The Health Benefits of Olive Oil
It's an integral ingredient in healthy Mediterranean cuisine. But how exactly is cooking with olive oil good for you?
Olives have been cultivated around the Mediterranean for thousands of years, and the nutritious, delicious oil obtained by pressing the fruit has been an integral part of the cuisine of the region since at least the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Olive oil is a central ingredient in the Mediterranean diet – recognised in numerous studies as one of the world’s healthiest – and a major contributor to high life expectancy in the region.
It’s impossible to imagine dining in countries like Spain or Italy without the olive’s fragrant, golden oil… You’ll find it drizzled over a crisp, fresh insalata mista, paired with garlic in simple but delectable spaghetti aglio e olio, topping crunchy toast together with garlic and tomato in the Spanish breakfast favourite pan con tomate, used to fry a countless array of tapas varieties – and much more.
But apart from being a delight for the palate, what exactly are the health benefits of olive oil?
How is olive oil healthy?
Simply substituting olive oil for the saturated fats found in animal products can help lower your cholesterol levels and therefore reduce your risk of heart disease. But olive oil, especially in its purest cold-pressed form, has been shown to exhibit a range of properties making it actively good for you, beyond just reducing unhealthy parts of your diet.
The main fatty acid contained in olive oil is oleic acid, which studies have shown reduces inflammation and which may even have beneficial effects on the genes related to cancer. Olive oil is also packed with powerful, biologically active antioxidants, which can reduce your risk of life-threatening illnesses. It is also known for its ability to help prevent chronic inflammation, thought to be a driver of ailments from cancer and heart disease to type 2 diabetes or arthritis.
Heart disease, stroke and cancer
Research shows that olive oil can also help guard against heart disease by improving the lining of your blood vessels as well as helping to prevent excessive blood clotting. It also helps lower blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease. Studies have shown that olive oil can lower the risk of stroke as well.
In addition, olive oil possesses strong antibacterial properties. It contains nutrients known to inhibit or kill harmful bacteria that live in your stomach and which can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. Switching from animal fats to olive oil has also been demonstrated to help weight loss, and thus guard against the numerous ailments associated with obesity. Early studies also indicate that olive oil may improve brain function and perhaps ward off Alzheimer’s disease, although more research is required here.
More "liquid gold"
Of course, olive oil alone won’t guarantee good health. Other elements of the Mediterranean diet like fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, or more fish and less red meat – together with an appreciation of the sheer joy of savouring good food together with family and friends – contribute to all-round wellbeing. But adding more “liquid gold” to your diet is a delicious first step toward a healthier future.
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