It is well known that the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke and cancer. It also helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and improves longevity.
The Mediterranean diet is typically high in fibre because of the emphasis on legumes, whole grains, fruit and vegetables. There is little red meat and plenty of fish. It also includes a high intake of olive oil, which is the component we want to look at more closely in this article.
The important components of olives and olive oil that are most likely to give health benefits are the high levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids and the polyphenol compounds.
When it comes to diseases and risk, it is not the total fat content of the diet that is important, but rather the type of fat. Diets that are high in mono-unsaturated fatty acids confer health benefits as opposed to those that contain polyunsaturated fats. The Mediterranean diet has a high fat content, with olive oil providing around 85% of this content.
Most of it is oleic acid. The Mediterranean diet has no trans fats like those found in processed foods, so there is no damage to arteries and cholesterol molecules are protected.
Polyphenol compounds are molecules that contain several carbon ring structures called phenols. These include tyrosinol, hydroxytyrosinol and oleuropein, which have numerous protective actions.
Olive oil includes:
The benefits of virgin olive oil on health suggested by scientific studies include:
What to look for when choosing olive oil
When you are looking for olive oil, make sure you choose "virgin olive oil" or "extra virgin olive oil" which have similar beneficial components.
The product called "olive oil" contains a small percentage of virgin olive oil (5-10%) which is added to previously refined olive oil. The result is that there are fewer beneficial ingredients compared with virgin olive oil.
How much olive oil to eat
Being from Mediterranean stock myself, I usually advise people to use olive oil on all salads and in cooking. I also suggest drizzling olive oil and lemon juice onto steamed vegetables.
The American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the use of health claims for olive oil. An FDA report states that a dose of two teaspoons (23g) daily as a replacement for the same amount of saturated animal fat can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Adoption of the Mediterranean diet with its fruit and vegetables, little red meat and plenty of fish, whole grains, legumes and, of course, olive oil and olives (especially black ones) increases one’s life expectancy and prevents many diseases.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil PDF (205KB)
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