Mediterranean populations have among the lowest rates of heart disease and the longest life spans of any in the world. And it’s not by virtue of their low-fat diet. Italians, Greeks, and other Mediterraneans thrive on a diet that contains up to 40 percent fat. However, most of this fat is monounsaturated olive oil.
Researchers recently conducted a study to determine if consuming high amounts of olive oil (defined as using it in both cooking and as a dressing) was related to a lower incidence of strokes. After following participants (all with no history of stroke) for five years, the researchers found that those who used the most olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke than those who never consumed it.
In a secondary evaluation, those with the highest blood levels of oleic acid (which is the type of fatty acid in olive oil) had a 73 percent risk reduction compared to those with the lowest level.
Olive oil is also rich in polyphenols (compounds that enhance levels of nitric oxide). Nitric oxide is a potent antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol from free radical damage, helps keep the inner lining of the arteries free from plaque buildup, and prevents platelets in the blood from sticking together.
To reap these heart-healthy benefits, use olive oil as both a salad dressing and for cooking. Just make sure the label says “extra virgin.”