We have all heard that olive oil is a healthy oil that has numerous benefits. Either your health-conscious mom or a trendy friend would have advised you to include olive oil in your daily diet. To most of us Indians, olive oil was something fancy to be used in our daily lives. At least, that was the norm until the widespread accessibility to the internet. Because that was when abundant information seeped into the most conservative Indian crowds. Pop culture introduced the significance of olive oil through advertisements, movies, TV shows (especially cooking shows), and international fast-food joints. Before this era (pre-2000), Indians knew about olive oil – yes. But, only select fortunate folks preferred and consumed olive oil on a regular basis. For a majority of the country, there were a dozen other cooking oils widely available. The usage of a particular cooking oil varied based on geography and climate. So, in this article, let’s see the relevance of olive oil in our society, the surge in its usage, and other benefits/myths related to its consumption.
Firstly, let us see what olive oil is and how it is produced. The olive fruit is crushed, ground, and processed in varied steps to get the desired olive oil type. Yes, there are different types of olive oil based on the quality and the type by which it was extracted. You might have heard pure olive oil or extra virgin olive oil. You might have even used extra virgin olive oil, believing it has additional health benefits compared to the other variants. Essentially, there are three variants of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest grade of olive oil, which provides the utmost flavor and smell. It is the least processed olive oil giving it a distinct green color. Traditionally, extra virgin olive oil is cold-pressed oil without involving heat or chemicals in the extraction process. Virgin olive is the second grade where the oil is extracted using modern machinery yet retains the flavor. But pure olive oil is refined oil, which sometimes is further blended with other edible oils. This is the third grade of olive oil and lacks the strong qualities of virgin olive oil.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil (And Myths)
1. Fat Content: Not all fats are detrimental to our wellbeing. Contrarily, fats are essential nutrients that are required for the normal functioning of the human body. There are two types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fats. Fat obtained from plant-based oils mostly contain unsaturated fat, which in turn helps in reducing LDL Cholesterol (in layman terms – bad cholesterol). Olive oil is a very good source of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).
Myth: Olive oil contains only unsaturated fats – FALSE. It also has a low amount of saturated fats in it. Fat intake in moderation and within the advised level is definitely healthy.
2. Antioxidants: The substances which prevent aging or damage to cells due to oxidation in our body are antioxidants. The oxidation process results in free radicals, which in turn impairs body cells. Olive oil contains numerous biologically active antioxidants, which inhibits the free radicals and, as a result, keeps us healthy.
Myth: Antioxidants in olive oil helps in lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease – TRUE. Antioxidants reduce the oxidation process in the blood cholesterol and therefore decrease the risk of heart disease.
3. Anti-inflammatory Property: EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) with its rich antioxidants reduces inflammation in body cells. It has been revealed through scientific studies that a small portion of EVOO consumption will help in relieving pain caused due to inflammation.
Myth: Olive oil can be used to treat arthritis – TRUE. Oleocanthal, a compound present in olive oil, reacts similarly to the drug ibuprofen, which is a well-known anti-inflammatory drug. Still, olive oil will not be a sole cure for arthritis, rather a supplement in food, which alleviates the pain.
4. Flavor: For centuries, olive oil has been the main element in Mediterranean cooking. Starting from salads to pizzas and pasta, olive oil provides an unequivocal taste. Especially when you use extra virgin olive oil, your taste buds will have no trouble detecting the fruity yet pungent flavor. It also has a light bitter aftertaste. With this combination, be it a cold meat sandwich or a Caesar salad, a small drizzle of olive oil will enhance the character in every bite you take. Olive oil is highly resistant to heat damage, meaning it can be used to cook using high heat. But still, avoid using extra virgin olive oil to deep fry because it will alter its flavor.
Myth: Pure olive oil is equally flavorsome to extra virgin olive oil – FALSE. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil will contain maximum flavor and nutrients. It even might be an acquired taste for some because of its pungency. A refined or blended olive oil will definitely not contain the color, taste, texture, or extra virgin olive oil nutrients. Do not be fooled by fancy bottling or chemically flavor-enhanced olive oils.
5. Weight Control: Wondering how adding olive oil can help you to watch your weight? Well, it indeed is counterintuitive to use olive oil. Bodyweight gain depends on one basic principle – the calories you consume minus the calories you burn will settle in the body. Olive oil, or extra virgin olive oil to be precise, nourishes your body with ample amounts of fat and necessary nutrients with just a small quantity per day. This directly impacts your appetite and keeps you content. A healthy portion of vegetables and lean meat cooked on olive oil will help you achieve your nutrition goal and, at the same time, keep a watch on the calories consumed. Added to that, this helps us in avoiding processed foods filled with salt, sugar, and trans fats.
Myth: Olive oil has low calories – FALSE. Olive oil indeed has high calories, so much so that one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil will contain a little above 100 calories. But the secret lies in the usage. Adding a spoon of EVOO to your favorite dish while or after cooking will not do any harm.
I have just listed out some of the beneficial effects of olive oil. Regular consumption of extra virgin olive oil in appropriate amounts will yield you phenomenal results. As far as health benefits are concerned, further research is being conducted on its effects on heart diseases, strokes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer. It is widely used for massages and other folk remedies for ages. It is evident that extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available in the market – if not the healthiest. This does not mean that this is better than other oils. It depends on using the right type and amount of oil for the right food. Getting a bottle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and adding it to your daily diet will help you achieve your prime health. Cheers to good health!