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Health Benefits of Olive Oil

By Jean Fisher

Why should you use olive oil? Well there are several reasons. Substituting olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, for saturated fats or polyunsaturated fats can:

"Reduce blood pressure

"Inhibit the growth of some cancers

"Benefit people at risk for or with diabetes

"Lessen the severity of asthma and arthritis

"Actually help your body maintain a lower weight

HEALTHY HEART BENEFITS

Atherosclerosis, also called hardening of the arteries, occurs when particles of LDL cholesterol stick to the walls of the arteries. Eventually these particles build up and form plaque. This plaque narrows the blood vessels and increases the work load of the heart in an effort to get oxygenated blood to the entire body. The result can be a heart attack or stroke.

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants like chlorophyll, carotenoids and vitamin E. Scientists have identified a compound in olive oil called oleuropein which prevents the LDL cholesterol from oxidizing. It is the oxidized cholesterol that sticks to the walls of the arteries and forms plaque. Replacing other fats in your diet with olive oil can significantly lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attack.

CANCER INHIBITOR

A study published in the January 2005 issue of Annals of Oncology has identified oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid found in olive oil, as having the ability to reduce the affect of an oncogene (a gene that will turn a host cell into a cancer cell). This particular oncogene is associated with the rapid growth of breast cancer tumors. The conclusion of the researchers was that oleic acid when combined with drug therapy encouraged the self-destruction of aggressive, treatment-resistant cancer cells thus destroying the cancer. Olive oil has been positively indicated in studies on prostate and endometrial cancers as well.

Unlike other fats, which are associated with a higher risk of colon cancer, olive oil helps protect the cells of the colon from carcinogens. A study published in the November 2003 issue of Food Chemistry Toxicology suggests that the antioxidants in olive oil reduce the amount of carcinogens formed when meat is cooked.

BLOOD SUGAR CONTROLLER

Diabetics or those at risk for diabetes are advised to combine a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet with olive oil. Studies show this combination is superior at controlling blood sugar levels compared to a diet that consists entirely of low-fat meals. Adding olive oil is also linked to lower triglyceride levels. Many diabetics live with high triglyceride levels which put them at risk for heart disease.

ANTI-INFLAMMATORY PROPERTIES

The body uses the healthy fats in olive oil to produce natural anti-inflammatory agents. These anti-inflammatory agents can help reduce the severity of both arthritis and asthma. Uninflammed cell membranes are more fluid and better able to move healthy nutrients into the cells and move waste products out. A lower incidence of osteoporosis and dementia is found in areas where people consume large quantities of olive oil.

A FAT THAT HELPS YOU LOSE FAT

Sounds impossible, right? A study conducted on eight over-weight men published in the September 2003 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition yielded results that indicate a significant loss of body weight and fat mass can be achieved without increasing physical activity and making only one change in eating habits: the substitution of olive oil for saturated fats. The eight men were divided into two groups and for four weeks ate similar foods with the exception that the first group ate more saturated than unsaturated fats. The second group consumed the same number of calories as the first group, but the fats were mostly monounsaturated fat (olive oil). At the end of four weeks, the men from the second group were lighter and had a lower body-fat index than the men who ate the saturated fats.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION ON BUYING AND STORING OLIVE OIL

Exposure to light and heat can turn olive oil rancid. This destroys the healthy, antioxidant properties of the oil. Look for olive oil that is sold in darkly tinted bottles. Also, look carefully at the display in the grocery store. Are there glaring lights or sunny windows nearby? If so, you will want to check out some different stores. My favorite grocery store keeps the olive oil on the shelves closest to the floor and away from the fluorescent lights.

When you get home, find a dark, cool cupboard for storage. One suggestion is to pour some of the oil from the original container into a smaller container. The original container can be kept in the refrigerator for maximum protection. (The oil will become cloudy and more solid in the refrigerator.) The smaller container you select for your weekly supply of olive oil should be opaque and have a tight-sealing lid. Exposure to air is another enemy of the fragile antioxidants.

Confused about the different grades of olive oil? Extra-virgin olive oil is produced from the first pressing of the olives. It has the lightest flavor and contains the richest array of antioxidants. The next pressing of the olives produces fine virgin oil. Refined means that chemicals were used to extract the oil instead of pressing. Avoid refined olive oils. Pure olive oil is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils. I don't recommend pure grade either. If you see the words cold pressed on a bottle of olive oil that means heat was not used when extracting the oil. Remember, heat destroys antioxidants, so cold pressed is a good thing.

One last thought on this subject. If you are considering switching to olive oil from other oils, you might be shocked when you first look at the differences in price. I'm a serious bargain hunter. I always buy generic and look for bulk discounts whenever possible. But even the most determined penny pincher understands that there are simply some things that are worth the extra money. Olive oil is one of them.

Jean Fisher - http://www.whatsfordinner.net

About The Author
Jean Fisher is a former elementary school teacher. Her website>What's For Dinner?topics@whatsfordinner.net


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