Extra virgin olive oil: an elixir
Updated: Mar 19, 2022
Extra virgin olive oil could be characterized as a natural remedy. The interest in the role and the effect of olive oil in the human body was present since ancient times, when Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Hippocrates recognized its beneficial properties and first recommended its oral consumption and its external use. Nowadays, there is a great amount of research and bibliography proving its noteworthy role in human health and its protective action against various diseases- especially when combined with the Mediterranean diet- placing it at the first position among other types of oils and fats.
Olive oil has an exceptional composition, which differs between olive oil subtypes and explains the nutritional superiority of extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) occurs from the first pressing of fresh olives, normally within 24h after their harvest. The procedure includes no chemicals, just mechanical means, and low extraction temperatures that do not exceed 28 °C. The acidity or free fatty acid level is less than 0.8%. The above specific conditions contribute to an optimal taste and odor outcome and, in addition, guarantee the smallest grade of chemical alteration, which is really important, as it results in a chemical composition of high quality. Olives contain hydrophilic phenol compounds and these explain part of EVOO’s health key role. EVOO has a high total polyphenol content of approximately 55mg/100g, as opposed to other subtypes of olive oil (eg. virgin olive oil-21mg/100g, refined olive oil, pomace oil, etc).
EVOO contains monounsaturated fatty acids and has a high polyphenol content, features that explain its vital health effects. Olive oil, in general, contains larger amounts of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) compared to other plant oils. Several studies claim that MUFAs in the diet may be linked with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and that they also have anti-bacterial action, improving endothelial function and probably protecting from carcinogenesis. At the same time, olive oil contains a small proportion of saturated fatty acids and no trans fatty acids (both recommended to be consumed in very small amounts in the diet).
Meanwhile, polyphenol compounds are natural antioxidants, i.e. they contribute to a resistance to oxidation, having antitumor, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial functions. High consumption of olive oil is linked with a reduced risk in colon, breast, and skin cancer in general. Moreover, it offers protection against all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, as well as cardiovascular events, such as stroke and coronary heart disease; it can lower blood pressure and protect LDL-cholesterol particles from oxidation. It might be effective against several bacteria involved in respiratory and intestinal infections. Some research also shows that it deters diabetes type II. Finally, olive oil consumption promotes healthy ageing and longevity. Therefore, the high amounts of these specific chemical compounds, polyphenols, that EVOO contains, contribute to great health benefits.
The effect of EVOO on human health is remarkable, because of the special production conditions and its rich chemical composition. EVOO is a “food that has a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels” (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in United States), thus it is considered a “functional food”. In other words, EVOO is a natural elixir that can promote health, due to its anti-inflammatory and disease-preventing effects, challenging us all to include it as an inseparable element of a balanced diet and claim for a better health.
Katerina Magdalinou Dietitian-Nutritionist Sources “Olive oil consumption and human health: a narrative review”, Foscolou et al., Elsevier B.V., 2018. “Plant phenolics as functional food ingredients”, Celestino Santos-Buelga et al., Elsevier B.