People have been squeezing olives to make oil for about 8,000 years. The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae dates back over 5,000 years, and olive trees started being in Greece shortly after. The point is that the ancients knew a good thing when they saw it—and tasted it. Besides cooking, lamps and massages used olive oil. Aristotle even recommended mixing it with cedar oil, lead ointment and frankincense ointment to prevent pregnancy. Okay, skip the Greek’s guidance on this point, but that doesn’t mean that olive oil doesn’t have lots of medicinal benefits. Its various grades have them. For reference, extra virgin and virgin olive oils are not refined. Pure olive oils are a mix of oils used for massage. Refined olive oil is the second-lowest grade. There can be other differences between grades. Now to olive oil’s health benefits. Read on.
Since extra virgin olive oil uses a cold press process, this grade has a high smoke point, making it the best choice for high-temperature cooking.
Virgin olive oil is also cold pressed but has less stringent quality standards. This grade is more acidic but has a milder taste. It is less temperature-resistant and good for low-heat cooking and salad dressings. Refined oil varieties are moderate-quality oils that rely on chemicals for extraction. They are appropriate for inexpensive, high-temperature cooking. Pomace oil is the lowest quality grade. Blending in higher grades helps improve the taste, but this grade is best reserved for massages.
Unsaturated fats are known as good fats because they are less likely to clog arteries. It makes olive oil a great source since about 11 percent of these oils are polyunsaturated fats such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Not surprisingly, olive oil is a heart-healthy element of the Mediterranean Diet. One 2022 study reports that individuals who consumed at least a half-tablespoon of olive oil each day had lower rates of premature death from cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other causes than those who avoided olive oil.
A whopping 73 percent of olive oil’s total oil content is oleic acid, a good monounsaturated fat. It is important because oleic acids are anti-inflammatory agents acting against cancerous tumors. Interestingly enough, lower-grade olive oils contain more oleic acid than higher grades.
Extra virgin olive oil has polyphenols that have antioxidant properties. These polyphenols effectively combat oxidative stress, which can damage lipids, proteins and DNA. Unchecked, oxidative stress can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Even though olive oil has a hefty calorie count of 120 per tablespoon, it can help shed fat. A 2020 report found that individuals consuming extra virgin olive oil for two months had improvements in hepatic steatosis (fatty liver) and metabolic syndrome, which involves too much fat at the waist, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, fasting glucose and low HDL “good” cholesterol.
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