Olive oil, the core of the Mediterranean diet    Play Audio
Module 1, Unit 3, Level: Advanced

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Olive oil, health, healthy fat, nutritional value, cardiovascular health, Mediterranean diet, EVOO, obesity



Olive oil, the core of the Mediterranean diet
Olive oil can be defined as liquid fat at 20ºC directly obtained from the fruit of the olive tree. It shows a golden yellow colour, and its appearance should be liquid, oily and translucent, with no sediments. Olive oil is considered the core of the Mediterranean diet. Curiously, fossil evidence indicates the olive tree had its origins 20–40 million years ago, and olive plant was first cultivated 7,000 years ago in Mediterranean regions before writing was invented.
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Extra virgin olive oil presents several advantages. It is rich in healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, contains omega 9, E, A and K vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, amino acids, and contains large amounts of antioxidants with several beneficial health properties. In addition, it has anti-inflammatory properties, and has been widely described as a healthy food for prevention of cardiovascular diseases, being used in clinical trials with very positive results. Its high content on phenols has been also studied as a promising approach to prevent mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Olive oil should be our main source of lipids due to its high nutritional properties and could be also used for cosmetics. Moreover, due to its physicochemical characteristics that make olive oil resistant to high temperatures, it should be considered as a primary option either for cooking or seasoning.
Finally, and contrary to what can be thought, consuming olive oil does not appear to
increase the likelihood of weight gain, and a moderate intake has been suggested to aid in weight loss.
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There are several varieties of olives to make extra virgin olive oil. For instance, in Spain, the Hojiblanca variety is found in Granada and Málaga, in the South of Spain, while in the East (Catalonia), the sevillenca variety is predominant.

Other varieties from other Mediterranean countries are Carpallese, Canino, Biancolilla, all of them in Italy, or Koroneiki and Conservolia in Greece, Branquita, Cobrançosa and Galega de Évora (Portugal). Each variety of olive produces a characteristic extra virgin olive oil with different flavour.
Not all types of olive oil have the same properties. For instance, pomace oil is extracted with solvents. Even though olive oil stands high temperatures due to its high smoke point, there is a risk of the formation of toxic compounds if we reuse the oil in frying.

Olive oil should be stored at temperatures between 15 and 18 °C, protected from light and heat, and well-sealed to avoid oxidation and rancidification. Its appearance should be liquid, oily and translucent, with no sediments.
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