Oli­ve oil: Health in a canister.

A high-qua­li­ty oli­ve oil always gua­ran­tees an incom­pa­ra­ble wealth of com­pon­ents. And the­se can have serious effects on a person’s health. The com­pon­ents include:

Light and shadow image of olive branches.
  • Anti­oxi­d­ants — the anti-inflamma­to­ry oil com­pon­ents e.g. oleic acid or oleuropein 
  • Phe­nols — secon­da­ry plant com­pounds, which streng­t­hen the defen­ces of both oli­ve trees and peop­le e.g. hydro­xy­ty­ro­sol and oleocanthal. 
  • Poly­phe­nols — collec­ti­ve term for secon­da­ry plant com­pounds, which are cru­cial to brin­ging tog­e­ther the the­mes of oli­ve oil and health 
  • Phy­toste­rols are sub­s­tan­ces in olives, and in every other plant, that affect the balan­ce of a person’s cho­le­ste­rol level e.g. β‑sitosterol
  • Fat­ty acids, like Omega‑3 and 9 fat­ty acids (i.e. oil acids), are fats (fat­ty acid chains) con­tai­ned in oli­ve oil that, among other things, sup­port the car­dio­vascu­lar system. 
  • and vit­amins like Vit­amin A and E

But how exact­ly do the­se ingre­dients work tog­e­ther, what exact­ly can they do, can they exp­lain the cor­re­la­ti­on bet­ween nut­ri­ti­on, oli­ve oil, health, and a high life expec­tancy, and do they jus­ti­fy oli­ve oil’s repu­ta­ti­on as a “cure-all”?

A macro shot of OEL.

High-qua­li­ty oils con­tain anti­oxi­d­ants like oleic acid. They sink our LDL cho­le­ste­rol levels, thus posi­tively influ­en­cing the very sen­si­ti­ve ratio of LDL cho­le­ste­rol, the so-cal­led bad cho­le­ste­rol, to HDL cho­le­ste­rol, the so-cal­ledgood cho­le­ste­rol. The ratio of the two cho­le­ste­rols in an indi­vi­du­al is signi­fi­cant­ly influ­en­ced by the inta­ke of satu­ra­ted fat­ty acids (LDL) (most­ly from ani­mal sources) and unsa­tu­ra­ted fat­ty acids (HDL) (most­ly from plant sources). Oleic acid thus direct­ly coun­ter­acts the risk of heart attacks and high blood pres­su­re and sup­ports the ent­i­re cir­cu­la­ti­on sys­tem. So the for­mu­la for peop­le affec­ted by high cho­le­ste­rol is: less meat -> more oli­ve oil -> health.

The anti­oxi­dant oleuro­pein also plays a role with oleic acid by expan­ding the arte­ries, pre­ven­ting them from cal­ci­fy­ing and so, for examp­le, pre­ven­ting strokes. Howe­ver, oleuropein’s main effect is to quick­ly pre­vent the deve­lo­p­ment of car­ci­no­ge­nic free radi­cals. As robust as the­se anti­oxi­d­ants seem, they are unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly lost during coo­king. But good news for lovers of French fries: they are pre­ser­ved when fry­ing. But befo­re you fry the ent­i­re pan­try, we recom­mend that you sim­ply con­su­me pure oli­ve oil on a regu­lar basis.

Koroneiki olives on the tree.

Hydro­xy­ty­ro­sol

Hydro­xy­ty­ro­sol is the most stu­di­ed phe­nol of all poly­phe­nols due to the varie­ty of pro­ces­ses in which it exerts an anti­oxi­dant effect. At their ori­gin, poly­phe­nols are plant defen­se agents. Howe­ver, the poly­phe­nols of the oli­ve work in almost the same way in the human orga­nism. This means that the com­pon­ents of oli­ve oil sup­port the health of both peop­le and the plant its­elf. Poly­phe­nols are anti­bac­te­ri­al, anti­vi­ral, anti­my­co­tic (against fun­gi), and anti­pa­ra­si­tic, as well as anti-inflamma­to­ry and immu­ne-boos­ting. Hydro­xy­ty­ro­sol also impro­ves blood flow, works against throm­bo­sis, and pro­tects the neu­trons in the brain. It is the­re­fo­re respon­si­ble for a hig­her reac­ti­vi­ty of the brain cells. So oli­ve oil also pro­mo­tes men­tal health.

After this list of almost unbe­liev­a­ble pro­per­ties, it’s hard or even impos­si­ble to stay level. So we won’t even try at this point. But, for the sake of com­ple­teness, we’ll brief­ly men­ti­on the fat­ty acids and vit­amin E, which link oli­ve oil to health. While the omega‑3 and 9 fat­ty acids (known collec­tively as oil acids) sup­port the car­dio­vascu­lar sys­tem and balan­ce the cho­le­ste­rol levels, vit­amin E (toco­phe­rols and toco­tri­enols) pro­tects the oli­ve oil its­elf and thus all the abo­ve-men­tio­ned com­pon­ents. A high vit­amin E con­tent and the pre­sence of omega‑9 fat­ty acids, the so-cal­led oil acids, is the­re­fo­re cru­cial when con­si­de­ring state­ments about the qua­li­ty and effects of an oil.

Deconstructed Greek salad with OEL.

It’s impos­si­ble to ima­gi­ne Greek food cul­tu­re and cui­sine without oli­ve oil, which is valued for its pre­cious nut­ri­tio­nal con­tent, the link bet­ween oli­ve oil and health, and abo­ve all its per­ma­nent avai­la­bi­li­ty. In times of cri­sis, Greeks have always pru­dent­ly used wha­te­ver is avail­ab­le. And that hap­pens to be healt­hy things like fish, olives, and oli­ve oil. Thanks to the culi­na­ry tra­di­ti­on ari­sing from this necessa­ry prag­ma­tism, recent com­pa­ra­ti­ve stu­dies show that the average Greek con­su­mes 20 liters of oli­ve oil a year. For com­pa­ri­son: the average Ger­man con­su­mes just 0.5 liters a year.

And here we high­light the up to 85% monoun­sa­tu­ra­ted fat­ty acids con­tai­ned in the oil. Becau­se des­pi­te con­suming immense quan­ti­ties of olives and oli­ve oil (i.e. fat), Greeks and other Medi­ter­ra­ne­an resi­dents enjoy bet­ter health than the average Euro­pean. And the fol­lowing is par­ti­cu­lar­ly true for peop­le with dia­be­tes or for tho­se who want to lose weight: oli­ve oil pro­mo­tes health. Sta­tis­ti­cal stu­dies, for examp­le, show that Medi­ter­ra­ne­an and so oil-con­tai­ning diets pro­du­ce lower cho­le­ste­rol levels and lower the risk of hyper­ten­si­on and heart dise­a­se. And this is also true for fat peop­le and tho­se with ill­nes­ses such as dia­be­tes. For peop­le with dia­be­tes, the fre­quent use of oli­ve oil in the kit­chen sup­ports the meta­bo­lism, pro­mo­tes weight loss, and so offers a per­fect nut­ri­tio­nal foundation.

All fats are not ali­ke. The key role of unsa­tu­ra­ted fat­ty acids.

But how exact­ly do the high con­sump­ti­on of fats and the signi­fi­cant­ly bet­ter health of the Greeks go tog­e­ther? The explana­ti­on is again: oli­ve oil pro­mo­tes health. It’s all con­nec­ted to the abo­ve-descri­bed ratio of LDL cho­le­ste­rol, the bad cho­le­ste­rol, to HDL cho­le­ste­rol, the good cho­le­ste­rol, in our over­all cho­le­ste­rol levels. The con­sump­ti­on of satu­ra­ted and unsa­tu­ra­ted fat­ty acids signi­fi­cant­ly affects the ratio of the two cho­le­ste­rol types. Oli­ve oil con­tains up to 85% unsa­tu­ra­ted fat, so it works against the “bad” LDL cho­le­ste­rol. At the same time, the levels of “good” HDL cho­le­ste­rol rise and so lower the abo­ve-men­tio­ned dise­a­se risks. The levels natu­ral­ly rise in pro­por­ti­on to the fre­quen­cy and amount of consumption.

Tri­via: accord­ing to stu­dies, the Greeks are simul­ta­ne­ous­ly at the top of the top 10 of the “fat­test Euro­peans” and at the top of the top 10 of the “oldest Euro­peans”. They also smo­ke and drink more alco­hol than the average Euro­pean. So they are fat but with a healt­hy heart. Which isn’t a paradox.