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If you thought oily salad dressings were bad for you, you need to know about olive oil, which can prevent heart attacks, stroke and cancer, and keep your brain healthy. Learn how to select and store this health-giving oil for maximum benefit.

You may have heard that the typical Mediterranean diet has a number of health-giving benefits and many of those are attributable to the inclusion of olive oil. Even among other vegetable oils it has unique properties. These include the highest content of mono-unsaturated fatty acids.  Saturated fatty acids, which occur in a lot of animal fats are thought to be bad for health, whereas unsaturated (particularly mono-unsaturated) fatty acids are known to be good for the heart and blood vessels. 

Healthy heart and less risk of stroke

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April confirmed the benefit of a diet high in olive oil for heart health.  The researchers compared a Mediterranean diet with daily intake of extra virgin olive oil with a standard low-fat diet, in people at risk of heart disease and stroke (people with type 2 diabetes, overweight or obese or with high cholesterol). 

They found that compared with the group eating a low fat diet, there was a 30% lower chance of having a heart attack, stroke, or dying of heart disease. 

These results are very credible as there have been a number of other studies which have shown similar findings in terms of olive oil protecting the heart.  Constituents of olive oil may help in two ways – by acting as antioxidants to neutralize reactive oxygen species which can damage blood vessels, and by combating long-term inflammation, known to contribute to clogging up of arteries.

Natural cholesterol-lowering

Another reason that olive oil seems to protect from heart attacks and stroke, may be the effect it has in lowering the ‘bad’ cholesterol known as low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is associated with heart disease and stroke.  

Lower blood pressure

The high level of an ingredient called oleic acid in olive oil has also been found to be a major contributor to the blood-pressure lowering benefits of olive oil.

Cancer prevention

Recently a team of Italian researchers analyzed the results of over 25 studies on the effects of olive oil in preventing cancer. 

They concluded that olive oil reduces the risk of developing cancer of the respiratory system, breast, and upper and lower digestive tracts (although slightly less risk reduction for the lower digestive tract).

They found a five times lower risk of developing some respiratory or upper digestive tract cancer in olive oil consumers, compared with those consuming mainly saturated fats, such as butter.

Help memory and mental function

Consuming unsaturated fats, such as found in high concentration in olive oil, has been found to improve memory, general cognitive health and mental function.

Why does olive oil have so many benefits?

It’s not only the switching of bad saturated fats for olive oil, high in mono-unsaturates that brings health benefits, but also the constituents of olive oil. These include more than nine polyphenols – substances which have antioxidant and/or anti-inflammatory effects in the body.  

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Bondia-Pons I, Schroder H, Covas MI et al. Moderate consumption of olive oil by healthy European men reduces systolic blood pressure in non-Mediterranean participants. J Nutr. 2007, 137(1),84-87
  • Cicerale S, Lucas L and Keast R. Biological Activities of Phenolic Compounds Present in Virgin Olive Oil. Int J Mol Sci. 2010, 11(2), 458-479. Published online 2010 February 2. doi 0.3390/ijms11020458
  • Photo courtesy of Alexa Clark by Flickr :
  • Photo courtesy of ozium101 by Flickr :
  • (International Olive Oil Council)
  • (California Olive Oil Council)

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