Olive Oil: Health Benefits and Risks

For centuries, olive oil has been regarded not just as a delicious addition that enhances the flavor of dishes, but also as a product offering significant health benefits. It's no wonder it's one of the staple foods, along with vegetables and seafood, included in the so-called Mediterranean diet—a nutrition system recognized as one of the healthiest. For a diet to be balanced, it must contain not only quality proteins and complex carbohydrates but also healthy fats. Olive oil is precisely a source of many beneficial fats.

Composition and Nutritional Value of Olive Oil

The best olive oil, yielding the most benefits, is produced from fully matured olives rich in vitamins and minerals. While these trees grow in all countries of the Mediterranean region, the olives from the warmest countries—Italy, Greece, and Spain—are particularly flavorful and nutrient-dense. The quality of the oil also depends on the production method and acidity level, with a lower acidity indicating superior quality.

  • Extra virgin olive oil is the most valuable, unrefined, and cold-pressed, meaning the oil is not heated during extraction, preserving the maximum amount of beneficial properties. The acidity level of such oil cannot exceed 0.8%.
  • Virgin olive oil has an acidity level of up to 2% and is also mechanically pressed, but it is simpler in taste and less aromatic than extra virgin, though nearly identical in health benefits.
  • Refined olive oil is processed oil that has been purified, heated, cooled, and chemically treated. This oil undergoes significant loss of vitamin content, but it can be used for frying without harming health.

To maximize the preservation of its beneficial properties, olive oil (excluding refined oil, which is less sensitive) should be stored properly. This means keeping it in a cool, dark, and dry place to avoid exposure to heat and sunlight, which leads to oxidation. For the same reason, always tightly seal the bottle to prevent air from entering. When purchasing, choose oil in dark, opaque bottles.

The nutritional value of olive oil comes from its vitamins (A, E, D, K), minerals (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron), and a range of fatty acids: stearic, linoleic, palmitoleic, oleic, Omega-6, arachidonic, and palmitic.

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil for the Human Body

Olive oil plays a crucial role in maintaining the health of all body systems. Nutritionists highlight several key functions of olive oil that are particularly beneficial:

  • Enhancing good cholesterol levels while reducing bad cholesterol. Oleic acid in olive oil prevents clot formation, cleanses vessels and arteries from bad cholesterol, and serves as a preventive measure against atherosclerosis.
  • Regulating blood sugar levels and reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes: olive oil slows down the absorption of glucose into the blood, thereby stabilizing insulin spikes.
  • Cancer prevention due to its high antioxidant content, which maintains the acid-alkaline balance and detoxifies the body.
  • Anti-inflammatory properties, including against chronic inflammation. The compound oleocanthal is recognized by doctors as a natural anti-inflammatory agent that also reduces pain associated with joint inflammation, such as arthritis.
  • Liver protection and prevention of premature cell degradation thanks to hydroxytyrosol, a powerful antioxidant found in olive oil.
  • Improving the condition of skin, nails, and hair. Olive oil is recommended for both internal consumption and external use as a cosmetic product.

Furthermore, olive oil is a staple in many diets aimed at weight loss. However, due to its high caloric content, the amount and timing of its consumption should be advised by a specialist based on individual health indicators and tests.

How to Consume Olive Oil?

The consumption of olive oil depends on its type. Unrefined oils are not suitable for frying due to their low smoke point, which can lead to health issues. Therefore, they are ideal for salads and dressings.

Dietitians also recommend consuming these oils on an empty stomach in the morning, about 1 tablespoon, to stimulate metabolism, slow down the conversion of lipids into fat deposits, and receive a significant portion of beneficial nutrients. Before food enters the gastrointestinal tract and digestion begins, the beneficial components of the oil are almost fully absorbed by the body. However, drinking oil on an empty stomach should only be done after receiving approval from a doctor, as it may exacerbate chronic conditions for some individuals.

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Arsenio Shop Olive Oil