We keep hearing about the many health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and now there’s even more cause to celebrate this healthy way of eating.
Results of a new study called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Spain) have been published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, Spain conducted a study of 40,622 people ranging in age from 29 to 69. They followed the participants’ food and beverage consumption for over 13 years to determine whether there were any dietary factors that would reduce the risk of dying prematurely from cancer, cardiovascular disease, or another cause of death.
The scientists found that those whose consumption of olive oil was the highest had a reduced risk of dying by 26% and a decreased risk of dying from heart disease by a whopping 44% compared to people who did not consume olive oil. During that time 956 people died of cancer, 416 died from cardiovascular disease, and 417 died from other causes.
The researchers found an inverse correlation between the amount of olive oil consumed and the likelihood of death. For every 10 grams of olive oil consumed there is a 7% decreased risk of dying and a 13% decreased risk of specifically dying from heart disease. In other words, the more olive oil consumed, the lower the chance of death. The scientists observed no direct correlation between death from cancer and olive oil consumption. (Keep in mind however that many other studies found that olive oil consumption is linked to a reduction in breast, respiratory tract, upper digestive tract and colorectal cancers).
The authors of the study Genevieve Buckland and colleagues noted in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that olive oil has been shown to improve systemic inflammation in the body as well as blood sugar control in other clinical studies.
Other research has shown that a compound found in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol (HT), helps protect the cells that line our blood vessels from being damaged by free radicals.
Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, particularly oleic acid which is an Omega-9 fatty acid, one of the few oils rich in this particular fat. Recent studies have shown this fatty acid reduces cholesterol levels and normalizes high blood pressure. Olive oil also contains vitamin E and many phytonutrients that play a role in the protection against chronic diseases, including heart disease.
Choose extra virgin olive oil as the best results in research have been obtained from this oil, not just virgin olive oil. Ideally, choose cold-pressed since it helps ensure the nutrients and oils remain intact. When cooking with olive oil, keep the temperature on low to medium heat since olive oil begins to smoke around 325 degrees Fahrenheit. The smoke point is the point at which the oil changes molecular structure and is no longer healthy.
I use olive oil in place of butter or shortening in most baking recipes with excellent results. Simply keep the baking temperature around 300 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent toxic acrylamide from forming, which may mean a slightly longer baking time for recipes normally baked at 350 degrees.
I also encourage you to make your own salad dressings. Just use two parts olive oil to one part lemon juice or vinegar, add some berries or herbs, a teaspoon of honey, some unrefined salt, and a teaspoon of mustard as a quick and easy salad dressing.
Subscribe to my free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow me on Twitter @mschoffrocook and Facebook. Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.