25 Jan

Sampling ‘liquid gold’

By Teddye Snell,

Thomas Jefferson called the olive tree “the richest gift of heaven.”
The man was a visionary – even when it came to choosing his favorite foods.
Mediterraneans have known for centuries the virtues of using olives and olive oil, but despite Jefferson’s attempts to introduce the fruit in his day, Americans have only recently begun to discover its benefits.
According to Carol McKiel, Cherokee County Health Coalition coordinator, scientists are studying the possibility that olive oil can help decrease the risk of cancer.
“The important ingredient in olive that may inhibit cancer growth is oleic acid,” said McKiel. “Scientists noticed that people in the Mediterranean, who consistently use olive oil in their cooking, have fewer incidents of cancer and heart disease. But the people in the Mediterranean also eat more vegetables, fruit and fish and less [red] meat than Americans, so it could be a combination of the olive oil and healthier eating.”

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fat – the “good” fat – as compared to saturated fat from animal products, which is considered the “bad” fat and one of the leading causes of heart disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration now credits olive oil with decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease.

Olive culture has ancient roots, and fossilized remains of ancestors of the olive tree have been found near Livorno, Italy, dating back 20 million years.
According to www.globalgourmet.com, olive cultivation spread from Crete to Syria, Palestine and Israel. Until 1500 B.C., Greece was the area most heavily cultivated, but with the expansion of the Greek colonies, olive culture reached Southern Italy and then spread to Southern France.
In ancient times, it was a widely held belief that olive oil conferred strength and youth. In Greece, Egypt and Rome, the oil was infused with flowers and grasses to produce both medicine and cosmetics.
Olive trees are extremely hardy, and their resistance renders them almost indestructible. According to Italian folk traditions, the ideal habitat for olive trees includes sun, stone, drought, silence and solitude.
Sara Brown, social work professor at Northeastern State University, lived in Libya for four years and had olive trees in her garden.
“I learned how to cure the olives for eating,” said Brown. “Our friend Sulyman had a small farm outside the city of Bengazhi where he grew olives and had an olive press. He would drink a small glass of olive oil daily from his own olives, telling us how healthy a practice it was.”
Brown uses olive oil for all her cooking and salad dressings.
“I like to make salads with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, parsley, cucumber, feta cheese and dress it with fresh lemon juice and olive oil,” said Brown. “I also put dried mint from my garden into the salad for a special accent.”
Cherokee Nation Communications Office Sammye Rusco indicated olive oil was the oil of choice during the tribe’s recent diabetes prevention program.
“It [olive oil] raises the good cholesterol, just like nuts and avocados,” said Rusco. “The good cholesterol number is just as important as the bad one.”
Rusco loves olive oil, and other than cooking spray, that’s the only oil she uses.
“Olive oil and vinegar is the healthiest salad dressing you can use,” said Rusco. “It is not only low fat, but it’s all-natural, too.”
Tahlequah resident Pam Moore has followed the olive oil trend, using it almost exclusively.
“I have grown used to the taste and cannot cook without it,” said Moore. “Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen swear that DaVinci is the best overall brand for flavor – of course, the extra-virgin variety only. I use that brand and sometimes mix it with canola oil to mellow the flavor for some dishes. It’s especially good in fresh pesto.”
Laura Hofschulte remembers seeing olive oil occasionally as a kid in the 1960s and ‘70s.
“Everyone back then used Crisco to cook with for that good ol’ home-fried taste,” said Hofschulte. “I started using olive oil as a regular cooking oil back in the late ‘80s. Now, that’s all I buy to cook with – you use less of it, and it’s better for your health.”
Hofschulte knows it’s important to read the label when buying olive oil, because it’s sometimes mixed with other, less healthy alternatives.
“I usually buy extra-virgin olive oil; it is pure olive oil and has been processed only once. It’s a nonsaturated oil and doesn’t clog the blood vessels or arteries of the heart,” she said. “You can buy very expensive olive oil or very cheap olive oil, but if it is extra-virgin olive oil, there is very little difference except the price and the packaging.”
Dianne Barker-Harrold, former district attorney and legal counsel for the United Keetoowah Band of Indians in Oklahoma, also uses olive oil.
“If I sauté or fry anything, I use olive oil,” said Barker-Harrold. “If I bake I use canola oil, because olive oil is much more expensive to use. Olive oil and Italian spices are used in many Italian eateries today as a dipping sauce for bread instead of butter on bread. Of course, bread is the ‘bad’ food here, anyway!”
Movie fans may remember the benefits of olive oil as a central plot in the film “Lorenzo’s Oil.” Lorenzo Odone is now 25 years old and lives in Washington. Eighteen years ago, he was diagnosed with adrenoleucodystrophy, or ALD – an incurable genetic disease that progressively destroys the brain of young boys.
Generally, within a year of diagnosis, children are paralyzed, blind and unable to speak. The disease is invariably fatal.
The movie painted a beautiful picture of a miracle cure found in the oleic acid of olive oil, and gave hope to many suffering from the illness, but many of the claims were controversial.
A 10-year study outlined in the BBC documentary series, “Medical Mysteries,” indicates the oil doesn’t seem to work for people already afflicted with the illness, but it does seem to prevent illness in those whose genes make them vulnerable to developing symptoms.
According to www.healingdaily.com, properly storing olive oil will maintain its health benefits. It recommends resisting the temptation to put the oil in a clear, fancy bottle or set it in a windowsill. Light and heat are the largest enemies of oil.
For best results, keep olive oil in a cool, dry place, tightly sealed. Oxygen promotes rancidity, and like other oils, olive oil can easily go rancid when exposed to air, light or high temperatures.

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