Health benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean diet
What is the Mediterranean diet?
Often referred to as a recipe for good health, it finds its origin in the diets of Crete and Southern Italy in the last 60’s. Extra virgin olive oil is one of its key ingredients. In addition, it includes grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, small daily consumption of cheese and yogurt, moderate use of fish as a primary source of proteins.
The Seven Countries study by Dr. Ancel Keys
Published in 1980, the study was conducted over 3 decades in Italy, the Greek Islands, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan and the United States. Evidence from the analysis suggested lower rates of heart disease and some cancers in regions where the Mediterranean diet was most widely followed. The study was widely publicised and was followed by a series of additional studies that further explored the relationships between health and diet.
Low fat vs Mediterranean diet, the Predimed study
Between 2003 and 2008, a study was carried out in Spain on 7,500 participants aged over 55 years with a high risk of developing a heart disease. The results highlighted that there were significantly fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths from cardiovascular diseases with a Mediterranean diet compared to a low fat diet.
For more information, please see the article from the New England Journal of Medicine
A source of anti-oxidants
Extra virgin olive oils contain phenolic compounds, b-carotene (Vitamin A) and a-tocopherol (Vitamin E) which are strong anti-oxidants. These elements can lower the creation of harmful free-radicals associated with many diseases such as forms of cancer.
Not all fats are equal
Extra virgin olive oils include mono-saturated fats which have been found to lower the level of total blood cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol (LDL).
A source of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA)
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid, which means it cannot be produced by the human body. It is contained in extra virgin olive oil and has been associated with lowering the blood pressure.
Extra virgin olive oil has been found to have similar effects to drugs such as Ibuprofen in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Health and olive oil quality
Premium olive oils display superior polyphenol contents, well above commonly found extra virgin olive oils. They also demonstrate significantly lower peroxide content which is created through the oxidation of the fatty acids via contact with air, light and heat.
Olive oil and calories
1 table spoon of olive oil represents around 120 calories, it should therefore be consumed in moderation.
Good food is not everything
Physical activity could well be a factor influencing the lower cardiovascular diseases in the Mediterranean countries in the 60’s. Regular exercise has proven to have significant health benefits and is a key driver for our well-being.