I have been staying at Poderaccio, an organic farm nestled in the hills of the Arno Valley. It has been a relaxing stay with the lovely and welcoming hosts Francessca, Francessco and their daughter Stella. At Poderaccio they grow their own seasonal vegetables, have olive groves to produce their own olive oil and of course being Italy, they grow grapes to make red wine.
Before leaving London I was using coconut oil for all of my cooking. Coconut oil is enjoying the height of its popular food fadiness at the moment, it is touted as being full of medium chain fatty acids (whatever those are?!) and has been argued to fix everything from eczema, to Alzheimer’s disease. However, here in Italy it is all about the olive oil.
At Poderaccio they place nets at the foot of the olives trees in October and use special shakers to make the olives drop. Great care has to be taken to transport the olives to the mill in the best possible condition as quickly as possible, whilst the olives are fresh.
At the mill the olives are cold pressed without the use of any chemicals to produce a high quality olive oil. Apparently the olive oil we purchase in the supermarket is often poor quality, mixed with other oils to bulk it out, or is completely fradulent and not actually made from olives at all.
With the increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather, it can be hard for olive oil producers to get a good yield, and to get the oil on the shelves the quality is often sacrificed. One of the great things about being in Italy is that you can get your olive oil directly from small producers instead of having to rely on whatever they have in the supermarket.
The Mediterranean diet and the use of plenty of olive oil has been praised for a long time, although not currently the most fashionable diet around, but with all of this great Italian food and olive oil I am consuming what are some of the benefits I am receiving?
- Number one for me has to be that it is possible that it helps protect you from depression. Mental health is so often overlooked. Diet fads are often followed on the basis of how they might make us look, with promises of weight loss, shinier hair and glowing skin. Whilst I am pretty hung up on how I look, how I feel has to take priority. The SUN project, funded by the Spanish government, found that there was an association between the risk of depression and consumption of olive oil. The study admittedly said it was a weak association, but every little helps when it comes to staying happy and healthy!
- Olive oil contains Vitamin E and other antioxidants, which, according to the International Olive Council, have advantages in the prevention of diseases and ageing. Antioxidants are found in fruit and vegetables and olive oil is one of the few oils that are made from fruits, which is one of the reasons it is so nutrient packed. The antioxidants in olive oil strengthen cells on the body against the toxic effects of oxidants.
- Longer lasting memory. I have always had a pretty good memory, but the longer I worked in my previous job the worse it got. There could be an age factor as well, but I swear more and more of my headspace was getting used up and I just couldn’t hold things in anymore. The University of Bari carried out a study on 300 people over the age of 65 and found that extra-virgin olive oil can protect against age related cognitive decline. Apparently it’s all down to the high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids that can be found in olive oil.
Other alleged benefits of olive oil include anti-inflammatory properties, prevention of stoke, protection against heart disease, anti-bacterial properties, better skin, better sex life and many more.