The greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat is olive oil, and it is a prime component of the Mediterranean Diet. Olive oil is a natural juice which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is - freshly pressed from the fruit.
The beneficial health effects of olive oil are numerous due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of antioxidative substances. Studies have shown that olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the "good" cholesterol) levels. No other naturally produced oil has as large an amount of monounsaturated as olive oil -mainly oleic acid.
Studies have shown that people who consumed 25 milliliters (mL) - about 2 tablespoons - of virgin olive oil daily for 1 week showed less oxidation of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in the blood.
But while all types of olive oil are sources of monounsaturated fat, EXTRA VIRGIN olive oil, from the first pressing of the olives, contains higher levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin E and phenols, because it is less processed.
Olive oil is clearly one of the good oils, one of the healing fats. Most people do quite well with it since it does not upset the critical omega 6 to omega 3 ratio and most of the fatty acids in olive oil are actually an omega-9 oil which is monounsaturated.
Types of olive oil
Generally, olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. Olive oil comes in different varieties, depending on the amount of processing involved. Varieties include:
- Extra virgin - considered the best, least processed, comprising the oil from the first pressing of the olives.
- Virgin - from the second pressing.
- Pure - undergoes some processing, such as filtering and refining.
- Extra light - undergoes considerable processing and only retains a very mild olive flavour.
When buying olive oil you will want to obtain a high quality EXTRA VIRGIN oil. The oil that comes from the first "pressing" of the olive, is extracted without using heat (a cold press) or chemicals, and has no "off" flavors is awarded "extra virgin" status. The less the olive oil is handled, the closer to its natural state, the better the oil. If the olive oil meets all the criteria, it can be designated as "extra virgin".
What is pure and light olive oil? "Pure" olive oil is made by adding a little extra virgin olive oil to refined olive oil. It is a lesser grade oil that is also labeled as just "olive oil" in the U.S.
"Light" olive oil is a marketing concept and not a classification of olive oil grades. It is completely unregulated by any certification organizations and therefore has no real precedent to what its content should be. Sometimes, the olive oil is cut with other vegetable oils.
How to care for your olive oil
Resist the temptation to place your beautiful bottle of olive oil on the windowsill. Light and heat are the #1 enemy of oil. Keep olive oil in a cool and dark place, tightly sealed. Oxygen promotes rancidity. Olive oil is like other oils and can easily go rancid when exposed to air, light or high temperatures.
You can of course buy extra virgin olive oil in any grocery store.
More Olive Oil Facts
- The olive tree is an evergreen.
- The olive tree was first cultivated in 6,000 B.C.
- Olive trees can live up to 600 years or more.
- It takes 5-8 years before an olive tree will bear its first fruit.
- There are over 800 million olive trees now planted worldwide.
Ingredients generally found in olive oil
- 120 Calories per Tablespoon
- 14 grams of Total Fat
- 1.5grams of Saturated fat
- 6 grams of Polyunsaturated fat
- 6 grams of Monounsaturated fat
- 0 Trans Fat
- 0 Sodium
- 0 Cholesterol and
- 0 Total Carbohydrate
Extra-virgin olive oil has only 120 calories per tablespoon and depending on which brand you’re using they will have different grams of fat between polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. However, none will have any trans fat, sodium or cholesterol.
Secret Olive Oil Ingredients
Some of the key components and olive oil ingredients are:
Essential Fatty Acids
Olive oil is made up of what are called Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s). Essential fatty acids are required to sustain and maintain good health but it’s the component that the human body cannot manufacture by itself. As such, they must be obtained through food.
Fatty acids come in two different varieties: saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids are what are in saturated fat, and unsaturated fatty acids make unsaturated fats. For human nutrition, there’s pretty clear pecking order between saturated and unsaturated fat.
Diets that are high saturated fat are ‘correlated’ (i.e. the two things go together) with higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fats on the other hand can actually help lower cholesterol levels, and are a small but essential part of a healthy diet.
Thankfully, most of the fatty acids in olive oil are of the unsaturated variety, and it has significantly lower proportion of saturated fat than any other fat commonly used in cooking. Foods that are rich in essential fatty acids include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel and herring. You’ll also find them in fish oils and flaxseed oils.
Olive oil has zero trans fatty acid, which is known to clog arteries and bring on host of health issues. Food such as margarine contains trans fat, which is also known “partially hydrogenated oil” in many packaging labels so watch out for these words. Click here for more in-depth information on Essential Fatty Acids
Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, which are a chemical compound with powerful antioxidant characteristics. ‘Antioxidant’ is another nutritional term that we’ve all heard talked about.
Antioxidants do just what the name suggests. They slow down the process of or prevent the oxidation of other molecules. And why is this a good thing? Because oxidation of molecules in the body can produce free radicals that are damaging to cells, leading to diseases such as cancer. Some scientists also believe that it is damage from free radicals that cause living things to age.
People who eat a diet high in good sources of antioxidants, like oily fish, fruit and vegetables, have been shown to have a level of protection against cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Olive oil, with its 5 milligrams of polyphenols in every 10 grams, is another member of this group of foods.
The scientific community has proven that antioxidants have many health benefits from lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to lowering the risk of heart disease.
Olive oil is also a good source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is an essential vitamin, and has a critical role in allowing blood to coagulate properly and form clots. Vitamin K deficiency leads to anemia and to internal bleeding such as from the gums and nose.
While vitamin K deficiency used to be rare, recent research has shown that it might now be much more common. The primary sources of vitamin K are in leafy, dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Olive oil can also provide a handy substitute on days where those vegetables don’t fit into your plans for dinner.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones and teeth.
The remaining 1 % is found in the blood and tissues as well as playing a critical role in transmitting nerve impulses and regulating muscle contractions. It also works hard in regulating blood pressure, blood clotting and other body processes. Click here to learn more about this important mineral.
Quality of Oil Is Key
It is true. Not all olive oils are created equal. Extra-virgin olive oil is different from virgin olive oil, which is also different in nutritional quality from pure or light olive oil. It matters whether an olive oil is made organically, naturally, using the cold-pressed or heat method, etc.
The fact is that extra-virgin has the highest amount of nutrients like antioxidants. The best way to make quality and finest olive oil is to cold-press? it within 48-hours after harvesting. Only extra-virgin extra olive is made this way and will be rich in polyphenols.