Exploring the benefits of adding a drizzle of best olive oil – extra virgin olive oil to your diet during American Heart Month
Did you know, February is American Heart Month. A time when all people of all ages and backgrounds should focus on their cardiovascular health. Why is this so important?
In 2016, the Milken Institute reported that the total cost for direct healthcare for chronic illnesses in the USA totalled $1.1trillion, the equivalent of 5.8% of the USA’s GDP, with cardiovascular disease the most prevalent condition accounting for some $294.3Bn or almost 27% of this total.
When the total indirect cost of lost economic productivity are included, the total cost of chronic disease rises to a staggering $3.7trillio, the equivalent of 19.6% of USA GDP.
The report went on to project the cost of these chronic illnesses is set to rise and that by 2030 an estimated 83.4m people will be suffering from 3 or more chronic illnesses compared with 30.8m in 2015.
(The Milken Institute is an independent economic think tank based in Santa Monica, California. It publishes research and hosts conferences that apply market-based principles and financial innovations to social issues in the US and internationally).
So cardiovascular disease and mortality are increasing in working-age adults, however, there are small steps and lifestyle choices that can have a significant impact.
The Role Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil In Combating Cardiovascular Diseases
The ancient Greeks were on to something when they referred to extra virgin olive oil as an “elixir of youth and health.” Centuries later, research offers evidence about the benefits of olive oil in our daily diets.
Extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil and canola oil are high in monounsaturated fat (the healthy-for-you kind of fat). So what would put extra virgin olive oil above the others if their fat make-up so similar? It’s not just about the kind of fat molecules that they are made up of. Extra virgin olive oil has some extra magic. The biggest thing that makes extra virgin olive oil so healthy is its unique disease-fighting component.
Thanks to the recent spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet, extensive research has been done on the phytonutrient composition of olive oil. What has been discovered is an extensive list of phytonutrients; one of the most praised is its polyphenols. The amount of polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil is truly amazing!
What Are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are a group of over 500 phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring micronutrients in plants. These compounds give a plant its colour and can help to protect it from various dangers. When you eat plants with polyphenols, you reap the health benefits as well.
Polyphenols In Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Polyphenols are a key component in extra virgin olive oil and are considered to be one of the best health enhancing benefits within the oil. Many of the fruits and vegetables we consume contain large numbers of compounds critical for life. One such type of compound is known as antioxidants. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants.
So how do antioxidants fit into the grand scheme of our bodies and our health? Antioxidants are chemicals known to be ‘molecular scavengers’ that help neutralize oxygen free radicals, thus preventing oxidative stress from occurring. There are hundreds of known antioxidants, some of which we consume in our daily diets:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
It’s also thought that polyphenols contribute to keep the body being in an anti-inflammatory state. This is also associated with a lower risk of several chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, The View Of The American Heart Association
Consuming more than half a tablespoon of olive oil a day may lower heart disease risk, a 2020 study found. And earlier this year, researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that people who ate more than half a tablespoon per day had lower rates of premature death from cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other causes compared to people who never or rarely consumed olive oil.
“Olive oil is the hallmark of the Mediterranean diet, and its link to lower mortality is well established in southern European countries. But this is the first long-term study to show such a health benefit here in the U.S.,” said Dr. Frank Hu, the study’s senior author and a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.
Among all edible plant oils, olive oil has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, which lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases “good” HDL. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure and contains plant-based compounds that offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties known to reduce the disease process, including heart disease.
When cooking, extra virgin olive oil can be a healthy substitute for butter, margarine and other types of fat. In Hu’s study, for example, replacing unhealthy fats with olive oil was associated with a lower risk of dying.
“Olive oil is a much healthier replacement for dietary fats, especially animal fats,”Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.