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In Modern Times

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Today olive oil is as multipurpose as ever. Olive oil products are included in cosmetics, detergents, medicines, and even textiles. But the oil still serves principally as food. Although its popularity in Europe and the Middle East is unmatched, in recent years it has been in increasing demand in other lands as well.

For example, according to Consumer Reports, the sale of olive oil in the United States has “more than doubled between 1985 and 1990.” Why? One reason is that olive oil is said to be a good source of vitamin E. A number of recent studies have also revealed that the consumption of the monounsaturated fats in olive oil might benefit the heart without negative side effects. Another study claimed that olive oil may lower blood pressure and reduce blood-sugar levels.

Some experts have recommended a high-fat diet based on monounsaturates such as are found in olive oil. Consumer Reports noted that such recommendation “caused something of a sensation, because the notion that any high-fat diet could be good for the heart was almost nutritional heresy. Monounsaturates soon garnered increased press attention, and sales of olive oil accelerated.”

Are these claims generally accepted? There seems to be little dispute over the claim that the monounsaturated fats found in olives, avocados, and some nuts are a healthier choice than the polyunsaturated and saturated fats found in other foods. However, some experts feel that the other claims have been somewhat exaggerated. For example, Consumer Reports explains: “Some ads crowed that ‘medical science [has] confirmed olive oil can lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar.’ But in the words of one researcher, Dr. Margo Denke, . . . the blood-pressure and blood-sugar differences were so minute as to be ‘clinically insignificant.’”

A group of researchers gave this advice: “All olive oil, ‘light’ or not, is 100 percent fat and contains about 125 calories per tablespoon. For that reason alone, it can play only a limited role in a healthful diet. The potential health benefits of olive oil come exclusively from its use as a substitute for butter, margarine, and other vegetable oils—and even those benefits have been overstated.” With good reason the International Olive Oil Council published this warning: “Before you get carried away by enthusiasm and add gallons of olive oil to your diet, a few words of caution are in order. Large consumption of olive oil may keep you healthy, but not necessarily thin.”

Today, as in ancient times, moderation is the key to enjoyment when it comes to food and other gifts from Jehovah. With this in mind, whether you live in the Mediterranean region or elsewhere, reap the pleasures and the benefits of versatile olive oil!

Grades of Olive Oil

○ Extra virgin: The highest grade of olive oil. Squeezed from olives of excellent quality without the use of solvents. Often referred to as “cold pressed” because it is extracted at room temperature. It has a very low content of free oleic acid. This fatty acid can damage the flavor of olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil offers the widest range of flavors and aromas.

○ Virgin: Obtained in the same way as extra virgin olive oil, but it has a higher level of free oleic acid.

○ Olive oil: Some of the “cold pressed” oil is not considered acceptable for consumption because of its acid content or an undesirable taste, color, or odor. Manufacturers refine this type of oil with the use of solvents. The solvents are then removed by heat. This results in a nearly colorless and flavorless oil. This oil is then blended with high-quality virgin olive oil. It was previously sold as “pure olive oil,” but that term has fallen into disuse since 1991. Now it is simply referred to as “olive oil.”

○ Olive pomace oil: Pomace is the residue that remains after mechanical and physical operations remove the oil and the water from the olives. Additional oil can be drawn out from the pomace with the use of solvents. This oil is then refined and blended with the higher quality virgin olive oil.

○ Light olive oil: This is not a grade of oil. It is simply refined olive oil blended with smaller quantities of virgin olive oil. The term “light” has nothing to do with the fat content of the oil, as all olive oil is 100 percent fat. Rather, it refers to the lower intensity of its color, aroma, and flavor.

Did you know that . . . ?

Fresh olives contain oleuropein, a bitter substance that makes them unpalatable until they are treated in some way. Natural History magazine explains that before olives are eaten, they “can be packed in salt; they can be cured in brine; they can be soaked over many days in many changes of water; they can even just be left out in the sun.” However, none of these treatments are necessary if the olives are to be pressed for oil.

Not all olive oils taste the same. There is a wide variety of natural flavors, colors, and aromas. According to the International Olive Oil Council, “connoisseurs generally categorize olive oil flavors as mild (delicate, light or ‘buttery’); semi-fruity (stronger, with more taste of the olive); and fruity (oil with a full-blown olive flavor).”

When olive oil is refrigerated, it becomes cloudy and thick. This is not a sign of spoilage; it will clear up quickly at normal room temperature. Actually, olive oil can be stored for months without refrigeration.

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