29 Feb

History affirms benefits of olive oil in diet

By Roy Pirrung,

For many years health advocates have touted the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, at the base of that diet is olive oil. Since the Bronze Age, olive oil in the diet has been the cornerstone of health for many reasons.

Many people dislike the taste and the thought that it contains saturated fat, taste varies from one individual to another, and from one type of olive oil to another. Finding the olive oil that suits your taste and is best for you should be your goal.

Extra virgin olive oil is considered the best for you. There are numerous name brands, such as: Antica Italia, Bertolli, Da Vinci, Pompeian, Spectrum Theofilos and Tre Torri. All offer the same benefits.

Modern research confirms the benefits of olive oil that those from the Mediterranean professed.

It has been shown to be a heart-healthy fat, containing monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and other components.

The nutrients found in olive oil not only protect against cardiovascular disease, they promote better gall bladder function, reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer, and are now being used to treat arthritis.

The fats contained in olive oil can aid in the deficiencies of essential fatty acids found in a diet filled with poor eating habits or those on a low-fat diet.

In addition to the body being able to use olive oil as a source of energy, it also keeps the arteries flexible, thus reducing the risk of heart disease.

Studies have also shown that genetic materials are protected from attacks by toxic chemicals when olive oil is included in the diet.

There are only small amounts of linoleic acid, better known as omega-6, and alpha-linoleic acid, known as omega-3— both essential fatty acids — found in olive oil.

There is a variety of fats found in olive oil and depending on the kind, vary in the percentages.

The main fatty acid is non-essential. However, the non-essential fatty acid, oleic acid, comprises nearly 75 percent, on average, of the fats found in olive oil.

Oleic acid, known as omega-9 fatty acid, incorporates omega-3 fatty acids into the cell membranes, thus maintaining the function and fluidity of the cell structure.

Because of the fluidity, or softness of the cell membrane, products that cell generates, such as hormones and proteins, are able to be released easily, while essential nutrients pass into the cells without problems.

Without this fluidity, the nutrients would not get in and the products needed to control functions of the body would not get out and therefore could compromise your health.

Those concerned with saturated fat in olive oil have little to fear. There is no cholesterol in olive oil.

Some saturated fat in olive oil is palmitoleic acid, known as omega-7 and averages about 10 percent of the fatty acids.

Although saturated fats are known to raise cholesterol levels, olive oil protects arteries rather than damaging them. The ability to protect stems from the anti-oxidant properties found in phenolic compounds such as tyrosol and hydroxityrosol.

Phenolic substances have a healing and anti-inflammatory effect.

Also contained in olive oil are the anti-oxidants beta-carotene and tocopherols, from the vitamin E family.

Chlorophyll, which is rich in magnesium, and gives this oil its color, is also contained in olive oil. Those with a history of cardiovascular disease are often suffering from a deficiency in magnesium.

Another component of olive oil, squalene, is a precursor of phytosterols, a substance that not only protects against cholesterol absorption from foods, but helps deliver oxygen to tissues, especially those that are short of oxygen.

Squalene dilates blood vessels, inhibiting atherosclerosis, increases heart activity and has been shown to be effective in the rehabilitation of scars.

With all the benefits olive oil is known for, the only fear you should have is that you are not including it in your daily diet.

Roy Pirrung is a world and American ultramarathon champion, American record-holder and a member of the USA Track and Field Masters Hall of Fame.

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