Olive oil is the best and safest of all oils. It tastes good, too.
Once off the road, I put my wanderlust spirit to rest (like a maturing olive tree in need of tender loving care and getting a break from nature’s harsh elements) and enjoyed serene Mediterranean-like weather. But my curiosity of different foods and different oils still intrigued me (as it did when I was a kid in the suburbs).
In college, I was a nanny, of sorts, for affluent families in the San Francisco Bay Area. One luxury home in Los Gatos stands out in my mind. It was owned by a medical doctor and his beautiful Italian wife, complete with three kids who lived amid Mediterranean décor that I cherished.
In the kitchen, there was always fresh fruit and vegetables somewhere in sight. In fact, the doctor’s wife always sent me home with a treat, whether it was guavas or lemons from their fruit trees in the front yard. And yes, there was the lingering aroma of garlic, and onions sizzling in olive oil in a large pan with a special dinner in the making.
I always felt a liveliness and feel-good vibe when I did my chores as I smelled the scent of good food throughout the house. And these days, I maintain that type of ambience in my own Tuscan-style kitchen (i.e., family-style wooden table, colorful Italian pottery, iron candle holders and hues of golds and reds) with something olive oil-based baking or cooking and fresh fruit and vegetables out on the countertops. It helps feed the body, mind, and spirit. What’s more, there is proof that olive oil—the important food—is healthy.
Do you know that stacks and stacks of studies show that polyphenol-rich extra virgin olive oil can and does help to lower the risk of developing health ailments and diseases (at any age)? Here’s a look at some research that you can put to work in your life to stay healthier.
3 HEALTH VIRTUES OF OLIVE OIL
1.Cuts Risk of Heart Disease For thousands of years, people around the Mediterranean Sea, including the residents of the Holy Land, have had lower rates of heart disease. The consensus is that olive oil is the common thread.
How Olive Oil Works: Studies show that a daily intake of olive oil lowers the risk of heart disease of all kinds, including heart attack. Olive oil has been shown to thin the blood, lower the blood pressure, and regulate cholesterol by reducing the “bad” kind (LDL) while maintaining the “good” kind (HDL). A healthful diet and lifestyle are key weapons in the battle to prevent heart disease—America’s number-one killer for both men and women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
The good news is that olive oil may come to the rescue in America as it has for centuries in the Mediterranean world. Virgin olive oil may be more heart healthy than other vegetable fats, according to new research. European scientists have discovered virgin olive oil may help lower heart disease risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
In a study of 200 young and middle-aged healthy men, three olive oils were used for three weeks. One oil was a virgin olive oil rich in poylphenols. The other two were processed with moderate to low polyphenols. The findings: The researchers discovered that polyphenol-rich virgin olive oil showed stronger heart-health effects than the more processed “non-virgin” types. Virgin olive oil is more than just a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Polyphenols, claim the authors, may be the key to some of the health benefits linked to this healing oil. The scientific jury is still out, however, before the researchers recommend virgin olive oil as a replacement for other vegetable oils. And, not surprisingly, other health proponents favor using a variety of cooking oils.
What You Can Do: Both polyunsaturated fats (safflower, sesame seeds, soybeans, many nuts and seeds, and their oils) and monounsaturated fats (canola, olive, and peanut oils, and avocado) may help to lower your blood cholesterol and blood pressure when you use them in place of saturated fats in your diet, reports the AHA.
2.Fights Cancer While heart disease goes back to biblical times, cancer probably does, too. “Because of its aromatic oil content, olive oil is an effective antioxidant that has been shown to reduce cancer rates and increase longevity,” points out Healing Oils of the Bible’s author, Dr. Stewart.
In the twenty-first century, cancer is still a major threat for both women and men—and the threat of prostate cancer is a real one. Researchers at the University of California San Francisco discovered that men who ate more vegetable fat than less had a lower risk of dying from prostate cancer, which is a concern for men, even more as they age. Scientists studied nearly 4,600 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 1986. After following these people for almost a decade, it was reported in JAMA that the men who ate more vegetable fat were less likely to die than those who did not eat it.
How Olive Oil Works: Researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark discovered that olive oil can reduce damage to cells, which can trigger cancer growth. For three weeks, 182 healthy men between the ages of 20 and 60 from five European countries consumed about one-fourth cup of olive oil every day. The findings: There was a 13 percent reduction in a marker of damage to cells. It’s the phenols, believed to act as powerful disease-fighting antioxidants. In addition, the results (published in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal) may point to why the cancer rate is higher in northern Europe than in southern Europe, where olive oil is part of the olive-rich Mediterranean diet.
Oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, as well as disease-fighting phenols may be the two primary components that lower the risk of developing skin, breast, and colon cancer.
What You Can Do: The American Cancer Society (ACS) advises that you eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily to help lower your risk of developing cancer. Polyphenol-rich olive oil can help enhance the flavor of fresh produce, but the ACS does not validate olive oil used solo as a preventive measure for lowering the risk of developing cancer. But the ACS does note that lycopene, found in tomato products, does help in the prevention of some cancers, such as prostate cancer. Go ahead—enjoy vegetarian pizza or pasta with tomato sauce, because the effects of lycopene are increased when lycopene-rich vegetables are cooked and eaten together with fat.
3.Wards Off Arthritis Not only are there lower rates of cancer in the Mediterranean basin than in other countries, research in Greece also showed that the more fresh vegetables and olive oil people ate, the less likely they were to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Also, it’s possible that the omega-3-rich fish eaten in a typical Greek diet may play a role in keeping stiffness, aches, and pains away, too.
Olive oil combined externally with soothing essential oils, which soothe muscle aches and pains, may have beneficial effects for arthritis aches and pains, often an age-related disease that can be worse in cold, damp climates. When I dined at Frantoio’s, a staff member told me without hesitation that a regular customer vows that it’s the extra virgin olive oil in his diet that keeps his arthritis at bay. I believed him.
How Olive Oil Works: Olive oil used daily may have anti-inflammatory benefits for pain by lubricating joints and reducing swelling. Also, folk doctors believe eating cooked antioxidant-rich vegetables with olive oil provides polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are used by your body to make the good prostaglandins that reduce swelling and pain.
What You Can Do: Include olive oil in your daily diet. While some folks use olive oil on their salads and cooked vegetables and eat fish to help stave off arthritis, others turn to olive oil paired with essential oils in massages to loosen up stiff muscles and joints.