Olive oil for health and beauty - inside and out
Often the best remedies are the simplest and the least expensive. One of my favourite health and beauty "secrets" is using olive oil on just about every part of your body, inside and out. People in Greece, Italy and all around the Mediterranean have been using it for thousands of years. The Mediterranean diet uses liberal quantities of olive oil, and the ancients used with their food, for beauty, and to heal wounds.
There are over 700 varieties (cultivars) of olives. Along with different soils, climates, growing conditions and harvesting, the way olives are processed and bottled means that there are nearly as many variations as there are between wines. Of course, there are a few major varieties used for the bulk of olive oil production.
Olives are stone fruits, similar to plums and cherries. Extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil is squeezed from the fruit. This special "fruit juice" is seasonal, perishable, and at its best in the first few weeks after harvesting and pressing.
Olive oil consists mostly of oleic acid, between 55% and 85%, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions.
I have never heard of anyone having an allergic reaction to olive oil.
Olive oil in the Kitchen
Weight Loss: olive oil is an excellent oil to use in the kitchen. Use it on salads, with breads, and on the top of many dishes. It lowers the GI (glycemic index) of the food, making it digest more slowly, and keeping hunger pangs at bay during the hours after the meal.
You can cook with olive oil, but only at low temperatures. A top quality olive oil is ruined by heating. The cheaper, deodorised olive oils are actually more suitable for cooking! But these cheap olive oils have had their healthy components removed during their refining process, so what is the point in using them? Saturated fats such as coconut oil, ghee, lard and butter are more suitable for cooking, and far better for your health than seed oils (vegetable oils).
Olive oil in the Bathroom
Buy a small plastic squeeze bottle, and fill it with olive oil. If you have a favourite essential oil, add just one drop to the bottle. Lavender or rosemary are my favourites in the bathroom.
As you age, your hair, skin and nails tend to get drier. The three keys to a great skin are to exfoliate, moisturise, and protect.
Believe it or not, the most effective way to exfoliate your skin, on both your body and your face, is with white sugar. Use white sugar or raw sugar (not brown sugar). Don't put sugar IN your body, put it ON your body!
- Gently mix half a cup of sugar with about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Be gentle, you don't want to dissolve the sugar
- Wipe your face with a hot, damp flannel
- Smooth the mixture all over your cheeks, forehead, nose, chin, neck and all over your face with your hands. Keep it away from your eyes
- Gently rub it on your skin for half a minute
- Rinse with warm water to get all the sugar off
- Your face will still be covered with oil. Rinse the flannel in warm water, and gently wipe off the oil
- Do this every week to remove dead surface skin cells, and have a smooth healthy skin!
In the shower, you can use this same mixture to exfoliate the skin on the rest of your body. Use a wash cloth and gently massage all over. The result - skin like velvet.
If the skin on your face feels dry, spread just one drop of olive oil in each hand, and gently tap it all over your wet face. The water helps the oil spread, and only use a drop of oil or it will look slick and greasy. Blot dry with a soft towel or tissue for a moist skin.
For those dry patches on the elbows and feet, first exfoliate with the white sugar mixture. Then massage in a little olive oil. The transformation will be almost unbelievable.
Makeup Remover: Olive oil is the best and most gentle way to remove makeup, even on your eyes. It can even remove waterproof mascara.
Dry hair conditioner: Olive oil is a great hair conditioner, especially for tired hair that has been coloured and blow dried. Massage a few drops into your hair, and wrap in a hot towel for an hour or so. Wash as usual, and when your hair is dry, spread a few drops in your hands, bend over, and rub through your hair. The result is shiny, healthy looking hair. You only need a little oil, or it may look greasy.
Dandruff. Massage a light layer of olive oil into your scalp and leave it for a few hours before washing.
Cradle cap: a common skin condition on the scalp of babies. Apply a thin layer of olive oil every day until it disappears.
Shaving: men and women - face or legs. A light layer of olive oil on damp skin before shaving is a much better, healthier more natural option than shaving cream.
Nail cuticles: Rub a generous amount of olive oil into the cuticles to soften them before a manicure. Avoid cutting cuticles as it can cause infection or irritation.
Olive oil in the Medicine cabinet
Sunburn, rashes including nappy (diaper) rash, insect bites. Gently rub on a few drops of olive oil and leave uncovered. It sooths the itching and speeds the healing.
Heart disease and Stroke Prevention: The FDA reports that taking olive oil each day can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and strokes. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated oil, which helps to increase HDL, ("good" cholesterol), and decrease LDL ("bad" cholesterol). High quality, fresh, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil has additional antioxidant properties that protect against heart disease.
Colon Cancer Prevention: Using olive oil may protect against certain forms of cancer, especially colon cancer (1). Olive oil contains oleic acid and other phenols that act as antioxidants.
Breast Cancer Prevention: Studies at Cornell University (3) showed that olive oil consumption was linked to a substantial decrease in breast cancer risk. The oleic acid and antioxidants in olive oil protected against other cancers too.
Alzheimer's Disease: A study showed that the hot peppery tasting compound in olive oil (Oleocanthal) may help treat and prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Diabetes: the European Food Information Council reports that olive oil can reduce blood glucose levels.
What kind of olive oil should you buy?
WARNING. Most cheap supermarket oils, including nearly all the big name bulk oils imported from Italy and Spain, are of such poor quality that their health and therapeutic benefits are nonexistent.
"It is rare to find authentic extra virgin olive oil in a restaurant in America, even in a fine restaurant that ought to know better."(5) "..estimates that 50% of the (olive) oil sold in America is fraudulent.." (5)
Many of the health benefits of olive oil derive only from high quality oils. Good quality olive oil is expensive, compared to the cheapest olive oils available in a supermarket. The cheapest olive oils have almost certainly been blended with seed oils. They are unlikely to be extra virgin (first pressing) or cold-pressed (extracted without heat), even if their label says so. In fact the cheapest oils are unlikely to have healing / therapeutic properties.
Age. Olive oil is at its best in the first few weeks after harvesting and pressing. The flavour and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of production and bottling. This decline really speeds up after the bottle is opened. Most bottles have a "best by" date, and some show a "date of harvest". The "best by" date is usually two years after the date it was bottled. So if the date on the bottle is two years away, the oil is more likely to be fresh.
You buy the best and freshest olive oils direct from the producer. If a mill is out of reach, find a store where you can taste a range of olive oils before you buy them. Most cities have specialty olive oil stores, and a growing number of delicatessens, markets and supermarkets have an oil bar. Staff can answer your questions about how, where and by whom the oils were made.
If you can't buy your oil from the producer or a specialist, then you'll have to use the label. Look for who made it (a specific producer's name), the date it was harvested, and where it was made. Get the best extra-virgin (first pressing), cold-extracted or cold-pressed olive oil that you can find.
Taste. Fresh-pressed olive oil has a hot, peppery, almost burning taste in the back of your throat, that will make you want to cough. Olive oil connoisseurs look for this sensation among the finest and freshest oils, along with crisp fruity flavours. The best olive oils are both bitter and pungent (peppery) - largely caused by the oleocanthal content, high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. So how can you tell which olive oils have the most oleocanthal?
Sometimes the oil's polyphenol content is on the label. Polyphenols contribute significantly to its antioxidant properties, other health-giving characteristics, taste qualities, and shelf life (polyphenols preserve the oil). The higher the rating, the better. Below 300 is low, above 500 is high. However, some people may find the highest values (800) are too bitter and peppery.
You may also find free fatty acidity (FFA) and peroxide levels on the label. The standard 0.8% FFA and peroxide value of less than 20 meq/kg are not necessarily a guarantee of high quality. Good oils frequently have 0.2% or lower FFA, and peroxides at well below 10 meq/kg.
Choose oils bottled in a dark glass or tin container, rather than in clear glass. Keep them well sealed in a cool, dark place. They can rapidly go rancid in bright light, warm conditions, and with exposure to the air.
Good oils come in all colours and shades, from pale straw, to golden, to vivid green. Don't worry too much about these colours. In both flavour and aroma, the best oils have a marked fruitiness just like the fresh olives they come from. They are vibrant and lively, and must have some bitterness and pungency, like pepper at the back of the throat. Their mouth feel is crisp and clean. In the best oils these characteristics balance in harmony, together with complex aromas, flavours and aftertastes.
Oils to avoid
A high proportion of cheap and supermarket olive oils are blended, not only with old oils, but also oils that are not from olives. They completely lose the health properties of good olive oil, and are worthless. In the cut-price bulk olive oil industry, there is a tremendous temptation to blend in cheaper oils, there is little testing, and great difficulty in identifying this problem.
Many olive oils, particularly from the big producers in Europe, are stored for years before being bottled. However, their "best by" dates are (wrongly) set from the date of bottling, not the date of harvest. Most supermarket extra virgin oils are blends of fresher oil from more recent harvests with flatter oil from previous harvests.
Avoid olive oils that are described as just "olive oil", or where the label says "pure", "light", "low aroma", "refined" or "less fruity flavour" or similar. These oils have been through a refining process, and the beneficial oleocanthal and other phenolics are removed.
Poor quality oils have tastes or odours such as moldy, rancid, cooked, greasy, meaty, metallic and cardboard. Their mouth feel may be flabby, coarse or greasy. Sweet or buttery oils are poorer quality.
1. Gill, Chris I. R.
Virgin Olive Oil Phenols Inhibit Colon Carcinogenesis in Vitro.
Int J Cancer 2005;117:1-7.
2. Oleocanthal May Help Prevent, Treat Alzheimer's. October 15 2009 issue of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.
3. Elaine Yee-Tak Cheng (Cornell 2000) and Dana Hibner (Cornell 1999).
4. Pitt J., Roth W., Lacor P., Smith A.B. 3rd, Blankenship M., Velasco P., De Felice F., Breslin P., Klein W.L. Alzheimer's-associated Abeta oligomers show altered structure, immunoreactivity and synaptotoxicity with low doses of oleocanthal. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2009 Oct 15;240(2):189-97. Epub 2009 Jul 23.
5. Tom Mueller. Extra Virginity. The sublime and the scandalous world of olive oil. Atlantic Books, 2012.