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Olive Oil: It’s Not Just Good For Popeye

Olive oil has been around for ages. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Hebrews and Greeks all appreciated the olive tree for the oil from its fruit which could be used for moisturizing skin, fueling lamps, co...

Olive oil has been around for ages. Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Hebrews and Greeks all appreciated the olive tree for the oil from its fruit which could be used for moisturizing skin, fueling lamps, cooking and even healing.

Currently, there are approximately 800 million olive trees spread throughout the world, in Angola, China and California. However, most trees are found in the Mediterranean, where olive oil has been a food staple for 6,000 years. In fact, presently each man, woman and child consumes an average of five gallons of olive oil a year in Greece!

Because there are 700 cultivated varieties of olives, olive oils may be quite different. They can be mellow yellow in colour, or jade green. They can taste peppery, nutty, grassy, sweet and buttery, or like green apples. They can be filtered, making a clearer product, or unfiltered, leaving sedimentation and juicy chunks of fruit suspended in the oil.

No matter, olive oil is a natural juice which delivers the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. No other naturally-produced oil has as much monounsaturated oil as olive oil. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as is -freshly pressed from the fruit.

Now many of us are following the Mediterraneans by adding olive oil to our North American diets, which is great because olive oil appears to be responsible for the healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Probably because it is less processed, olive oil contains higher concentrations of phenolic compounds than other types of seed oils (soybean, sunflower, safflower, and canola). Phenolics are plant-based compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties, making them an excellent tool for staying healthy.

Phenolics in olive oil are especially good for the heart, colon and the digestive system, especially the gallbladder, and may be especially effective in preventing both breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while increasing HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. If you eat just two tablespoons of virgin olive oil each day for a week, you will improve your cholesterol and antioxidant levels, especially phenols, in your blood. This will improve your circulation and lower your blood pressure. Olive oil’s high concentration of oleic acid also keeps your arteries flexible.

Studies suggest that including olive oil in your diet may be as effective as fish oils in preventing colon cancer.

In general, olive oil is good for digestion because it rarely upsets your stomach. It actually can speed the healing of ulcers and gastritis. If you are prone to gall stones, use olive oil because it activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones much more naturally than drugs, making it less likely that you will form gall stones.

Now that you are probably considering adding olive oil to your diet, how do you choose from the variety of types on the grocery shelf? Does it make any difference? Well, all olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. However, olive oil comes under the following labels, based on the amount of processing involved.

Extra virgin is considered to be the best for you because it is the least processed. This is the oil from the first pressing of the olive fruit. No heat is used when extracting this oil, which is why it is described as ‘cold pressed.’ High quality, extra virgin olive oil indicates that no chemicals have been used in the processing. As it is made from top grade olives, with less than 1% acidity, it has the highest nutritional value and the best taste.

Virgin olive oil is also mechanically pressed, but with olives that may not be top grade and/or are from the second or third pressing.

Pure olive oil is just a marketing term. This oil comes from the third or fourth pressing, and has been refined in a variety of processes, all using extreme heat and chemicals to get the oil from the remaining pulp. Sometimes a little extra virgin oil has been added.

Extra light is extremely processed, retaining only a very mild olive flavour. This name is actually unregulated and often just refers to the colour of the oil and not the quality at all. Sometimes, even other vegetable oils are added to the olive oil under this labeling.

After considering the above information, you’ve decided which type of oil you want.

So, how can you keep it in top condition? Store it in a cool, dark place. Since oxygen will make any oil go rancid, tightly seal the bottle after you use it.

Following the previous guidelines, it can be stored for up to a year and a half without affecting its quality.

Even Popeye knew that olive oil was nice to have around. Now you do, too.

-Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.
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