You’ve probably heard by now that a Mediterranean Diet is good for you. One of the most studied diets, the Mediterranean Diet – made up of the food intake trends of Spain, Italy, Greece, the Middle East, and other regions bordering the Mediterranean – has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality. But what makes the Mediterranean Diet so special?
Lots of things – high vegetable intake, reduced animal fat intake from meats and dairy, whole grains, emphasis on social health during mealtimes – but the one that stands out the most to me is olive oil.
Olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a healthy fatty acid that is resistant to oxidation, and diets high in olive oil and low in saturated fats are exceptional for heart health. Olive oil has been shown to increase HDL, the cardio-protective form of cholesterol, and decrease LDL, the cardiovascular risk-associated form of cholesterol. This is why olive oil is one of the most common recommendations I give to patients with high cholesterol, or elevated LDL in the context of low HDL.
Additionally, olive oil is anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, making it even better at protecting your heart and blood vessels. In fact, unfiltered olive oil is rich in polyphenols, similar to those found in green tea, and these help protect the endothelium, or inner blood vessel lining, from oxidative damage, a key step in the development of arteriosclerosis.
Unfortunately, adulteration is common in the olive oil industry, even in countries we typically associate with high-quality olive oil. This means that true olive oil is often cut with canola oil or other cheap, highly-processed oils, stripping it of its health benefits.
Be sure to look for olive oil that tastes and smells like olives! It should also cause a tingle in the back of your throat, which is from the potent antioxidant oleocanthal.
Olive oil is not stable at high heats, so it’s best to cook your food with a small amount of avocado oil (also heart healthy!) and add olive oil to the food after it’s done, usually 1-3 teaspoons-worth.
As always, our doctors are here to help you with your heart health and discuss how olive oil is just one part of a heart-healthy diet.