The Taste Of The Mediterranean

Creating a life that is positively good for you...

STEP 3

HEALTH GIVING OILS
Bring the ancient powers of oils to your every day

Olive Oil

© 2010 Adam Poole

Olive oil is the cornerstone of the most healthy diet in the world. It is ubiquitous and abundant. The proven benefits of the diet are likely to be related to the enjoyment of olive oil as the principal source of fat. Olive oil contains many constituents that are considered to confer health both in terms of the type of fat and also the compounds that have antioxidant properties. There is emerging evidence that a proportion of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet as a whole relate to the specific contribution of olive oil itself.
(ref 3)

Olive oil is consumed in large quantities in the Mediterranean region. As much as a litre a week in many households. It is used for frying, to accompany salads and vegetables, to moisten and soften foods and as the only source of fat in the traditional diet. Extravirgin olive oil is the most unprocessed oil and is widely available as the finest and most palatable form of the pressed juice of the olive.

OLIVE OIL IN ANCIENT TIMES

The olive tree and its fruit held a special place in antiquity. It was considered to have healing properties as well as providing nutrition and wealth. The great civilisations of the ancient Mediterranean were often built on the trading of olive oil, which was used as food, medicine, balming oil, soap and fuel for lighting.

Indeed such was its importance that the tree was the subject of legend and poetry. The Goddess Athena bestowed the gift of the first olive tree to the peoples of Athens and the demigod Hercules carried a club cut from a sacred tree. The tree was protected by law and later became the subject of frequent biblical reference including mention of its healing qualities.

These civilisations invented many ideas that have been incorporated into modern medicine. The language of medicine and much of science is derived from the doctrines inherited from the wisdom of those who so valued the olive tree, its fruit and oil.

FATS-the Good the Bad and the Ugly.

Fat is a vital part of a healthy balanced diet. Fat can be good for you. Fat in the diet does not necessarily make you fat!

The simplistic message promoted in Western Europe is to reduce fat in the diet to below 35 %. However, the reasons that underlined this advice were based on the knowledge that populations in Western Europe consumed too much BAD SATURATED fatty acids. (SFA) that is strongly implicated as a contributing factor in the development of heart disease and cancers. Such peoples were also at risk of being overweight or obese.

Western populations also consume TRANSFATTY ACIDS. These are the fats that occur in biscuits, cakes and the scummy stuff that occurs after frying in butter or unhealthy oils. Seriously UGLY fats! Look for “partially hydrogenated fats” on labels. This is another term used for these disgusting, artery clogging fats.

In Crete, studies have shown that the inhabitants consume a diet that is made of 40% fat, yet they enjoy the best health and live longer and healthier lives.

So why is this?

More than 80% of the fat content of the diet is olive oil. Unlike any other oil or fat, extravirgin olive oil is comprised almost entirely of MONOUNSATURATED fatty acids (MUFAs).

MUFAs reduce bad cholesterol
MUFAs reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
MUFAs may play a role in preventing some cancers.

OLIVE OIL AND WEIGHT.

And the people of Crete who eat a traditional diet rich in olive oil also have a lower risk of obesity! Although olive oil contains calories, the lifestyle is one balanced with exercise. In addition, there is much lower consumption of other fat sources that contain harmful saturated fats.

Essentially, as long as there is exercise to match needs to maintain a healthy weight (BMI), intake (including that of olive oil) need not be restricted.

Take, for example, an international rower who needs to eat 6000 calories per day (compared with the average of 2,500). If he trains and utilises his energy intake, replacing with foods that are positively good for him such as MUFAs in olive oil, he can reap the extraordinary benefits of the cardiovascular advantages of exercise and cholesterol lowering, heart protecting foods. Clearly we cannot all aspire to be international rowers and eat 6000 calories per day, but we can certainly aim to increase our fitness and replace burnt calories within our weight recommendations with foods that contain positive health benefits.

So, there is potential to enjoy wonderful heart healthy foods to replace calories expended on wonderful heart healthy “buzzy” exercise…. (we shall explore more about exercise “buzz” in chapter 10).

OLIVE OIL FOR HEALTH

Olive oil tastes fantastic and there is increasing evidence to suggest the probability that...;

  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES CHOLESTEROL (ref 4)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES RISK OF HEART DISEASE AND STROKE (ref 5)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES RISK OF BOWEL CANCER (ref 6)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES RISK OF BREAST CANCER (ref 7)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES BLOOD PRESSURE (ref 8)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES THE RISK OF ARTHRITIS (ref 9)
  • OLIVE OIL CONTRIBUTES TO A LONG AND HEALTHY LIFE (ref 10)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES THE RISK OF CANCER OF THE OESOPHAGUS (ref 11)
  • OLIVE OIL REDUCES THE RISK OF DEMENTIA (ref 12)

The understanding of the mechanisms for the possible effects described above is increasing. Olive oil contains numerous antioxidants and has effects on blood vessel walls and blood clot formation. It even acts to “cleanse” the body of bad fats after a meal!

Oleic acid and other compounds in olive oil have been shown to reduce the action of “bad genes” in breast cancer, and there are naturally occurring substances that have chemical structures similar to those used to fight cancers.

CELEBRATING OLIVE OIL

A fine olive oil is comparable to a fine wine with flavour and aroma dependent on climate, soil and weather. Olive oil connoisseurs can distinguish great variety in quality, and describe flavours and bouquet that vary with estate and vintage.

It does not take long to become familiar with the various oil producing areas, and the taste and quality of the harvest.

Although Italy exports a high proportion of olive oil, Italian shippers source most of the product from Greece and Spain. Probably the most celebrated examples of finest quality derive from Greek estates, and many specialist delicatessen outlets stock first class varieties.

The advice regarding blended or olive oils other than extravirgin is quite simply not to waste money on them. They have reduced benefits and the taste is far inferior.

BENEFITS OF OLIVE OIL – FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE

Given the opportunities to improve ones health and wellbeing through enjoying more positively good for you olive oil, it is once again important to translate these possibilities from theory to practice.

Marinades

Olive oil can be used in cooking and also for marinades. Any vegetable, fish or meat can be refrigerated for some hours covered in olive oil and a combination of favourite flavours. For example spices, chilli, herbs, honey, garlic, tomato paste, lemon juice etc.

The marinade can be poured into a large pan or wok and used to fry the meal that will have already tenderised and absorbed the delicious tastes.

Dips

A fine oil can be sampled alone, or alternatively wholemeal bread can be dipped into a small bowl of good quality olive oil. This can be mixed with a little walnut oil or balsamic vinegar to enhance the flavour.

If dining out, most restaurants will provide this as an alternative to butter to accompany a meal. In fact, many chefs will delight in sharing their most precious olive oil with a discerning customer.

Most supermarkets also stock infused or scented oils, though a simple alternative is to add garlic, fresh herbs, peppers or even cinnamon or citrus fruits to oil and allow to infuse for a day or two. Olive oil is a natural preservative and has a long shelf life if stored in a cool dark place.

Oil on the table

To have a beautiful oil bottle adorning the table is a statement of taste and appreciation of health. Knowing its value in maintaining physical fitness and its fabulous flavour, it can be added to any meal.

Though mashed potato is not the most nutritious of side dishes, it can be enhanced beyond measure by the addition of raw olive oil from the table.

Similarly any meal can be accompanied by a simple salad of greens, tomatoes and peppers bathed in olive oil.

Dressings

Vinegar

© 2010 Adam Poole

Salads can be flavoured with simple oil or infused oils. Alternatively an “antioxidant dressing” can be simply prepared.

Adding ingredients such as those described for a marinade can provide flavour and goodness. So, for example a dressing may contain approximately 80% olive oil with tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and walnut oil, honey, a teaspoon of dried herbs, some lemon juice, a squirt of chilli paste, tomato and garlic paste, and even a sprinkle of powdered flax seed.

Such a dressing is easy to make in a few minutes and contains a powerful mix of compounds that are known to have proven or theoretical effects on the body to lessen the risk of ill health.

Walnut oil

Extravirgin olive oil is the most important oil in terms of health benefits. It is quite simply the best source of life-giving MUFAs which have such beneficial effects on cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease. As we have seen, there are hundreds of other compounds in olive oil which add to the experience of fantastic taste and make it positively good for you...

However, there are other plant based oils that are believed have benefits. And for different reasons. In Step 7 we shall explore the importance of Omega 3 PUFAs. The good fats (MUFAs) the bad fats (SFAs) and the downright ugly (Transfats) are not the only fatty acids in our diet.

Despite the best efforts of margarine manufacturers, the claim to be “high in polyunsaturates” that we have heard over the years, should cause us to be less than impressed. Most PUFAs are Omega 6 types and we probably have too many of these in our diets.

BUT there are some PUFAs that are positively good for us – the Omega 3s!

Omega 3s are contained in walnut oil, flaxseed oil and rapeseed oil.

Walnut oil is probably the most tasty. It has a fine and subtle flavour that can enhance olive oil when mixed together in dressings or simply as a dip. Generally a combination of olive oil to walnut oil mixed in ratio of approximately 5:1 provides a wonderful blend of flavour and nutritional goodness. Available in most supermarkets, try it!

Hemp oil

Hempseed oil in small quantities can be added to olive oil to provide a nutty flavour that can enhance dressings. It is a rich source of omega 3s, omega 6s and MUFAs so is an alternative to walnut oil in its possible health benefits.

Olive Tree

STEP 3; The Bottom Line - olive oil has numerous health giving effects. Make it readily available for cooking, dressing, splashing and mixing. Get to know it, get to love it.