These days the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are widely known and accepted.
The Greek island of Ikaria is simply known as the place where “people forget to die” and the seminal Seven Countries Study found a 50% lower rate of cardiovascular disease and higher longevity among residents of the Mediterranean Basin, compared to Northern European countries and the United States.
The study’s author, (sometimes controversial) physiologist Ancel Keys spent 28 years living in the Italian coastal village of Pioppi, observing the diet and lifestyle of the local population – as he sought to unlock the secrets of good health (Keys himself lived to the ripe old age of 100!)
The true Mediterranean lifestyle features seasonal, simple and nutritionally-balanced foods, plenty of sunshine, daily physical activity, the odd glass of vino and a chilled approach to life. And if there’s one fruit which epitomises this way of living it’s the ancient and prolific Olea europaea - the humble olive.
Yet for decades here in the western world, we shunned and even demonised the olive and its golden liquid form. Why? Because olive oil was a fat and we’ve been told that fats are bad – end of story. Tell that to the good folk of Pioppi though, where a few slugs of EVOO have been a daily ritual for centuries.
"...dietary fat is essential..."
We now accept that dietary fat is essential, playing a vital role for many body processes, such as giving us energy; regulating hormones; and helping absorb Vitamins A, D, E and K. However, there are different types of fat – some beneficial, some detrimental. Natural foods tend to contain a variety of healthier fats. Unhealthy fats, such as transfats, are generally found in highly processed, convenience foods.
We now know that Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFAs) are good for us and olive oil is “the mother of all MUFAs”, rich in oleic acid. It’s linked to lower blood pressure and reducing low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) – commonly known as “bad cholesterol”. Polyphenols abundant in olive oil include oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol. These powerful antioxidants are understood to help prevent cellular damage caused by free radicals, often associated with cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, arthritis and other conditions.
But when it comes to delivering these wonderful health benefits, it’s important to understand that not all olive oils are created equal - something I was reminded of during a recent family getaway down south.
"...it’s important to understand that not all olive oils are created equal..."
We spent the afternoon walking the groves, sampling products and learning more at the award-winning Olio Bello in Cowaramup, nestled within Western Australia’s spectacular Capes Region. The heart of this locally-owned 320-acre property is a large-scale olive growing and processing facility, which sits alongside a tasting room and relaxed alfresco restaurant (in the best Mediterranean tradition), as well as high-end glamping-style accommodation.
The Olio Bello philosophy is fruit-focused, aimed at ensuring the very freshest oil makes its way to the table, maximising taste and nutritional value for consumers.
Firstly, all fruit (14 varieties including the Italian, Greek and Spanish-origin classics) is estate-grown – meaning a short turnaround between hand-picking and processing. Olio Bello then applies a cold pressing technique, using specialist equipment imported from Italy many years ago.
Cold pressing involves a mechanical press forcefully separating the oil from the pulp. The absence of heat or dubious chemical additives results in the highest grade of oil (extra virgin, known as EVOO) emerge from the stainless steel tap for hand-bottling and distribution.
With the fruit integrity preserved, bespoke flavourings are achieved through either combined pressing or straight-up infusion. Roasted garlic, lemon, lime, basil, cardamon, chilli and even parmesan are among the offerings. This entire process is certified 100% organic.
So, my advice when looking for a good olive oil to share with family and friends:
And finally, enjoy! Savour the flavour and the moment of the meal, all the time knowing you’re consuming one of the healthiest fats going around and paying homage to a staple of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Until next time – Eat..Live..Well!
This is not a sponsored blog. Having said that, deep thanks to Olio Bello for taking me through their impressive facilities and processes. We’ll be back!