Extra Virgin Olive Oil – the heart of the Mediterranean Diet
Extra virgin olive oil is central to the Mediterranean Diet, and this is also backed up by the science. When researchers look at the effects of the diet and find the extraordinary benefits, they usually use scoring systems which, for example, may weight vegetables, fruits and other staples with positive scores from zero to three.
The regular use of olive oil in many recognised scoring systems counts for as much as the consumption of vegetables. This is often defined as the inclusion of olive oil in every meal. Where evidence associates the reduced risk of chronic diseases with a high Mediterranean Diet score it is always the case that olive oil will be contributing significantly to the score. It is impossible to take olive oil out of the science of the Mediterranean Diet. There is certainly no justification for any suggestion that an alternative cooking fat could be used to achieve the effects of the Mediterranean Diet.
There is increasing evidence that shows extra virgin olive alone has positive measurable effects on health. This is quite a feat given that it is often hard to separate fact from fiction in a world where there are so many challenges to producing good quality nutritional science. To be able to identify so many benefits in a single ingredient is quite remarkable and unique.
There is a 40% relative reduction in risk of strokes associated with regular consumption of olive oil. A Mediterranean Diet with high polyphenol extra virgin olive oil showed on ultrasound the visible regression and healing of damaged areas in carotid arteries with improved blood flow. Two tablespoons of olive oil each day correlates with a 44% reduction in rates of heart disease. Regular consumption of olive oil reduces the risk of diabetes by between 50 and 80% depending on the population studied.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to have effects on blood cholesterol, the oxidation of cholesterol, the health of blood vessel walls and their elasticity, blood clotting, anti-cancer properties and a protective role in some autoimmune diseases including inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.
Extra virgin olive oil is essentially a freshly squeezed fruit juice. It consists predominantly of cholesterol friendly monounsaturated fats. It is also a good source of Vitamin E. However, it is compounds called polyphenols which are most important for their extraordinarily positive consequences for human health with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
It turns out that these polyphenols often have tastes which we can learn to recognise and enjoy, and that levels are influenced by factors including how the extra virgin olive oil is produced, pressed and stored. To get the most from extra virgin olive oil, at the heart of our Mediterranean Diet.
It is important to learn and understand the role of polyphenols and how the alchemy of cooking and combining foods enriches the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects to keep us healthy the Mediterranean way.