Humans have consistently used olive oil since the time of Greeks and Romans. Although interestingly enough the Greeks and Romans didn’t necessarily always consume olive oil, but instead used it as a way to make their bodies glisten during competitions (4). In modern times Olive oil itself has carried a reputation of being one of the healthiest foods we can consume and the hallmark of the famed “Mediterranean Diet”. Yet, just like any other food, olive oil is a double edged sword. When consumed properly it has some incredible health benefits, most notably concerning heart disease and cholesterol. However, when it is consumed incorrectly or is of poor quality than it can actually be damaging to your health. What makes olive oil so healthy is that they are very high in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids or MUFAS for short (4). These fats, when consumed properly, are incredibly beneficial for heart health. In fact, in a 2013 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine conducted a study in which they had one group consume a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, another assigned to a Mediterranean diet with nuts (also high in MUFAs), and finally a control group(2). After about four years the groups which ate the Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts had lower incidences of heart related incidents than the control group. More importantly, the group which consumed the extra virgin olive oil had thirty percent lower chance of heart attack or stroke, the highest among the three groups(2). However, these health benefits are associated with eating mainly extra virgin olive oil that has been cooked at low temperatures, or not cooked at all. When cooked at high temperatures olive oil can become unhealthy because its fatty acids break apart at high heat, just like vegetable oil(4). Therefore, the best way to consume olive oil appears to be to eat it raw rather than frying it. Another important piece to consider when studying which olive oils to buy is to look at whether or not the oil is extra virgin (essentially untouched by people) or not. The reason for this is that olive oil that is not extra virgin may lose some its health benefits. In a study published in the Journal of Arteriosclerosis Thombrosis and Vascular Biology, a group of researchers looked at the impact of HDL cholesterol on from consuming polyphenol rich olive oil (such as extra virgin) and polyphenol poor olive oil. In the study 47 men were split into two groups, one which consumed the polyphenol rich olive oil, and one which consumed the polyphenol poor olive oil. After three weeks, without any other dietary changes having been made, the group which consumed the higher quality olive oil had significant changes in how well their HDL functioned as well as an increase in the number of HDL particles that they produced (3). The last piece to look out for when trying to find a high quality olive oil is to look at how it’s been stored. A high quality olive oil will be stored in a dark glass that protects it form light. The light in a room can damage some of the compounds in the oil making it less healthy (1). So when eating olive oil remember to eat it raw, eat it extra virgin, and make sure it’s been stored properly. Following those three steps will ensure that you’re enjoying all of the heart healthy benefits you desire.
- Hernaez A, Cstillejo S, Farras M, Catalan U, Subirana I, Montes R, Sola R, Aguay D, Gorgues A, Gil O, Nyyssonen K, Zunft H, Torre R, Pelaez S, Pedret A, Remaley A, Covas M, Fito M.2014. Olive Oil Polyphenols Enhance High-Density Lipoprotein Function in Humans. Journal of Arteriosclerosis Thombrosis and Vascular Biology 34: 2115-2119
- Teicholz, Nina. The Big Fat Surprise. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014. Print.