Halal Consumer - Issue 28 - page 20

The latest, and perhaps the strongest, evidence has come
from the recent PREDIMED trial in Spain. This nearly five-
year study determined that there had been significantly
fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths from cardiovascular
disease in the groups that were adhering to a Mediterranean
diet rich in either olive oil or nuts than in the low-fat diet
group. Moreover, the olive oil group had the best outcomes.
The Mediterranean diet is rich not only in olive oil but
also in fiber, fish, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. But what is
interesting is that, compared to diets of other countries,
the Mediterranean diet actually has a relatively high fat
content. Not only that, but about 20 percent of the total
calories in this diet come from olive oil alone, making it
the diet’s major fat source.
But isn’t fat bad for you?
Not necessarily.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and National
Cholesterol Education Program recommend 25 to 35 per-
cent of your daily calories come from fat. According to the
American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, achieving
intake of total fat within the recommended range (20 to
35 percent) is an important goal, but the quality of fat in
the diet is equally important. Altering fat consumption,
instead of reducing total fat, might be more advantageous
to health and chronic-disease risk reduction.
Good Fat vs Bad Fat
Oils are made up of three kinds of fatty acids: monoun-
saturated fatty acids (MUFA), polyunsaturated fatty acids
(PUFA), and saturated fatty acids (SFA). The difference
lies in the percentages of each fatty acid found in an oil.
The problem with SFAs is that they increase the bad cho-
lesterol, LDL, in the blood. MUFAs, on the other hand, can
have the opposite effect, increasing good cholesterol levels
and lowering bad.
One tablespoon of olive oil, according to the United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrient Database, is
composed of over 72 percent MUFA, over 10 percent PUFA
(both good fats), and about 13 percent SFA (the bad fats).
Conversely, palm kernel oil is 81 percent SFA!
Varieties
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
is the oil obtained from olives
that have been cold-pressed once,” explains Suha Najjar, a
registered and licensed dietitian/nutritionist. “Since this is
a physical process, it is the best method of extraction and
allows the nutrients in olive oil to be preserved. Heating
would denature (cause degradation of) the nutrients.”
Virgin olive oil
is obtained from olives that have been
cold-pressed twice,” Najjar continued. “This oil is lighter
in color than EVOO and has a lower level of polyphenols,
which are the healthful components of the oil.”
The remaining paste (pomace) still contains a small quan-
tity, about 5 to 10 percent, of oil that cannot be extracted
by further pressing, but only with chemical solvents.
Najjar says this is what is called
“light” olive oil
and is the
cheapest olive oil available in the market. “To obtain this
oil, both heat and chemical extraction is used, which leads
to a significant reduction in the nutrient-content of the
oil,” says the 2013-14 chair of the Muslims in Dietetics and
Nutrition (MIDAN).
In general, the physical methods used to produce olive oil
preserve many of its health-promoting constituents. This is
not seen with other vegetable and seed oils, which tend to
be more refined.
The Important Constituents
Olive oil is high in oleic acid (an MUFA), which is the
component that contributes not just to the antioxidant
properties of the oil but also its stability and shelf-life.
Depending on a number of factors, including the type of
olives used, the soil used to grow them, the extraction pro-
cess, and even the time of harvest, the level of oleic acid in
the oil varies between 55 and 83 percent.
The oil is also rich in antioxidants (phenols, tocopherols)
and Vitamin E, all of which protect the cells of our body
from free radical damage. Extra virgin olive oil has the
highest concentration of phenolic compounds and, there-
fore, has the highest anti-oxidant activity. The phenolic
component also prevents cellular DNA damage.
Olive oil also has squalene (an organic compound that is
a metabolic precursor of steroids) in many times the con-
centrations seen in other foods and oils. Also, its levels are
not significantly different in extra virgin versus virgin olive
oil. Although this component of olive oil gets distributed
throughout the body, the majority is transported to the skin.
Exposure to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes
the formation of carcinogenic singlet oxygen species within
the skin, and the high concentration of squalene is thought
to play a role in scavenging them.
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Spring 2014
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