In his research and writing, the archaeologist Sir Colin Renfrew used the phrase, “Mediterranean triad,” explaining that the cultivation of grains, vines and olives were the foundation for a successful society in the Aegean during the time period, 3000-2000 BC. Today, extra virgin olive oil continues to be a central element of Mediterranean cuisine that is revered worldwide. Spain leads the way in olive oil production, producing half of the world’s olive oil. Spain’s production level is followed by Italy and Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, Portugal and Syria, with lesser amounts produced in 39 other countries, bringing the total number of countries globally that produce olive oil to 47.
At Oldways, we’ve written about extra virgin olive oil so often that this week we’re aiming to share bits of interesting, varied and useful information about olive oil. First, there are so many incorrect myths about olive oil that we encourage you to also review the true story by viewing:
- 12 Great Ways to Use Olive Oil
- Oldways health studies page
- previous Oldways blogs about olive oil
- Oldways recipe search page
- How to Buy Olive Oil
Cooking with Olive Oil All Day
Yes, sauté with olive oil, make salad dressing with olive oil and drizzle it on ﬁsh and vegetables. And also consider many other uses for olive oil throughout your day. Are you a toast-for-breakfast kind of person? Instead, consider pan con tomate or pa amb tomàquet, which is nothing more than grilled or toasted whole grain bread topped with grated tomato and garlic, and drizzled with a healthy dose of fruity extra virgin olive oil. Adding a fat (like extra virgin olive oil) to a carbohydrate food (like bread) can help the carbohydrate food have a gentler impact on blood sugar.
Salads and soups of all kinds are great lunch and dinner time Mediterranean Diet dishes that rely on extra virgin olive oil. See Oldways 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu book for daily ideas! Have a dinner party and oﬀer your guests several diﬀerent olive oils to taste (diﬀerent countries, regions, types of olives) as an interesting addition to your menu. Pages 3 and 4 of our Olive Oil 101 shows you how to taste olive oil and provides a tasting form. Olive oil also ﬁts in with dessert. You can make a a dish like Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cake or use our handy baking guide for substituting extra virgin olive oil for butter (page 2 of Olive Oil 101). Also on this page are other ideas for cooking with olive oil because extra-virgin olive oil is ideal for all types of cooking.
Frying: The medium-high smoke point of olive oil is higher than the temperatures needed for frying. Furthermore, olive oil contains oleic acid and minor compounds that protect the oil from breaking down, even after reuse.
Grilling: To prevent foods from sticking to the grill, marinate or brush them with olive oil before grilling.
Sautéing: Sautéing is an easy, healthy way to bring out ﬂavor. If you’re using a non-stick pan, pour the olive oil into the cold pan, then heat the oil. For other cookware, add the oil to a hot pan.
Roasting: Use olive oil to baste roasted meats, and drizzle vegetables with olive oil before roasting to enhance their ﬂavor.
Baking: Using olive oil reduces the amount of saturated fat in your baked goods and also helps keep them moist and fresh longer. And more good news—you need less olive oil than butter when baking.
Olive Oil, the Mediterranean Diet and COVID
The North American Olive Oil Association posted information from The New York Times related to COVID and healthy eating, something that has been pointed out over and over again throughout these last months. It’s true. Those already suﬀering from chronic disease – heart disease, obesity, diabetes, for example – are more at risk for the more severe impacts of COVID.
“In an interview with The New York Times, journalist and best-selling author Michael Pollan points out the strong correlation between what you eat and how well your body can cope with a COVID infection. “[T]he predictors of a Covid death, a death from Covid, are essentially bad diet and an inﬂamed body. It’s all about inﬂammation. And Covid appears to send your immune system into this hyperdrive. And if you are already inﬂamed by a Western diet — and that is what this diet does to us, a diet of lots of processed food, lots of meat, lots of sugar — it screws with your microbiome and leaves your body inﬂamed.” The NAOOA notes that Pollan’s “opinion is supported by experts such as Dariush Mozaﬀarian, cardiologist and professor of medicine at Tufts Medical School, who believes that ”[i]t’s undoubtedly the case that if we had a metabolically healthy population, Covid would be far less severe.“
The Mediterranean Diet, with its olive oil, is one delicious, anti-inﬂammatory way to eat and to become more metabolically healthy.
The sustainability equation around olive oil v butter is quite simple. Olive oil comes from a plant, the olive. Butter comes from an animal. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, butter is the third most climate damaging food behind beef and lamb.
In their whitepaper “Olive Oil and the Plant-Forward Kitchen”, The Culinary Institute of America promotes olive oil to improve the health of the planet and its inhabitants. They note, “Olive orchards are a barrier to desertiﬁcation and erosion. Olive trees do not require intensive irrigation; 70% of the world’s olive orchards are entirely rain-fed.” The International Olive Council Sustainability Report notes that the olive grove is a sustainable strategy against climate change; the world production of olive oil absorbs the emissions of 16,000 people. Perspective.
Anti-aging: Heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Osteoporosis
If you’re concerned about aging and want to make your older years productive and fun, olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet are your friends. As our colleagues at the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) write, “Olive oil, and speciﬁcally extra virgin olive oil, has been shown to help curb many aspects of the aging process, thanks in part to the monounsaturated fatty acids content and its bioactive compounds, like polyphenols. Since olive oil can both help combat oxidative stress and chronic inﬂammation, including it in an anti-aging diet is a natural ﬁt.” This is not a marketing story; there is a great deal of scientiﬁc evidence around the health beneﬁts of extra virgin olive oil in preventing coronary heart disease, a chronic disease for which people over 65 are at greatest risk. At Oldways we have written about this evidence many times over almost 30 years, especially two groundbreaking studies, the Seven Countries Study and the Predimed Study.
Extra virgin olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet can also slow decline of cognitive function. A number of other studies, notably at the Monell Center have studied “oleocanthal, a naturally-occurring compound in extra-virgin olive oil, which alters the structure and increases antibody recognition of neurotoxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. This structural change impedes the proteins’ ability to damage brain nerve cells.” Oleocanthal may also be eﬀective in treating one type of cancer. The Olive Oil Times recently reported that Oleocanthal found in extra virgin olive oil, may be eﬀective as part of targeted therapy for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) patients, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. In addition, olive oil can be helpful for those who have osteoporosis, a disease of bone loss that occurs as we age. As NAOOA points out, “While olive oil doesn’t contain calcium, it does contain phenols which have been shown to prevent the loss of bone mass.”
Rest assured, there will always be new news about olive oil. However, it’s important to remember the basics. Extra virgin olive oil is a key and delicious ingredient of the Mediterranean Diet, one of the healthiest ways to eat, for personal and planetary health. Try a variety of olive oils, enjoy the diﬀerent tastes, and use your favorite olive oils throughout the day.
For more information and recipes that highlight olive oil, search our recipes, subscribe to the Fresh Fridays email below, and check out our partners like the North American Olive Oil Association.
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Join the Make Every Day Mediterranean Club Facebook group for additional information and support.