From Ancient Greece to modern times, this wondrous fruit extract has demonstrated that it can have countless positive effects on humankind.
Olive oil has a reason to be proud of itself. Plenty of natural foods can claim to offer one health benefit or another, but how many can lay claim to being the inspiration behind the founding of one of the great cities of both the Ancient and Modern world?
Greek mythology has it that both Athena (Goddess of Wisdom) and Poseidon (God of the Sea) were vying to become the principal deity of the city.
The Sea God offered dominion over the waves, but Athena stuck her magic spear into the ground and it turned into an olive tree. That carried the day, which is why the Greek capital is Athens and not Poseidania.
Even if you’re not a believer in the mythology, olive trees were immensely important throughout the ancient world, and particularly in the Mediterranean, because of the multiple bounties that the offered.
They originated in Asia Minor, and soon spread throughout the region. It was a prized resource—olive oil was “liquid gold,” according to Homer—in part because it’s so suited to the region.
The tree lives for centuries, thrives in areas near saltwater that kill the root systems of most plants and needs little water or cultivation. Its fruit is calorie-dense and can be easily stored for months without spoiling.
So we know the Greeks loved it, but what are the health benefits today? Well, even though the oil of olives is a fat, it’s a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA), a healthy fat that can lower cholesterol and normalize blood clotting.
Research shows that it also may help regulate insulin levels and control blood sugar, a big asset to anyone suffering from type 2 diabetes.
Studies have also shown that a diet with a high proportion of MUFAs lowers the risk of coronary heart disease, and olive oil fits the bill nicely.
Other research indicates that olive oil may have properties that may help avoid cancer. So it’s more than just the trendy ingredient that everyone uses on cooking shows to add some flavor, it’s legitimate health food, whether it’s used in cooking, as a salad dressing, or as an ingredient in cold foods as well.
Two notes on olive oil, for those who don’t currently use it much but want to try. Olive oil’s flavor is stronger when it is cold, so keep that in mind when seasoning food or when taste-testing varieties in stores.
Also, freshness does count. While olive oil has staying power, its fragrance deteriorates over time. It’s recommended that any olive oil that’s more than a year old be used for cooking instead of as a raw ingredient.
And olive oil’s versatility does not stop in the kitchen. It has a number of topical uses as well.For example, the oil’s properties make it an excellent natural moisturizer, and studies on mice have shown a possible effect in deterring skin cancer.
The Ancient Greeks were known for rubbing olive oil all over their bodies, perhaps knowing that it would keep their skin smooth and safe from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Olive oil even works as a natural lubricant, ideal for making sure kitchen gadgets such as blenders, mixers and can openers are running smoothly.
The qualities of olive oil have been known for thousands of years. It’s great to see that they are still having such a positive impact on living today.
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