Olive oil is a key component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, which also consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, fish and red wine in moderation. Research has shown that the dietary habits of the people of Greece, Italy and Spain significantly reduce their risk of heart disease and cancer, as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the consumption of olive oil alone is attributed with a 44% decrease in heart disease-related deaths in the Spanish population.
While the body of research has focused on the oil’s monounsaturated fatty acid content, new evidence indicates that the greatest cardiovascular benefits are due to polyphenols, powerful antioxidant compounds that help to prevent degenerative diseases by protecting cells from free radical damage.
Here’s what a mere 2 tablespoon serving of olive oil per day can do for you:
Decrease levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the “bad” kind of cholesterol that contributes to arterial plaque.
Increase levels and enhance the function of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), the “good” kind of cholesterol that transports LDL cholesterol back to the liver for elimination.
Protect and improve the function of the endothelium lining of the arteries, which reduces inflammation and helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Meet the Heart-Healthy Helpers from Olive Oil and Olive Leaf
Polyphenols, namely tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol and verbascoside, decrease blood pressure and the risk of atherosclerosis.
Oleuropein provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Phytosterols, plant compounds that block the absorption of cholesterol in the small intestine, reduce serum levels of LDL.
Tips to Get the Most Health Benefits from Olive Oil
Quality matters. Refining destroys the beneficial compounds in olive oil, so always choose organic, extra-virgin olive oil.
Use in cooking. Olive oil is heat stable up to 410' F.
Enjoy every day. It's easy to get the recommended 2 tablespoons per day in your diet when you use olive oil in salad dressings, drizzled over roasted vegetables, instead of butter with pasta or as a dip with warm bread.
Buckland G, Mayén AL, Agudo A, et al. Olive oil intake and mortality within the Spanish population (EPIC-Spain). Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Jul;96(1):142-9.
Meisinger C, Baumert J, Khuseyinova N, et al. Plasma oxidized low-density lipoprotein, a strong predictor for acute coronary heart disease events in apparently healthy, middle-aged men from the general population. Circulation. 2005 Aug 2;112(5):651-7.
Haban P, Klvanova J, Zidekova E, Nagyova A. Dietary supplementation with olive oil leads to improved lipoprotein spectrum and lower n-6 PUFAs in elderly subjects. Med Sci Monit. 2004 Apr;10(4):PI49-54.