At the base of the Mediterranean pyramid is the olive oil, the juice of olives which since ancient times was used not only in nutrition but also for its medicinal properties mainly in the healing of wounds and the precaution for tuberculosis. Beyond its high nutritional value, ongoing research until today has proven that olive oil contributes to many functions of the human body as well as the prevention of various diseases proving its beneficial properties of health.

1 gram of olive oil contains 9 kcal (calories), so 15 grams which consists of 1 tablespoon contains 135 kcal. While it seemingly it has rich caloric content, its use is not prohibitive, if we consider the abundance of nutritional benefits.

It is rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, mainly oleic acid, known as ‘good’ fats, which contribute to the reduction of total and LDL cholesterol, thereby improving the lipid profile and at the same time decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases and the occurrence of arteriosclerosis. It is not enough to just increase the intake of monounsaturated fatty acids but simultaneously to reduce the intake of saturated fat, and of course the use olive oil should be done in accordance with the daily recommendations.

Particularly important for health is the presence of natural antioxidants contained in olive oil with the extra virgin olive oil having a much larger quantity of these. Vitamin E, carotenoids, polyphenols and phenols, which phenols are dependent on the climatic conditions, maturity, production and storage of the olives, are antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of the cells and the formation of free radicals, preventing ageing and the development of cancer or other diseases. The polyphenols, in particular, have been proved also to lower levels of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with mild hypertension.

Something that few people know and is worth noting is the existence of two bioactive substances in olive oil which present beneficial properties for the body, oleocanthal and oleosin. The oleocanthal has anti-inflammatory activity, while oleosin is the most powerful antioxidant component of the olive oil. Furthermore, according to new studies presented, the oleocanthal has protective activity against Alzheimer’s disease and related neurodegenerative diseases but also anti-cancer properties. Finally, it helps prevent skin ageing.

Fats are necessary for our diet because many nutrients are absorbed by the body with their presence. Olive oil is absorbed by the body to an ideal degree, and particularly vitamin E which it contains. The contribution of olive oil does not stop with just the absorption of its own nutrients. Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K as well as carotenoids (e.g. lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach) that are found in many vegetables, depend their absorption on fats thus we realize that the addition of olive oil in salads and meals is the perfect choice for cooking  raw or in salads.

The prevailing theory from the past, that olive oil is a medicine for constipation applies and indeed contributes partly to its treatment. The presence of fat in the diet induces secretion of cholecystokinin and consequently the bile in the duodenum, making the stools softer. Also, these secretions of bile due to the presence of fat, contributes to the increase of secretions of the digestive tract, helping in this way the food digestion with the presence of chlorophyll and pheophytin of olive oil.

As for cooking, olive oil is undoubtedly the best choice, either for domestic use or for mass production. Because of the antioxidants and the monounsaturated oleic acid it contains, it becomes more resistant to heat treatment. It is worth mentioning that trans fatty acids, extremely harmful to health, occur approximately after the tenth frying with olive oil.

Thus olive oil rightfully holds the first place in consumer’s choices by including it in the daily diet acting as a shield for health, thanks to its excellent components.

DESPOINA PSARROU

Dietician-Nutritionist