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Olive Oil, The Prime Component of the Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil is the prime component of the Mediterranean Diet. It is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is – freshly pressed from the fruit.

Generally, olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. There are different varieties of olive oil, depending on the amount of processing involved. Varieties include:

Extra virgin – considered the best, least processed, comprising the oil from the first pressing of the olives.

Virgin – from the second pressing of the olives.

Pure – undergoes some processing, such as filtering and refining. Is made by adding a little extra virgin olive oil to refined olive oil.

Extra light – undergoes considerable processing and only retains a very mild olive flavor.

The less the olive oil is handled, the closer to its natural state, the better the oil.

Olive oil’s health benefits

The beneficial health effects of olive oil are due to both its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and its high content of antioxidative substances. Olive oil offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (the “good” cholesterol) levels. Studies have shown that people who consumed about 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil daily for 1 week showed less oxidation of LDL cholesterol and higher levels of antioxidant compounds, particularly phenols, in the blood.

Olive oil is very well tolerated by the stomach. In fact, olive oil’s protective function has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis. Including olive oil in your diet may also offer benefits in terms of colon cancer prevention.

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