Home' Rotary Down Under : November 2014 (NZ Pacific) Contents LIFE & LIESURE
diet. However, it also emerged that it wasn’t the molecular
structure of olive oil that made it so powerful.
You could really call extra virgin olive oil “olive juice”, as
it’s created by simply squeezing olives for their oil content.
The oil still contains many of the olive’s nutrients, including
a class of food compounds called polyphenols.
Phenolic compounds help reduce oxidative damage, ease
inflammation, and because they have the ability to access
brain cells, polyphenols help reduce the incidence of age-
related cognitive decline like Alzheimers and neurological
disease like Parkinsons.
Olive oil also contains vitamin E, one of the fat-soluble
vitamins. Within cells, vitamin E’s ability to prevent
unsaturated fat from oxidising makes it a useful antioxidant
to mop up free radical activity.
Plant sterols are also a natural part of olive oil. These are
well-known as a food component that can help regulate
your blood cholesterol level.
Better brain and heart health
When you’re able to pull apart the components of olive oil
and identify their effect on body cells, it becomes easier to
see why this oil is truly a super food.
Many of the chronic diseases of modern Western
cultures are driven by oxidative stress and inflammation.
It’s the polyphenols in olive oil that biochemically act
to attenuate the actions of oxidative molecules, calm
inflammatory processes and help important vitamins stay
active in your system.
Olive oil can help your brain work better for longer. When
you consider that most of your brain cells are made up of
fat, a flexible cell-membrane structure becomes important
to help those cells function properly.
Each cell membrane is an interface between its content
and its environment. The membrane controls how effectively
oxygen and nutrients get in and waste gets out, and the
health of the membrane is reflected in the fat content of
your diet. If your diet is too high in saturated fats, your cell
membranes are more likely to be stiff and inflexible. A diet
proportionately high in monounsaturated fats, however,
helps create flexible cell membranes. And olive oil is a
Extra virgin olive oil shines in its ability to improve the
health of blood vessels, because inflammation and oxidative
stress are contributing factors to high blood pressure and
How to access the most powerful olive oil
As you sample olive oil or browse the shelves looking for
the best quality oil, keep in mind the way it’s traditionally
created and how it looks and smells when it’s been freshly
crushed. The colour of a good-quality extra virgin olive oil
will be dark green and strongly flavoured due to the high
proportion of those important nutrients. If you sample a
spoonful you’ll experience the strong peppery aftertaste.
That’s how olive oil is used in the traditional environment;
as extra virgin, first press olive oil, and this is the type you
want to use to improve your health.
Not everyone appreciates the strong taste of extra virgin
olive oil, so processors have developed ways to reduce the
strong flavour. This makes the oil milder in flavour and
lighter in colour, but along with the taste and colour you
also lose those valuable nutrients. If you want to utilise
olive oil for its health properties, it’s the dark-coloured,
extra virgin variety you need to pick off the shelf. Buy small
quantities regularly to access fresher oil – it can go rancid
when it’s exposed to too much air or light.
Ways to use olive oil
In the traditional Mediterranean diet, olive oil is used
liberally – researchers estimate up to 50mls per day, and
particularly as part of vegetable dishes. In fact, it’s the usual
combination of vegetables with olive oil that made it so
difficult for researchers to establish whether it was the
vegetables, or oil, or both, that made the Mediterranean-
style diet so healthy.
For a long and healthy life, perhaps incorporating more
extra virgin olive oil into your diet could be helpful. One
of the best ways to learn how to use it more is to pick
up a book of Mediterranean recipes and start cooking.
Olwen Anderson is a naturopathic nutritionist.
• Drizzled over salad greens
• Use as a dip for sourdough toast
• Pour over baked vegetables
• Substitute for other vegetable oils in
Easy ways to add more
olive oil into your diet
“Extra virgin olive oil shines
in its ability to improve the
health of blood vessels, because
inflammation and oxidative stress
are contributing factors
to high blood pressure and
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