Fats are one of three macronutrients essential to human life and make up a large part of our bodies. We wouldn’t be able to absorb vitamins A, D, E or K without fat in our diets. Healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, can even help you fight stress, improve mood swings, decrease mental fatigue and can actually help you manage your weight. While fat in general gets a bad reputation, not all fats are bad, (in fact they are good), you just have to make the right choices! Harvard School of Public Health recommends some healthy fat intake; as a rule of thumb, out with the bad, in with the good.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
The FDA says eating 2 tablespoons of olive oil a day may reduce the risk of heart disease, due to its monounsaturated fat content. Extra virgin olive oil also contains polyphenols which act as antioxidants, reducing the oxidative stress throughout your body. A small amount of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are also present in extra virgin olive oil, which are essential for brain health. Vitamin E (also known as tocopherols), which is great for skin health, is also found in extra virgin olive oil. Many health benefits associated with the consumption of extra virgin olive oil have been discovered, more of which are outlined below.
Our hearts naturally begin to deteriorate with age. Spanish researchers recently discovered that endothelial function of the arteries in the elderly can be improved by the consumption of monounsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil.
Extra virgin olive oil has shown to help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. One study showed that four tablespoons of olive oil a day reduced the need for blood pressure medication in participants.
Just two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day has shown to help lower total cholesterol by helping to reduce LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Even more, it has shown to help improve HDL cholesterol, thus improving the critical balance between LDL and HDL.
Studies have shown that oleocanthal, a polyphenol found in extra virgin olive oil, has the potential to reduce cognitive decline that comes with aging, including Alzheimer’s disease. Polyphenols, powerful antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil, also help to combat the oxidative stress associated with aging.
According to Spanish researchers from the University of Navarra and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a diet rich in olive oil can protect from mental illness, including depression. Fat serves as an important building block for cell membranes. As such it acts as padded protection for organs and cells as well as nerve insulation. In fact, fat comprises 60% of the brain.
A new study conducted in France showed that participants who cooked with and consumed olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those that did not use olive oil at all.
Along with a Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil has shown to contribute to the prevention of the dangerous form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma. The antioxidant properties of extra virgin olive oil help to counter the oxidation from the sun.
Extra virgin olive oil consumption can help improve bone mineralization and calcification. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is a key player in preventing osteoporosis, aiding in thickening the bones.
Symptoms of diabetes can be alleviated by a diet rich in soluble fiber from fruits and vegetables, monounsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, low in saturated fat and moderate in carbohydrates. It helps to regulate blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. A Mediterranean diet (see details below), which is rich in extra virgin olive oil, has shown to reduce the risk of type II diabetes by almost 50 percent compared to a low fat diet.
A diet of nutrient dense foods as the main source of calories helps to improve satiety, which prevents snacking on nutrient void high calorie foods that can lead to overeating and eventually obesity. Of course, fat is a big factor in the satiety we feel after eating. Not only that but fat helps stimulate the gastrocolic reflex to help us digest the foods we consume. Extra virgin olive oil is an example of a nutrient dense fat that helps you feel more satiated.
The Mediterranean diet incorporates olive oil in almost everything. It also suggests a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of following a Mediterranean diet, backed by numerous studies, include prevention of metabolic syndrome and lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Exposure to air pollution and cigarette smoke as well as consumption of fried foods or alcohol can cause free radicals to form in the body. Vitamin E, found in extra virgin olive oil, is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the body from the damage caused by free radicals, called oxidative stress. Over time, oxidative stress can lead to cancer. Extra virgin olive oil also contains polyphenols, another type of antioxidant, which also fight oxidative stress throughout your body.
Oleocanthal, a phytonutrient found in extra virgin olive oil, has been shown to reduce inflammation, a leading cause of cancer. Inflammation is commonly caused by a diet rich in sugar, processed and fried foods, alcohol and environmental toxins such as cigarette smoke. Other components such as squalene and lignans are other properties of olive oil shown effective in defense of cancer.