Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 December 2007
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, cereals, fruit, fish, milk, wine and olive oil and has salutary biological functions. Epidemiological studies have shown a lower incidence of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular diseases and certain kinds of cancer in the Mediterranean area. Olive oil is the main source of fat, and the Mediterranean diet's healthy effects can in particular be attributed not only to the high relationship between unsaturated and saturated fatty acids in olive oil but also to the antioxidant property of its phenolic compounds. The main phenolic compounds, hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, which give extra-virgin olive oil its bitter, pungent taste, have powerful antioxidant activity both in vivo and in vitro. The present review focuses on recent works analysing the relationship between the structure of olive oil polyphenolic compounds and their antioxidant activity. These compounds' possible beneficial effects are due to their antioxidant activity, which is related to the development of atherosclerosis and cancer, and to anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity.