Fats in the diet are highly controversial. You’ll see people arguing about animal fats, seed oils and almost everything in between.
But one of the few fats that most people agree is healthy is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This oil, so essential a part of the Mediterranean diet, is a traditional fat that has been a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations.
Studies have confirmed that the fatty acids and antioxidants normally present in olive oil have some powerful health benefits, such as the reduced risk of heart disease.
The best type of olive oil is Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It is extracted using natural methods and standardized for purity and certain sensory qualities like taste and smell.
Olive oil that is truly extra virgin has a distinctive taste and is high in phenolic antioxidants , the main reason why (real) olive oil is so beneficial.
Nutrient Composition of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is fairly nutritious. It contains modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.
This is the nutrient content of 100 grams of olive oil :
- Vitamin E: 72% of the RDA (the recommended daily allowance).
- Vitamin K: 75% of the RDA.
- Saturated Fat: 13.8%.
- Monounsaturated Fat: 73% (most of it the 18 carbon long oleic acid)
- Omega-6: 9.7%.
- Omega-3: 0.76%.
But where Extra Virgin Olive Oil really shines is in its content of antioxidants. These substances are biologically active and some of them can help fight serious diseases.
Some of the main antioxidants are the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation .
It is true that, Extra Virgin Olive Oil have a high Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio (over 10:1), but keep in mind that the total amount of polyunsaturated fats is still relatively low, so this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Contains Anti-Inflammatory Substances
It is believed that chronic inflammation plays a leading role in of many diseases. This includes heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
It has been speculated that one of the benefits of olive oil, is its ability to fight inflammation, although the main anti-inflammatory effects seem to be mediated by the antioxidants in olive oil, primarily oleocanthal. Oleocanthal has been shown to work like iburoprofen , a popular anti-inflammatory drug .
Researchers estimate that the amount of oleocanthal in 50 ml (about 3.4 tablespoons) of Extra Virgin Olive Oil has an effect similar to 10% of the adult ibuprofen dosage for pain relief.
Keep in mind that chronic, low-level inflammation is usually fairly mild and it takes years or decades for it to do damage.
Regular consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil may help to prevent and reduced the risk of various inflammatory diseases… in particular that of heart disease.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is Protector Against Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke) are the most common causes of death in the first world.
Many observational studies show that death from these diseases is low in certain parts of the world, especially in countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
This observation, originally spurred interest in the Mediterranean Diet, and was seen as a reflection of the eating habits of its people .
Studies of the Mediterranean Diet have proven its ability to aid in the prevention of heart disease. In one major study, showed that Extra Virgin Olive Oil reduced heart attacks, strokes and death by 30% .
Extra Virgin Olive Oil protects against heart disease via numerous mechanisms:
- Lower Blood Pressure: One study in patients with elevated blood pressure found that olive oil reduced blood pressure significantly and cut the need for blood pressure meds by 48%
- Blood Clotting: Some studies suggest that olive oil can help prevent unwanted blood clotting, key features of heart attacks and strokes .
- LDL Cholesterol: Olive oil protects LDL particles from oxidative damage – a key step in the heart disease process .
- Improves Endothelial Function: Olive oil improves the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels .
- Reduces Inflammation: As mentioned above, olive oil protects against inflammation, a key factor of heart disease .
Apart from the taste, part of the attraction are the health benefits, which have been the subject of several studies carried out within Spanish universities.
There is a direct correlation between high life expectancy in countries such as Spain, and the large quantity of Extra Virgin Olive Oil that people consume there.
Keep in mind, there is strong evidence that people who include a healthy amount of olive oil in their diet are less likely to have heart attacks, or to suffer from some forms of cancer.
However, to get the best health benefits, olive oil connoisseurs will tell you that the oil has to be "extra virgin", which comes from the best quality olives, and accounts for roughly 20% of the oil produced in Spain each year.