Extra virgin olive oil has been studied for decades by scientists around the world who have concluded that its value is essential for human health and well-being.
Seven Countries Study. The Seven Countries Study was the first to systematically examine the relationship between lifestyle, diet, and the rates of heart attack and stroke in contrasting populations.
The study by American research scientist Dr. Ancel Keys, which began in the 1950’s, was conducted in seven countries and studied over 12,700 men, 40-59 years of age. His was the first study that clearly recognized the benefits of the Cretan Diet, with its main ingredient being olive oil. Cretan participants had the lowest rates of mortality, heart disease and cancer in comparison to the other countries. The daily consumption of considerable amounts of olive oil played a significant role in the results.
New Study Results Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, February 25, 2013
A diet with lots of extra virgin olive oil and about an ounce of nuts daily, cuts the risk of stroke and other major cardiovascular problems by 30% among high-risk people. Those are the results of a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine and reported by the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. Because the benefit demonstrated by a Mediterranean diet high in olive oil was so striking, the study was stopped early because the results were so clear it was considered unethical not to allow all participants an opportunity to consume the most healthful diet. Researchers followed 7,447 people in Spain over almost 5 years. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study showed a Mediterranean diet, with significant consumption of olive oil (4 tablespoons per day) and nuts (30 grams or 1 ounce per day), is similar to the effect of taking statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs, which research has shown to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events by about 25% to 30%.
Cretans consume an average of 93 grams of olive oil per day, or 34 kg per year.
What are the elements that make olive oil so special?
Olive oil has a high concentration of unsaturated fats and a low concentration of saturated and polyunsaturated fats. It also has a high concentration of vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), and other antioxidant substances, such as carotenoids and phenolic compounds (simple phenols such as hydroxytyrosol and complex phenols such as oleuropein). Other key compounds are oleocanthal and oleacein. Oleocanthal provides an anti-inflammatory effect similar to Ibuprofen, and Oleacein is a powerful antioxidant.
All of these important, naturally occurring elements make it an excellent alternative for the treatment and prevention of many diseases, and is the reason olive oil has been recognized as a trully “functional food”.
What exactly are its benefits for human health?
- Primarily, the consumption of olive oil diminishes cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol and therefore helps in the prevention of arteriosclerosis. At the same time, it preserves or increases the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol that protect the heart and contributes to lowering blood pressure. In the early 19'-90's, Dr.Renaud and Dr.Longeril presented the Lyon Diet-Heart Study, in which they studied the effect of a Mediterranean diet pattern on patients who had a previous heart attack. Analysis showed a striking protective effect after 27 months of follow-up. Their very impressive finding was that 70% of the patients who followed the Cretan Diet survived, in comparison to patients who followed the diet suggested by the American Heart Association.
- The high concentration of antioxidants, such as vitamin-E and polyphenols, aid in neutralizing free radicals and diminishes the risk of many types of cancer. Also, it generally strengthens our immune system.
- Besides protecting our whole digestive system from cancer, olive oil has a mild laxative effect that helps in dealing with constipation. It also helps with other diseases such as gallstones and ulcers.
- According to another study, by Dr. Trichopoulou, people who follow the Cretan diet and consume olive oil tend to live longer. The antioxidants help in protecting the cells of our central neuron system and brain, helping prevent diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson’s Disease.
- The health benefits attributed to consuming olive oil don’t stop there. People who consume olive oil have a lower risk of diabetes. It is also proven to help stabilize blood sugar levels in those who have contracted diabetes.
- According to studies the size and texture of bones are different in people who consume olive oil due to its mineral elements. It also supplies the proper proportion of saturated, mono-saturated and poly-saturated fats that children need in their first years of growth, contributing to normal growth and development. It is significant that the fats found in olive oil are similar to those of breast milk. Finally, olive oil is easier to digest in comparison to other fats.
Nutritionist – Dietitian
Member of the Board of Cretan Gastronomy Network
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