In ancient times, warriors burned the olive groves of the countries they invaded to cut off their victims’ food supply and ruin their economies; such was the value of this small fruit. War could not keep the olive tree down; the scorched trunks grew new shoots and became stronger still. Olive trees live an average of several hundred years, with many claimed to be more than 2,000 years old. It’s not surprising that their fruit and oil overflow with health benefits.
Because extra virgin olive oil contains exceptional anti-inflammatory properties, let’s be certain you have the good stuff in your kitchen cupboard. To earn the “extra virgin” designation, olive oil must be the first cold pressing of the olive fruit using no chemicals and be free of any sensory defects such as mold or rancidity. It also must have superior taste, low free fatty acid content (not more than 0.08%) and some fruitiness. You definitely want to stay away from “light” and “refined” styles; they do not have the desired healthy compounds. How do you know what you’re getting by looking at the bottle?
Labels can be confusing. I admit I’ve purchased olive oil because I liked the shape of the bottle and the label. Well, no longer! Steer clear of the grocery store shelves and make a beeline to an olive oil specialty shop or reputable online importer. These shops are fun and educational because you get to taste the oils while you learn about them and discover the types you like most. Don’t be surprised if your eyes water or you cough a bit—that’s caused by the healthy polyphenols you’re looking for. If you shop online, the company’s representatives can guide you in your selection.
Now that you’ve got the right stuff, let’s discuss the fruit’s benefits. An article by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health said studies show virgin olive oil is equivalent to ibuprofen in helping control pain and inflammation. Ibuprofen inhibits the production of pro-inflammatory COX-1 and COX-2 enzymes, and olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal that works in the same way. The Arthritis Foundation says 3½ tablespoons of olive oil is equal to one 200 mg tablet of ibuprofen. It could be a safe alternative for long-term use. Oleocanthal also plays a role in inhibiting cancer, treating joint degenerative disease and disrupting processes that contribute to development of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, olive oil also is heart healthy because its oleic acid lowers blood pressure. Another compound, oleuropein, has been linked to preventing bone loss caused by inflammation. Consider replacing your face creams and body lotions with extra virgin olive oil. Your skin will receive the benefits of potent antioxidants, with no added chemicals, fragrances or preservatives.
Enjoy a robust extra virgin olive oil on salads, rub it on meats before cooking, drizzle it over vegetables and sauté with it. It’s easy to toss a few olives into salads and vegetables or grab a handful for a snack. These recipes will get you started: