Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most important condiments in Mediterranean cuisine. It has so many benefits that it is difficult to make a complete list. It is considered to be the best of all fats, as its production process totally excludes chemical processes and the use of industrial means.
Here are the main benefits of extra virgin olive oil:
1. Prevents cardiovascular disease
One of the main beneficial effects of extra virgin olive oil is its high content of monounsaturated fats (over 70%), which are useful in preventing cardiovascular disease. It is also low in saturated fats, which can increase these risks, as well as being directly linked to increased levels of cholesterol in the blood.
2. It has antioxidant properties
Another very important property of extra virgin olive oil is its polyphenols, natural antioxidants that help protect cell membranes and prevent cancer. Each olive oil contains a different amount of the latter, depending on the quality of the product.
3. Fights diabetes
Among its many benefits, extra virgin olive oil contributes to the production of insulin thanks to its fatty acids. According to a study by the Sapienza University of Rome, the main component in reducing glucose levels after a meal is oleuropein.
4. Helps lower blood pressure
Another fundamental property, also given by polyphenols, is its ability to reduce blood pressure. According to a Spanish study, in addition to controlling blood pressure, the oil also has anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Helps prevent wrinkles and moisturises the skin
The fifth benefit of oil is that it makes the skin stronger, more nourished and moisturised when used in the form of a mask, together with honey, or as a compress (in the latter case, it can also be used on the hair to make it brighter and healthier).
So those are the 5 main benefits of extra virgin olive oil. And they are not all!
Only the best olive oils allow you to enjoy them to the full.
Extra virgin olive oil is a precious foodstuff that has been called “yellow gold” since ancient times.
Find out which is the best olive oil, the benefits it brings and how to use it correctly in cooking.
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Olive oil: characteristics and types Calories and nutritional values
Benefits of olive oil How to use olive oil in cooking
Olive oil in cosmetics
Contraindications and side effects
Extra virgin olive oil is the typical condiment fat of the Mediterranean diet and its use is a true culture.
Used since ancient times by the people of the Mediterranean, it is now appreciated everywhere and exported as a product of excellence all over the world, since it is recognised as having extraordinary properties.
Olive oil is obtained by pressing olives, the fruit of the olive tree, a plant that is typical of the Mediterranean region and presumed to have originated in Asia Minor.
This ancient plant has its roots in Greek mythology and has always been a symbol of prosperity and peace.
Olive oil: characteristics and types
When talking about olive oil it is necessary to distinguish between various types. There is a well-defined classification that allows us to distinguish between extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, lampante olive oil and olive-pomace oil.
Let’s take a closer look at what this means.
Olive oil is obtained by pressing olives and this pressing can take place in different ways: this determines the final result and therefore the distinction between the various types.
Extra virgin, virgin and lampante olive oil are obtained by mechanical pressing of the olives, while olive-pomace oil is an oil that has undergone refining as it is obtained using chemical processes.
The pressing process is crucial because it determines an important parameter, which is the acidity of the oil.
The acidity of an oil represents the amount of free fatty acids present in the oil.
Oil is in fact composed of triglycerides, molecules made up of three fatty acids combined with a glycerol molecule.
In the presence of an oxidising environment this bond breaks down, releasing the fatty acids and causing the oil to degrade.
It follows that the lower the acidity, the higher the quality of the oil.
The acidity of an oil corresponds to the percentage by weight of free oleic acid, which is the main fatty acid in olive oil, in relation to the total weight of the oil, and can be indicated either as a percentage or in degrees of acidity.
In particular, olive oil is classified as: Extra virgin olive oil:
extra virgin olive oil, to be defined as such, must have an acidity of less than 0.8%;
Virgin olive oil: virgin oil has an acidity of less than or equal to 2%;
Lampante olive oil: oils with an acidity of more than 2%, obtained by mechanical pressing, are lampante oils.
Lampante olive oil: oils with an acidity of over 2%, obtained by mechanical pressing, are lampante oils. These oils are all obtained by mechanical pressing of the olives; those obtained by refining with the use of solvents lose most of their nutritional and organoleptic characteristics: we are talking in this case about olive pomace oil.
The acidity of an oil should not, however, be confused with the slightly “spicy” taste that can be detected on tasting, since acidity is a chemical parameter that cannot be perceived, but only measured in the laboratory.
That spicy taste is due to the presence of polyphenols in the oil, and is usually a positive sign regarding its quality.
In contrast, refined oils, which have undergone industrial rectification processes in order to be organoleptically acceptable, are often odourless and tasteless.
In order to obtain HIGH QUALITY oil with a low level of acidity, it is necessary first of all to extract it from olives grown in suitable conditions and on suitable soils, to harvest them in the right way and at the right stage of ripeness and to mill them within a very short time of harvesting.
Equally important are the pressing and preservation processes.
This is why extra virgin olive oil is generally quite expensive.
The best olive oil in terms of its nutritional profile is extra virgin.
Extra virgin olive oil: calories and nutritional values Being a fat, extra virgin olive oil is by nature very high in calories, providing around 900 kcal per 100 grams.
However, the fats from which it is composed are mostly unsaturated fatty acids, the main representative being oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which accounts for 70-80%, followed by linolenic acid, a di-unsaturated acid, for about 10%.
Saturated fats account for only about 14.5%, in the form of palmitic and stearic acid.
It also contains a good amount of vitamin A and especially vitamin E, two vitamins with antioxidant properties, as well as phenolic compounds. All the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil derive from this particular composition.
Nutritional values of olive oil in detail Nutritional values per 100g of olive oil: Kcal 899 Carbohydrates 0 g Fats 99.9 g Protein 0 g Fibre 0 g Water 0 g Iron 0.2 mg Copper 0.01 mg Sodium traces Potassium traces Magnesium traces Zinc traces Vitamin E 21.42 mg Retinol equivalent 36 mg Beta carotene equivalent 216 mg (source bda-ieo)
Extra virgin olive oil:
The health benefits Extra virgin olive oil is, among the foods that make up the Mediterranean diet, the one that occupies the leading role.
Although it is a fat, it has extraordinary properties from a nutritional point of view.
The particular lipid composition of olive oil, together with the presence of antioxidant compounds, gives it an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, since it is able to act on different risk factors.
It can lower blood pressure, modulate insulin secretion, reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and influence blood clotting.
Extra virgin olive oil has a recognised role in preventing neurodegenerative diseases and has beneficial effects on the intestine.
In short, a concentrate of virtues!
Let’s take a closer look at the properties of extra virgin olive oil.
✓ Prevents diabetes
Extra virgin olive oil is able to regulate blood sugar levels by controlling the secretion of insulin by the pancreas, but also by regulating the sensitivity of cells to the action of insulin itself . In this way, olive oil is of fundamental importance in preventing diabetes.
✓ Fights hypertension
Numerous scientific studies show that extra virgin olive oil can play a key role not only in preventing hypertension, but also in reducing blood pressure in hypertensive patients. Phenolic compounds are thought to be responsible for this effect. 
✓ Counteracts the onset of neurodegenerative diseases
Once again, it is the polyphenols in olive oil that are responsible for its beneficial effect on the brain. A diet based on the consumption of olive oil as a condiment helps to lower the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. 
✓ Improves lipid profile
The metabolic syndrome, characterised by a combination of disorders such as hypertension, insulin resistance, overweight and an altered lipid profile, is a condition that exposes people to a high risk of developing serious cardiovascular diseases. Scientific studies have shown that in addition to acting on the factors listed above, olive oil, thanks to its composition in fatty acids, can also improve lipid balance, eliminating one of the important risk factors that characterise the metabolic syndrome. 
✓ Helps against high cholesterol
Olive oil is very rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. 100 grams of olive oil contain more than twice as many as sunflower oil.
Due to its fatty acid composition, it is one of the most suitable seasonings for people suffering from high cholesterol. Extra virgin olive oil helps to keep LDL (bad) cholesterol levels under control, without adversely affecting the amount of HDL (good) cholesterol.
✓ Beneficial effects on the intestine
Not only does extra virgin olive oil have emollient and soothing effects on the gastrointestinal tract due to the natural action of oleic acid, but the polyphenols it contains give it anti-inflammatory properties, especially in the case of disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. These polyphenols are said to act on the molecules of oxidative reactions and inflammatory cytokines, thus exerting antioxidant effects .
In addition, olive oil has a mild laxative effect. To use it for this purpose, one or two tablespoons can be drunk in the morning on an empty stomach.
✓ Antioxidant, prevents ageing
The role of extra virgin olive oil in modulating cellular ageing processes is well known, due to its content of monounsaturated fatty acids and various bioactive compounds, including polyphenols, which have an antioxidant effect. It seems that these molecules can act directly on inflammatory reactions by selectively blocking certain molecules involved in the inflammatory response, which is often responsible for cellular ageing, the cause of many inflammatory and other diseases. 
✓ Protects the immune system
As well as having a fat content that makes it excellent for the prevention of many diseases, extra virgin olive oil is also rich in polyphenols and antioxidant agents, which have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. It has been shown that, in addition to preventing cardiovascular disease, olive oil also has a protective role in the immune system and therefore in the prevention of many autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus erythematosus, as well as inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome. 
✓ Helps bones
The polyphenols contained in extra virgin olive oil, such as ferulic acid, caffeic acid and coumaric acid, are able to stimulate the proliferation of osteoblasts, the cells that build the matrix of bone tissue, thus counteracting the phenomena of osteoporosis and in general the phenomena of ageing and bone degeneration. 
✓ Good for children
Olive oil is an essential food in children’s diets and should be introduced in the early stages of weaning, i.e. around 6 months. Extra virgin olive oil contributes to bone formation, the myelination process in the brain and growth, and is also a good immune booster. How to use olive oil in cooking The best way to use olive oil in our dishes to get the maximum benefit from its composition is raw, so that it retains all its vitamins and antioxidants. It would therefore be preferable to cook food in simple ways and then season it with oil. Even if we have to choose a cooking oil for food, olive oil is definitely the best, as it has a rather high smoke point. We often ask ourselves whether olive oil can be used for frying. When oils are subjected to high temperatures they release potentially toxic compounds. Each oil has its own temperature, known as its smoke point, at which oxidation and chemical reactions begin to take place, releasing harmful compounds. For extra virgin olive oil, the smoke point is quite high due to the fact that it contains many monounsaturated fats, which are more stable. In addition, the antioxidant agents in which it is rich make it more resistant to these processes. This is why olive oil is excellent for frying and is preferable to other vegetable oils. For extra virgin olive oil to retain all its nutritional and organoleptic properties, it must be stored properly, i.e. in the dark, in dark glass containers if possible, and away from heat in dry places. High temperatures can inactivate the vitamins it contains. At temperatures below 12 degrees, the oil may solidify. Containers that are used must also be closed carefully after each use to minimise contact with oxygen in the air, which is always a source of oxidation and therefore possible rancidity of the oil. If you buy many litres of tins, it would be better to divide the oil into as many bottles as there are litres to reduce contact with air and avoid keeping the oil in half-empty tins. Finally, it is advisable to consume it within 12 to 18 months of the date of production.
Olive oil in cosmetics
Olive oil is widely used in the production of cosmetic products such as detergents, creams and in general body and hair care products. These products make use of the moisturising, emollient, soothing and elasticising properties of olive oil, which can soothe skin irritations and give strength and vigour to the hair and scalp.
While cosmetic companies make use of olive oil, we should not forget that it can also be used as it is, to create wonderful beauty products at home: we can use it directly on the skin for an elasticising and nourishing effect, even during pregnancy, for example, or as a moisturiser for the hands and nails. Used in a hair pack before shampooing, it will give your hair shine and vigour.
For an anti-wrinkle effect, a cotton ball soaked in a few drops of oil can be passed over the face and eye area. On the other hand, it will not only have a soothing effect but also a protective one if we use it on our skin after exposure to the sun, since its antioxidant properties protect against possible damage from exposure to UV rays. 
Contraindications of olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil has no contraindications and can be used by everyone. Let’s not forget that it is also the best oil to use during weaning for our children. There is only one drawback, which is intrinsic to its nature, i.e. the fact that it is composed exclusively of fats: as we have seen, it is very high in calories, so it should be used carefully, respecting the recommended quantities, which for a healthy adult correspond to about 30 grams per day, or about 3 tablespoons. However, the recommended 30 grams refers to its exclusive use, not in combination with other fatty condiments and always as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Those who are overweight should therefore stick to the quantities specified by their nutritionist or not exceed the recommended dose.
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Saibandith, Bandhita et al. “Olive Polyphenols and the Metabolic Syndrome.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 22,7 1082. 29 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3390/molecules22071082
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