In many parts of the world, a high fat intake is associated with degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, asthma, colon cancer, and arthritis. But in some parts of the world, a high fat intake is actually associated with lower rates of these conditions. A closer look at the foods eaten in these places reveals that the high fat intake is actually due to the generous use of olive oil. Comparing these areas, such as the Mediterranean, where olive oil is the main fat used, to other regions, like the United States, where other fats such as animal fats, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils like corn oil dominate, turns up some very interesting data. It turns out that people who use olive oil regularly, especially in place of other fats, have much lower rates of heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and asthma. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers are discovering has excellent health benefits.
We're big suuporters of olive oil because the research is so compelling!
In a prospective study (one in which participants are chosen and then followed forward in time) involving 5,611 adults 60 years or older, adherence to a Mediterranean style dietary pattern - characterized by high consumption of olive oil, raw vegetables, soups, and poultry - was associated with a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.
After 6.2 years, those most closely following a Mediterranean 'olive oil and salad' dietary pattern had a 50% reduced risk of overall mortality.
Olive Oil Protects Against Heart Disease
Relying only on olive oil may cut your risk of coronary heart disease almost in half, show results from the CARDIO2000 case-control study, published in Clinical Cardiology (Kontogianni MD, Panagiotakos DB, et al.). "Exclusive use of olive oil was associated with a 47% lower likelihood of having coronary heart disease. "
Studies on olive oil and atherosclerosis reveal that particles of LDL cholesterol (the potentially harmful cholesterol) that contain the monounsaturated fats of olive oil are less likely to become oxidized. Since only oxidized cholesterol sticks to artery walls, eventually forming the plaques that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of cholesterol is a good way to help prevent atherosclerosis.
It's likely the abundance of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, rather than its monounsaturated fatty acids, are responsible for its well-known cardiovascular benefits. In a recent in vitro study also showed that polyphenolic compounds present in olive oil, including oleuropein, inhibit the adhesion of monocyte cells to the blood vessel lining, a process that is involved in the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, when people with high cholesterol levels removed the saturated fat from their diets and replaced it with olive oil, their total cholesterol levels dropped an average of 13.4%, and their LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 18%. Note, however, that these benefits occured when they used olive oil in place of other fats, rather than simply adding olive oil to a diet high in unhealthy fats.
The phenols in olive oil have very potent antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory effects. By reducing both inflammation and free radical damage to cholesterol, dietary olive oil protects the endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, helping to maintain its ability to relax and dilate (thus preventing high blood pressure). By protecting LDL against oxidation, olive oil short circuits the process through which atherosclerotic plaques form. (Only once oxidized does LDL adhere to the endothelium, attracting immune cells (monocytes) that try to clear it out, turn into foam cells and begin plaque formation.)
Research conducted by Dr. Juan Ruano and colleagues at the Reina Sofia University Hospital, Cordoba, Spain, and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, investigated the effects of virgin olive oil on endothelial function in 21 volunteers with high cholesterol levels.
The endothelium, although just a one-cell thick layer of flat cells that lines the inner wall of all blood vessels, may be the critical player in cardiovascular health. Among its many functions, the endothelium orchestrates the mechanics of blood flow, and regulates blood clot formation and the adhesion of immune cells to the blood vessel wall (one of the first steps in the formation of plaque).
Normally, after a meal, endothelial function is impaired for several hours. Blood vessels become less elastic, and blood levels of free radicals potentially harmful to cholesterol rise. But when the subjects in this study ate a breakfast containing virgin olive oil with its normal high phenolic content (400 ppm), their endothelial function actually improved, blood levels of nitric oxide (a blood vessel-relaxing compound produced by the endothelium) increased significantly, and far fewer free radicals were present than would normally be seen after a meal.
When they ate the same breakfast containing the same type of virgin olive oil with its phenolic content reduced to 80 ppm, the beneficial effects were virtually absent, and concentrations of cholesterol-damaging free radicals increased.
I don't know if we're ready to start recommending olive oil on your cereal, but the results are staggering. Find some simple ways to add olive oil to your diet:
Replace it instead of butter on breads
Drizzle it on your salads with some vinegar and oregano
Drizzle olive oil on your veggies and your pasta
Replace corn and vegetable oils in cooking with olive oil