THE BENEFITS OF CONSUMING FRESH, EXTRA
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Extra virgin olive oil is not only a light and delicate addition to many wonderful
dishes, it is one of the most health-promoting types of oils available. Olive oil is rich in
monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers are discovering has excellent health
Protection Against Chronic Degenerative Disease
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.
Live Longer ~ Eat an Olive Oil-Rich Mediterranean-style Diet
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. Much less favorable were the results
seen in those most closely following a 'pasta and meat' dietary pattern - characterized by
pasta, tomato sauce, red meat, processed meat, added animal fat, white bread and wine
- whose overall mortality risk increased.
Study authors concluded, "Dietary recommendations aimed at the Italian elderly
population should support a dietary pattern characterized by a high consumption of
olive oil, raw vegetables and poultry." (Masala G, Ceroti M, et al., Br J Nutr.)
Heart Health ~ Olive Oil Highly Protective 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.).
Conducted in Greece, and involving 700 men and 148 women with coronary heart
disease, and 1078 age- and sex-matched healthy controls, this study looked not only at
diet but also at alcohol intake, physical activity and smoking habits. Nutritional habits,
including use of oils in daily cooking or preparation of food, was also evaluated.
Even after adjustments were made to account for a variety of other variables -- including
body mass index, smoking, physical activity level, educational status, a family history of
heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes -- exclusive use of olive
oil was associated with a 47% lower likelihood of having coronary heart disease.
Consuming other fats or oils as well as olive oil, however, conferred no protection.
The researchers concluded, "Exclusive use of olive oil during food preparation seems
to offer significant protection against coronary heart disease, irrespective of various
clinical, lifestyle and other characteristics of the participants."
Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin olive oil for
use on bread, rolls, potatoes or other vegetables.
For even more flavor, try adding a few drops of balsamic vinegar or a sprinkling
of your favorite spices to the olive oil.
To get the most health benefit and flavor from your olive oil, buy and store oil in
opaque containers, and add olive oil to foods immediately after cooking.
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. 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 occurred when
they used olive oil in place of other fats, rather than simply adding olive oil to a diet high
in unhealthy fats.
A study published in the Medical Science Monitor reported that 2 tablespoons a day of
olive oil added to an otherwise unchanged diet in 28 outpatients, ranging in age from 64
to 71, resulted in significant drops in total- and LDL cholesterol. Mean concentrations
of total cholesterol were lowered by 0.818 mmol/L, and mean concentrations of LDL
dropped 0.782 mmol/L. Plus, subjects ratio of HDL:LDL greatly improved; they ended
up with higher amounts of protective HDL in relation to lower amounts of dangerous
Three other recent studies (Valavanidis et al.; Morella et al.; Masella et al., see
references below) suggest that such heart-healthy effects from olive oil are due not
only to its high content of monounsaturated fats, but also to its hefty concentration
of antioxidants, including chlorophyll, carotenoids and the polyphenolic compounds
tyrosol, hydrotyrosol and oleuropein-all of which not only have free radical scavenging
abilities, but protect the vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) also found in olive oil.
Greek scientists at the University of Athens reporting their research in the Journal
of Agriculture and Food Chemistry believe the synergy of all these beneficial
nutrients is what is responsible for olive oil's contribution to the health benefits of the
Mediterranean diet, a hypothesis supported by Italian research published in the Journal
In this study, scientists found that the phenols in olive oil have very potent antioxidant
effects. The protective effects exerted by extra virgin olive oil biophenols, namely,
protocatechuic acid and oleuropein, against LDL oxidation included:
completely preventing LDL's oxidation when placed in a medium containing
macrophage-like cells (in the arteries, arteriosclerosis begins when macrophages
damage LDL, starting the development of foam cells that infiltrate the lining of the
artery and begin plaque formation)
inhibiting the production of two powerful oxidants that would normally have
been produced and would have damaged LDL, thus preventing the expected decrease
in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant the body produces to disarm oxidants (also
called free radicals)
restoring to normal levels the protective activities of two free radical-disarming
enzymes that contain glutathione: glutathione reductase and glutathione peroxidase
inducing higher than normal production and activity of both of these glutathione-
Olive Oil, Super Food for the Heart
A review of the research by noted olive oil researcher Maria Covas strongly suggests
that diets in which olive oil is the main source of fat can be a useful tool against a wide
variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (Covas MI, Pharmacology Research)
On November 2004, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S.A permitted a
claim on olive oil labels concerning: "the benefits on the risk of coronary heart disease
of eating about two tablespoons (23 g) of olive oil daily, due to the monounsaturated fat
(MUFA) in olive oil."
But recent studies have shown that olive oil contains much more than MUFA. Olive oil is
a functional food that is also rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds with a variety
of protective effects.
The cholesterol of a person whose diet is high in olive oil will primarily contain oleic
acid, the fatty acid that predominates in olive oil, and oleic acid is more resistant to
free radical or oxidative damage. And not only will the LDL of a person whose dietary
fat is primarily olive oil produce LDL that is more resistant to free radical damage, but
that individual's LDL will be further protected by olive oil's supplies of vitamin E and
phenols with antioxidant activity, further lessening the likelihood of its being oxidized.
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.)
The anti-inflammatory effects of a virgin olive oil-rich diet also result in a vascular
environment in which platelets are less likely to clump together and form blood clots.
Not only do olive oil's antioxidant compounds lessen the inflammation initiated by free
radical damage, but olive oil is rich in inhibitors of a compound called platelet activating
factor (PAF). PAF begins the clotting process by causing platelets to aggregate and is
also involved in the activation of immune cells and their binding to the endothelial wall.
Compared to diets high in saturated fat and low fat, high carbohydrate diets, a number
of studies have shown that olive oil-rich diets not only reduce LDL cholesterol levels, but
also lower blood sugar levels and decrease insulin requirements in persons with type 2
Practical Tip: Rely on delicious, flavorful extra virgin olive oil as your first choice for dressing
salads. Put a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar on your bread plate and use it to add
flavor to crusty whole wheat bread and rolls. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes, beans,
grains, steamed vegetables, and soups. You will not only enhance the flavor of your food,
but greatly reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.