Research is underway to investigate the various pathways involved in olive oil`s health benefits stemming from two fronts: (1) from its levels of monounssaturated fat, especially its oleic acid; and, (2) the bioactive natural chemicals that the tree produces in the fruit to protect itself against the Mediterranean climate. These studies involve the following areas of investigation:
Helping to keep the mind sharp given that oleic acid is one of the most prevalent fats in the myelin sheath of nerve cells.
Protecting against DNA damage from environmental factors
Reducing cardiovascular disease
Anti-cancer effects of squalene
Antimicrobial activity of hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and oleuropein against several strains of bacteria implicated in intestinal and respoiratory infections (hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein are responsible for a good quality olive oil`s pungent finish upon tasting by sipping and high stability... if the fruit is very good quality and crushed immediately upon harvest giving beautiful flavours, the pungent finish is offset and balanced by wonderful flavours.
MUFA (Monounsaturated Fatty Acid) Benefits:
Olive oil`s fat is primarily oleic acid - a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
On February 25, 2013 what is considered a "watershed" study in the field of nutrition was published on major North American newspapers. It confirmed that extra virgin olive oil reduced heart attacks, strokes and death. Additionally, it does not raise blood cholesterol nor promote inflammation in the body - hence, a proposed, general cancer-protection link...and there is additional preliminary evidence for a `weight` maintenance property due to a higher `saiety` sensation when consuming olive oil.
The Hidden Stars - Making Up Just 2% of Extra Virgin Olive Oil `Antioxidant` Components
Note: The higher the quality of the extra virgin olive oil, not only the better the flavours, textures.. BUT, the highest possible chemical and nutritional properties.
Currently a great deal of international focus is placed on the antioxidant phytochemicals and other minor components in olive oil. They include polyphenols such as hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, squalene, tocopherols (related to Vitamin E activity) and oleocanthal. Of course, the higher the quality of the extra virgin olive oil, the higher the concentration of these components due to better quality fruits and extraction methods/machinery.
Some evidence suggests that these compounds protect against cancer development as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, as well as offering protective effects through the "turning on" of protective genes and "turning off" of genes that lead to damage. Some limited data also suggests that the compound "squalene" may provide some protection against skin cancer.
...."Because olive oil does not raise blood cholesterol and does not seem to promote cancer development, it is considered a healthful oil and a good source of fat. Some studies suggest that natural compounds in olive oil may even protect against cancer"
-The American Institute for Cancer Research.
Oleocanthal - a phenolic compound - linked to protection against Alzheimer`s Disease
See 2013 journal article in ACS Chemical Neuroscience: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cn400024q
Busting Myths: "Extra Virgin Olive Oil Cannot be Heated"
International lipids experts concur that extra virgin olive il is very healthy for cooking...sauteeing, baking, poaching fish, etc. The high levels of monounsaturated fat (MUFA) in olive oil is extremely stable. In fact, studies show that heating the polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) in seed oils results in more altered compounds than heating the MUFA in olive oil when under the smoking point for each.
Yes, the smoking point is higher for oils such as rapeseed, sunflower, etc. This fact is undisputable, but it is a mute point! We can use various cooking techniques with extra virgin olive oil in a home kitchen at or under 375 F - for example, we can saute at 280 to 300 degrees on medium heat. In fact, the higher the quality of the oil (less broken down fat and oxidation), the higher the smoking point above 375 F.
There are some nuances...some varieties are even more tolerant than others, and it is may not be practical to use a very expensive oil having a lower flavour intensity rather than a bolder style with a flavour profile that you love. For sauteeing, the flavour of a beautiful extra virgin and some of its antioxidants transfer to the food.
Unless household budgets do not allow it, a fruity, quality extra virgin olive oil will be a healthier choice!