, where olive groves dotting the landscape are a common sight.
The olive tree is native to countries that lie along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Greece and Egypt.
While the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats play the lead roles in olive oil’s success story, there are also other beneficial compounds like beta-carotene, vitamin E, sterols and polyphenols, which contribute to the other effects of olive oil.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
When it comes to the health benefits of olive oil, Dr Yahya, a solemn man who chooses his words carefully, comes as close as he ever will to gushing, during a recent talk organised by the National Heart Institute.
The most well-known effect of olive oil is on heart health. Dr Yahya attributes it to the high oleic acid (a type of monounsaturated fat) content, which lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol while maintaining “good” HDL cholesterol.
He also quotes a study carried out by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine Timone in Marseille, France. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the diets of 212 volunteer subjects, all of whom had a moderate risk for heart disease.
“To investigate the value of a Mediterranean diet, subjects were split into two groups, one to consume a low-fat diet and the other to take a Mediterranean diet (rich in whole grains, fruit, olive oil, vegetables and red wine),” says Dr Yahya.
“Results found that those who had taken the low-fat diet reported a drop in cholesterol of 4.5%. The group who had consumed the Mediterranean diet had a cholesterol reduction of 7.5%,” which he explains is translated into a 15% reduction of heart disease risk.
Olive oil is also believed to protect against cancer, including breast, colon and prostate cancer, although there are no definitive studies that prove this or demonstrate the mechanism of action.
Dr Yahya suggests that olive oil has a protective effect on age-related cognitive decline, and may even play a role in increasing longevity.
“A calorically-restricted diet – that includes all nutrients but has 30% fewer calories – has been found to extend the lifespan of rodents by 30 to 50%. Scientists hope, but do not yet know, whether the same will be true in people.
“One class of chemicals found to mimic calorie restriction is flavones, found abundantly in olive oil,” he explains.
Compared to other vegetable oils, olive oil ranks among the highest in terms of monounsaturated fatty acids, but loses out in the polyunsaturated fatty acids category.
However, Dr Yahya maintains that olive oil has the advantage, as it can be consumed as it is without refinery. Other oils have to undergo refinery, where the other benefits from the seed or plant, including plant sterols and phenolic compounds, are lost in the process.
The quality of olive oil is measured by its “virginity” – in other words, whether the oil was extracted from the fruit without any chemical treatment or refining, which may lead to alterations in the oil.
As a result, you have extra virgin, virgin and pure (a blend of refined and virgin) olive oil. Interestingly, the level of virginity does not only refer to the oil’s physical characteristics but also affects its beneficial properties.
For example, extra virgin olive oil is now known to have a similar anti-inflammatory activity to the painkiller ibuprofen. The anti-inflammatory properties are due to a compound called oleocanthal, which is what produces the stinging sensation at the back of the throat when you consume extra virgin olive oil.
The discovery is said to be significant because scientists believe that inflammation plays an important part in a variety of chronic diseases like stroke, heart disease, and breast and lung cancer.
Even our senses can give us a clue to which olive oils are more beneficial. The organoleptic characteristics of olive oil, as perceived by our sense of smell and taste, are used to grade the quality of the oil.
“Mild bitter, pungent, fresh, aromatic and fruity tastes are some of the desirable traits associated with good organoleptic qualities. On the other hand, tastes of strong bitter, earthy, rancid or flat are undesired and are signs of inferior quality oil,” explains Dr Yahya.
Virgin and extra virgin olive oil have more organoleptic benefits, which translates into more health benefits.
In the end, the best olive oil is one that suits your taste and cooking style. If you are a “virgin” to cooking with olive oil, start with a mid-range “multi-purpose” oil and let the flavour transport you to the Mediterranean coast!
Diet rich Olive Oil for prevention of Osteoporosis
“The consumption of Diet rich Olive Oil has been related to the prevention of osteoporosis in experimental models and in Vitro,” said Dr José Manuel Fernández Real, a doctor at the University Hospital doctor Josep Trueta de Gerona (Spain) and lead author of the study. “This is the first randomized study that shows that olive oil protects bones, at least that is what the data on different blood markers of bone formation tell us, in people.”
Hence the importance of the study conducted by a Spanish research group, whose results will be published in the journal of the Endocrine Society, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM). The study shows that the consumption of a Mediterranean diet enriched with Diet rich Olive Oil for two years is associated with an increase in blood osteocalcin concentrations, which seems to indicate a protective effect on the bone.
Keep Osteoporosis Controlled
A recent study suggests that a key ingredient keep osteoporosis controlled.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the density and quality of bones are gradually reduced and affects one in three women and one in five men over fifty years of age; whose direct cost in Europe is about 32 billion euros per year. It is one of the most common, debilitating and expensive chronic diseases that affect the citizens of the European Union.
Previous studies had shown that, compared to other European countries, the incidence of osteoporosis in the Mediterranean basin is lower. This could be due in part to the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables and with high consumption of olives and Diet rich Olive Oil.
Mediterranean Diet with Virgin Olive Oil Prevent of Cardiovascular Disease
As subjects of the trial, the researchers used participants in the PREDIMED study (Prevention with Mediterranean Diet). This is a large randomized controlled clinical trial, in parallel groups, aimed at assessing the effects of the Mediterranean diet on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Its main objective was to find out if the Mediterranean a diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts prevents the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases (death of cardiovascular origin, myocardial infarction or cerebral vascular accident), compared to a low-fat diet.
In one of the centres of the PREDIMED study, the researchers randomly selected 127 men between 55 and 80 years of age who were not hospitalized in centres where the follow-up period of at least two years had been applied. The study subjects were elderly people with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or who had at least three cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension, high cholesterol levels, or a family history of premature cardiovascular disease, but who had not previously suffered from any cardiovascular condition.
Once selected, participants were randomly assigned to three intervention groups according to the diet to follow: a Mediterranean diet with nuts, a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil and a low-fat diet.
Osteocalcin, HDL cholesterol/Triglycerides and Mediterranean Diet
The researchers performed biochemical measurements of osteocalcin, glucose, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, at the start of the study and after two years of follow-up, in fasting blood samples. In this way, they found that only the consumption of the Mediterranean diet taking the extra virgin olive oil was associated with a significant increase in the total concentration of osteocalcin and other markers of bone formation. Regarding calcium in the blood, there were no variations in the group supplemented with olive oil and it decreased significantly in the other two.
Diet Rich In Olive Oil Can Reduce Risk of Alzheimer’s
A Study conducted by researchers at Columbia University in New York determined that a diet rich in olive oil can reduce the risk of a person developing Alzheimer’s Disease by as much as 40 percent.
The results of the study were published in the medical journal ‘Annals of Neurology’ on Tuesday.
The study monitored 2,258 healthy older people and monitored their diet. The subjects were examined every six months for up to four years. The researchers found that those people who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, some fish and alcohol with little dairy food and meat had the lowest risk of Alzheimer’s. Their risk was reduced by 39 to 40 percent.
Those people who only partially followed the diet had a reduced risk of 15 to 20 percent. The subjects who consumed the ‘typical American diet’ of hamburgers and ice cream had the greatest chance of eventually developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Past studies have indicated that the Mediterranean diet helped to reduce the chance of high blood pressure and heart disease. This is the first report that examined the diet’s ability to reduce Alzheimer’s.
The study offers a valuable tool for people of any age who hope to avoid the horrors of Alzheimer’s disease.
Conclusion: “It is important to note that circulating osteocalcin was associated with the preservation of pancreatic insulin regulation in subjects who took Diet rich Olive Oil” explained Dr Fernández Real. “It has also been described that osteocalcin increases insulin secretion in experimental models,” he added.
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