Researchers consistently link the Mediterranean diet with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. And olive oil, which is a major component of the diet, receives much of the credit. In fact, researchers recently found that men and women who enjoyed olive oil and bread with a meal improved their markers of cardiovascular disease within just hours. (More on this impressive study in just a moment.)
In Mediterranean cooking, you prepare just about everything with a splash of olive oil. It goes in the pan when you sauté fish or meat. You can toss it into salads and over vegetables. Mediterranean cooking also “preserves” many foods in olive oil– including sardines, anchovies, peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and other grilled vegetables.
At many traditional Italian trattoria, you often find tavola calda, a display of prepared seafood, stuffed mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, and roasted vegetables covered with olive oil and presented in glass dishes in a recessed table.
So–we know olive oil makes food taste good. But why is it so beneficial?
First, olive oil is high in healthy, unsaturated fats. And, as you know, your body needs healthy fats. It uses healthy fats to construct the membranes of all the cells in your body. The fats also insulate brain and nerve cells so they function and signal properly. In addition, without some fat in your diet, you cannot absorb the critical fat-soluble vitamins–A, D, E, and K–from your foods. Or even from supplements. Eating foods with unsaturated fat also improves lipid levels and lowers blood pressure. It helps decrease your so-called “bad cholesterol” without using statin drugs. And it increases your “good cholesterol” at the same time.
Second, olive oil is high in polyphenolic compounds. These phytochemicals found in plants provide many health benefits. They are strong antioxidants and have potent anti-inflammatory properties.
The variety of the olive, its growing conditions, and the style of preparation determine the polyphenol content of olive oil. You can also increase the polyphenol content by adding polyphenols extracted and concentrated from olives back into olive oil.
In the study I mentioned earlier, researchers wanted see the impact olive oil would have on patients with high blood pressure. So–they recruited participants from a volunteer database in Spain who had elevated blood pressure but were not taking medications.
The participants received either the low polyphenol or high polyphenol olive oil in the first test phase. Then, they crossed over to use the other olive oil in the second phase. The participants ate one dose of olive oil with bread a day.
Five hours after the participants consumed the olive oil, the researchers took blood samples for markers of cardiovascular disease. They also evaluated the participants’ blood flow and vasomotor functions.
They found that a single dose of high polyphenol olive oil increased endothelial function (cells lining the interior of blood vessels), decreased oxidation of blood lipids (fats), and moderated blood glucose. The high polyphenol olive oil also moderated increases in blood sugar and blood lipids after the meal.
As I recently reported, some scientists suggest that your ability to metabolize carbs and fats following a meal strongly affects your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases as well as Type II diabetes.
So now we know just one serving of olive oil with a meal can help your body metabolize carbs and fats. Ultimately, this improved functioning will help protect you against cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes as well.
As a side note, other studies suggest that eating olive oil with high fat foods also reduces blood fats. So–as you renew your focus on good health in 2015, remember to eat like the Greeks and Italians. Enjoy some fish, roasted vegetables, and a salad with dinner…and make sure to top them off with a healthy splash of high-quality olive oil.
1. “Effects of functional olive oil enriched with its own phenolic compounds on endothelial function in hypertensive patients. A randomisedcontrolled trial,” Food Chemistry January 15, 2015; 167: 30-35