Health Benefits Of
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Pure, extra virgin olive oil is not only a light and delicate addition to many wonderful dishes, it is one of the most health-promoting types of oils available. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers are discovering has excellent health benefits. Here are some specific areas it will help promote good health;
heart healty benefits
bone loss prevention
Protection Against Chronic Degenerative Disease
In many parts of the world, a high fat intake is associated with degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, asthma, colon cancer, and arthritis, but in some parts of the world, a high fat intake is actually associated with lower rates of these conditions. A closer look at the foods eaten in these places reveals that the high fat intake is actually due to the generous use of olive oil. Comparing these areas, such as the Mediterranean, where olive oil is the main fat used, to other regions, like the United States, where other fats such as animal fats, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils like corn oil dominate, turns up some very interesting data. It turns out that people who use olive oil regularly, especially in place of other fats, have much lower rates of heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and asthma.
Olive Oil and Your Heart
A review of the research by noted olive oil researcher Maria Covas strongly suggests that diets in which olive oil is the main source of fat can be a useful tool against a wide variety of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. (Covas MI, Pharmacology Research)
On November 2004, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S.A permitted a claim on olive oil labels concerning: “the benefits on the risk of coronary heart disease of eating about two tablespoons (23 g) of olive oil daily, due to the monounsaturated fat (MUFA) in olive oil,”
but recent studies have shown that olive oil contains much more than MUFA. Olive oil is a functional food that is also rich in antioxidants and phenolic compounds with a variety of protective effects.
The cholesterol of a person whose diet is high in olive oil will primarily contain oleic acid, the fatty acid that predominates in olive oil, and oleic acid is more resistant to free radical or oxidative damage. And not only will the LDL of a person whose dietary fat is primarily olive oil produce LDL that is more resistant to free radical damage, but that individual’s LDL will be further protected by olive oil’s supplies of vitamin E and phenols with antioxidant activity, further lessening the likelihood of its being oxidized.
By reducing both inflammation and free radical damage to cholesterol, dietary olive oil protects the endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, helping to maintain its ability to relax and dilate (thus preventing high blood pressure).
Three other recent studies (Valavanidis et al.; Morella et al.; Masella et al., see references below) suggest that such heart-healthy effects from olive oil are due not only to its high content of monounsaturated fats, but also to its hefty concentration of antioxidants, including chlorophyll, carotenoids and the polyphenolic compounds tyrosol, hydrotyrosol and oleuropein-all of which not only have free radical scavenging abilities, but protect the vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) also found in olive oil.
As far as other diseases go, regular use of olive oil has been associated with lower rates of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are used by the body to produce substances which are relatively anti-inflammatory. By reducing inflammation, these fats can help reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms, and may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of asthma.
Minor components of extra virgin olive oil-namely, its squalene, beta-sitosterol and tyrosol -may help explain why the Mediterranean diet has shown such beneficial effects on cardiovascular health and cancer prevention, suggests a study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine. It is generally accepted in the medical community that excessive production of free radicals and inflammatory compounds derived from the body’s use of omega-6 fatty acids (found primarily in meats, corn, safflower and sunflower oils) contributes to the development of both cardiovascular disease and cancer. In this study, researchers tested the effects of squalene, beta-sitosterol and tyrosol on a number of free radicals as well as on inflammatory compounds produced from omega-6 fats (arachidonic acid metabolites). In each case, the olive oil compounds either significantly inhibited production of the problem-causing molecules or rendered them harmless.
The World Health Organization calls osteoporosis its biggest global healthcare problem with aging populations also beset by obesity, a condition now known to greatly increase inflammation throughout the body, including in bones where it significantly contributes to osteoporosis. Today, a woman’s lifetime risk of osteoporotic fracture is 30-40%, and even men face about a 13% risk.
INRA researchers, inspired by epidemiological evidence that people eating a traditional Mediterranean diet were less likely to develop osteoporosis, began investigating the effects of olive oil and different compounds in olive leaves on bone metabolism.
Their early studies revealed that two olive polyphenols, oleuropin and hydroxytyrosol, greatly lessen the inflammation-mediated bone loss involved in osteoporosis.
Supports Gastrointestinal Health
While most other fats are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, olive oil is actually associated with a reduced risk of this disease.
One reason for olive oil’s protective effect may be its ability to reduce the amount of carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (HAs) formed when meats are cooked, suggests a study published in Food Chemistry Toxicology. The addition of foods containing antioxidants to recipes containing meat has previously been shown to decrease the amount of HAs produced during cooking. In this study, beef burgers were fried in both virgin and refined olive oils as well as virgin olive oil with rosemary extract and refined olive oil with rosemary extract. Burgers fried in virgin olive oil had significantly less HAs than those cooked in refined olive oil.
The incidence of colon cancer is lower in Mediterranean countries compared with those in northern Europe, a benefit believed to be due to the central role of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet. Laboratory research published in the International Journal of Cancer further supports this hypothesis, showing that phenolic compounds in virgin olive oil protect against several stages of colon cancer development.
To investigate olive oils’ protective mechanisms of action, researchers at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland extracted phenols from virgin olive oil and used them in a series of in vitro (lab test) experiments modeling important stages of colon carcinogenesis.
In one cell culture experiment, colon cells incubated with olive phenols for 24 hours were protected from hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA damage. The higher the level of olive oil phenols, the better the protection.
In a second cell culture, at 48 hours, olive phenols at a concentration of 50 μg/ml or more had significantly improved the barrier function of colon epithelial cells (the cells that form the lining of the colon), suggesting that the phenols might be exert an anti-promoter effect in the carcinogenesis pathway.
A third cell culture showed significant inhibition of HT115, a highly invasive human colorectal cancer cell line, at phenol concentrations of 25, 50, 75 and 100 μg/ml, indicating that olive oil phenols might also reduce the invasiveness of colon cancer cells.
Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that burrows into the gastric lining causing chronic inflammation and promoting the development of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer, is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. The search is on for other substances able to fight H.pylori with researchers increasingly turning not only to herbal extracts and essential oils used in traditional medicines, but to polyphenol-rich foods.
Extra virgin olive oil, one of the few edible oils that is consumed unrefined, contains a number of active phytonutrients. Having run experiments on food-borne pathogens that showed olive oil polyphenols have a very high level of antimicrobial activity against food-borne pathogens, Concepcion Romero and her colleagues at the University Hospital of Valme, Seville, Spain, decided to in investigate olive oil’s effects on H.pylori.
Using conditions that simulated the human gastric environment, Dr. Romero and her team demonstrated that a significant amount of the polyphenols in the olive oil diffused from the oil into the stomach acid and remained stable for several hours, exerting strong anti-H.pylori activity, even against some strains resistant to antibiotics.
Also, only very low concentrations of the olive oil extracts were necessary. Among the polyphenols showing anti-H.pylori activity, one named Ty-EDA was so effective that only <1.5 μg/mL of this compound was needed to kill H.pylori cells in test tube experiments. To put this in practical perspective, Ty-EDA is present in most virgin olive oils in concentrations up to 240 μg/mL.
While these results need confirmation in human studies, they are quite promising, especially given earlier Russian research involving olive oil and gastric ulcer. In this study, when patients with gastric and duodenal ulcers replaced the animal fat in their diet with olive oil, ulcer size was greatly reduced and the percentage of ulcer healing significantly increased. (Taits NS, cited in de la Lastra A, et al.,Current Pharmaceutical Design).
A Fat That Can Help You Lose Fat
Substituting olive oil, a monounsaturated fat or MUFA, for saturated fat in your diet can translate into a small but significant loss of both body weight and fat mass without changing anything else about your diet or increasing your physical activity, suggests a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. One of the most interesting facts about this research is that it was conducted on eight overweight or obese men, ranging in age from 24 to 49 years. All the men followed one of two diets for 4 weeks each. The first, saturated fat-rich diet provided 24% of calories from saturated fat, 13% from monounsaturated fat, and 3% from polyunsaturated fat, while in the second MUFA-rich diet, 11% of calories came from saturated fats, 22% from monounsaturated fat and 7% from polyunsaturated fat. At the end of the MUFA-rich diet, despite the fact that no significant differences were detected in caloric intake, energy expenditure or physical activity, the men were 2.1 kg lighter and their fat mass had decreased by 2.6 kg.
Additional support for olive oil’s fat burning effects comes from another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which suggests that the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil cause an increase in the breakdown of fats in fat cells (adipocytes). In this study, 45 laboratory animals were divided into three groups, each of which was fed a diet supplying normal energy but a different type of fat: olive oil, palmitic acid or soybean oil + palmitic acid. At the end of the study, a number of indicators of fat metabolism were measured including body weight, plasma leptin, tissue concentration of fatty acids, fat-cell size, fat cell lipolytic (fat breakdown) activity, and the capacity of insulin to inhibit fat breakdown. In the animals receiving monounsaturated fats, not only was fat breakdown greater, but insulin’s ability to block it was lower. Interestingly, in rats given polyunsaturated fat in the form of soybean oil, the opposite effect was noted in adipose (fat) tissue.
Extra virgin olive oil is definitely one of the best food oils available today. Simply adding olive oil to an unhealthy diet that is already soaked in saturated fats or vegetable oils will not lead to any of the benefits listed above but when extra virgin olive oil is used as a primary source of fat the potential goodness of this oil prevails.