olive oil in our diet
Olive oil, and especially extra virgin olive oil, has been the subject of long-term research and study by many scientists, who have concluded that it is a key food for human health and well-being.
The Seven Countries Study
The Seven Countries Study by Dr. Keys began in the late 50’s, drawing attention to the Cretan diet and emphasizing the importance of qualitative and quantitative differentiation, in terms of consumption of various foods.
Olive oil, a food which, due to its composition and daily intake, had a significant impact on population health, where low mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer rates, compared to other countries.
New studies published in the Journal of Medicine in February 2013 have shown that a diet containing a large amount of extra virgin olive oil and approximately 30 grams of nuts per day reduces the risk of heart attack and cardiovascular problems by 30% in high-risk groups
Positive results of the Cretan-Mediterranean diet were in fact so impressive that the research was stopped early, since not allowing all participants to benefit from a healthier diet was considered unethical.
Researchers also monitored 7,447 individuals in Spain for more than 5 years. Huge health benefits of Mediterranean diet even surprised the researchers themselves.
Research has shown that a Mediterranean diet with a significant olive-oil consumption (4 tablespoons per day) and nuts (30 grams per day) has a similar effect to statins, i.e., drugs used to lower cholesterol and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by 25% to 30%.
Cretans consume approximately 82 grams of olive oil per day, or 30 kg per year.
But what are the characteristics that make olive oil so special?
Its high content of unsaturated fatty acids and low content of saturated and polyunsaturated fats, combined with its high vitamin E content and other antioxidants, make it an excellent remedy for treating and preventing many diseases. That is why, in recent years, it has been characterized as a “functional food”.
• Consumption of olive oil helps reduce total cholesterol, triglyceride, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, thus preventing arteriosclerosis. At the same time, it maintains or increases HDL (good) cholesterol levels, something which has a cardioprotective effect and helps lower blood pressure. In the early 1990s, Dr. Renaud and Dr. Longeril presented the Lyon Diet Heart Study which involved patients who had suffered an acute myocardial infarction. The fact that 70% of patients who adopted the Cretan diet survived was very impressive, contrary to the patients who adopted the diet which was recommended by the American Heart Association.
• Its high antioxidant content, such as vitamin E and polyphenols (tyrosol, kaempferol, quercetin, etc.) helps neutralize free radicals, thus reducing the risk of breast and colorectal, endometrial, and prostate cancers. Additionally, its high polyphenol, vitamin E, chlorophyll, and carotenoids can boost our immune system.
• In addition to protecting the entire digestive system from cancer, olive oil has a mild laxative effect that helps relief constipation. It also helps with other conditions such as gallstones, liver stones and gastric and duodenal ulcers.
• According to the study conducted by Dr. Trichopoulou, individuals who adopt the Cretan diet and, within this context, consume olive oil, live longer. Antioxidants help protect the central nervous system and brain cells, thereby providing protection against degenerative nerve diseases such as Alzheimer’s or even Parkinson’s.
• Use of olive oil by individuals suffering from diabetes, especially non-insulin-dependent (type 2 diabetes), helps stabilize low blood sugar levels and prevents activation of gluconeogenesis in the liver. In addition, it helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes in individuals who have not included olive oil in their diet but prefer other fats.
• According to studies, size, thickness, and texture of bones vary in individuals who consume olive oil, due to their reinforcement with minerals. It also covers the proportions of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats that an individual needs in the early stages of childhood and thus helps their normal growth and development. In fact, the ratio of linoleic acid to alpha-linolenic acid (omega- 6/omega- 3) in olive oil is deemed very important, as it is similar to that of breast milk. Finally, it is more digestible and assimilable, compared to other fats.
Dietitian – Nutritionist
Member of the Cretan Gastronomy Network
cretan - mediterranean diet
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the main components of the Mediterranean diet. But what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?
Simply put, the Mediterranean diet, which has its roots in the Cretan diet of the 1960s, is a healthy diet that contains common staple foods consumed by people living in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It is the healthiest diet in the world!
In 2020, the Mediterranean diet was named the healthiest diet in the world for the third year in a row by U.S. News & World Report.
An essential component of this diet is extra virgin olive oil, which contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant phytochemicals: polyphenols, phytosterols, and vitamin E. These are the compounds that are believed to be responsible for many of the health benefits offered to those who adopt this diet.
Recent research by leading scientists has linked the Mediterranean diet to reduced cardiovascular and coronary artery disease-related mortality, risk for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and type 2 diabetes.