Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the Heart

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthier diets on the planet.  Part of this benefit is likely due to the benefits of the extra virgin olive oil on the heart.

The Paleo diet (otherwise known as the “caveman diet”) is also a pretty good choice.  I believe it was Dr. Alex Vasquez who coined the term “Paleo-Mediterranean,” which refers to adding aspects of both diets together to get the best of both.  As an example, extra virgin olive oil is a generally not accepted as a component of the Paleo diet (I’d have a hard time imagining cavemen operating an olive oil press….), but would become part of the lifestyle on a Paleo-Mediterranean diet.

There have been aspects of the Mediterranean diet that have been examined, such as increased absorption of fat soluble nutrients like lycopene (the red pigment in tomatoes) because of the olive oil in the diet.

Overall, though, it is pretty consistent that better adherence to a Mediterranean type diet shows better longevity and health.  One study found that, in those with the highest level of adherence, lifespan was a whopping 15 years longer.  Not too shabby.

Virgin olive oil is the term that applies to olive oil made strickly with mechanical means (i.e. no chemicals are used in the process).  The “extra” part refers to a higher quality form that has lower levels of acidity than virgin olive oil.  Cold pressed then refers to the temperature at which the process occurs.  Cold temps protect the oil from oxidative damage that begins to occur naturally as soon as the olive is picked.

Unquestionably, the less processed the olive oil, the higher the levels of protective compounds (referred to as polyphenols–olive oil may contain as many as 30 different types).  So the first cold pressed extra extra extra virgin olive oil will have a stronger effect on health then the “been around the block and probably needs the Gardasil vaccination” olive oil.

One little piece of important information here…

Heating has a tendency to destroy these protective compounds.  For this reason, we have two types of olive oil that we keep in the house.  The first is a basic olive oil used in cooking methods that involve heat such as sauteeing or to cover the bottom of the pan.  The other type is of the extra virgin olive oil that we use for dips, spraying on air popped popcorn or to spray on vegetables to get lightly grilled.

Prior studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil has some powerful benefits on the heart by protecting our blood vessels.  This particular article adds a little more specificity in regards to just how much extra virgin olive oil can help to protect your heart and life.

Results were pretty impressive:

  • Those with the highest intake of olive oil had a 26% lower risk of dying from any cause
  • These people also had an impressive 44% lower risk of dying from heart disease
  • Overall, for each increase in olive oil of 10 g (per  2000 calories), there was a 7% lower risk of dying and a 13% lower risk of dying of heart disease

So, given this information, what is your favorite way to add olive oil into your diet?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.