A Healthy Dose Of Olive Oil

Updated: Nov 9 2003, 05:30am hrs
It's like the difference between wine and beer, smiles Italian trade commissioner in India, Guglielmo Galli.

He is comparing olive oil with other oils. He may have a reason to say so because Italy is a major source of olive oil. But then he is not alone, particularly when it comes to the health angle. The oil has been researched upon extensively and has proven health benefits.

It all began with Hippocrates. The father of modern medicine recommended the juices of fresh olives as a cure for mental illness and poultices of macerated olives for ulcers. In the Middle Ages, it was used to treat gynecological complaints and in the Mediterranean country side was used for treatment for ear aches, stomach aches and gastritis.

Today, research has shown the scientific basis for many of these beliefs, according to the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). Some of the main objectives of the IOOC are conducting scientific research on olive oil and informing and educating consumers.

For example, according to the IOOC, regular consumption of olive oil controls blood pressure. This is validated by the research studies at American Heart Association, which has found that olive oil is one of the healthiest oils for heart and blood vessels. In fact, research shows that there is low incidence of heart failure in countries where olive oil is the principal fat consumed.

Doctors agree on this benefit of the oil. Explains Dr Shahshi Mohan, a cardiologist, who runs his own clinic in South Delhi, Olive Oil is definitely a healthier option when it comes to the heart. In fact, its a better option that any other oilbe it groundnut oil, soya oil or sunflower oil for that matter.

Sevitel, a Greek association of industries and processors of olive oil, too quotes some studies. The incidence of coronary disease in Greece is very low. The hypothesis is that this could be due to the extensive consumption of olive oil. To ensure experimental conditions, Crete seemed the ideal choice. Cretans consume 30 kilos (60-70 pounds) of olive oil a year per person. 90 per cent of all fats there are provided by olive oil. A 30-year-study confirmed the hypothesis that olive oil is useful in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

IOOC also says that regular consumption of the oil not only prevents diabetes, but also helps in delaying onset of the disease. A study done by A A Rivellese and G Riccardi of M Mancini Institute of Internal Medicine and Metabolism Disease University of Federico II Naples, says, Olive oil prevents insulin resistance and ensures better control of the glucose in the blood. Since olive oil helps absorb calcium better, it is known to help prevent osteoporosis as well. Bone calcification is another problem common in the elderly. Olive oil seems to have a positive effect, which appears to be dose-dependent, because the more olive oil ingested the better the bone mineralisation obtained. The explanation might lie in the large amount of oleates in the structural lipids of bones.

Studies suggest that olive oil has a protective effect against malignant tumours like those of the breast, prostate and digestive tract. Dr Dimitrios Trichopoulos, chairman of the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard University School of Public Health, has been quoted on this. American women might actually experience as much as a 50 per cent reduction in breast cancer risk if they consume more olive oil in place of saturated fats.

Due to its high level of vitamin E content, the oil is also said to be good for pregnant women. What gives it another major USP is its high antioxidant content, which is normally found only in fruits and vegetables. Jean Carper, a leading authority on health and nutrition, an award winning correspondent for CNN, and author of The Food Pharmacy and Food-Your Miracle Medicine and a nationally syndicated columnist, has been quoted as saying: New Italian research finds olive oil contains antioxidants, similar to those in tea and red wine, that combat disease processes, including LDL cholesterols ability to clog arteries.

Of course, its not the health notes alone that have been prompting people to use olive oil. The oil gives extra taste to some exotic dishes. Take, for example, Neelu Kohli, a Delhi-based school teacher, who uses olive oil frequently. She was asked by her family doctor to use it. Says Ms Kohli, We use it occasionally in some dishes but its use in salads and pastas is a must. Also, we realise its healthier so we try using it frequently. Of course, the cost is a factor.

While a 200 ml tin of Figaro comes at Rs 105, Bertolli prices its 200 ml bottle at Rs 125. Olive Products Division of the Dalmia group is offering a one litre bottle for Rs 290 and a 500 ml bottle for Rs 170 because it is importing its own brand of olive oil into India. Christened Leonardo Olive Oil, it comes in a variety of flavours from garlic to the popular extra virgin olive oil. Says Narayanan Rajagopalan, president and COO, Olive Products Division, Dalmia Continental Pvt Ltd, Indians are getting very health conscious and we see a good growth in the market..

Next on offer at some stage might be olives grown in India, he says. After all, if we can have grapes grown in Nashik, why not olives