Olive Oil: Nutritional and Health Benefits

by Maison Morand

The Olive Tree, an ancient symbol of the Mediterranean, has shaped history with its liquid gold—Olive Oil. For over 6,000 years, this Oleaceae family member witnessed the rise and fall of empires, serving as a medicinal elixir and ceremonial icon. Today, the story of Olive Oil continues to unfold. Its early appearances in religious rites and culinary traditions have evolved into a global appreciation that spans centuries. 

Explore how olive oil has withstood the test of time in its symbolic yield of nutritional and health benefits, making it a promising condiment for your lifestyle. 

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil, often referred to as "liquid gold," undergoes a meticulous extraction process that transforms olive drupes into a culinary masterpiece. This process is crucial to achieve the highest quality and preserve the unique characteristics of this ancient elixir.

Types of Olive Oil:

  1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): The crème de la crème of olive oils, EVOO is the purest and highest quality. It boasts a low acidity level, a rich flavour profile, and a vibrant green hue. Perfect for drizzling over salads or dipping with crusty bread.
  2. Virgin Olive Oil: Slightly lower in quality than EVOO, virgin olive oil maintains a robust flavour but with slightly higher acidity. It's an excellent choice for both cooking and dressing.
  3. Pure Olive Oil: Blended with a percentage of extra virgin olive oil, this variety is lighter in flavour and colour. Its versatility makes it suitable for various culinary applications, from sautéing to baking.
  4. Light Olive Oil: Contrary to its name, "light" refers to its neutral flavour rather than reduced calories. This oil is often a blend of refined and virgin olive oils, making it suitable for dishes where a milder taste is desired.

The Journey from Tree to Bottle:

  • Harvesting
    The olive harvest typically occurs in the late fall when the fruit is at its peak ripeness. Traditional methods involve hand-picking, while modern farms may use mechanical harvesters.
  • Processing
    Once harvested, the olives undergo a process called milling, where they are crushed to extract the oil. This can be done with traditional stone mills or more modern stainless-steel crushers.
  • Malaxation
    The crushed olives are then malaxed or mixed to form a paste. This step helps separate the oil from the pulp and facilitates the coalescing of oil droplets.
  • Pressing or Centrifugation
    The paste is pressed to separate the oil from the solids, or centrifugation is employed to achieve the same result more efficiently.
  • Decanting
    The extracted oil is allowed to settle, separating from any remaining water or impurities. This is a crucial step in achieving the purity associated with high-quality olive oil.
  • Filtration
    Some oils undergo filtration to remove any remaining particles, ensuring clarity and stability.
  • Storage and Bottling
    Finally, the pristine olive oil is stored in stainless steel containers or dark glass bottles to protect it from light and air, preserving its freshness and preventing oxidation.

Olive Oil Nutrition Facts

Olive oil's harmonious blend of flavour and nutrition makes it a top-tier virtuoso. From its monounsaturated fats dancing with heart health to its antioxidant overture, this liquid gold continues to cast its glow on our palettes and well-being. 

Monounsaturated Fats

The heart of olive oil's nutritional prowess lies in its monounsaturated fats. These healthy fats, predominantly oleic acid, contribute to heart health by reducing bad cholesterol levels and supporting good cholesterol.

Antioxidant Bounty

Olive oil is a trove of antioxidants, including vitamin E and polyphenols. These potent compounds work to counteract oxidative stress within the body, potentially diminishing the likelihood of developing chronic diseases.

Anti-Inflammatory Prowess

Rich in anti-inflammatory properties, olive oil may aid in reducing inflammation—a key factor in many chronic health conditions.

Caloric Consciousness

While olive oil isn't shy in the calorie department, with around 120 calories per tablespoon, its nutrient density makes it a preferred choice for those mindful of their overall diet.

Comparing the Nutritional Palette

Let's put olive oil on the nutritional canvas alongside some popular cooking oils to highlight its standout features.

  • Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: Olive oil takes the lead with its superior monounsaturated fat content and antioxidant richness, offering a more heart-healthy choice.
  • Olive Oil vs. Coconut Oil: While coconut oil has gained attention, especially for high-heat cooking, olive oil emerges as the winner in terms of its well-balanced fatty acid profile and lower saturated fat content.
  • Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil: Both oils share heart-healthy attributes, but olive oil's robust antioxidant content gives it an extra edge in the nutritional arena.

Olive Oil Benefits

Beyond its delectable taste and culinary versatility, olive oil stands as a nutritional powerhouse with several lesser-known health benefits. One such benefit lies in its potential to support weight management. Contrary to the misconception that all fats contribute to weight gain, the monounsaturated fats in olive oil can actually assist in weight control by promoting feelings of satiety and aiding in the absorption of nutrients.

Furthermore, olive oil exhibits a unique quality in its ability to positively impact bone health. Emerging research suggests that the phenolic compounds present in olive oil may contribute to bone density and strength, offering a savoury solution for those mindful of skeletal well-being.

Olive oil isn't just a friend to your internal systems, it also lends a helping hand to your skin. Rich in antioxidants, it may play a role in protecting the skin from oxidative stress and premature ageing. Whether used topically or consumed, the benefits extend beyond the plate, offering a holistic approach to well-being.

Usage and Selection Tips

When it comes to choosing olive oil, quality is key. Opt for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as your go-to choice, as it is the purest and least processed form, retaining the highest nutritional value and robust flavour. Look for dark glass bottles or opaque containers to shield the oil from light, preserving its freshness.

Check for certifications such as "PDO" (Protected Designation of Origin) or "PGI" (Protected Geographical Indication), which ensure the oil's origin and quality. Additionally, a harvest date on the label is a good indicator of freshness.

Incorporating Into Daily Delights

  • Elevate salads with a drizzle of olive oil combined with a splash of balsamic vinegar. The simplicity of this dressing allows the oil's flavours to shine.
  • When cooking, choose olive oil for sautéing vegetables or searing proteins at medium heat. Its low smoke point makes it ideal for light cooking.
  • Create mouthwatering marinades for meats or vegetables by blending olive oil with herbs, garlic, and citrus. Let your ingredients soak up the goodness before cooking.
  • Enjoy crusty bread by dipping it in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of your favourite herbs. A simple and delightful appetizer.
  • Don't shy away from incorporating olive oil into desserts. It adds a rich depth to chocolate cakes or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.

In the world of gastronomy, olive oil isn't just an everyday staple; it's a versatile ingredient that brings both flavour and a dose of health to the table. 

Dive into the essence of olive oil benefits, and you'll uncover a nutritional treasure trove. This liquid gold, with its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and an orchestra of antioxidants, showcases a commitment towards healthy eating. It supports our cardiovascular well-being, stands against the tide of inflammation, and even lends a hand in weight management and bone health.