Olive oil is considered one of the healthiest oils we consume. The reason might be due to its high oleic acid and squalene content
In this post, I would like to describe a few characteristics that make olive oil one of the best condiments you can use in your everyday cooking practice. Oleic acid is the most abundant nutrient in olive oil which is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid and one of the most digestible fatty acids thanks to its organoleptic characteristics and because it stimulates reflexes within the gastrointestinal system that promote pancreatic secretion. Oleic acid passes easily through the intestinal mucosa and is rapidly absorbed; it is also able to stimulate biliary secretion, which is indispensable for fat absorption.
Extra-virgin and virgin olive oils are the healthiest olive oils on the market: 85% of the fatty acids they contain are unsaturated, whereas about 15% are saturated fats. The presence of a higher percentage of oleic acid compared to polyunsaturated fats makes olive oil more resistant to heat, and more suitable for preparations that require cooking or frying than other oils and foods (such as fish) rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Heat, however, greatly reduces the beneficial properties of the oil, such as vitamins and bioactive compounds.
Olive oil also contains squalene, another fatty acid that could be responsible for its health properties. This type of fat is indeed found in much higher concentrations in olive oil compared to other oils (see Table 1) and appears to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Table 1: Squalene content in olive oil and some seed oils.
Olive oil is also rich in many natural substances: chlorophyll, carotenoids, tocopherols, polyphenols, and others. The presence of antioxidant compounds, such as vitamin E, increases olive oil’s shelf life (which is usually one calendar year), as these compounds protect the oil from rancidity. The presence of polyphenols further inhibits oxidative processes and can improve the oil’s organoleptic characteristics.