olive oil

Pros and Cons of Olive Oil

Pros and Cons of Olive Oil

Regarded as one of the most healthful oils today, olive oil harbors protective benefits for the liver. However, if not handled correctly, find out why olive oil is capable of having the opposite effect.

by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.

Olive oil is one of the most popular oils on supermarket shelves. Even with the large variety of choices, a good percentage of shoppers reach for olive oil as their preferred cooking and dressing medium. Besides its pleasant taste, most people choose olive oil because they have heard that it is one of the healthiest oils available. For those with liver concerns, olive oil’s health benefits are especially important. Though, while it is supportive of liver health, many people are not aware of olive oil’s dark side. Unfortunately, improper storage or use can render supposedly healthy olive oil to be startlingly unhealthy for the liver.

A staple in the healthful Mediterranean Diet, olive oil is a natural juice, which preserves the taste, aroma, vitamins and properties of the olive fruit. Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that can be consumed as it is – freshly pressed from the fruit. Generally, olive oil is extracted by pressing or crushing olives. The olive oil variety depends upon the amount of processing involved to yield the final product. With the first pressing touted as the most healthful, olive oil’s varieties are:

·    Extra virgin – The oil from the first pressing of olives, extra virgin olive oil is the least processed and is extracted without using heat or chemicals.

·    Virgin – The oil that results from the second pressing of olives.

·    Pure – This olive oil undergoes some processing, such as filtering and refining.

·    Extra light – Retaining an extremely mild olive flavor, extra light olive oil undergoes a considerable amount of processing. Extra light olive oil may even be blended with vegetable oil.

Olive oil is primarily a monounsaturated fat, which means it has one double bond in its fatty acid structure. Due to its structure, monounsaturated fat moves through the body smoothly and is far less likely than other types of fat to clog the arteries. Unlike olive oil, saturated fats have been proven to cling to the lining of arteries and create a blockage that could lead to a heart attack or stroke. For those with liver concerns, maintaining unimpeded blood circulation is necessary for the blood to move freely through the liver.

More specifically, the fat in olive oil has been proven to lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. In contrast, saturated and trans fats (like butter, animal fats, tropical oils and partially hydrogenated oils) increase heart disease risk by increasing your total and LDL cholesterol levels. According to the Food and Drug Administration, consuming about two tablespoons of olive oil a day may reduce your risk of heart disease.

A recent study by researchers in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia has revealed another reason that olive oil is a liver ally. As part of their study, scientists exposed rats to a moderately toxic herbicide known to deplete antioxidants and cause oxidative stress. They found that rats that were fed a diet containing olive oil were partially protected from the herbicide-inflicted liver damage.

According to Tunisian researcher Mohamed Hammami, “Olive oil is an integral ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. There is growing evidence that it may have great health benefits including the reduction in coronary heart disease risk, the prevention of some cancers and the modification of immune and inflammatory responses. Here, we’ve shown that extra virgin olive oil and its extracts protect against oxidative damage of hepatic tissue.”

Unfortunately, olive oil does have its drawbacks; namely, it is highly perishable and easily oxidizes. Despite its health benefits, when fresh, extra-virgin olive oil contains chlorophyll it accelerates decomposition and makes the oil go rancid quickly. Every time olive oil is exposed to air or light, it oxidizes – a process that creates free radicals, which can damage cells. Those with liver concerns are well versed on the hazards of oxidation, and typically go to great lengths to protect their intact liver cells from this process. This protection is usually accomplished by consuming antioxidants to neutralize free radicals.

In addition to being vulnerable to air and light, olive oil also breaks down from heat. Again, its chemical structure is to blame. Using extra virgin olive oil to cook with is likely to result in its oxidation – which anyone with liver disease wants to avoid. To prevent the oxidation of extra virgin olive oil, experts advise the following:

·    Purchase it in small containers so it is closer to fresh.

·    Store it in a dark place, away from heat and light.

·    Always use it cold; never cook with it.

·    After use, replace the lid quickly.

Extra virgin olive oil is a wise part of a liver conscious diet, but it must be purchased, used and stored correctly. As long as these guidelines are followed, the olive oil can remain intact, and you can benefit from its cardiovascular and liver protective benefits.