Mediterranean populations have some of the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease and the longest life spans of any in the entire world. And it is not by virtue of their low-fat diet. Italians, Greeks, and other people from these areas flourish on a diet that contains up to 40 percent fat.
However, most of this fat is monounsaturated olive oil, and the health boons of this polyphenol-rich oil continue to stack up. Let us take a closer look at three little-known benefits of olive oil.
Olive Oil Benefit #1: May Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease
Epidemiological studies have long shown that individuals who follow a Mediterranean diet that contains olive oil and other healthy foods have a lower risk of developing dementia.
And a recent study found that when laboratory mice that typically develop Alzheimer's disease ate regular chow enriched with extra-virgin olive oilthey performed better on tests of memory and learning Furthermore, their brains have been significantly less likely to come up with beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, which are telltale signs of Alzheimer's disease.
Olive Oil Benefit #2: Can Help Lower Blood Pressure
In a study conducted in Italy, a diet full of extra-virgin olive oil reduced blood pressure significantly in patients with mild to moderate hypertensionand in some cases reduced the need for medication.
The study included people with moderately high blood pressure (less than 165/104 millimeter Hg) on antihypertensive medication. Participants were assigned to a diet containing either extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil. Six months laterthey were crossed over to the other diet for another six months. The olive oil diet reduced blood pressure to a greater extent than the sunflower oil diet, allowing patients to cut their drug requirements with a whopping 48 percent.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats and phytonutrients that boost levels of nitric oxide (NO). NO is a signaling receptor that relaxes the arteries and therefore affects blood pressure, and higher rates of NO in the endothelium lining the arteries are associated with lower blood pressure.
This oil is also a concentrated source of polyphenols, potent antioxidants that protect LDL cholesterol from free radical damage and keep the internal lining of the arteries healthy and free from plaque buildup, which also has positive effects on blood pressure.
Olive Oil Benefit #3: Reduce Risk of Stroke
Researchers conducted a study to determine if consuming high amounts of olive oil (as both a cooking oil and a salad dressing) was related to a lower prevalence of strokes. After following participants that had no history of stroke for five years, the researchers found that people who used the olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke than people who never consumed it.
At a secondary evaluation, those with the maximum blood levels of oleic acid (a kind of fatty acid in olive oil) had a 73 percent risk reduction compared to people with the lowest amounts.
This makes perfect sense. As mentioned above, olive oil increases levels of nitric oxide, which helps keep blood pressure in check, and high blood pressure is one of the most significant risk factors for stroke. Furthermore, olive acids are potent antioxidants that prevent LDL cholesterol oxidation and stave off atherosclerosis, another stroke risk factor.
Finally, research indicates that oil olive also can help prevent platelets from the blood from sticking together, thus reducing the formation of blood clots that could lead to a stroke.
The Way to Reap the Benefits of Olive Oil
To ensure you're getting all these health benefits, utilize only extra-virgin olive oil. To keep it fresh, store it in a cool, dark cupboard or in the refrigerator (bring to room temperature before using as it will thicken and possibly solidify).
Use olive oil as the primary oil for cooking, marinades, and salad dressings. It's fine to heat it. Monounsaturated fats are relatively stable--just keep the heat low to medium when sautéing.
A fantastic rule of thumb for salad dressings and marinades is three parts extra-virgin olive oil to one to 2 parts citrus juice or vinegar of your choice, plus fresh or dried herbs and seasonings. For example, three tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 clove minced garlic, a dash of dried red peppers, salt, and pepper makes a light and delicious vinaigrette.
Are Olive Oil Benefits Brand Specific?
One caveat to olive oil's benefits: Make sure what you are buying is the real deal. A food fraud study published in the Journal of Food Science found that olive oil was the very adulterated food thing out there!
Mislabeled states of origin, misstated ingredients on labels, addition of less expensive seed, nut, and vegetable oils, questionable purity--these issues have been around for years. But instead of dwelling on the negative, let's examine how to sidestep the"olive oil fraud"
Real extra-virgin olive oil is simply the oil from mechanically pressed olive seedswithout any heat or chemical processes can be used. To guarantee freshness, look at the bottle for a harvested date.
Ideally, your oil ought to be significantly less than a year old. (If kept in ideal conditions, olive oil can keep for up to two years.) A brand with the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) or the California Olive Oil Council's (COOC) stamp of approval is probably legitimate.