Anna Rita Mazzoli
Nutritional biologist

Olive oil and its properties

An excellent oil, with extremely high nutritional qualities and typical of the basic seasoning used in the diet of the peoples of the Mediterranean, is produced from the fruit of the olive tree, the beautiful plant that is such a characteristic part of the Mediterranean landscape. Like all the oils, it is part of a wide group of compounds called fats or lipids, formed of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen that carry out numerous functions in the organism that are necessary for life itself. These have an energetic function, they are structural components of the cells, they help in the absorption of the liposoluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), and limit heat dispersion, thermically isolating our bodies.

Preparation for the cold pressing of olives
(Photo by Fan©)
Unlike animal fats, olive oil reduces the increase of haematic cholesterol and is principally formed, in percentages that vary between 55 to 83%, of oleic acid (monounsaturates), of minor quantities of linoleic acid and a-linolenic acid (poliunsaturates) and of palmitic and stearic acids (saturates). Apart from the fatty acids, olive oil also contains some minor but important components, about 10%, that are capable of reducing the formation of free radicals and preventing the intestinal absorption of cholesterol, as well as lowering its levels. It also has a positive effect on arterial pressure and has been found to have a preventive effect against tumours.

Freshly pressed extravirgin olive oil
(Photo by Fan©)
Various types of olive oil are available on the market at present, but it is most important always to choose the extra virgin type of oil because its natural characteristics are left unaltered. In particular we advise the cold pressed type of oil (at about 30°), which guarantees the long life of unstable vital elements like vitamins. The hot pressed (160°C a 200°C) type of oil has only been in use since the 1940's because this method makes it possible to obtain a double yield as well as producing a long-lasting type of oil. However it is always best to use it uncooked and straight from the bottle.

See also: Thousand year old olive trees The Olive Tree the Symbol of the Mediterranean The message contained in typical aspect of the tree
Silvia Messeri & Sandro Pintus

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