The Mediterranean diet, which features generous amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, continues to be praised by health experts as among the healthiest on the planet. Part of this healthy diet is the use of pure olive oil. In fact, over the years, many researchers have praised its value.
For example, scientists at the University of Minnesota Medical School recently speculated that olive oil in the Mediterranean diet may hold the key to promoting heart health - and even prolonging life. Why? Because monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil help to activate a cellular pathway known as SIRT1, which has been shown to increase lifespan and help prevent degenerative disease.
But, when it comes to preserving health, not just any old olive oil will do.
For maximum benefit, seek out extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This wholesome oil is extracted from high-quality olives by natural methods - without the use of heat or chemical solvents.
Not only is EVOO higher in phenolic antioxidants than lower-quality oils, but it is resistant to high heat - making it an ideal cooking oil. The key is to look for a cold-pressed certified organic EVOO brand from a reputable vendor.
Fighting inflammation with "pure" olive oil
Increasingly, researchers are finding that chronic inflammation is a major factor in the development of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease – in other words, the leading deadly diseases of our time.
That’s why it’s good to know that 73 percent of pure olive oil is actually an inflammation-fighting monounsaturated fat known as oleic acid.
In one study, “Dietary Factors that Promote or Retard Inflammation,” researchers gave oleic acid the thumbs-up for reducing markers of inflammation (such as C-reactive protein).
Another “secret weapon” in olive oil’s disease-fighting arsenal is its high levels of a molecule known as oleocanthal. Amazingly, scientific research has shown that oleocanthal has been shown to reduce inflammation through a mechanism similar to that of ibuprofen, a leading pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory drug.
Olive oil helps to prevent heart disease
One of the main “perks” of the Mediterranean diet is that it is associated with significantly lower rates of heart disease. Again, some of the credit can go to the use of high-quality olive oil, as scientists say.
An extensive review of studies involving 841,000 participants showed that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat that was associated with a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil not only prevents the harmful oxidation of fats in the bloodstream - thereby working against atherosclerosis - but it improves the lining of blood vessels while helping reduce the “stickiness” of blood platelets that causes cells to clump together and form dangerous blood clots.
Finally, olive oil promotes heart health by regulating blood pressure.
In one particularly impressive study, EVOO reduced participants’ need for blood pressure medication by an eye-opening 48 percent! Scientists remarked that olive oil polyphenols likely enhanced levels of beneficial nitric oxide, leading to decreases in blood pressure.
Alert: Polyphenols in olive oil REDUCE oxidative stress
Extra virgin olive oil is packed with biologically active antioxidants, which scavenge the harmful free radicals that can cause oxidative damage and trigger disease.
Potent antioxidants compounds in olive oil include hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, vitamin E and vitamin K.
When it comes to accessing the beneficial properties of olive oil, there is a “catch” (sort of).
University of Minnesota Medical School researchers report that in order to access olive oil’s health-giving benefits, exercise and calorie limitation may be needed. The beneficial fats in olive oil are stored in the body in the form of lipid droplets - which are then broken down during exercise or fasting.
This “frees them up” to activate disease-fighting pathways. Since getting regular exercise and avoiding obesity both help to protect against chronic degenerative diseases, this “catch” really translates to a win/win.
Antibacterial olive oil has infection-fighting "superpowers"
Olive oil’s antibacterial effects allow it to inhibit - or outright destroy - pathogenic (disease-causing) microbes. One of the many harmful bacteria that olive oil can inhibit is H. pylori, a primary cause of stomach ulcers and a trigger for stomach cancer.
One two-week study suggested that 30 grams (a little over two tablespoons) a day of extra virgin olive oil for two weeks eliminated H. pylori infections in up to 40 percent of volunteers.
Calling EVOO “moderately effective” in this trial, the scientists called for more research - and larger, longer-lasting studies.
Beauty BONUS: How to naturally smooth out and moisturize your skin
It’s no surprise, really, that olive oil is a trusted, time-honored ingredient in soaps and body lotions.
Its antioxidant and moisturizing qualities may help prevent premature wrinkling and aging - especially when applied after sun exposure - while its content of vitamin E may make it useful for alleviating stretch marks.
In addition, EVOO may be used as a gentle yet effective makeup remover. (Simply apply and wipe off).
Due to its antibacterial effects and anti-inflammatory effects, olive oil may also be useful in fighting skin infections, psoriasis and eczema. By the way, one small study showed that a combination of olive oil and coconut oil helped eliminate S. aureus bacteria on the skin.
If you have sensitive skin, apply EVOO to a small area first and wait 48 hours to make sure no irritation occurs. Just remember, to use only the highest quality EVOO and blot off the excess to avoid clogging pores.
Of course, if you have skin problems, it’s best to discuss the use of topical olive oil with a trusted integrative doctor before trying it.
Anti-inflammatory, heart-protective, antioxidant, antibacterial and skin-soothing, hard-working olive oil has earned its reputation as one of the health-giving jewels in the crown of the Mediterranean diet. In fact, when it comes to promoting health, EVOO is often referred to as “liquid gold.”
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