Olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet

History of Olive Oil

Olives were likely domesticated in the Mediterranean basin some 6,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that olives were being grown in Crete around 2,500 BC. The earliest surviving olive oil container or amphorae date back to 3500 BC. Production of olive oil is assumed to have started before 4000 BC. Other views suggest that olives were pressed into oil by 4500 BC by Canaanites in present-day Israel.

Homer called it “Liquid Gold”. Olive oil had many uses, including lamp fuel, pharmaceutical ointment and in religious rituals, warriors and others. Cooking may have not been the original intended use, but it began around the 5th – 4th century BC, according to Plato.

Health Benefits

Olive oil contains multiple components that are healthy and beneficial to your body. It is composed mainly of mixed triglyceride esters of the oleic acid, palmitic acid and other fatty acids. The composition varies by cultivator, altitude, harvest time, region and extraction process. The phenolic compounds in the olive oil provide potent antioxidant properties which help reduce the inflammatory effects of coronary artery disease. Extra Virgin Olive oil has the highest amount of these phenolic compounds.

There is also a large amount of evidence that olive oil can provide heart health benefits such as the reduction in your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Olive oil can also raise your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

 Types of olive oil

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Is less than 1% acidity and is produced by first pressing the olive fruit through the cold pressing process. No additives are added or other processing has been done to the oil. This Olive oil has the highest content phenolic compounds.
  • Virgin Olive Oil – Made from slightly riper olives than those used to make extra-virgin oil. Its lower grade oil compared to extra-virgin olive oil. Its acidity is slightly higher than 1 ½%.
  • Refined Olive Oil – Oil that has been refined. Tasteless and has an acidity level of 3.3% or higher. Also has an unpleasant odor.
  • Pure Olive Oil – Also known as just Olive Oil. This oil comes from a second cold pressing or from a chemical extraction of the oil from the mash left over from the original press. It is much lighter in color and blander in taste that virgin olive oil. Pure refers to the fact that no other oils have been mixed in with it.
  • Light & Extra Light Olive Oil – Oil that has the exact same calories as olive oil but is a mixture of the lowest quality olive oils available through chemical processing.

Looking at a lot of Mediterranean Diet recipes one can see that the use of olive oil is a predominant component. This is one reason that the Mediterranean Diet is considered heart-healthy.