The Mediterranean diet
What is it all about?
It is without a doubt that the so called Mediterranean diet has it’s roots from the Greek Islands cuisine, this cuisine is based on a few basic elements.
Extra Virgin olive oil for fat, natural seasonal vegetables, the abundant use of fruits and nuts, no unnatural processed foods, plenty of easy daily chores as exercise, like walking everywhere!
All you need to know in how to achieve this healthy lifestyle, after all the success of it is not only in the food but also the state of mind.
The history of the olive tree begins 7000 years ago.
Olive trees came to the European Mediterranean region from Phoenician merchants. With Greece as a gateway, they travelled to southern Europe, reaching Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.
As such, Greeks were the first population to cultivate olive trees in the European Mediterranean area.
The Athenian democratic state was one of the most important olive oil production centers in the Mediterranean.
Between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC, ancient Greek philosophers, historians and physicians studied olive oil not only for its nutritional properties but also for medical/pharmaceutical purposes. They also kept a record of its botanical characteristics.
The symbolic meaning of the olive—as well as its social and economic value—integrated all areas of life in ancient Greece.
Olive oil production continued during the Byzantine period; the empire quickly became the biggest exporter of olive oil in the world. During this period, olive trees and olive oil played an important role in the rituals of the Orthodox Christian Church.
In Greek mythology, Gaea was the personification of the Earth.
Gaea was the great mother of all; the primal Greek Mother Goddess, creator of the Earth and the Universe.
According to Greek mythology, the city of Athens is the motherland of the olive tree. The first olive tree was planted on the Acropolis by goddess Athena.
The myth says that Athena and Poseidon were laying claims to the same city. They decided that the one who offered the most valuable present to the people would gain overall control of the city.
Poseidon struck the side of the acropolis rock with his trident and a water spring was formed. The Athenians admired the present but noticed that the water was very salty, just like seawater.
Athena offered the Athenians an olive tree, which provided the city with food, oil, wood and light. As a result, Athena became the protector of the city, which still carries her name: Athina.
The huge wooden club wielded by Hercules was made out of the “agrielia” wild olive tree. Upon the completion of his 12 labors, Hercules planted an olive tree in Olympia. The wreaths offered as prizes to winners of the Olympic Games were made of branches from that very tree.
The ancient Greeks smeared their bodies and hair with olive oil as part of their healthcare routine. They also used olive oil to heal wounds and to cure diseases.
Hippocrates—the father of modern medicine—called the olive oil “the great healer”. Over 60 olive oil-based treatments are mentioned in the Hippocratic oath.
In the Greek Orthodox Church, olive oil is being used in all major rituals, such as baptisms, weddings, funerals, etc.
Olive oil is used to light the oil lamps—known as kantili—in churches and homes. This practice is considered to bring good fortune.
In Greek agricultural areas, when a child is born the family plants an olive tree which will grow along with the child. By the time the child reaches primary school age, the olive tree is considered ready for harvest. This olive tree will grow with the family and will survive for many generations, as a gentle reminder of the continuation and evolution of life.
How to shop for olive oil
Good olive oil has a fresh, vibrant flavour. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is considered to be the highest quality olive oil and the only one in its category that improves heart function and contains anticancer, anti-aging, and anti-oxidative components. Just as important, it tastes wonderful.
It owes its amazing flavour to:
Over one hundred, scientifically-identified aroma compounds (and many more awaiting to be named).
Phenolic compounds—which are unique to olive oil—and contribute to the characteristic bitter taste and brief, spicy sensation of good, extra virgin olive oil.
According to the European Regulation (EC/No640/2008: EEC No.2568/91), there are three main characteristics one should look for when assessing olive oil.
Fruitiness: a range of scents (mainly dependent on cultivar, degree of maturity at harvest, and processing conditions). This is a characteristic of olive oil that comes from fresh olive fruit (green or ripe) and is perceived as a strong scent when smelling the oil and /or as a flavour when tasting the oil.
Bitterness: a primary taste felt at the upper part of the mouth and tongue, mainly a characteristic of olive oil that comes from green olives.
Pungency: a peppery sensation felt at the back of the throat—a characteristic of olive oil produced at the beginning of the season, mainly from olives that are harvested while still green.
Check the date of harvest or the expiry date “Best by…”
In order for extra virgin olive oil to retain all its nutritional characteristics, it has to be fresh. Olive oil that is past its “best by” date tastes rancid and lacks its major nutritional and flavour characteristics. Select olive oils with harvest dates from the most recent season.
Choose an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that features dark or non-transparent packaging. This helps to protect it from light. Light, oxygen and heat are the three biggest enemies of olive oil, as they compromise its taste and nutritional characteristics.
Way of Pressing
Choose an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that has been cold-pressed. Cold-pressing means that the temperature throughout the processing stages hasn’t exceed 27degrees Celsius. This helps olive oil to retain its nutritional characteristics, taste and aroma. Read the label
From the label you can learn a lot about the quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For example, if the label indicates that the olive oil is PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indicator), this means that it has been produced according to the Standards of the European Union. The note “Country of Production” has to be clearly visible and the name of the variety/varieties used is a good hint of attention to quality. Awards received in international taste competitions is another indication of good quality.
Choose the taste you like
As you would with a wine, choose an Extra Virgin Olive Oil that best suits your flavour preferences and the meal you are preparing.Extra Virgin Olive Oils described as “early harvest”, “full-bodied” or “peppery” best accompany full-flavoured dishes. On the other hand, extra Virgin Olive Oils described as “mild taste” or “mild fruitiness” go really well with fine-flavoured dishes.
INCREASES “GOOD” CHOLESTEROL (HDL) LEVELS
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in vitamin E, mono-unsaturated fats and important minor components that decrease lipid oxidation. With their high content of antioxidants (polyphenols, for example), Extra Virgin olive oils may reduce “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and show a stable ratio between total cholesterol/HDL. Recent studies of UC DAVIS Olive Center, confirmed that two tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil a day can improve blood levels of lipids and lipoproteins (LDL, VLDL, HDL).
HEALTHY HEART – PROTECTION FROM CANCER - ANTIDIABETIC
The consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is associated with an increase in life expectancy due to its high content in phenols, tocopherols, pigments, triolein, squalene, phytosterols, aroma and flavor compounds.
In general, the antioxidants contained in olive oil prevent cell destruction. They also help to protect the arteries—and healthy arteries keep arteriosclerosis, coronary disease and even cancer at bay. A key anti-inflammatory compound in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and in edible olives is hydroxytyrosol. Extensive research has found that hydroxytyrosol contained in Extra Virgin Olive Oil possess antioxidant, antimicrobial, and antidiabetic properties. It provides protection against heart disease and plays a role in preventing or slowing the growth of tumors.
STRONG IMMUNE SYSTEM
A daily intake of Extra Virgin Olive Oil helps to strengthen the immune system and may reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Although the mechanism involved is not yet clear, the role of polyphenols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil appears primordial.
Olive oil and Cooking
MYTHS & TRUTHS ABOUT EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Some say Olive Oil is not good for frying however…
Olive oil is actually perfect for frying. Due to the plethora of antioxidant components it contains—such as phenolics and tocopherols— Extra Virgin olive oil is more stable than other edible oils. (It should be noted that oil which cannot withstand high temperatures, decays into substances which are bad for our health.) For example, it is confirmed that the overall quality of vegetables or meat is improved when fried with extra virgin olive oil, because they are enriched with the phenols present in the oil.Extra Virgin Olive Oil remains stable at 210oC, while frying usually takes place at around 180oC.
Light Oils have fewer calories
There is no such thing as “Light Extra Virgin olive oil”. A light-colored olive oil, with yellow-green hues, is neither lower in calories nor lighter in taste than a dark green olive oil. All fats and oils, including olive oil, have 9 calories per gram.
All olive oils are equally healthy
Not quite, as they are not all of equal quality. Extra Virgin olive oil is considered to be the very best in quality. And amongst Extra Virgin olive oils, the ones with more antioxidants and flavour are healthier, due to a higher content of nutritious components. A high-quality, Extra Virgin olive oil always has an outstanding flavour.