Olive oil is the main source of fat in the diet eaten in countries around the Mediterranean basin. We could define olive oil as the oily juice from olives. Around one-third of the pulp of an olive is oil, and for this reason olive oil can easily be extracted from ripe olives using pressure.The composition of olive oil varies according to multiple factors, such as the variety of olive, exposure to the sun, geographic location, the characteristics of the olive grove, the way the oil was extracted and the way it has been conserved. Generally speaking, we can distinguish two fractions in the composition of olive oil:
- • FAT FRACTION: Fats are usually made mainly of triglycerides, and triglycerides in turn are made up of fatty acids, which are the building blocks of fats. Fats’ healthy or unhealthy properties depend on the composition of the fatty acids. In the case of olive oil, the fat fraction accounts for 97-99% of the total. Oleic acid (the main representative of monounsaturated fat) is the predominant fat in olive oil and generally accounts for 79% of all the fatty acids, although this number can vary between 57 and 82%.
- • MINOR COMPONENTS: These account for only 1-3% of the oil and contain a large number of components. The minor components are partly responsible for the stability of the oils and the exceptional flavour and scent of these oils. Most of the minor components in vegetable oils are eliminated during the refinement processes. In contrast, since virgin olive oil is yielded solely from washing, pressing, centrifuging and filtering, it conserves all its minor components, many of which have antioxidant properties.
It has been clearly proven that consuming olive oil can contribute to preventing cardiovascular disease. The excessive consumption of foods rich in saturated fatty acids (or saturated fat) like butter, lard and fatty dairy products like cream and aged cheeses boosts the cholesterol level in the blood and thus the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease (myocardial infarction, stroke, etc.). A variety of scholarly studies have revealed that consuming olive oil (main because of its oleic acid) instead of saturated fatty acids triggers a drop in overall cholesterol levels and specifically LDL levels, which may be accompanied by beneficial increases in HDL cholesterol levels. A variety of scholarly studies have revealed that consuming olive oil (mainly because of its oleic acid) instead of saturated fatty acids helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels.Likewise, it has recently been demonstrated that the minor components in olive oil, especially the ones called polyphenols (which abound in extra virgin olive oil) have antioxidant properties that protect the blood lipids from oxidative stress. The protective effect provided by the oxidants in extra virgin olive oil, coupled with a drop in the risk factors, caused by oleic acid when it replaces saturated fat, contribute to lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and protect the heart and the arteries.