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Olive oil and nutrition

Olive oil is an integral part of Mediterranean cuisine but now has quickly become the kitchen sweetheart of every health conscious person globally. It may be infamous as a “trend” or the new “in thing” in the urban kitchen but trust me it is not. Olives and olive oil have a very long and interesting history.

If you are a history enthusiast or sports lover you may have definitely heard of Olympic games. Did you know that olive wreaths were given to the winners of ancient Greek games? Yes, its documented and true, but now you may be wondering that what has olive got to do with something as iconic as the trophy? You’ll be curious to know that in the Greek mythology the olive tree is believed to be a gift from the goddess “Athena”. Just in case you did not know, Athena is the goddess of wisdom and courage. It is on Athena’s name that the city of Athens was built. Naturally, olive tree and branches were given the highest regard. In fact, Greeks still consider olive as a symbol of prosperity. The winners of 2004 summer Olympics in Athens received wreaths of olive branches.

Olive oil is called “the great healer” by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. So, It’s safe to say that olive has long since been known for its medicinal and healing properties.

According to historians, the oldest records of olive tree cultivation comes from about 7000 years back. Archaeological samples of olive tree have been found in Greece that dates back to 3000 years. The medicinal and healing benefits of olives have been found in the ancient Greek literature. In fact,  Homer, an ancient Greek author has used the term “liquid gold” for olive oil.

You will be amazed to know that the Greeks weren’t alone to cherish and preserve their liquid gold. The olive fruit has been mentioned as a blessed fruit in Quran and mentions of this fruit are also found in the old testament of the bible. Egyptians used the olive leaves in the mummification procedures. Today, this wonder has reached almost every major country in the world and its sought after as a healthier alternative to vegetable oil, sunflower oil, or any saturated oils.

  1. Olive oil uses and health benefits
  2. How to identify good olive oil
  3. How much olive oil to take per day
  4. Extra virgin olive oil and its uses
  5. Olive Oil Side Effects

A lot of us keep olive oil bottles in our kitchen and use it in our everyday cooking. But this culinary delight is not limited to the kitchen. Olive oil has a lot of beneficial effects on the health and well being of our body. Let us explore some of the non-culinary uses of olive oil:

  • For hair: Olive oil helps to provide the correct nutrition to your scalp making your hair soft, healthy and shining.
  • For skin and face: Olive oil is loaded with a blend of antioxidants, which makes it excellent for your skin. It not only helps to soften and nourish your skin but also caters to remove fine lines and wrinkles.
  • For the heart: The rich antioxidant content of olive oil helps to fight off oxidative stress and damage to the heart when taken in the diet. Regular consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disorders like heart attack, atherosclerosis and even stroke by lowering LDL cholesterol levels.
  • For diabetes: Studies have found that the intake of olive oil helps in reducing the risk of diabetes and also helps in its management by lowering blood glucose levels.
  • For stomach ulcers: Some studies claim that the use of olive oil is effective in the management of stomach ulcers by having an antimicrobial effect against H.pylori species.
  • For babies: Olive oil massage helps to soften and soothe babies’ skin and is effective against diaper rash.
  • Against cancer: Antioxidants present in olive oil help to lower your risk of cancer by inhibiting cancerous growth and potential.
  1. Olive oil for hair
  2. Olive oil benefits for face and skin
  3. Olive oil for heart
  4. Olive oil as an anti-inflammatory agent
  5. Olive oil for diabetes
  6. Olive oil for stomach ulcers
  7. Olive oil for improving brain function
  8. Olive oil for babies
  9. Olive oil anticancer potential

Olive oil for hair

Olive oil users love to talk about the nourishing and moisturizing hair benefits of this oil. According to medical scholars, olive oil is rich in biochemicals like squalene and oleic acid which have a softening effect on the hair. The fats and the Vitamins present in olive oil make it an excellent nourishing agent for hairs. Regular use of olive oil can help you get rid of a dry and flaky scalp. Additionally, it will nourish your hair follicles. Making your hair soft and glowing. 

Olive oil benefits for face and skin

Did you know?

Olive oil is history’s best-kept beauty secret. The Greeks and Romans are said to have bathed in this oil. The oil of olives is known to be used in Cleopatra’s perfumes as an integral part. In fact, the fats present in the olive oil makes it an excellent moisturizer for your face and skin. According to the International olive council, the olive oil is rich in Vitamin A, D, E and K which make it an excellent antioxidant. Additionally, studies suggest that olive oil also contains a fair amount of squalene (a chemical compound), which is a known antioxidant. Together these properties not only nourish and soften your skin but also remove all those lines and dark spots and give your face a positively glowing look. According to a study done on a group of people, taking a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil have a much lower risk of developing atherosclerosis (plaques in the arteries) than people who don’t take olive oil. It was further suggested that the polyphenols present in olive oil may be responsible for this particular health benefit of the Mediterranean diet. However, it’s better to check with your doctor to completely enjoy the benefits of olive oil.

Olive oil for heart

According to a reputed review journal, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (good fats), which is a better alternative to the fats present in your normal vegetable oils. It was further told that the regular consumption of olive oil increases the level of HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol present in the body. Additionally, polyphenols are a class of antioxidants present in olive oil which protect the body from the free radical damage. Now, quite likely you may be wondering what are free radicals? Free radicals are a class of reactive oxygen species formed in our body as a result of the body’s various metabolic functions and factors like stress and pollution. These oxygen species start a domino effect by binding with the Low-density cholesterol (LDL) or bad cholesterol in our body. As the LDL gets oxidized it starts depositing on the walls of the arteries in the form of plaque. This plaque then causes these blood vessels to narrow down and increase pressure on the heart. This chain ends up in the form of cardiovascular conditions heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, The polyphenols not only scavenge the free radicals but they also reduce the amount of the LDL cholesterol thus reducing the risk of the common heart ailments.

(Read more: Heart disease causes and treatment)

Olive oil as an anti-inflammatory agent

Doctors associated inflammation with a lot of diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, some heart diseases and cancer. Not much is understood about the science behind chronic inflammation (the type of inflammation that spreads slowly and lasts longer). But, scientists believe that dietary patterns may have an important role in triggering chronic inflammation. Nonetheless, inflammatory symptoms (joint swelling and pain)  in diseases like arthritis remain a cause of major discomfort amongst the patients. Studies suggest that oleocanthal (a natural chemical compound), present in olive oil has potent anti-inflammatory properties. A further study hints that the anti-inflammatory properties of the virgin olive oil are very similar to one of the most commonly used anti-inflammatory drug. However, if you are suffering from any kind of inflammation, it’s preferable to talk to your doctor before taking olive oil in any form.

Olive oil for diabetes

High blood sugar levels was first characterised only as a symptom of the rich and uplifted, but now diabetes has spread its roots in all sects of the society. According to doctors, this condition can be attributed to the poor dietary choices of the urban population. Increased blood sugar levels are not only difficult to manage but they make a person’s life miserable to an extent. Recent studies in Spain claim that people who take moderate Mediterranean diet have a considerably lesser risk of developing diabetes. In another study, it was suggested that the Mediterranean diet increases the uptake of blood glucose by insulin thus reducing the total sugar levels in the blood. This diet is completely olive oil based which has an anti-inflammatory property that can help indirectly in decreasing the severity of the disease. However, the direct connection between inflammation and diabetes is still not clear but internal inflammation is speculated to be one of the causative agents of the disease. If you are living with diabetes, it’s always advisable to talk to your nutritionist and include olive oil in your diet.

Olive oil for stomach ulcers

Did you know?

Olive oil present in your mayonnaise and salads protects you from common foodborne pathogens? Amazing isn't it? Studies have shown that aqueous extract of virgin olive oil is an excellent antimicrobial agent. Virgin olive oil, when added to processed foods, has shown to be effective in killing bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria. How perfect. A food that protects itself. But that doesn’t mean it would go beyond its mentioned shelf life.  Kindly check labels before use. Additionally, polyphenols present in olive oil are responsible for the antibacterial property of this oil. Lab studies claim that olive oil is effective in killing the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which is the causative agent of peptic ulcers (ulcers in the stomach). However, a confirmatory research is still on for measuring the effectiveness of olive oil in the treatment of stomach ulcers. So, if you are suffering from these ulcers you are highly recommended to talk to your doctor before taking olive oil.

Olive oil for improving brain function

Do you know that olive oil can make you smarter?  Recent studies on the Mediterranean diet claim that olive oil intake does not only improve brain function but it also improves cognition (the ability of the brain to remember and understand). Further studies suggest that regular consumption of olive oil improves memory and reduces the chances of plaque formation in the brain. The brain plaques are actually a kind of protein deposits in the brain which can lead to neurological disorders like Alzheimer's. However, studies are still going on to understand the exact functioning and methods to implement olive oil in anti-Alzheimer's treatments. So, it’s better to refer your doctor to know more about the beneficial effects of olive oil on brain health.

(Read more: How to improve brain power)

Olive oil for babies

I am sure all of us during our baby phase has had an olive oil massage. Go ahead you can check with your mother. Olive oil is widely used as a baby massage oil. Have you wondered why? Advocates claim that it has a soothing, softening and moisturizing effect on the baby’s skin. It is also known to be nourishing and calming for the babies. Olive oil is commonly used to treat diaper rashes. Hence making olive oil the king of all oil for babies. However, some babies have naturally sensitive skin so, it’s preferable to talk to your doctor before giving an olive oil massage to your baby.

Olive oil anticancer potential

Cancer is now emerging to be one of the top reasons for human mortality all over the world. According to WHO, dietary choices and lifestyle are the major cause of cancer in most of the developed nations of the world. A number of human and animal studies have been done to test the anticancer properties of olive oil with many positive results. The studies claim that polyphenols present in olive oil can kill the cancer cells and stop the growth of cancer. Furthermore, it has been noted that a significantly lesser number of Mediterranean people suffer from cancer. Scientists believe that this may be due to the high olive oil content in the Mediterranean diet. Researches are still going on around the globe to understand the anti-cancer properties of olives and olive oil.

The olive tree is a native to the Mediterranean region and it spreads over southeast Europe, West Asia and some parts of Africa. Traditionally, olive oil is obtained from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea) by cold pressing or stone pressing methods. But, with the advancement of technology, faster and better equipment are quickly replacing the older methods.

According to olive oil experts, the taste of olive oil may vary according to the type and ripeness of olives that are used in preparing the batch of oil. Generally, the riper the fruit is, the less bitter the oil would be. The level of ripeness also changes the colour of the oil from green to greenish gold to a warm golden in ripe olives.

So, after reading its many benefits you may now want to go out and grab your first bottle. But you may find yourself with numerous choices available in the market which may confuse you, quite obviously. A lot of local and international brands sell olive oil with different claims of purity and standards. So, in such case do not run for the first bottle that impresses you. Instead, Olive experts advise buying darker bottles or tins that do not expose the oil to direct light. This is because longer exposures to direct light and oxygen have a direct effect on reducing the quality of the oil. Additionally, a good grade olive oil starts off as fruity in your mouth, with an undertone of vegetables and grass. It turns to peppery when you swallow it and leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste. If you note any rancidity it’s better to avoid that specific quality. 

According to Food Drug Administration (FDA), USA 15-20 gm of olive oil can ideally be taken per day. However, in the same statement, it was also said this olive oil should be in substitution to your saturated fat and not as an extra supplement. That means you should substitute your regular oil with olive oil instead of drinking this oil as a medicine. This is because olive oil has a lot of health benefits but it’s still high in fats. Since the fats are required by your body in comparatively lower volume, it’s preferable not to take too much of olive oil. It would be redundant to add that you should always ask your doctor about the correct way to use olive oil; so you can reap the maximum health benefits from it.

The words extra virgin refer to the method of production of olive oil. Extra virgin is a grade of olive oil which has not been refined. Ideally, this is considered the best type of olive oil. According to researchers, refining removes some of the most important chemical compounds in the olive oil. So, the lesser the refining the healthier the olive oil. Olives can directly be used as a cooking ingredient in various Italian and Greek recipes. Olive oil is also extensively used in other products such as soaps, shampoos, and conditioners and in certain cosmetic products apart from its usage as a cooking medium.

There have been some reported cases of skin allergies after topical application of olive oil. So, if you have an inherently sensitive or oily skin, it’s preferable to check in with your doctor before using olive oil on your skin. Studies suggest that olive oil can worsen some skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. So, it’s better to check in with a dermatologist before using olive oil for any of the skin conditions.

There aren’t enough pieces of evidence to support the use of olive oil during pregnancy. So, pregnant women are advised to talk to their doctor before adding olive oil to their diet. Olive oil is a natural hypoglycemic (reduces blood sugar levels) so diabetic people should refer to their doctors to determine the exact dosage of olive oil for them.

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