You will 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, part of the Mediterranean diet, is a traditional fat that has been a dietary staple for some of the world’s healthiest populations.
There is actually quite a bit of research behind the health effects of olive oil. These studies show that the fatty acids and antioxidants in it have some powerful health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil contains modest amounts of Vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids. This is the nutrient content of 100 grammes of olive oil: saturated fat, 13.8 per cent; monounsaturated fat, 73 per cent; Omega-6, 9.7 per cent; Omega-3, 0.76 per cent; Vitamin E: 72 per cent, of the RDA; Vitamin K, 75 per cent of the RDA.
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.
Some people have criticised olive oil for having 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 should not be a cause for concern.
Olive oil protects against heart disease via numerous mechanisms:
Reduced inflammation: As mentioned above, olive oil protects against inflammation, a key driver of heart disease.
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.
Blood clotting: Some studies suggest that olive oil can help prevent unwanted blood clotting, key features of heart attacks and strokes.
Lowers 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 per cent.
Given the known biological effects of olive oil, it is not surprising to see that people who consume the most of it are significantly less likely to die from heart attacks and strokes.
Other health benefits
Although mostly studied for its effects on heart health, olive oil consumption has also been associated with a number of other health benefits.
Cancer is a common cause of death, characterised by uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. Studies have shown that people in the Mediterranean countries have a fairly low risk of cancer and some have speculated that olive oil has something to do with it. One potential contributor to cancer is oxidative damage due to free radicals, but extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants that reduce oxidative damage.
The oleic acid in olive oil is also highly resistant to oxidation and has been shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. Many studies in test tubes have shown that compounds in olive oil can help fight cancer at the molecular level.
Whether olive oil actually helps prevent cancer has yet to be studied in human controlled trials.
Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease and a leading cause of dementia. One feature of Alzheimer’s is a buildup of protein tangles called beta amyloid plaques, in certain neurons in the brain. A study in mice showed that a substance in olive oil can help to clear these plaques from the brain.
A human controlled trial showed that a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil had favourable effects on brain function and reduced the risk of cognitive impairment.
Can you cook with it?
During cooking, fatty acids can oxidise. That is, they react with oxygen and become damaged. It is mostly the double bonds in the fatty acid molecules that are responsible for this. For this reason, saturated fats (no double bonds) are resistant to high heat, while polyunsaturated fats (many double bonds) are sensitive and become damaged. It turns out that olive oil, which contains mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (only one double bond), is actually fairly resistant to high heat.
In one study, researchers heated extra virgin olive oil to 180 degrees Celsius (356 degrees Fahrenheit) for 36 hours. The oil was highly resistant to damage. Another study used olive oil for deep frying, and it took 24 to 27 hours for it to reach damage levels that were deemed harmful. Overall, olive oil seems to be very safe… even for cooking at a fairly high heat.
Olive oil is super healthy
For people with heart disease or at a high risk of getting it in the future, olive oil is most definitely a “superfood.”
However, it is extremely important to get the right stuff. That is, extra virgin olive oil that has not been diluted with cheaper oils.
The benefits of this wonderful fat are among the few things that most people in nutrition actually agree on. Now that’s something you don’t see often.
Culled from: www.authoritynutrition.com