The effect of olive oil on the human body
The essential fatty acids contained in olive oil are an indispensable part of human diet, as they are not produced by the human body. They play a key role in the appropriate function of the immune system, anti-inflammatory propertiesand the regulation of blood pressure. They also have a vasodilating and blood pressure-reducing effect. They also function as precursors for vital compounds and groups of compound such as arachidonic acid and prostaglandines.
Monounsaturated fatty acids and phytosterols reduce the LDL (“bad cholesterol”) levels of blood without modifying its HDL and triglyceride (“good cholesterol”) levels. Therefore olive oil has a beneficial effect on cardiovascular diseases, cholesterol deposits, thrombosis and facilitates the prevention of high blood pressure.
The high unsaturated fat content of olive oil also has a favorable effect on the body. It’s easy to digest as it is quickly metabolized in the digestive system. It also has a pronounced cholagogue effect and its regular consumption can prevent the formation of bile-stones. It can be used in small amounts in low-fat diets. It can also help reduce gastric acid.
Due to their high antioxidant (Vitamin E, polyphenols) content, extra olive oils are capable of protecting the body against the effect of harmful compounds and so-called free radicals, thus they play a possible role in the prevention of cancerous diseases while also promoting the formation of red blood cells and the development of muscles and other tissues.
Lecithin is a key building block of cell membranes and is necessary for the ideal function of the cells in the human body and plays an essential role in the functions of the bone marrow, the nervous system, the heart and liver. A significant amount of the substance is found in the cell membranes, muscles, nerve cells and the brain. Lecithin also facilitates the transfer of fats and cholesterol in the blood stream and the processing of fats in the gallbladder.
The most important role of Vitamin K is that is influences the coagulation of blood. Additionally, it facilitates the production of cells, bone growth, protein absorption and preserves the health of nerve cells.
Carotenoids are provitamin A. The body uses them to produce real vitamins with additional substances. Vitamin A primarily protects the health of the eyes and facilitates normal bone growth, fortifies the immune system and preserves the health of the skin, nails, hair, teeth and gums.
Oils are indispensable for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E and K) from foodstuffs and also play an important role in the production of bile acids and certain hormones.
The fat stores of the body protect internal organs from mechanical damage and thanks to their good heat insulation qualities, they are indispensable in regulating body temperature.
Olive oil is not just important as a foodstuff, but is also a superb cosmetic ingredient (e.g. squalene). It has a beneficial effect on the skin, hair and nails, which is why it’s a preferred ingredient in beauty care.
Dietary use of olive oil
The various types of olive oil are used in a range of dishes in different ways.
Extra virgin olive oil with a strong, characteristic flavor can be used to fry fish, meat or sauté vegetables or use for marinades; it’s well-suited for pasta and the popular bruschetta.
Moderately intensive extra virgin olive oil with a more well-rounded flavor is perfect for dousing on mozzarella or for dipping bread, yet is also suitable for mixing a vinaigrette, and is perfect for salads, steamed vegetables or jacket potatoes.
Extra virgin olive oil with a particularly mild flavor can serve as an ingredient of mayonnaise and is even used in some parts of the world to replace fat in the dough of baked goods.
Additionally, olive oil is suitable for vegetable spreads, pesto and certain types of pizza.
It’s important to think of olive oil as a separate flavoring, which should be harmonized with the basic ingredients.
Olive oil is frequently consumed by many in its raw form, one tablespoon at a time, in the morning and evening in order to preserve their health and sense of well-being.
High-quality olive oil can be used multiple times and reheated after filtering.
Olive oil is suitable for cooking, baking, grilling, steaming, sautéing, marinating or used as seasoning, flavoring or consumed on its own.
One thing must be kept in mind: when heating olive oil for a prolonged period at excessively high temperatures (close to smoking point), the oil will lose its taste as well as its precious nutrients and will quickly break down.
Storing olive oil
The three main enemies of olive oil are heat, air and light, which it can easily react with (this is particularly due to the double bonds of unsaturated fatty acids). For shorter periods, it is recommended to be stored in plastic containers specifically designed for foodstuffs or in sealed glass bottles or special metal containers for extended periods, kept in a cold (14-21 °C), dark place. When following the rules of storage, the oil can be stored for over 18 months.
Classification of virgin olive oils
The expression is solely applicable for oils gained from olives (the fruit of the olive tree [Olea europaea]), not including oils obtained using solvents or by reesterification. Mixtures created with other oils cannot be referred to as olive oil!
Extra virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil suitable for direct consumption with free fatty acid content expressed as oleic acid no more than 0.8 grams per 100 whilst also adhering to the predetermined organoleptic properties (the median of defects is 0, with an identified fruity character). Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality oil gained from olives , yet it still shows wide-ranging deviations according to producer and manufacturer. Thanks to the aromatics of extra virgin olive oil, it is mainly suitable for direct consumption (e.g. in salads, mayonnaise, etc.), whilst refined olive oil free of non-heat resistant substances and with a more uncharacteristic flavor is more suited for baking. During the pressing process, the temperature of the must oil cannot exceed 27 °C. A fundamental criteria for the preparation of extra virgin olive oil is that subsequent to separating the olives from the tree and conducting their initial soaking, the pressing of the olives must begin within 24 hours, otherwise the rapid onset fermentation can impair the quality of the oil and have a negative effect, amongst other things, on the acidity of the oil.
Virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil suitable for direct consumption with free fatty acid content expressed as oleic acid no more than 2 grams per 100 whilst also adhering to the predetermined organoleptic properties (the median of the defects falls between 0 and 3.5 with an identified fruity character).
The chemical composition of olive oil
Olive oil is a greenish-yellowish colored plant-based fat with a characteristic scent and pleasant flavor, mechanically produced from olives, the fruit of the olive tree, which is in a liquid state at room temperature.
Fatty acids are the main components of olive oil. Fatty acids are carboxylic acid molecules, consisting of long, open-chair, linear, saturated and unsaturated carbon chains. Fatty acids form triglycerides with glycerol and constitute natural oils, present in the liquid in combined state in the form of esters, as a component of triglycerides.
The fatty acids contained in olive oil constitute 96-99% of the entire oil. (In all cases, the percentage refers to the aggregate amount.)
Saturated fatty acids (no double bonds): ~ 16%
Palmitic acid 7.5 – 20 %
Stearic acid 0.5-5%
Arachidonic acid <0.8%
Behenic acid <0.3%Myristic acid: <0.1%
Lignoceric acid <1.0%
Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (with one double bond (-CH=CH-)): ~ 76%
Monounsaturated Fatty Acid (with one double bond (-CH=CH-)): ~ 76%
Oleic acid: 55.0–83.0%Palmitolein acid (palmitoleic acid): 0.3–3.5%
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (essential fatty acids – more than one double bond): ~ 8%
Linolenic acid (ω-6): 3.5–21.0%
Linolenic acid (ω-3): <1.5%
In the case of Omega 6 fatty acid, the double bond is on the 6th carbon atom counting from the omega end. This linoleic acid is doubly unsaturated as there is an additional double bond at the 9th carbon atom. The molecule is joined to the glycerol at the alpha end.
Additional components of olive oil (1-4%):
Antioxidants - Vitamin K, Vitamin E (tocopherols), polyphenols, carotenoids
Flavoring, aromatic and coloring components
Oleocanthal – (new discovery) anti-inflammatory effect
The ratio of its composition and the chemical/physical properties of the liquid are influenced by the type and age of olive tree, the circumstances of its growth (weather, care, etc.) as well as the methods of the harvesting and processing of the olives and the storage of the olive oil. The oil’s high quality and its beneficial effect on the human body are due to its high concentration of unsaturated fatty acids and additional, natural components.
The main chemical properties of olive oil
Energy (100 g): ~ 3700 kJ (~880 kcal)
Boiling point: 270 – 300 °C
Smoking point: 185 – 210 °C
Viscosity (20 °C): 81 – 100 cP
Relative density: 0.9150 – 0.9180
Acid index (free acidity): 0.6-6.6 (extra virgin – refined and sansa)
Peroxide value: 10 – 20 (refined and sansa – extra virgin)
The components and chemical/physical properties of olive oil are interrelated. They determine its effect on the human body, its durability, range of use and safe storage measures.
- In monounsaturated fatty acids with a single double bond (such as oleic acid) that make up ~80% of olive oil, there are no peroxidation processes due to free radicals. (This, however, can take place in the case of polyunsaturated fatty acids). According to the latest research, these fatty acids directly impede the formation of the deposits of arteriosclerosis. However, oleic acid in itself is not enough to ensure the protective nature of olive oil as the high amount of antioxidants also play an indispensable role in this (preventing peroxidation processes in various substances and in the human body) along with phenol compounds. In light of the above, it can be surmised that actually, the key ingredients of olive oil include oleic acid and additional components (apart from fatty acids).
- 5-7 kg of olives are required to produce 1 liter of olive oil. 1 olive tree yields approx. 15-20 kg of olives. 180-220 trees can be grown on 1 hectare of land.
- Our body utilizes the essential fatty acids of olive oil (linoleic acid, linolenic acid) to produce arachidonic acid, which were previously collectively referred to as Vitamin F. Although arachidonic acid is found in the liver, brain, fats and glands as well as cell membranes, its excess amount and the often conflicting effect of its derivatives can be detrimental to health (facilitating the development of inflammations, reducing gastric acid production and damaging the gastric mucosa).
- Vitamins are not classified based on their chemical structure, but rather according to their biochemical activity, therefore various compounds with an equivalent effect can be considered the same vitamin.
- Our experiences and research show that olive oil is a highly beneficial, tasty, healthy and useful foodstuff, filled with components indispensable for human health. Science continues to examine its key components and their interactions, along with other oils. Despite conceptual overlaps and confusing terminology, we have an growing amount of increasingly precise information on olive oil. As chemistry continues developing, we have become able to artificially alter the parameters of oils, which doesn’t always produce beneficial changes in the material. Some parts of the current official classification system and some legal regulations fail to truly reduce the possibility or chance of abuse.
- The acid value of an oil is defined as the number of mg of potassium hydroxide required to neutralize the free acid. The initial presence of free fatty acids is indicative of a decline in quality due to processing that greatly influences the organoleptic properties of oils.
- The color of olive oil can vary from deep green to gold and bright yellow. However, this doesn’t determine its quality.
- In order to improve the flavors, aroma, color and content of oils and for the sake of increasing the extracted amount, various chemical and physical procedures and used in industrial settings. However, apart from achieving the desired outcome, the side effect of these procedures (refining, hardening, extraction, blanching, degumming, deodorizing, mixing, etc.) can lead to modifying the spatial orientation of molecular structures (cis-trans), leading to the undesirable accumulation of material residue and an impairment of the flavor and aroma of the oil.
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