The health benefits of olive oil: We consider ourselves very fortunate to know expert olive growers in Vallecorsa, a town in the region of Lazio famous for its olive oil production. In fact, Vallecorsa is called the City of Olive Oil.
Many of us understand that the food we consume is directly linked to the quality of our health. Because many people in Italy benefit from a higher than average standard of health, the Mediterranean diet has been under scrutiny for many years. On the list of foods that we should try to add to our daily diet is olive oil. Therefore we are delighted to be able to bring you exceptionally high quality extra virgin olive oil.
Our particular olive oil can be traced back to the olive groves. As part of our Adopt An Olive Tree project we even give you the opportunity to help the people of Vallecorsa bring in the harvest, every year in November.
Health benefits of Olive Oil
The quality of olive oil production, especially the stage of pressing, makes a difference when it comes to health benefits. Recent studies have compared the anti-inflammatory benefits of extra virgin olive oil obtained from the first pressing of oil, to the anti-inflammatory benefits of olive oils obtained from later pressings.
What researchers found was than extra virgin olive oil can lower inflammatory markers in the blood and that later pressings were unable to do so. This ability of extra virgin olive oil to help protect against unwanted inflammation is not surprising, since it is known to contain stronger concentrations of phytonutrients (especially polyphenols) that have well-known anti-inflammatory properties.
The Mediterranean Diet
Mediterranean Diet studies have long associated olive oil intake with decreased risk of heart disease. However, a recent group of studies has provided us with a fascinating explanation of olive oil’s cardioprotective effect. One of the key polyphenols in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol (HT), helps protect the cells that line our blood vessels from being damaged by overly reactive oxygen molecules. HT helps protect the blood vessel cells by triggering changes at a genetic level. The genetic changes triggered by HT help the blood vessel cells to enhance their antioxidant defense system. In other words, olive oil supports our blood vessels by providing antioxidants like like vitamin E and beta-carotene. Olive oil also provides our blood vessels with unique molecules like HT that actually work at a genetic level to help the cellular walls of the blood vessels remain strong.
Olive oil has long been recognized for its unusual fat content. This plant oil is one of the few widely used culinary oils that contains about 75% of its fat in the form of oleic acid (a monounsaturated, omega-9 fatty acid). In terms of monounsaturated fat, the closest common culinary oil to olive is canola oil, with about 60% of its fat coming in monounsaturated form. By contrast, the fat in soybean oil in only 50 – 55% monounsaturated; in corn oil, it’s about 60%; in sunflower oil, about 20%; and in safflower oil, only 15%. When diets low in monounsaturated fat are altered to increase the monounsaturated fat content (by replacing other oils with olive oil), research study participants tend to experience a significant decrease in their total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and LDL:HDL ratio.
Researchers believe that the plentiful amount of oleic acid in olive oil gets absorbed into the body, finds its way into cell membranes, changes signaling patterns at a cell membrane level (specifically, altering G-protein associated cascades) and thereby lowers blood pressure. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the monounsaturated fat content of olive oil has been linked not only to cholesterol reduction, but also to reduction of blood pressure.
Studies in the health benefits of olive oil and cancer prevention
Cancer prevention has been one of the most active areas of olive oil research, and the jury is no longer out on the health benefits of olive oil with respect to cancer. Twenty-five studies on olive oil intake and cancer risk, including most of the large-scale human studies conducted up through the year 2010, have recently been analyzed by a team of researchers at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research Institute in Milan, Italy.
Firmly established by this research team were the risk-reducing effects of olive oil intake with respect to cancers of the breast, respiratory tract, upper digestive tract and, to a lesser extent, lower digestive tract (colorectal cancers). These anti-cancer benefits of olive oil became most evident when the diets of routine olive oil users were compared with the diets of individuals who seldom used olive oil and instead consumed diets high in saturated added fat, especially butter.
Thanks to its status as a spotlight food in the Mediterranean Diet, and thanks to extensive research on its unique phytonutrient composition, olive oil has become a legendary culinary oil with very difficult-to-match health benefits. Among its extensive list of phytonutrients, no single category of nutrients is more important than its polyphenols. The polyphenol content of this delicious oil is truly amazing! Most of the polyphenols in this list have been shown to function both as antioxidants and also as anti-inflammatory nutrients in the body. The very number and variety of polyphenols in olive oil helps explain the unique health benefits.