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Olive oil

Olive oil

The olive tree, a member of the Oleaceae family, is evergreen, perennial and fruit-bearing. Its growth and yield are enhanced by the hot Mediterranean sun and mild winters with slow, regular rainfall. There are many varieties and types of olives which were created, firstly, through the adaptation of the tree to a variety of climates, and secondly, from the amplification methods used by human. Many varieties are suitable for the production of olive oil when subjected to special processing that renders them edible.
Olive oil is the magical golden natural juice which, like an umbilical cord, connects Greeks with their very distant past, nourishes them and introduces them to a supreme flavour. It is the key element of the food pyramid in the Mediterranean diet, which serves as a model of healthy nutrition, as it prevents and treats various conditions while also contributing to longevity. The nutritional value of olive oil is beyond question, as it contains nutrients, which are beneficial to the body and to health in general, as well as vitamins, trace elements, fibre, minerals and monounsaturated fatty acids. Its importance in history is indicated by the reference in the Hippocratic Code to more than sixty medicinal uses for olive oil. It is a product that protects against tuberculosis and rheumatism, helps wounds to heal, reduces "bad" LDL cholesterol increasing at the same "good" HDL cholesterol, while it is also a shield against cancer and ageing.
The antioxidant substances in olive oil, such as vitamin E, carotenoids (whose concentration is higher in green olives) and phenols (which are related to climatic conditions, production, storage and maturity of the olives), constitute the key nutritional elements that make it so important in promoting health.
In addition to its antioxidant properties, olive oil also contains squalene, as one of its main ingredients, which appears to reduce the incidence of skin melanoma. Scientific studies have proven: a) the positive effect on blood lipids; b) the prevention of clotting and aggregation of blood platelets. The result is a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.
Olive oil is also thought to help in digestion and absorption of nutrients (e.g. calcium, iron, magnesium), while also aiding constipation through its slightly laxative effect. Salads made with fresh vegetables contain important vitamins and nutrients, many of which, such as the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and the carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, etc.) must be consumed with a fatty base to be absorbed by the body in sufficient quantities.
In addition to its own beneficial nutrients, olive oil, and virgin olive oil in particular, which contains large quantities of monounsaturated fats (in comparison to other oils generally used in cooking), helps in the absorption of larger quantities of nutrients from both green leafy vegetables and others, such as potatoes. That is why its consumption and use is recommended both in cooking, in its raw form, and as a fat base in salads.

Heart-protective action
It contributes to reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood without reducing good cholesterol (HDL); it also has anti-clotting properties, and recent studies have shown that it can also help reduce blood pressure.

Reduced risk of cancer
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of olive oil has been shown to protect against various forms of cancer, such as of the breast or the large intestine, through a number of mechanisms. Many studies are being conducted in this area and it is expected that in the near future, much more will be known about the way the olive oil can protect against or contribute to the treatment of various forms of cancer.
Anti-ageing properties and protection against chronic conditions

Thanks to its high antioxidant action, olive oil helps to reduce the creation of free radicals, which are implicated in the development of various chronic conditions and in ageing.

Normal function of the digestive system
Numerous studies show that the consumption of olive oil contributes to the normal function of the digestive system through different mechanisms.

It helps metabolise glucose in diabetics
Studies on patients with diabetes have shown that healthy meals containing olive oil had a greater impact on blood glucose levels than meals that contained other types of fats or were very low in fat. In regard to personal body care, the ancient Greeks and Romans may have been the first to rub olive oil into muscles in order to keep them flexible. Athletes and those in the upper classes used oil in their daily personal care, applying it to their bodies and then using a "strigil", a special cleaning blade, to scrape it off the skin along with dirt and perspiration. General Hannibal knew that oil helped the body relax, and so in winter, along the banks of the River Trebbia, he ordered his soldiers to rub themselves down with olive oil after a good meal and before going into battle. In the Iliad, Odysseus and Diomedes first wash in hot water and then cover themselves with oil. In the Odyssey, we are told of the bathing of Telemachus in Sparta where, after he was washed, olive oil was applied to his body.
In view of the above, it is safe to conclude that the value of olive oil is inestimable. We should also remember that olive oil and other oils, with a high content of monounsaturated fat mainly, should be consumed in moderation and not to excess. So, even with a small quantity of olive oil, excellent results can be achieved as regards the absorption of nutrients, while also providing the best method of maintaining low levels of fat in our daily diet.

We can say without reservation that the consumption of olive oil as part of a balanced diet serves as a powerful ally in protecting against and treating many conditions.

Gaitanio Moula-Zorba
Dietician-Nutritionist, Alexandrian Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki (ATEITh)
Member of the Hellenic Association of Dieticians-Nutritionists (EDDE)

 











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