S

antolivo is health in every drop. In the food pyramid that represents a model of healthy and balanced diet in harmony with the Mediterranean traditions, extra-virgin olive oil has a privileged position: it can be used every day for seasoning and cooking. This is because extra-virgin olive oil has many benefits, including its effectiveness in reducing cholesterol and fighting free radicals.

 

The extra-virgin olive oil in the food pyramid
(Source: PAT - Piramide Alimentare Toscana, Regione Toscana, 2008)

 

 

      
 (To have more information, click on the icons or levels of the pyramid)

Begin reading the food pyramid from the lowest step which contains the ingredients to consume daily: fruit, vegetables, cereals and extra-virgin olive oil. As you move up the pyramid, you find foods that, due to their nutritional characteristics, must be consumed with less frequency or only occasionally. In general, the diet must be varied and changing the type of food, without excluding anything, is recommended: eat everything, but in moderation. It is important to consume seasonal products, reduce the consumption of salt and salty foods, substitute salt when possible with spices and aromatic herbs, drink a lot of water, moderate wine consumption and exercise regularly.



The benefits of the extra-virgin olive oil

 

F atty foods are indispensable for life, we must decide which to consume. Fats have a primary role in producing energy, they are essential to cellular metabolism, they have an important antioxidant function, they transport and distribute liposoluble vitamins throughout the body, they help the functionality of the nervous, cardiovascular and immune systems, they control the regulation of hormones and these are only some of their principal functions. Fats are found, above all, in vegetable oils and animal fats (butter, bacon fat, lard), in other foods of animal origin (meat, fish, cheeses, eggs) and in dried fruits. We cannot avoid eating fats but we can decide which ones, because not all of them are healthy. Let’s focus our attention on oils, the food with the highest concentration of fats.

 

Extra-virgin olive oil, either raw or cooked, is preferred over other vegetable oils and animal fats: almost all the scientific tests on nutrition agree on this. Let’s see why.

 

Extra-virgin olive oil is effective in the reduction of cholesterol levels and therefore in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.This is due to its high content of oleic acid, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid which has the power to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol present in the body without affecting HDL (the so called good cholesterol): extra-virgin oil possesses more oleic acid (varying between 55gm and 83gm for every 100gm of oil - Santolivo has 73gm) than any other food. Note that all vegetable oils are the only foods, among those containing fats, which are lacking in cholesterol. However, the various vegetable oils interact in different ways with the cholesterol they meet in the body: refined vegetable oils increase cholesterol while the majority of unrefined vegetable oils decrease both good and bad cholesterol. As for butter, it contains a lot of cholesterol and stimulates its growth.

 

Extra-virgin olive oil is efficient in fighting formidable free radicals, degenerative diseases, tumors and aging. This is due to the important presence of polyphenols and tocopherols (vitamin E) which have strong and beneficial antioxidant properties which the cold pressing of the olives preserves. To become a DOP Terre di Siena, an extra-virgin olive oil must have a minimum of 100mg/kg of polyphenols, Santolivo has 587mg. The vegetable oils commonly sold in supermarkets have the opposite effect: they do not possess polyphenols; their important asset, tocopherols, is for the most part eliminated during the refining process, thus leaving numerous polyunsaturated fatty acids with insufficient protection and at the mercy of free radicals that have a tendency to multiply.

 

Extra-virgin olive oil is the best fat for cooking and frying. Its smoking point - the temperature at which oil starts to smoke and breakdown therefore forming new dangerous cancerous substances - is high (around 210°C). Other fats and oils follow in order: lard and peanut oil (180°C), corn (160°C) and soy (130°C). Sunflower oil and butter have a lower smoking point which makes them less suitable for cooking. On the labels of many vegetable oils you can find different information but they regard refined products which better withstand high temperatures due to molecular alterations that are however dangerous to health. 

 

Extra-virgin olive oil must not completely substitute other fats. Alternating fats and varying foods is always the right choice to guarantee that the body has the widest possible variety of nutrients. Butter, due to its composition, encourages the growth of cholesterol but it is less caloric than oil and is rich in vitamin A and mineral salts. Some unrefined vegetable oils (corn, soy and above all sunflower) are less effective in reducing cholesterol but are particularly rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids of the omega-6 type that are indispensable for the good functioning of human metabolism.

In addition to refined vegetable oils, avoid cooking with pork lard and margarine. They are both rich in cholesterol, saturated fatty acids and (in the case of margarine) hydrogenated fats or trans fats which greatly increase cholesterol growth and, at the same time, decrease the number of HDL molecules that clean the body of excess cholesterol.

 

Remember that extra-virgin olive oil is a fat and therefore should be consumed in moderation. All vegetable oils and animal fats are made up almost exclusively of lipids with high calorie levels: 900Kcal per 100gm of edible product (around 750Kcal per 100gm of butter). Extra-virgin olive oil is not an exception even if there is ‘health in every drop’. It should be consumed sparingly, not more than 2 or 3 spoonfuls daily (around 200gm weekly) to receive only the benefits of it. Excessive consumption can contribute to weight gain and, if one is already overweight, can be dangerous to health. The principal rule of a good diet is always the same: moderation!

 

Balanced consumption of vegetable oils and animal fats...


Food Average weekly recommended consumption
Extra-virgin olive oil, raw or cooked 200 g (2-3 spoonfuls daily)
Raw and unrefined soy, corn or sunflower oils (prefer sunflower oil for its higher content of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E) 70-100 g (1 spoonful daily)
Refined vegetable oils Avoid
Margarine Avoid
Raw butter 50 g (10 g for 5 days per week)
Lard Avoid
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