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The History of Olive Oil as a Food Staple

Updated on July 29, 2015

The olive tree is a tree that is native to the Mediterranean basin. Olives have been turned in to oil since before 5000 BCE, though olive trees were being cultivated even before this time. Olive oil has been used as lamp fuel, as a cosmetic and skincare ingredient, as an ingredient in religious rituals, and as an ingredient to make medicines.

How It's Made

Though there are more sophisticated ways of producing olive oil today, it was originally made by crushing the olives by hand. There are many old olive pressed still in use that date as far back as the Roman Empire. Olive presses squeeze the olives together causing them to become a paste-like consistency. This paste is than mixed until the oil droplets are separated from the paste. These droplets are then spun in a centrifuge to separate the water and the remaining olive paste from the oil. Even though oil has been extracted and separated from the olive material, called a pomace, there is still some oil left in the remains that will be extracted and used to create other grades or qualities of olive oil that are described below.

Grades of Olive Oil

  • Extra-virgin olive oil is the purest grade of olive oil. It is the oil that is extracted the first time the olives are crushed, mixed, and placed in the centrifuge. The oil that is taken from the centrifuge is bottled up immediately. Only thirty percent of olive oil is extra-virgin. Extra-virgin olive oil is the most expensive olive oil, but it is also the most beneficial to our health.
  • Virgin olive oil is also comes from the first production of the olive, but it is not as high-quality as extra-virgin olive oil because the olives used may have been too acidic. Virgin olive oil is also said to retain a relatively good taste.
  • Pure olive oil is produced from virgin olive oil that is refined. The finished product is fixed with extra-virgin olive oil to improve upon the taste.
  • Extra-light olive oil has been heavily refined. It does not have a pleasing taste and it is mostly used in cooking and baking at high temperatures because of its lack of flavor. In addition, cooking at high temperatures with extra-virgin olive oil will actually remove many of the health benefits by causing the antioxidants and fatty acids to, “burn off.”

The Overall Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The overall health and life expectancy of people from the Mediterranean regions is much better than people from other parts of the world. People from this area have diets that consist of fish, chicken, fresh vegetables, and unsaturated fats like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, and almonds. A glass of wine is also customary with meals and has shown to have a beneficial effect on life expectancy and health. In addition, the people of the Mediterranean have a much lower level of salt intake than countries like the United States that are known for having a fast food culture. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancers. This diet reduces risks by twenty percent or more. It also reduces the risk of contracting type two diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Use Olive Oil in Your Diet

By consuming two to three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day, you will receive all of the health benefits that are associated with this monounsaturated fat. Olive oil is commonly used as a main ingredient in salad dressings, marinades, and rubs. It can be used when grilling or sautéing and is often used to enhance the flavor of vegetables. Many people even use olive oil as a last ingredient added to a dish right before it is about to be served by drizzling it on top. Examples of foods that are often drizzles with olive oil before being served are hummus, a spreadable dip made from chickpeas, and baba ghnough, another spreadable condiment made from eggplants. Both of these dishes originated in the Mediterranean area.

Other Uses of Olive Oil

Olive oil can be used at home for purposes other than cooking. It can be used for tasks as simple as lubricating a squeaky door or fixing a stuck zipper. Many people use olive oil to polish their wood furniture by making a concoction of olive oil, vinegar, and citrus juice for scent. Other household uses for it include removing paint that will not come off of the skin, removing gum and other sticky substances. It can also be used to coat kitchen utensils that will be used to measure out stinky, hard to clean ingredients, making clean up much easier and efficient.

Olive oil has been used for medicinal purposes as well. It helps to ease the sting of insect bites and sunburn. It also helps repair the skin after a sunburn and protect against the development of melanoma spots, or cancer, on the skin caused by sun damage. Olive oil is good for other skin conditions too. It helps improve the symptoms and dryness associated with eczema and also soothes skin irritated from psoriasis while hydrating the rough patches of skin caused by the condition. Olive oil can also be used to sooth scrapes and scratches. Also, the leaves from an olive tree have been used to treat all types of infections both viral and bacterial.

When added to cosmetics, olive oil serves as a moisturizing and hydrating agent. When added to shampoo or conditioner it helps to repair dry, brittle, and damaged tresses. It can be used to heal dry and cracked heals and cuticles. By adding olive oil to bath water, you will see and feel much softer skin. A mixture of olive oil and sugar is a great exfoliate for skin and it also works on lips by sloughing off dead skin and relieving and hydrating chapped lips.

Monounsaturated Fats and How They are Beneficial to Your Health

Olive oil is a good source of monounsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are much better for the body than saturated fats and trans fats. In fact, the Mediterranean people mostly intake monounsaturated fats and studies have proven that they are healthier and live longer because of it. These people actually consume more fat than other parts of Europe, but the fats that they intake are not harmful like other types of fats. The palmitolec and oleic acid found in olives are what make up the monounsaturated fats in olive oil. These acids actually benefit your health. Palmitic acids help to reduce cholesterol and protect and prevent against cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease. They also help prevent strokes and heart attacks from occurring. Oleic acids help prevent breast cancer by latching on to free-radicals with antioxidants and neutralizing the negative effects. Free radicals, which are absorbed through the harmful rays of the sun, through pollution, through absorption of cosmetics with harmful parabens, and through the ingestion of certain foods or food ingredients, are known to cause many illnesses, especially cancer related illnesses. Switching to a diet consisting of fats that are monounsaturated has shown to result in weight loss and reduced fat deposits in the body. These fats also help people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis because they help to reduce inflammation in the body. These good fats can also be found in other foods such as avocadoes, almonds, and nuts.

How Does Olive Oil Prevent and Protect Against Certain Diseases?

Olive oil is known to prevent and protect against many diseases because of its beneficial makeup. A diet consisting of two to three tablespoons per day of extra-virgin olive oil will give you many health benefits.

Inflammation

Inflammation is a response to harmful irritants, such as free radicals, in your body. When inflammation occurs, the body is trying to eradicate these irritants from the body. Inflammation is a tool the immune system uses to try to heal the body. When inflammation becomes chronic or recurs, it can become harmful to your body. One example comes in the form of the disease pancreatic, which occurs when the pancreas is swollen or inflamed. This can occur suddenly or be an issue that keeps returning. The swelling is caused by the body trying to eradicate oxides from the pancreas. Consumption of olive oil has been known to prevent and improve this condition because it is loaded with antioxidants that help the body eradicate the oxides by neutralizing them. The bowel is also prone to inflammatory diseases such as colitis. The oleic acid in extra-virgin olive oil lowers the risk of colitis by up to ninety percent. It works the same way as it does with arthritis and pancreatitis by blocking the harmful chemicals that caused the body’s natural healing responses to initiate.

Diabetes

Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin and thus makes it difficult for glucose to get in to the cells of the body to provide it with energy. There are three types of diabetes: type one diabetes, type two diabetes, and gestational diabetes. Olive oil can and monounsaturated fats can actually help to reverse type two diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes. Olive oil may actually help by stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin. In addition the vast majority of people with type two diabetes are overweight. By reducing the amount of saturated fats and Trans fats put in to the body and increasing monounsaturated fat intake, a person with type two diabetes is likely to see some improvement with weight loss because monounsaturated fats are not stored in the body.

Certain Types of Cancers

Olive oil helps prevent against breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and skin cancer. Olive oil prevents DNA damage and reduces the harmful effects of oncogenes that cause malign tumors to grow in the breasts. Women who include the recommended two to three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in their diet have a higher rate of having a benign tumor. Colon cancers are associated with saturated and trans fats, but monounsaturated fats actually have the opposite effect and prevent growths from growing in the colon. Skin cancer is caused by harmful free radicals that have damaged the skin through the absorption of UVB rays. Olive oil can be placed on sunburns to help minimize the damage to the skin and prevent against skin cancer. It will also soothe the sting of the sunburn. Lastly, studies showed that men and women who consume a Mediterranean diet are far less likely to get ovarian and prostate cancer. A study of Italian women with and without ovarian cancer showed that women with the highest olive oil intake levels had the lowest risk of contracting ovarian cancer.

Depression

Extra-virgin olive oil may also help to control depression. Replacing saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated fats will lower a person’s risk of depression by fifty percent. In addition, ridding the body of these bad fats and replacing them with the good fats usually results in noticeable weight loss and fat reduction, which actually improves the confidence, mood, and energy level of people suffering from weight problems.

Disclaimer - All information was gathered through personal research. I am a writer and teacher - not a medical professional.

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