Olive oil has long known to have many health benefits. It forms a key part of the ‘Mediterranean Diet’, which is said to underlie the health statistics that show people from this region are much less likely to get heart disease and cancers than the populations of other, similarly developed countries.
There are endless ways to increase your intake of olive oil, as it tastes great as well as being healthy. Try using it as a dip with bread, including it in hummus, using it as part of a salad dressing, and drizzling small amounts over pasta.
Although olive oil is very healthy, bear in mind it is still oil and therefore calorific – eating excessive amounts will not help your general health or weight. Use it to replace other types of fat, particularly butter and other animal fats, rather than consuming it in addition to your usual diet.
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In general, the pressing of the oil – basically the way in which the oil is extracted from the olives – has a great effect on the number of nutrients it contains. Extra virgin olive oil is derived from the first pressing of the oil, and generally has the best flavour as well as the bulk of the essential components that contribute to good health. Subsequent pressings will still have plenty of flavour and goodness, but extra virgin olive oil is undoubtedly the best.
Also, olives grown in different soils, years and regions will have different characteristics – similar to wine. While all are healthy, olive oils from Greece are reputed to be particularly beneficial.
Olive oil’s main health benefit is that it boosts the production of healthy oils, but reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol. This is the root of many of the improvements to health that olive oil is associated with, including the reduced risk of heart attacks, various forms of cancer and other serious illnesses – it’s one of the original superfoods. Olive oil is full of antioxidants and vitamins too, all of which can maintain a healthy and very long life.
Olive oil can also improve your quality of life as you get older. Studies have shown that, in older people, it can help to maintain memory and cognitive function. These benefits only seem to apply when the oil is used everyday in fairly generous quantities – for example, on bread, salads and when cooking too.
For less serious and more common ailments, olive oil can also come in handy. If you have a sticking cough and a sore throat, a teaspoonful of olive oil may help to lubricate your throat and provide relief. If you have constipation, then a tablespoon or so of olive oil can have a laxative effect.
Olive oil can also be used as a treatment for dry hair. Simply massage oil into your hair, particularly around the ends, wrap your head in a towel and leave the goodness of the oil to seep into your hair for around half an hour. You’ll need to do a regular wash with shampoo and conditioner afterwards, but you should still find that your hair is much more soft and less frizzy after being treated – a similar result to using expensive hair oils, but at a far smaller cost (although it won’t repair split ends – these need to be cut off).
You can usually find a variety of olive oils at supermarkets. Some specialist shops have an extremely wide selection – indeed, some shops trade in olive oil alone. You can also buy oils that are flavoured with garlic, basil and other ingredients that have health benefits in their own right.