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.