For several centuries, olive oil has been treasured as an amazing gift from nature with innumerable benefits. According to Greek legends, Poseidon (God of sea) and Athena (Goddess of wisdom) had a fight over whose name should be given to a city that was newly built. It was agreed that whoever gave the most useful and precious gift to the people of the city would win the dispute. While Poseidon created a salt water spring, Athena gifted the citizens with an olive tree, which eventually won the challenge. The city was thus named Athens after Goddess Athena. Olives and olive oil, the fat obtained by pressing olives are an indispensible part of Greek culture and cuisine. Today, olive oil is used widely in all parts of the world in cooking and in the manufacture of soaps, cosmetics and medicines.
Nutritional value of olive oil
Like all other oils, olive oil also is composed of a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, what makes this oil highly beneficial to your health is the presence of high amounts of a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Oleic acid has been found to be heart healthy and it has many properties that help in improving the overall health. Olive oil is also a good source of vitamin E, vitamin K and flavonoid antioxidants. Olive oil is purely fat and is devoid of carbohydrates and proteins. It is high calorie oil which is low in cholesterol and sodium.
Health benefits of olive oil
It is considered that the people of Mediterranean region are generally healthy and have a long life span because of their regular consumption of olive oil. This amazing product is extremely nutritious and the health benefits it offers are beyond comparison.
Olive oil lowers cholesterol
According to research, diets high in saturated fats lead to an increase in bad cholesterol (LDL), while diets high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats causes a decrease in LDL levels. Olive oil is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that has been found to be useful in lowering the levels of LDL cholesterol and total blood cholesterol without lowering the HDL cholesterol levels.
Olive oil is heart healthy
One way that olive oil helps in keeping your heart healthy is by controlling your cholesterol levels. It lowers the LDL and triglyceride levels with reducing the HDL cholesterol levels. Olive oil contains polyphenolic compounds like tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein that play a key role in protecting your blood vessels. They help in preventing accumulation of fats in your bloodstream, reducing inflammation of the blood vessels, protecting the walls of your blood vessel walls, and in widen your blood vessels to improve blood circulation.
Olive oil lowers high blood pressure
Olive oil contains polyphenols that have powerful antioxidant properties. According to a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, the regular consumption of olive oil helped people who take hypertension medications to lower their dosage of medication by up to 50%. The anti-hypertensive properties of olive oil are considered to be due to the presence of polyphenols.
Olive oil for diabetics
It is important for people living with diabetes to have control over their blood sugar levels. Studies show that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats is helpful in stabilizing the blood glucose levels. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and so substituting a low fat diet with a diet rich in healthy fats will not only lower blood sugar but is also beneficial to your health. Olive oil controls the sugar levels by slowing down the process of digestion and by distributing the released glucose evenly throughout the bloodstream. Olive oil is also helpful in reducing inflammation, a major cause of insulin resistance that contributes to diabetes.
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Olive oil and treatment of cancer
A diet rich in olive oil is helpful in lowering the incidence of cancer. Studies reveal that olive oil is capable of protecting against different types of cancers like breast cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer, colon cancer, etc. The oxidation of cells caused by the free radicals is considered to be a major contributing factor for cancer. Olive oil is rich in antioxidants and other nutrients that can fight these free radicals and prevent oxidative damage. A study published in the Annals of Oncology points out that oleic acid in olive oil, has the power to inhibit the growth of destructive forms of breast cancer cells in test tubes. It has also been found that the effectiveness of breast cancer drug Herceptin was greatly increased when it was combined with oleic acid.
Olive oil and digestive health benefits
Not only is olive oil one of the best and healthiest oils used for cooking, it is also beneficial for your digestive health. It has been found that olive oil stimulates the production of peptides that aids in healthy digestion and in better absorption of nutrients. Studies suggest that the intake of olive oil resulted in the reduced production of gastric acids thereby helping in preventing gastric reflux or heartburn. Studies also show that including olive oil in your daily diet may help in treating or preventing stomach ulcers. The intake of olive oil has been found to assist in regularizing bowel movements and in preventing constipation.
Olive oil and weight loss
According to research, substituting saturated or other types of fats with monounsaturated fat can help in losing reasonable amount of weight without the need to include additional physical activity or food restraint. Since olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fats, its intake can be very helpful in reducing weight. Scientists also believe that since monounsaturated fat is more satiating when compared to other types of fat, you reach a feeling of fullness and so tend to eat very less. This prevents overeating and frequent munching on snacks, which is important in attaining weight loss. Moreover, after a meal your body metabolizes monounsaturated fat in an entirely different way than it metabolizes saturated fat. This dissimilarity in metabolism is also considered to be a contributing factor to moderate weight loss.
Olive oil for strong bones
Studies show that olive oil can be helpful in strengthening your bones by increasing the levels of blood calcium and by contributing to increased bone formation. Another study indicated that the intake of olive oil helped in increasing the thickness of bones. Olive oil supplements are therefore considered to effective in treating osteoporosis, which is a condition marked by a reduction in bone mass, causing the bones to become fragile and easily fracture even at the slightest blow.
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Olive oil improves cognitive functions
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF) are important neurotrophins that play vital roles in the growth, development, and survival of brain cells. A study conducted on mice at the Institute of Cell Biology and Neurobiology in Italy showed that polyphenols found in olive oil may increase the levels of these neurotrophins in the areas of brain that is responsible for learning and memory. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that may help in reversing the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Consumption of olive oil helps in improving cognitive functions and in reducing the risks of neurodegenerative diseases.
Olive oil benefits for beautiful skin
Olive oil offers many health benefits to your skin too. It is an excellent moisturizer and hence is a great remedy for dry skin. Olive oil has regenerative power, which helps in speeding up the process of skin healing. It is used to treat sunburn and to heal skin problems. The oxidative stress caused by free radicals is often responsible for premature aging and even cancer. Vitamin E and the other antioxidants in olive oil help in destroying the free radicals and in protecting your skin from the damaging effects they cause. Olive oil increases the elasticity of your skin and hence is very useful in getting rid of stretch marks. Massaging olive oil can help in removing wrinkles around your eyes. It also increases the blood circulation and leaves your skin looking young, healthy and beautiful.
Olive oil benefits for hair
Olive oil has been long used for healthy and beautiful hair. It is a great moisturizer and a wonderful conditioner. It has anti-inflammatory properties that promote the health of your scalp and prevent problems like dryness, flakiness, itching and dandruff. Olive oil is also rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, and other nutrients that are important for healthy hair growth.
Olive oil is so versatile and has a distinct flavor and taste, which makes it one of the most favored cooking oil among many professional chefs. Olive oil can turn rancid when exposed to heat and light. So in order to maintain its freshness, make sure to store olive oil in tinted glass containers or tins. Make sure that it is kept away from direct heat and light. Refrigerating olive oil is another way to protect its freshness and qualities. Although it may turn cloudy when chilled, keeping it at room temperature will restore its natural state with its qualities all the more intact. More and more people nowadays use olive oil for cooking because of the wonderful flavor it imparts and also due to the many health benefits it offers.Image Credits: Flickr - Steve Jurvetson, Flickr - fdecomite