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Olive Oil ‘Jaitun Tel’ Health Benefits

Olive oil is obtained from the fruit of Olea europaea trees, a native to the Mediterranean Sea basin. Countries around the Mediterranean Sea, such as Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Greece and Italy are some of the major producers of olives and olive oil in the world. Olive oil has some variants and many health benefits which are discussed in detail below.

India’s foray into Olive Oil production

India’s attempt to grow olive in the state of Rajasthan materialised when a pilot project, covering around 182 hectares, began in 2008. Under the project, 1,12,000 saplings of olive were brought from Israel where olives were being grown under similar conditions.

Till 2016, olive oil production in India stood at 11,574 kg with Ganganagar, Bikaner, Hanumangarh and Nagore districts of Rajasthan producing most of the olive oil.

As the demand of home grown Olive oil started growing, so did the are under cultivation. The Government of India is planning to increase the area under cultivation to 5000 hectares and also take the cultivation to other part of India. This is planned in view of increasing demand of olive oil in the country which is currently a net importer of olive oil. 

The Centre of Excellence for Agriculture, located at Bassi in Rajasthan, has also embarked on producing olive tea in flavours of mint, ginger, tulsi and lemon.

Yes! Olive Oil is not a traditional Indian cooking and diet plan, BUT its amazing health benefits and the potentially rightful claim of being The Healthiest Fat on Earth has made it as one of the MUST HAVE oils, nowadays, in the India Kitchen.

Properties of Olive Oil

Olive Oil is a rich source of energy as 100g of it gives 880 kcal of energy. Smoke Point of Olive is dependent on whether it is refined or virgin. Refined olive oil has smoke point of 210°C whereas Virgin olive oil has smoke point of 175°C. Extra Virgin olive oil has smoke point of 190-215°C. High smoke point makes it ideal for cooking and frying purposes.

How to Cook With Olive Oil?

Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive oils do well when heated at high temperatures, however, there could be a loss of flavour or taste. Therefore, in terms of usage, these are best used on uncooked dishes. These are used to add body and depth to the recipe. 

It can be used to harmonise spices in a preparations, drizzled over salad or cooked pasta or vegetables, used in marinades or sauces for meat and fish, as a replacement for butter on mashed or baked potatoes and many other ways.

Even baking can be done using olive oil. You can go for mild olive oil for making breads, cakes, cookies and other desserts.

Frying can also be done using this oil, whether it is deep frying or stir-frying.

What does Olive Oil contain?

The following table shows the fat composition of the olive oil…

Saturated fats< 15 %
Total saturatedPalmitic acid: 13.0%
Stearic acid: 1.5%
Total unsaturated fats> 85 %
MonounsaturatedOleic acid: 70.0%
Palmitoleic acid: 0.3–3.5%
PolyunsaturatedLinoleic acid (Omega 3): 15.0%
α-Linolenic acid (Omega 6): 0.5%
(Source: Wikipedia)

1. Laden with Unsaturated fats. As can be seen, the olive oil is essentially composed of the unsaturated ‘heart healthy’ fats whose percentage is more than 85% of total fat. Among the unsaturated fats, it is the monounsaturated fats which comprise more than 70% of content, with Oleic acid taking up as much as 70% of total fat composition. 

Polyunsaturated fats forms about 15% of total oil fat with Linoleic acid taking up almost whole 15% composition.

Saturated fat composition is low at about 13-14% only and Palmitic Acid makes most of it.

It does not contain trans-fat. The benefit with this kind of fat composition where unsaturated fats are higher than the saturated fats is that it is good for heart in particular and health in general.

2. Vitamin E and Vitamin K are the other important nutrients present in the olive oil. These vitamins help in keeping the skin supples, young, healthy bones metabolism and blood clotting.

3. The flavenoid polyphenols present in olive oil are natural antioxidants that contribute to a bitter taste, astringency, and resistance to oxidation. These help in lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and risk of coronary disease.

Every 10g of olive oil contains 5 mg of these compounds. The levels to which these are present in the olive oil depend on variety of olive, time of picking, altitude, irrigation, extraction conditions and storage conditions.

Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil

1/9. Prevents Cardiovascular diseases

Olive oil is traditionally believed to be good for heart. The high levels of unsaturated fats composition makes it good for heart. Olive oil is also rich in Vitamin E. Studies have shown that Vitamin E, when consumed in diet along with food rich in antioxidants, is known to reduce accumulation of fat (plaque) on artery walls, a condition called Atherosclerosis. However, the studies also pointed out that Vitamin E failed to make an impact when it was taken as a supplement and not with food.

Another important heart problem is the formation of blood clots which block the heart arteries. It was found that though the Mediterranean people had high cholesterol levels, they did not have as high instances of heart diseases as could be expected. 

Further studies pointed out the fact that it was consumption of olive oil which reduced the levels of Blood Coagulation Level VII – one of the proteins that causes blood to clot in the coagulation cascade. 

This meant that the olive oil fundamentally inhibits the ability of the blood to form clots. So, it keep the heart healthy in this way.

2/9. Lowers Blood Cholesterol level

One of the major advantages of having olive oil in cooking or other eatables is that it is rich in mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids which are known to decrease the levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol) in blood. 

Studies have shown that regular intake of olive oil also reduces the total cholesterol levels in blood. By reducing the LDL, it strikes a crucial balance between HDL and LDL, which is responsible for reducing cardiovascular diseases and controlling diabetes. 

It shall be noted that reduction in HDL levels (less than 40mg/dl) can also be detrimental to arteries and increase risk of cardiac issues. Therefore, maintaining a balance is of vital importance.

3/9. Protection against various Cancers

Many studies have highlighted the fact that there is a lower prevalence of cancer rates in countries where Mediterranean diet is taken as compared to USA. This has been attributed in part to high incidence of using olive oil, particularly the Virgin and Extra Virgin Olive oils. These two oils, due to their cold temperature processing and not addition of chemicals, retain certain minor compounds which are effective in fight against cancer. 

Olive oil was found to be particularly useful in preventing breast, colon and prostate cancer. Presence of oleic acid reduces the ability of oncogene to develop cancerous cells.  

Studies conducted in Barcelona in 2003 and 2009 have confirmed that olive oil reduced progression of breast cancer. Polyphenols present in extra virgin oil combat the breast cancer cells of HER-2 type. 

In another study on rats conducted by doctors in Barcelona, olive oil, safflower and fish oil were given. After 5 months, the rats given olive oil and fish oil were found to have almost half colon cancer rates than those given safflower oil. It is believed that the effect could be same on humans as well because this oil lowers instance of inflammation in intestines. 

Further, in a study conducted on thousands of women in Milan, Italy, it was noticed the women who had maximum olive oil had lowest rates of ovarian cancer (reduced by about 30%). 

Similar studies have also shown protection against prostate and skin cancers.

4/9. Reduces Blood Sugar (Diabetes)

American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats in diet in order to reduce the cholesterol levels. Olive oil fits this suggestion well. It reduces the belly fat and insulin sensitivity. It also decreases the adiponectin, the hormone produced and secreted by fat cells which regulated the sugar and fat metabolism. 

5/9. Controls Blood Pressure

Blood pressure can be due to stress or due to atherosclerosis, a condition in which oxidised LDL cholesterol sticks to artery walls. When cholesterol sticks to arteries, there is reduced flow of blood which results in increase in pressure. Oleuropein, a compound present in olive oil, prevents this oxidation and sticking. 

In a study conducted by University of Naples to know the effectiveness of olive oil vis-à-vis sunflower oil on blood pressure, it was noticed that those who used olive oil in diet for 4 months showed reduced need of intake of diabetic medicine by as much as 50% whereas no such major reduction was noticed in case of those who took sunflower oil.

6/9. Helps in Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis can be controlled by use of olive oil which acts as a natural anti-inflammatory agent. This is due to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids and oleocanthal which is particularly helpful as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant agent.

Another important compound which is believed to be 10000 times more potent than original fatty acids for anti-inflammatory property is omega-3s, which are further converted to resolvins. This was brought out by a study conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Only virgin and extra virgin olive oils are believed to have this compound. 

7/9. Alleviates Asthma

Anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant property of olive oil is considered important in alleviating the effects of asthma. A change in diet to Mediterranean one with more use of olive oil comes with the benefit of reducing the effect of Asthma. 

8/9. Reduces weight

People who are overweight can benefit from olive oil by a reduction in the weight over a period of time. This happens due to presence of more unsaturated fats than saturated ones and secondly, because of the ability of the olive oil to breakdown the fat (adipocytes). 

9/9. Anti-bacterial properties

Heliobacter pylori is a bacteria which lives in stomach and contributes to stomach ulcers and cancers. Olive oil is known to inhibit the growth of eight strains of this bacteria, thereby saving you from potential health risk. 

Olive Oil Extraction and Types of Olive Oils

Olive Oil is extracted by first grinding the olives and then extracting the oil by using mechanical and chemical means. The quality of olives and the quantity of harvest depends a lot on weather conditions and the time of picking the fruit. These factors alter the composition of olive oil and this defines whether the oil is Virgin or Extra Virgin. 

Only those olives are used for extraction of oil which are perfectly ripe. If these are not ripe yet (green hue), then oil will taste bitter and if these are overripe, then it will become rancid. So, time of plucking of olives shall be perfect. 

Extraction Process – At first, the olives are ground using large millstones or steel drums. The time of grinding has to perfect because if it is shorter then less oil having less ripe taste is produced and if it is more then there will be more than required oxidation, which will reduce the taste. The grinding process produces vegetal liquid and paste. The water is drained out using the centrifugal machines. It is important to drain out water because its presence leads to organic degeneration by microorganisms.

1/5. Virgin Olive Oil

Till this stage of extraction where mechanical methods of extraction and separation are used, the oil so extracted is called the Virgin Olive Oil. There is no use of chemicals till this stage. There is no mixing of even refined oil in these. Free acidity value of up to 2% is acceptable for it. 

2/5. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a higher grade virgin olive oil wherein high quality depends a lot on favourable weather conditions. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is extracted using cold mechanical extraction process without any chemical solvent being used and the maximum temperature used for heating is 27°C. The process satisfies specific high chemical and other organic criteria, such as free acidity value of less than 0.8%, which again is dependent on favourable weather conditions. 

3/5. Lampante Olive Oil

This olive oil is extracted by mechanical means without using any chemicals but is not used for human consumption but for lighting the oil lamps or for industrial applications. If this is to be used for human consumption, it requires to be refined first.

4/5. Filtered/Unfiltered Olive Oil

When the olive oil production is done, it might still have some solid particles. This reduces the shelf life of the oil. In appearance, it is slightly cloudy. 

Therefore, it is also called cloudy olive oil. This oil is slowly gaining more acceptance as consumers are demanding those oils which are less processed. Labelling of this oil shall mention it to be ‘unfiltered’. 

On the other hand, filtration of extra virgin oil improves its stability and makes it more attractive. It removes the suspensions which, on settling down, can increase enzyme activity which leads to spoilage.

5/5. Pomace Oil

After the process of extraction of olive oil is complete, a semi-solid waste remains in which there is small quantity of oil which is extracted using chemical solvents. The oil thus obtained in called Pomace Oil. 

Pomace oil has generated lot of bad press, the British and Spanish authorities restrict the usage of pomace oil, in the kitchen preparations.

Also Read…

[1] Olive Oil Adulteration and Detection Methods

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