Keeping on this Chanukah theme, I would like to share what I consider to be the 8 miraculous properties of olive oil. Many scientific studies have shown that there are exceptionally good reasons to include more olive oil in our diets and I would like to talk about why that is the case.
Health Miracle #1: Olive Oil Lowers Risk of Heart Disease by Lowering Cholesterol:
Traditionally doctors prescribed a low fat diet to prevent various diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. While studies did show that high fat diets could increase the risk of certain diseases such as cancer and diabetes, it appears we now know that it is the type of fat that counts rather than the amount of fat.
When looking for the right source of fat one should definitely consider olive oil. Olive oil is unique in that it is the plant highest in a type of fat called monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Nuts and seeds also contain MUFAs but not as much as olive oil. MUFAs are considered a healthy dietary fat and if your diet emphasizes monounsaturated fats like MUFAs instead of saturated fats (red meat and whole-milk dairy products, including cheese, sour cream, ice cream and butter) and trans fats (in some processed food products) you may gain certain health benefits.
We now know that MUFAs found in olive oil may improving the major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. For instance, MUFAs may lower your total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. As well, recent studies indicate that regular consumption of olive oil can help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Try choosing MUFA-rich foods such as olive oil instead of other fatty foods like butter and stick margarine to get the best results. It may take some getting used to but Extra Virgin olive oil tastes really good schmeared on your toast, bagels, or corn on the cob!
Health Miracle #2: Olive Oil reduces Inflammation and this can lower the risk of developing Breast and Prostate Cancer:
The phytonutrient in olive oil oleocanthal has similar chemical effects to that of ibuprofen making it particularity good in reducing inflammation. Investigations showed that oleocanthal was actually substantially more potent in vitro.
Inflammation causes many problems in the body. It is likely that this oleocanthal compound is the reason for much of olive oils health benefits. If an olive oil consumer ingests an average amount of olive oil/day the amount of the oleocanthal consumed only equates to a relatively low (10%) equivalent dose of ibuprofen (recommended for adult pain relief). Chronic low doses of ibuprofen and other COX inhibitors such as aspirin are known to have important health benefits in the prevention of cancer development (e.g. colon and breast) and Cardiovascular Disease. Therefore, long-term ingestion of oleocanthal via EVOO consumption may contribute to a reduction in chronic disease development and certainly emerging evidence supports this idea.
Studies on oleocanthal have shown it to be effective in fighting certain types of cancer. Studies have reported that oleocanthal possesses anti-proliferative effects in human breast and prostate cancer lines in vitro.
Health Miracle #3: Reduces Oxidative Stress:
Extra virgin oil is rich in plant antioxidants, especially vitamin E, a potent antioxident. Monounsaturated fats, (MUFAs) are particularly interesting in that they do not oxidize in our bodies. This is unlike polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) that do oxidize. The oxidization of a fat creates what are called Lipid Peroxides that are formed mostly in polyunsaturated fatty acids in the presence of oxygen and put a lot of oxidative stress on the body. Please note however that does not mean that polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) (found in foods such as Walnuts, Sunflower Seeds, and Sesame Seeds) are bad for you but it just means that MUFAs may be a better choice in providing less oxidative stress. PUFAs have other major benefits to our health so to cut them out would be a mistake.
Consuming olive oil as a replacement to other oils will decrease the total oxidative stress on your body that will likely reduce the risk of heart disease and cancers and will promote longevity.
Health Miracle #4: Lowers the Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
Studies were done that showed significant findings demonstrating that oleocanthal inhibits tau fibrillization. The fibrillization of tau proteins leads to neurofibrillary tangles in the brain which are inherently associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Without getting too technical – it has been postulated that since olive oil’s unique compound oleocanthal has been shown to slow down this process of tau fibrillization it could be said that it may also prevent or slow the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Further studies still need to be done to prove this hypothesis but it does seem likely.
Health Miracle #5: Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
It has been demonstrated that a diet called the Mediterranean diet (a diet indigenous Mediterranean region) that is rich in olive oil, low in saturated fats, moderately rich in carbohydrates and soluble fiber from fruit, vegetables, and grains is the most effective approach for diabetics. It appears that this diet improves blood sugar control and enhances insulin sensitivity.
A recent Spanish study published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care showed that a Mediterranean style diet can reduce type 2 diabetes by almost 50 percent compared to a low fat diet. Type II diabetes is the most common and preventable form of diabetes.
Health Miracle #6: Good for Osteoporosis:
A high consumption of olive oil appears to improve bone mineralization and calcification. It helps calcium absorption and so plays an important role in aiding sufferers and in preventing the onset of Osteoporosis.
Health Miracle #7: Reduces the Chances of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis:
Although the reasons are still not fully clear, recent studies have proved that people with diets containing high levels of olive oil are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Further as mentioned above the anti inflammatory properties of oleocanthal draws attention to it as potential therapeutic compound that may be of interest in the quest to find suitable natural NSAIDs for the treatment of joint degenerative disease. This has still yet to be proven outside of laboratory studies however.
Health Miracle #8: Lowers the Risk of Stroke
A recent study from France showed that the “intensive” users of olive oil, those that used for both cooking and dressings had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those that did not use olive oil at all. These results were noted even after considering weight, diet, physical activity and other risk factors.
How much Olive Oil Should I consume?
I recommend up to two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day is needed to be beneficial to your health and wellbeing. Having said this, note that it is essential to replace the other “bad” fats you are consuming with good ones like those found in olive oil to really achieve any health benefits. If one just adds olive oil without reducing the bad oils, then one may just be adding unnecessary calories into their diet. Olive oil is quite high in calories so don’t go over do it!
Be aware that light, air and heat can affect the taste of olive oil and effect its health-promoting compounds. Store olive oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator. The fats and healthy phytonutrients in olive oil can slowly degrade over time. Always use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as it is the one richest in these compounds.
Can I cook with Olive Oil?
There is a bit of a machlochet (debate) out there in regards to if it is good or not to cook with olive oil. Many natural health practitioners claim that cooking with olive oil creates toxic byproducts or converts the olive oil to a bad oil. However, when I researched this myself I found that this is not totally scientifically accurate. As mentioned previously monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) do not oxidize easily at room temperature. Several studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil produces fewer oxidation products than polyunsaturated oils when heated – so it really is a very good choice for cooking. The smoke point for olive oil (the point when real toxic biproducts are released) is 200°C. It is possible that at frying temperatures for prolonged periods of time with little food in the pan one could reach this temperature, but being mindful of this and making sure to not overcook the food or leave the oil burning in the pan that one would be quite safe in using olive oil. I therefore think that it is not a problem to cook with Olive oil despite what I had heard as long as one is careful.
I believe that the evidence has made it apparent that if one chooses to make Olive oil a regular part of ones diet while at the same time reducing their consumption of saturated and trans fats, one has a much greater chance of reducing the risks of some of the greatest health concerns of our era. Olive oils ability to help us do this, in my opinion, is truly miraculous. Happy Chanukah!
Dr. Anders Nerman, ND
Dr. Anders Nerman, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor with an Integrative Family Medical practice in Wolfson Medical Center in Jerusalem, Israel. For more visit www.drnerman.com or call 972-54-427-8667.
Information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or adopting any treatment for a health problem.