My good friend Mnem Osyne sent me this article a couple of days ago (which you must read). A fellow foodie, she reminds all health aficionados who have known this from time immemorial: a generous splash of a good extra virgin olive oil in a salad or stir-fry adds immeasurable goodness to our well being. And it benefits the heart.
There are numerous studies on olive oil that have come out in recent years, all of which have lauded the “green gold” as a stroke fighter.The following is an extract of a piece I wrote some years ago (Sun Jul 06, 2008) about the fabled Mediterranean diet:
It’s official! The Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cancer by almost a quarter, according to a major study of people’s eating habits. We Mediterranean folks have been on to this since the invention of Greek tragedies, so to speak.
So my question is: do you believe, like George Santayana, that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it? Or would you believe, as did George Bernard Shaw, that all we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history?
More than 26,000 Greek men and women were studied over eight years by the scientists who found that consuming high levels of mono-saturated fats – the “good” fat found in olive oil – in relation to the “bad” saturated fats found in dairy produce had the single biggest effect in relation to lowering the cancer risk from the diet. More olive oil and less butter reduced the risk by 9 per cent. Our diet does indeed contain produce that is rich in antioxidants and “good” cholesterol. It is based on wholewheat bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, loads of olive oil, garlic, onions, herbs, fragrant wild greens and little meat. Another great reason to start growing your own vegetables! And consume less meat.
As kids this mantra was drilled onto us on a daily basis: eat a bit of everything, and drink in moderation, and only when you’re thirsty. I was given a soft drink occasionally, maybe once week, and on the dinner table there was always a choice of mineral waters, water from the tap and wine. I was allowed a drop of wine, with water, when I turned thirteen. This way, my parents reasoned, I would not turn into a raging alcoholic as my body was preparing itself for adulthood.
But this piece is about our secret weapon: olive oil, the cornerstone of our well-being. The greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat is olive oil, a natural juice which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is – freshly pressed from the fruit. I use it liberally. Great in salads, stir-fries, I even use it in making bread and pizza dough. There’s nothing like a piece of fresh goat cheese on crusty bread with a dash of olive oil.
But before you part with your hard-earned currency, beware of what you buy. Just because a bottle of olive oil is labeled “extra virgin” olive oil, there is no guarantee that it even contains a smidgeon of olive oil in it. Lately several scams in the form of swindle have been uncovered.
According to another in depth article in the New Yorker, chances are good that what’s in that bottle is cut with hazelnut, sunflower seed, or canola oil. The reasons behind are economic. The problem with most of today’s olive oil is that it is rarely produced properly, which is more time consuming and expensive. Due to the increasing demand for olive oil, the trend has been to reduce production costs by moving toward more automation and concentration of production in ever larger installations. In southern Europe, to reduce costs dramatically, olives are machine harvested along with leaves and twigs and old olives that have dropped on the ground are scooped up and mixed with the fresh ones. Then they are shipped in poorly ventilated containers, and heaped in large piles where the olives are stored for too long and often become moldy. The oil is eventually extracted in a continuous centrifuge where hot water is used to help separate out the oil. Since antioxidant polyphenols are soluble in water and are washed away in this process, it lowers the shelf life and the nutritional quality of the oil.
Italy alone produces 800,000 cubic meters of waste water per year from this process. Because substantial amounts of antioxidants are washed away, factory produced olive oils have a short shelf life of only months, whereas real olive oil lasts for two to three years.
However there’s no need to panic as there are numerous olive oil companies in the USA who are family owned and operate their business the old-fashioned way, that is, by pressing the olives traditionally. I’m personally fond of the Bariani brand, made in Sacramento by the Bariani family.
Here is a handy guide of US olive oil companies here.
If you happen to have a recipe using extra virgin oil, please share it us.