The Mediterranean Diet – Is It The Oil?

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
The Mediterranean Diet – Is It The Oil?

A mainstay of the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle is the copious use and consumption of high-quality extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil. Is this important? The results of a recently-published randomized controlled clinical trial has shown that the high phytonutrient content of extra virgin olive oil is “heart healthy,” producing increased serum HDL-cholesterol concentrations and decreased serum triglyceride, LDL-cholesterol and oxidized LDL cholesterol concentrations.8 In addition, a laboratory study has shown that two of the polyphenol phytonutrients in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein, impair the ability of damaged blood vessel lining cells to trick white blood cells into helping them form an arterial plaque.9

These findings help explain the observation that the routine, life-long consumption of several tablespoons of high-quality olive oil daily (as salad dressing, cooking oil, salsa or olives) can reduce the chances of ever having a heart attack by 75% or more.10

Of course, the health benefits of olive oil extend far beyond the heart and cardiovascular system. For example a recently published review article demonstrated that breast cancer and colon cancer in particular are less likely to occur in adults who habitually practice a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle.2 These reviewers explained the mechanisms through which oleic acid, the major monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) in olive oil, suppressed several of the very first biochemical events that convert a normal breast or colon cell into a cancerous cell – a mechanism that could help oncologists understand better the value of olive oil both to their patients and as a “cancer preventive” option for the general population.

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
The Mediterranean Diet – Is It The Wine?

2. Colomer R, Menendez JA. Mediterranean diet, olive oil and cancer. Clin Transl Oncol 2006;8:15-21.
8. Covas MI, Nyyssonen K, Poulsen HE, Kaikkonen J, Zunft HJ, Kiesewetter H, Gaddi A, de la Torre R, Mursu J, Baumler H, Nascetti S, Salonen JT, Fito M, Virtanen J, Marrugat J, EUROLIVE Study Group. The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2006;145:333-341.
9. Carluccio MA, Siculella L, Ancora MA, Massaro M, Scoditti E, Storelli C, Visioli F, Distante A, De Caterina R. Olive oil and red wine antioxidant polyphenols inhibit endothelial activation: Antiatherogenic properties of Mediterranean diet phytochemicals. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol 2003;23:622-629.
10. Fernandez-Jarne E, Martinez-Losa E, Prado-Santamaria M, Brugarolas-Brufau C, Serrano-Martinez M, Martinez-Gonzalez MA. Risk of first non-fatal myocardial infarction negatively associated with olive oil consumption: A case-control study in Spain. Intern J Epidemiol 2002;31:474-480.

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