[COLUMN] Olive oil wonders

IN this wonderful era of health-consciousness, olive oil, which is an essential ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet, considered the healthiest diet in the world, is on the spotlight today. Olive oil has been used since 4,000 BC. It is amazingly useful and versatile.

The most common method of making olive oil is by cold pressing, without the use of heat or chemicals. This process helps the oil to retain its nutritional value, because beneficial plant compounds are broken down by high heat. The oleic acid content of olive oil determines its grade. The highest grades, extra virgin and virgin olive oil, are always cold pressed to preserve its highest level of oleic acid.

For cooking, frying, sauteing, light virgin olive oil is recommended. Extra virgin olive oil is popularly used for dips and salad dressing. Other uses of extra virgin olive oil: dental cleaning, skin moisturizer, wound application as a “liquid bandage,” and as a health drink (a tablespoon a day).

Olive oil is preferred over canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, and others on the market. The next best is avocado oil, which is second to olive oil in the level of healthy monounsaturated fats.

Extra virgin olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) contains more than 20 varieties of polyphenols, plant-based antioxidant chemicals that reduce inflammation and protect our arteries and our heart. They fight unhealthy free radicals in our body that cause oxidative stress, to minimize the signs of aging and the risk of getting chronic diseases.

Oxidation is the process that makes all of us age. The more stress we have in life, including bad habits and unhealthy behavior, the greater the oxidative process and faster we age. Living a healthy lifestyle, which includes fish (seafood) and plant-based diet and daily exercise (plus no smoking, skimping or abstinence from alcohol and illicit drugs) is the best way to reduce oxidative stress, slow down aging, and maintain a good health.

Olive oil benefits

There are at least a dozen health benefits provided by olive oil. Among them are: Olive oil is gluten-free and high in unsaturated fat, which is associated with lowered risk of heart disease, T2 diabetes, cancer, and other chronic diseases. It also contains vitamin E (12.9 percent of the Daily Value), a powerful antioxidant that boosts the immune system, and vitamin K (6.8 percent of the DV), which plays a major role in blood clotting and bone health.

A tablespoon (15 ml) of cold pressed olive oil has 119 calories, 13.5 grams of total fat (saturated – 2 grams, monounsaturated – 10 grams, and polyunsaturated – 1.5 grams). Nearly 71 percent of its fat comes from unsaturated fats oleic acid, which lowers the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the bad cholesterol) and about 11 percent from omega fatty acids. It is indeed packed with healthy fats, about 5 times more monounsaturated fats compared to grapeseed oil, which is healthy because it contains a lot of Omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 3 is the healthier of the two.

(The USDA recommends consumption of 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat, mainly unsaturated. Fats from red meats are unhealthy saturated fats, linked to increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.)

Cold pressed olive oil also contains 30 beneficial plant compounds, mostly potent antioxidants with good anti-inflammatory health effects.

The potent antioxidant contents of olive oil fight against harmful unstable molecules called free radicals and as such, helps ward off heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It also contains oleuropein, oleocanthal, and hydroxythyrosol, which are partly responsible for the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, including stronger bones, lesser arthritis, reduced cardiac disease, brain maladies, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

A study of more than 84,000 women revealed that substituting foods high in monounsaturated fats like olive oil for saturated fats (as in red meats, lard, and other cooking oil) reduced heart disease by 15 percent. The Mediterranean Diet itself, which relies heavily on olive oil, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack by 18 percent.

A 4.5-year research in 923 individuals who adhered to a healthy diet were found to have a 53 percent reduction in the rate of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Besides reducing the risk for T2 diabetes and improving blood sugar level, olive oil also delays the progression of arthritis, provides relief from constipation, aids in losing weight, and helps maintain healthy hair, skin, and nails. Many cosmetic products have olive oil in them. The extra virgin olive oil is also good for gastric infection from helicobacter, chapped lips, cracked heel, sunburn, removing sticky substances, as hair-conditioner, ear-wax remover, etc. Olive oil is indeed versatile.

Historical data suggest Jesus Christ most likely ate olive oil as part of his peasant Mediterranean-style diet in Nazareth, a village in Galilee, and in Judea, regions in Israel. Olive oil is very popular in Europe. The European Union (EU) is the world’s largest producer, consumer, importer and exporter of olive oil, about 53 percent of global consumption. In 2022, the EU consumed more than 1.55 million tons of olive oil, with Italy and Spain as the largest users.

So, as far as cooking is concerned, instead of using unhealthy saturated-fat-loaded lard, shortening, butter, or bacon grease for cooking, use light virgin oil, and for a substitute for creamy salad dressings, try extra virgin olive oil (with or without vinegar). Olive oil-based sauces are also better than cream- or cheese-based sauces, even for dips.

Let’s lubricate, not only our joints but our health, with the wonders of olive oil.

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The main objective of this column is to educate and inspire people live a healthier lifestyle to prevent illnesses and disabilities and achieve a happier and more productive life. Any diagnosis, recommendation or treatment in our article are general medical information and not intended to be applicable or appropriate for anyone. This column is not a substitute for your physician, who knows your condition well and who is your best ally when it comes to your health.

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, a Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, is an international medical lecturer/author, Health Advocate, newspaper columnist, and chairman of the Filipino United Network-USA, a 501(c)3 humanitarian foundation in the United States. He was a recipient of the Indiana Sagamore of the Wabash Award in 1995, presented by then Indiana Governor, US senator, and later a presidential candidate, Evan Bayh. Other Sagamore past awardees include President Harry Truman, President George HW Bush, Muhammad Ali, and Astronaut Gus Grissom (Wikipedia). Websites: FUN8888.com, Today.SPSAtoday.com, and philipSchua.com; Email: [email protected].


Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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