Olive oil is one of the healthiest cooking fats a key component of the Mediterranean diet and hugely versatile. Use it in salad dressings, in cooking, baking or as a deliciously simple dip for fresh bread.
Olive oil contains a vast array of polyphenols – phytochemicals with antioxidant properties – and it is these nutrient together with its high monoun-saturated fat content that are responsible for health benefits of olive oil.
But polyphenol content varies significantly between different olive oils. Here are some of the factors that affect it.
When it comes to health benefits the quality of the olive oil production makes a huge difference. Less processing gives oil a higher polyphenol content. Refined or light olive oils have much lower polyphenols than unfiltered and extra virgin olive oil.
Polyphenols in oil degrade over time, particularly on exposure to light and heat. So buy fresh, extra virgin olive oil in a dark glass bottle or tin and keep it in a cool place.
Heating olive oil to a high temperature lowers the polyphenol content. Extra virgin olive oil, like virgin olive oil, is a stable cooking oil to a high temperature BUT a temperature of 160 ̊C damages polyphenols with the consequent loss of many of its health benefits.
WHY USE OLIVE OIL?
- Heart health – the Mediterranean diet, with its high olive oil content, is consistently shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Anti Inflammatory properties – the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil are due to the polyphenols which reduce pro-inflammatory enzymes and inflammatory markers in the body. And just 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil a day is enough to reduce these inflammation levels. However research indicates it is only extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) that reduces the inflammatory markers.
- Cancer prevention – higher intake of olive oil is associated with lower odds of any type of cancer.
- Cognitive function – the Mediterranean diet has been generally linked with improved brain function, but the olive oil content may also be directly linked with less cognitive decline as we age.
- Bone health Emerging research indicates that better bone health and reduced osteoporosis risk is yet another benefit of increasing