Why Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Supposed To Be Good For The Heart?

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Examines why the monounsaturated fats in extra virgin olive oil deliver heart health benefits

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Good For The Heart
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Good For The Heart


  • The Mediterranean diet, which has long been known for its health benefits, includes extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as a key ingredient.
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acid which has shown to help reduce the risk for heart disease and can help with HDL “good cholesterol” levels.
  • Saturated fats found in butter coconut oil and hydrogenated oils can increase your LDL “bad cholesterol” level in your blood stream.
  • Substituting unsaturated fats like those found in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for saturated fats could lower your chance of developing heart disease. 
  • Studies have shown that people who live in countries that adopt the Mediterranean diet which is low in saturated fat and cholesterol have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.


Why Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) Contributes To Heart Health

The heart-healthy benefits of extra virgin olive oil have been known for centuries. The Mediterranean diet, which has long been known for its health benefits, includes extra virgin olive oil as a key ingredient. Extra virgin olive is high in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. In addition, extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants that help to protect the heart and blood vessels from damage.

Extra virgin olive oil is the best olive oil to consume. This is because it is made from the first cold pressing of olives and has not been exposed to high temperatures or chemicals during processing. As a result, it retains more of its beneficial nutrients.

“All oils are fats, and will have some composition of saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats. So, while one tablespoon of any oil will provide about 120 calories, the quality of these calories is not equal,” said Kary Woodruff, registered dietitian at the Salt Lake Intermountain LiVe Well Center.

“Some types of fats, for example, may increase our risk for heart disease, while others may provide a protective benefit,” Woodruff said.

Saturated fats can be found in butter coconut oil and hydrogenated oils. The fat can increase your LDL cholesterol level in your blood stream. Unsaturated fats, which olive oil has, can help with HDL “good cholesterol” levels.

“Extra virgin olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acid and has shown to help reduce one’s risk for heart disease,” Woodruff said.

Olive oil also helps with giving antioxidants that can protect red blood cells from damage – otherwise that damage could lead to heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.

Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) Instead of Saturated Fats for Heart Health

Eating better is an important part of preventing heart disease. That includes a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, and fish. Current guidelines also suggest that substituting unsaturated fats—like those found in extra virgin olive oil—for saturated fats could lower your chance of developing heart disease. 

Adding support to that recommendation, a newly published study tracking the diets of more than 90,000 U.S. adults over 24 years found that olive oil was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also showed that using olive oil instead of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fats could help lower risk of heart disease as well. 

The analysis included 61,181 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 31,797 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, both of which have tracked the health of U.S. professionals for several decades. Participants were free of heart disease at the start of each study. They completed dietary questionnaires every four years, and outcomes were tracked from 1990 through 2014.

Individuals who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 14% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and an 18% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who didn’t. There was no link found between olive oil consumption and stroke risk. In the survey, people used olive oil in salad dressings, added it to bread or other food, or in baking or frying at home.

Also, using olive oil instead of 5 grams per day of margarine was associated with 6% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and substituting the same amount of olive oil for dairy fat was associated with a 5% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Another element of the study examined biomarkers in blood samples. Higher olive oil consumption was associated with higher levels of high-density lipoprotein—the good—cholesterol.

“The present work generates new evidence suggesting that replacement of more saturated fats, such as butter and margarine, with healthy plant-based fats, like olive oil, is beneficial for the primary prevention of CVD,” the authors write. However, they note that margarine used to contain substantial amounts of trans fats, which has changed. Trans fats have been shown to be harmful and increase risk of heart disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ban on trans fats took effect in 2018. 

Extra virgin olive oil may have some properties that help lower the risk of stroke, according to the authors. It would be worthwhile for follow-up research to examine the associations of specific types of olive oil consumption.

How the Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease

The Mediterranean diet is based on the healthy eating habits of people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, which is where this diet gets its name. These countries include Greece, Italy, Spain, and France. People in these countries mostly eat plant-based foods, choose healthier fat sources like olive oil, consume less salt, and prefer fish and poultry for their protein instead of red meat.

The principles are based on the analysis of Ancel Keys, PhD. Dr. Keys is known for his researched on the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease. By analyzing the diet and the health data from more than 12,000 men from different countries, Dr. Keys concluded that there is a correlation between a diet that’s high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and the development of cardiovascular disease. He also observed that people who live in countries where diets are low in saturated fat and cholesterol have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease.

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Fruits and vegetables make up the majority of the Mediterranean diet. They are high in dietary fiber and flavonoids, which decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke because of their anti-inflammatory properties. Aside from heart disease, the Mediterranean diet can also provide protection against type-2 diabetes, since fiber-rich foods help to slow down digestion and prevent sudden surges of blood sugar.

If you are older than 40 and are interested in improving how you eat, this diet may have additional benefits. Studies show that adherence to this type of diet helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive declines, which can occur as people get older.

Mediterranean Diet: The Basics

Despite what many diet gurus will tell you, there is no “right way” to do the Mediterranean diet. As long as you stick with the guiding principles, you still can reap the benefits regardless of how you do it. The basic components of the Mediterranean diet include the following:

The majority of the foods in the Mediterranean diet comes from plants. These include fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, whole grains, herbs, spices, and olive oil. Daily servings of these foods are recommended.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on lean sources of protein, including fish and poultry. Fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, is the main source of animal protein in the diet. Some of the best options include lake trout, albacore tuna, salmon, and sardines. A serving of fish twice a week is strongly recommended.

Eggs, chicken, low-fat dairy, and cheese can be consumed in small portions a few times each week. Poultry and red meat should be limited to occasional servings of three ounces or less, which are about the size of the palm of your hand.

Unlike most eating plans, the Mediterranean diet isn’t restrictive and regimented. This means you can still indulge in sweets and alcohol from time to time, though as with all things in life, moderation should be practiced. Sweets should come in small, manageable portions, just enough to satisfy the sweet tooth. As for alcohol, it is recommended that women should limit their intake to one drink per day and men shouldn’t have more than two drinks a day.