Olive Oil Health Benefits

You have probably heard about or read about the Mediterranean diet. It is well established that incidences of heart disease and other health conditions are lower in Mediterranean countries.

Did you know that one of the primary reasons for these lower rates of disease is due to their diet high in olive oil?

The first discovery that olive oil may have health protecting benefits occurred in the 1960s, when researchers found that the people of Greece consumed a great deal of salt and fat, but were living longer than the Japanese. The people in Greece lived longer because they had lower rates of stomach cancer, heart disease, stroke and other cancers. Researchers started investigating how they could be living longer when they consumed large amounts of olive oil and salt. The term ‘Mediterranean diet' was coined.

Olive oil is an oil obtained by pressing tree-ripened olives. It has a distinctive fruity, olive flavour, and is available in a range of flavours and various levels of purity. Extra virgin olive oil comes from the first cold pressing of olives; pure olive oil tends to be extra virgin oils that didn't pass the grading.

Of course, olive oil is used for many purposes, as a cooking medium, for flavouring, as a salad oil and ingredient in many foods. In the Mediterranean region, olive oil is the primary oil used for cooking, dressings etc. In North America, we use a variety of oils and the use of olive oil is far rarer.

There are three types of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Each type of fat consists of fatty acids, in varying combinations. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, compared with other oils like corn, sunflower or vegetable, which are polyunsaturated fats.

There have been so many positive studies linking the use of olive oil to a reduction in coronary heart disease that the FDA gave approval in late 2004 for food companies to advertise olive oil's health benefits on the labels of the oil and foods that contain it.

In the FDA letter approving the claims, they cite the many research studies to back up their decision. Among those research studies, is a randomized double blind crossover trial performed among 33 healthy young men. They compared diets high in saturated fats from butter or cocoa butter, high in monounsaturated fats from olive oil or high in polyunsaturated fats from soybean oil. The four different diets contained similar amounts of energy, protein, carbs, cholesterol and total fat. They stayed on the diet for 26 days.

Replacing saturated fats (butter) with monounsaturated fats (olive oil), significantly lowered total and LDL cholesterol levels compared to the butter and cocoa butter containing diets. None of the diets altered HDL cholesterol levels in the participants.

In addition to the heart related studies, Spanish researchers suggest that including olive oil in your diet may also offer benefits in terms of colon cancer prevention2. In animal studies, rats fed an olive oil supplemented diet had a lower risk of colon cancer than those fed safflower oil supplemented diets. Actually, the rats that received olive oil had colon cancer rates almost as low as those fed fish oil, which several studies have already linked to a reduction in colon cancer risk.

In addition to cholesterol lowering, heart health benefits, and colon cancer prevention there is research suggesting that olive oil may provide weight loss benefits.

Monounsaturated fats have the same kilojoule content as other fats; however, it may be more difficult to put on weight from monounsaturated fats. Researchers compared the weight loss results from a group of people following the Mediterranean diet to another group who were sticking to low fat and high carbohydrate diets. They found that those following the Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, shed excess weight from both the upper and lower body, but the other group mainly lost fat from the lower body.

To gain the olive oil health benefits, start replacing your other cooking oils with olive oil. You will find olive oil to be a very versatile oil adding delicious flavour to your cooking. It works great in sauces, dressings, for frying and basting, and it protects your body from heart disease, some cancers, and may help keep the weight off! Sounds like the perfect oil to me!

All the best,

Blake

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