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It’s good for the heart

Olive oil, a cardinal element of the Mediterranean diet, has been the subject of immense amounts of scientific research, which has supplied proof of its nutritional properties and the fundamental role it plays in a well balanced healthy diet.

Fats (oil, butter or those contained in meat or cheese) are foods that supply our body with its greatest source of energy: 9 kilocalories (kcal) per gram. The daily required amount is 80-100 grams (g). On the basis of their chemical characteristics these substances can be divided into two main categories: saturated fatty acids (present in meat, milk, cheese, eggs and also coconut and palm oil) and unsaturated fatty acids (present in olive and seed oils). The difference generally made between vegetable (unsaturated) and animal (saturated) fats is rather superficial; a definite distinction can be made by considering that foods rich in saturated fats are solid at room temperature (butter for example), while the others are liquid. An excessive consumption of animal fats (butter, bacon, lard) raises the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood with the consequent increase in the risk of cardiovascular illness (arteriosclerosis, stroke, thrombosis, heart failure), especially in smokers or those genetically susceptible. To stay healthy it is best to use, whenever possible, unsaturated fats, in which vegetable oils are rich. According to experts a balanced diet should be composed of 25% saturated fats and 75% unsaturated fats.

Why it’s good for the heart

Thanks to its chemical characteristics, olive oil has just the right balance of these lipids and this makes it the ideal food. Thanks to the content of monounsaturated oleic acid and linoleic acid, this food has the ability to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, protecting the body against arteriosclerosis and heart disease. It also performs a useful emollient action on the stomach lining, lubricates the intestine and prevents irritation of the digestive system and constipation. The other lesser components of olive oil, such sterols, triterpenic alcohol, betacarotene, vitamins A and D, polyphenols and tocopherols, play an important role in the wellbeing of the body. Many of these substances are antioxidants which slow down the degradation of the oil, impeding the formation of toxic substances. If olive oil is consumed regularly, (the other vegetable oils do not have these properties) these molecules enter into circulation and protect the body, preventing the formation of free radicals which age the cells. These same substances are also responsible for resistance to high temperatures (especially while frying), making it possible to fry in a more healthy way. It is best however to consume uncooked olive oil choosing cold-pressed oil (healthier but more expensive), because high temperatures damage the vitamins which are very important to growth, resistance to infection and the protection of vital organs such as the liver and heart.

From the best to the most common:

The quality of olive oil depends on the raw material used (olives) and the production process used. In the case of cold processing, the olives, which are perfectly healthy and ripe, are harvested by hand, placed in wicker baskets and taken immediately to the crushing plant. Once the leaves have been removed and the olives have been washed they are ground with a traditional stone mill and cold pressed. Many oil production plants have their product checked and certified by specialist companies (acknowledged at institutional level): chemists, agronomists and oil experts check the various stages of the production process (cultivation, pressing, storage and packing). In order to be certified the oil must meet Legal requisites and the producers must observe the European directive (EEC 85/374) on food safety.

Virgin olive oil, obtained from mechanical pressing of the olives rather than chemical extraction, is divided into a number of classes, which are distinguished by their chemical-physical and organoleptic characteristics. All the countries that produce oil in the Mediterranean basin, has established criteria for this classification based upon the following characteristics:
Extra-virgin olive oil: this is the highest quality of oil, characterised by low levels of acidity, total absence of defects and the presence of a ruity?note, this being the term used to describe the fresh green, sharp scent characteristic of freshly pressed olives.
Virgin oil: characterised by a higher level of acidity and the presence of the odd organoleptic defect {flavour, scent}. The classification is not linked to a specific defect but to the intensity of the most obvious one, whatever it may be.
Flowing virgin oil and clear virgin oil: oils with the highest number of defects and level of acidity.

Dictionary of Flavours

Already introduced several technical terms, known as notes, which change depending on the organoleptic characteristics or the production processes.

Each of these  notes corresponds to a precise flavour of oil:


Heated: flavour (technical term used to indicate the lingering sensations) characteristic of oil obtained from massed olives which have undergone a certain amount of anaerobic fermentation.
Mouldy: characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives in which abundant fungus and yeasts have developed.
Deposited (Morchia): characteristic flavour of oil left in contact with the decantation sludge.
Wined: flavour reminiscent of wine or vinegar.
Metallic: flavour typical of oil left in contact at length with metallic surfaces.
Rancid: olfactory sensation of oils which have undergone an oxidising process.
Fruity: sensation typical of oil produced from fresh, healthy olives.
Bitter: classic flavour perceived towards the back of the tongue.
Spicy: sensation determined by substances that inflame the nerve endings in the tongue.

WHERE IT PRODUCED
A less scientific classification of extra virgin olive oil is made on the basis of the area in which it is produced, as this determines the aromatic notes and the colour (variable depending on the olives used).
Northern Italy: delicate but intense olfactory notes, colour tending towards yellow as opposed to green; a spicy and bitter flavour.
Central Italy: very green oils; dominant olfactory notes tending towards herbaceous with good body.
Southern Italy: varying greatly from area to area; they may be similar to those produced in the north, or may be thick, very green and aromatic.

Comparison of Fats:

 

Water (g)

Protein(g)

Lipids (g)

Glucids (g)

Kcal

Vitamin A ()

olive oil

0

0

100

0

900

margarine

13.0

0.6

84.0

0.4

760

75

butter

14.1

0.8

83.4

1.1

758

960

Values for 100g of product.

    

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