Why Olive Oil?
As I noted yesterday, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is an important component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. But why, exactly? Is it the fact that EVOO consists mostly of monounsaturated fats? Probably, at least in part. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats from plants are clearly heart healthy. Fatty plant foods, such as nuts, avocados and olives, are all believed to be good for your heart. They help lower cholesterol levels and may even help control insulin and blood sugar levels.
But there’s more to it than that. Emerging research suggests that there’s something, well, especially special about EVOO. Some of the remarkable benefits of the Mediterranean diet may be due to EVOO’s starring role in the diet. EVOO and fats from nuts, and fatty fish (rich in the essential nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids) are the primary sources of fat in the diet. Since so little red meat is consumed in the classic Mediterranean diet, saturated fats are not much of an issue.
Many scientists point to the unique compounds in EVOO, called polyphenols, which provide potent antioxidant benefits. Some of these compounds have antibiotic properties, while others may act to ward off cancer. Indeed, the possible anticancer activity of EVOO is an exciting frontier in research right now. Preliminary findings suggest that some of the unique compounds in EVOO may protect against diseases such as breast and colon cancers, among others.
Menendez JA, Vazquez-Martin A, Oliveras-Ferraros C, Garcia-Villalba R, Carrasco-Pancorbo A, Fernandez-Gutierrez A, et al. Analyzing effects of extra-virgin olive oil polyphenols on breast cancer-associated fatty acid synthase protein expression using reverse-phase protein microarrays. Int J Mol Med. 2008 Oct;22(4):433-9.
Visioli F. Olive oil phenolics: where do we stand? Where should we go? J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Aug 15;92(10):2017-9. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5715. Epub 2012 May 2.