Olive Oil

Since the earliest times, people have revered olives as well as the olive trees. In fact, archeological excavations have established that olive trees existed in Crete - one of the largest islands of Greece - way back around 3500 B.C. Initially, people extracted the oil from olives for religious purposes. They used this oil to cover their bodies from their head to toe.

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Olive oil is a liquid vegetable fat that is obtained by pressing the fruits of the olive trees, which have their home in the Mediterranean region. To obtain this oil, people pick the olives, wash them clean and crush them. In the ancient times, people crushed the olives painstakingly between two stones. However, in present times, olives are rushed automatically by passing them between steel blades. After crushing these fruits of olive tree, the ensuing paste is either stirred or macerated to obtain the precious oil. Subsequently, the raw oil is put in a centrifuge and spun to separate the oil from water.

The color of olive oil obtained by cold pressing the newly harvested olive fruits varies from pale green to deep yellow subject to the maturity as well as the veraison (onset of ripening) stage of the olives. The oil obtained from green olives has a greenish hue accompanied by a pungent and bitter flavour. On the other hand, the oil obtained by cold pressing black olives is yellowish and relatively less pungent. Fresh olive oil contains very low level of free fatty acids (FFA). In fact, the FFA content of natively cold pressed olive oil is below 0.5%. Generally, all types of olive oils should contain below 0.8% free fatty acids.

Olive oils can be broadly categorized into four types. Among these, the extra-virgin olive oil is considered to be of the highest grade. This variety of olive oil is obtained by mechanically pressing olives and with no use of chemicals or excessive heat. Each of these four types of olive oil has distinct characteristics and they are discussed briefly below:

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Extra virgin olive oil: This variety of olive oil is produced via the cold pressing of olives. This is said to be the purest variety of olive oil and, hence, known as extra virgin olive oil. This oil is extremely beneficial for consumption in the form of salad dressing as well as massage. However, extra virgin olive oil is not used for cooking.

Virgin olive oil: The acid content of this variety of olive oil is relatively low and, hence, it is safe for cooking purpose.

Pure olive oil: The acid content of this variety of olive oil is very high. Pure olive oil is produced by blending virgin olive oil and refined oil. Primarily, virgin olive oil is used for culinary purposes and cooking.

Lampante virgin oil: This variety of olive oil is produced after it undergoes the maximum level of processing. It is strongly advised that you should not use this oil for cooking or culinary purposes. Mostly, lampante virgin oil is used in the form of a fuel.

Compared to all other types of vegetable oils, olive oil definitely possesses the maximum nutritional value. This oil is heavily loaded with vitamin E, vitamin K and a variety of antioxidants. At the same time, olive oil does not contain any cholesterol or carbohydrates. Hence, ingestion of this oil diminishes the risks of suffering cardiac arrest or developing various other cardiovascular diseases. In fact, olive oil contains the same count of calorie as in butter and canola oil. However, its superior nutritional value sets this oil apart from others. No doubt then that olive oil is the preferred oil for most health conscious people.

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Health benefits

Since the nutritional value of olive oil is much more than any other vegetable oil, it offers us numerous health benefits. This oil possesses potent anti-inflammatory properties and, hence, is helpful in reducing inflammation, which is responsible for several ailments.

It is known that chronic inflammation is responsible for various health conditions, for instance heart disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, obesity and even cancer. Therefore, intake of olive oil helps to reduce the risks of developing these conditions and, at the same time, keep us healthy and fit.

The anti-inflammatory actions of olive oil are attributed to the oil's antioxidant content. The most important antioxidants found in olive oil include oleocanthal - which, according to various studies, has been found to work in the similar manner as the anti-inflammation drug ibuprofen.

Findings of studies have also shown that oleic acid, which is the primary essential fatty acid present in olive oil, has the ability to reduce the levels of vital inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP).

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According to one study, antioxidants present in olive oil also possess the ability to slow down the activities of a number of proteins and genes that cause inflammation.

It is worth mentioning here that most people in the world succumb to heart disease. However, observational studies undertaken some decades back revealed that heart disease is relatively less prevalent among people in the Mediterranean countries.

The findings of these observational studies subsequently led to all-embracing research on the Mediterranean diet. It has now been established that Mediterranean diet helps to substantially reduce the risks of developing heart disease.

In fact, the low incidences of heart disease among people taking the Mediterranean diet is attributed to extra virgin olive oil which is one of the most important constituents of this type of diet. Extra virgin olive oil helps to keep our heart healthy and put off heart disease in many different ways.

Extra virgin olive oil not only helps to reduce inflammation, but also prevents the low density lipo-protein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol from becoming oxidized, thereby improving the blood vessels' lining. At the same time, it may also prevent too much clotting of blood inside the blood vessels.

It is interesting to note that intake of extra virgin olive oil has also found to help in lowering high blood pressure, which is among the most potent risk factors for developing heart disease as well as premature deaths. Findings of one study showed that consumption of olive oil helped to reduce the requirement for blood pressure medicines by as much as 48%.

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In case you are enduring heart disease, have a family history of heart ailment or other risk factors, it is advisable that you incorporate lots of extra virgin olive oil into your diet.

Low density lipo-protein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol is mainly responsible for a number of cardiovascular problems suffered by people. Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with 40 different types of antioxidants which effectively neutralize the oxidation due to LDL cholesterol. In addition, extra virgin olive oil offers other health benefits, such as enhancing the levels of high density lipo-protein (HD) or "good" cholesterol in your system.

Olive oil also contains elevated levels of monounsaturated fatty acids. The content of this type of beneficial fats is so high in olive oil that it protects you from becoming overweight. Findings of various studies have revealed that restraint intake of olive oil helps to maintain a healthy body weight. In fact, if you substitute other vegetable oils with olive oil in your diet, it is likely that it will also help you in weight reduction.

It has been found that olive oil is also beneficial for the development of the brain as well as bone growth, particularly in small children. At the same time, this nutritious oil helps to enhance metabolism significantly. Since olive oil is loaded with vitamin E, which is the perfect and essential vitamin for the elderly. There are several other benefits of ingesting olive oil - such as it helps to ease bowel movement and also cleanse the digestive tract. All these help in making the defecation process much easier.

As a result, improved metabolism coupled with better functioning of the digestive system owing to incorporation of extra virgin olive oil into your diet may also help you to shed the extra flab.

Olive oil also encloses abundance of phenols, which have a reputation for their anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Phenols help to alleviate inflammation by slowing down the pathogenic bacteria production.

Aside from their use in culinary and cooking, olive oils are widely used in the manufacture of bath soaps and cosmetics. They are also employed in natural herbal therapy. When you use such products or undergo natural herbal therapy with olive oil, it helps to inhibit the aging process and also helps you to remain healthier and youthful for a long period. All these qualities of olive oil are attributed to the presence of various potent antioxidants in it. When you directly apply olive oil onto your skin, it helps to keep the skin shiny and prevents the skin from being oily. Olive oil, in this case, works like many other natural products, for instance heavy cream milk. It has also been found that massaging with extra virgin oil is very effective in alleviating pain and providing relief from fatigue due to excessive stress.

In addition, it has been proved that olive oil is highly effectual in putting off gallstone formation in the gallbladder.

It has been found that polyphenols, plant-based nutrients found in olive oil, are primarily responsible for reinforcing the walls of the cells. Moreover, these nutrients are also highly effectual in making the artery walls stronger and, in this way; it helps to prevent cardiac arrest as well as various other pulmonary artery and diseases related to it.

A study undertaken by scientists at the Oxford University showed that the acid content in olive oil is extremely useful for our body. These acids help to protect your body from developing bowel and rectum cancer. It has been found that olive oil is a wonderful substance that helps to protect us from the onset as well as progress of this form of cancer. Hence, it is highly recommended that you ingest this oil in moderation.

It is established that breast cancer is responsible for the highest mortality rate among females among all types of cancers across the world. Olive oil contains a compound known as hydroxytyrosol, which is effective in prevention as well as cure of breast cancer, especially in women who are in the post-menopausal phase.

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