Olive Oil: Bitter is Better?

Article first published as Olive Oil: Bitter is Better? on Technorati.
Hardly a day goes by without news relating to the latest health discoveries appearing in newspapers and magazines, on TV and on the Internet. In parallel, one can read about the multiplication of health problems given today's tendency to eat more, with food getting richer and richer while at the same time populations move less and less. No wonder obesity is on the rise at a rate that can only be described as alarming, not only in high income countries, but also in middle or even low income countries, especially in urban areas. It is said that one billion adults are now overweight, while three million are considered obese.
With its wide array of options, the slimming products and meal plans market certainly is a lucrative one, but it is easy to get lost in its meanders. It is also no surprise that the mass of information widely available can confuse people, especially as it is often conflicting. A subject has however remained unchanged over the years, and that is the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
What does this way of eating consist of? Lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses and unrefined cereals, which provide a healthy dose of dietary fibres, moderate amounts of dairy products, fish and wine, and low meat consumption. And last but not least, olive oil as the main source of fat. The very high level of monounsaturated fats present in this oil is thought to be a factor in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, has anti-inflammatory properties, and evidence that its antioxidants improve cholesterol regulation is commonly cited.
The way the olive oil is produced, in particular the stage of pressing, however does have an impact in terms of health benefits. Studies have tested the anti-inflammatory capacities of extra virgin olive oil from the first pressing with virgin olive oils from later pressings. The result was that first pressing oils were able to lower inflammatory markers in the blood, when second or subsequent pressings were not.
Interestingly, it is also now recognized that the bitterer the olive oil tastes, the more polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols protect cells and body chemicals against the damage caused by free radicals, and can possibly deactivate substances that play a role in the growth of cancers. Additionally, they make the oil last longer.
One of the bitterness factors comes from the type of olives used for the oil production. If you go to Apulia, the region forming the high heel on the "boot" of Italy, you will encounter the Peranza variety. Its distinct bitterness makes it an ideal candidate for a first pressed, extra virgin version of this wonderful addition to the daily diet.
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