Things you didn’t know about olive oil

Cathal Barry discusses the health benefits of olive oil

The health benefits of olive oil are extensive with new positive attributes discovered all the time.

The beneficial health effects of olive oil are due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of anti-oxidative substances.

Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL ('bad') cholesterol levels while raising HDL ('good') cholesterol levels.

In addition to bolstering the immune system and helping to protect against viruses, olive oil has also been found to be effective in fighting against diseases such as:

Cancer: The phytonutrient in olive oil, oleocanthal, mimics the effect of ibuprofen in reducing inflammation, which can decrease the risk of breast cancer and its recurrence. Squalene and lignans are among the other olive oil components being studied for their possible effects on cancer.

Heart Disease: Olive oil helps lower levels of blood cholesterol leading to heart disease.

Stress: Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, especially vitamin E, long thought to minimise cancer risk. Among plant oils, olive oil is the highest in monounsaturated fat, which doesnít oxidise in the body, and it is low in polyunsaturated fat, the kind that does oxidise.

Blood Pressure: Recent studies indicate that regular consumption of olive oil can help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Diabetes: It has been demonstrated that a diet that is rich in olive oil, low in saturated fats, moderately rich in carbohydrates and soluble fibre from fruit, vegetables, pulses and grains is the most effective approach for diabetics. It helps lower 'bad' low-density lipoproteins while improving blood sugar control and enhances insulin sensitivity.

Obesity: Although high in calories, olive oil has shown to help reduce levels of obesity.

Arthritis: Although the reasons are still not fully clear, recent studies have proved that people with diets containing high levels of olive oil are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoporosis: A high consumption of olive oil appears to improve bone mineralisation and calcification. It helps calcium absorption and so plays an important role in aiding sufferers and in preventing the onset of Osteoporosis.

Generally, olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. Olive oil comes in different varieties, depending on the amount of processing involved.

When buying olive oil you will want to obtain a high quality extra virgin oil. The oil that comes from the first 'pressing' of the olive, extracted without using heat or chemicals, and has no 'off' flavours is awarded 'extra virgin' status.

The less the olive oil is handled, the closer to its natural state, the better the oil.