Olives - Mediterranean Superfood
04 July 2012,17:47:56 BST
The Mediterranean diet is favored by people around the world, and not only for the rich flavors and textures associated with this traditional cuisine. A wide range of health benefits have been ascribed to the Mediterranean pattern of eating, including protection against heart disease, depression, cancer, high cholesterol and dementia.
Olives are known to be an excellent source of healthy fats (monounsaturated fat (oleic acid)), to which many of olive oil’s health benefits have been ascribed, especially its capacity to help prevent heart disease. Both olives and high-quality olive oil have been studied for their potential beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels, their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and their mild blood-thinning effects that may help prevent inappropriate blood clot formation.
Olives and olive oil contain a variety of additional compounds that may also offer health benefits. Antioxidant phenols such as hydroxytyrosol possess antimicrobial activity, “thin” the blood, and may help ensure the proper flow of nutrients throughout the body by dilating blood vessels. A recently discovered phenol present in extra virgin olive oil called oleocanthal has garnered a great deal of interest due to its natural anti-inflammatory activity that compares well with the actions of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen. High-quality extra virgin olive oil that contains oleocanthal confers a slightly bitter, yet enjoyable, peppery taste that is typically experienced at the back of the throat.
Some olive oil constituents also appear to possess anti-cancer activity.
Olive Oil Quality
In simple terms, olive oil is extracted through the physical crushing of olives and the subsequent pressing of the pulpy mass that remains. Oil obtained from the earliest presses (extra virgin) contains the highest concentration of health-promoting phenols and is the least acidic. Ensuing presses, together with other processes, allow for the collection of additional quantities of oil (virgin and ordinary olive oils), but they are typically deemed to be of both lower culinary quality and therapeutic potential.
Olive Varieties and Olive Leaf Extract
Supermarkets carry a number of different varieties of olives. Most people are familiar with green and black olives; the main differences between the two are the added ripeness or oxidation of black olives, and the ways they are cured to remove a potentially health-promoting. Olive leaf extract in an extract taken from olive leaves that contains the antioxidant compound oleuropein, which is typically removed from olives through curing, has also been studied for its potential therapeutic benefits.
A traditional Mediterranean-style diet calls for eating about 8-10 olives or ingesting 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, either by dipping bread in it or preparing meals at low heat with the oil, each day.
Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed, least acidic, best tasting, and likely most healthy choice when it comes to olive oil, but it can be pricey. Look for varieties that are cold pressed and organic, and specifically seek out those that are certified by the International Olive Oil Association or the California Olive Oil Council.
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