Amazing Liquid Gold

By: Catherine Ebeling, RN, BSN

We have all heard time and again about the benefits of olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil. So much so, that even though research continues on this amazing oil, it doesn’t tend to be big news anymore. But it should! Olive oil has some amazing health benefits and some of these may really surprise you.

Olives are one of the oldest known foods and thought to have become a diet staple in the Mediterranean around 6,000 years ago on the island of Crete.

Olive oil still is a principle factor of the Mediterranean diet. Today, much of the commercial cultivation of olive oil is still centered in the Mediterranean region in Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Turkey. Olive oil varieties are a bit like wine, where different growing conditions, soil and weather dictate the taste, color and type of oil harvested.

Extra virgin olive oil is made from the crushing and the first pressing of olives. Extra virgin olive oil has the heartiest, fruitiest flavor and most health benefits as well.

Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers are discovering has numerous significant health benefits. When you compare the Mediterranean diet, where olive oil is the main fat used, to the standard diet of the United States, where other fats such as animal fats, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils like corn oil and soybean oil dominate, you will see some huge differences.

We already know that people who use olive oil regularly, especially in place of other fats, have much lower rates of heart disease, but did you know they also have lower rates of atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and asthma?

Relying primarily on olive oil may cut your risk of coronary heart disease almost in half, according to recent results published in Clinical Cardiology.

Prevents Oxidation of LDL
Studies on olive oil and atherosclerosis reveal that the particles of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in the body, that contain the monounsaturated fats of olive oil are less likely to become oxidized. Since it is the oxidized cholesterol that is harmful and sticks to blood vessel walls, we know that the oxidation is what we want to avoid.

Lowers Cholesterol
A study published in the Medical Science Monitor reported that two tablespoons a day of olive oil added to an otherwise unchanged diet in 28 outpatients, ranging in age from 64 to 71, resulted in significant drops in total- and LDL cholesterol.

Improves the HDL:LDL Ratio
Plus, subject’s ratio of HDL:LDL is greatly improved; they ended up with higher amounts of protective HDL in relation to lower amounts of dangerous LDL cholesterol.

Full of Heart Healthy Antioxidants
Three other recent studies 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.
Reduces Inflammation in the Lining of Blood Vessels
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).

Prevents Plaque buildup on blood vessel walls
By protecting LDL against oxidation, olive oil stops the process through which atherosclerotic plaques form.

Cuts Down on Clotting of Platelets
Olive oil contains a compound that inhibits the platelet activating factor (PAF). PAF begins the clotting process by causing platelets to aggregate and is also involved in the activation of immune cells and their binding to the endothelial wall.

Virgin olive oil, a much richer source of polyphenols than refined olive or other refined oils, is the best vegetable oil for heart health, shows the results of the Eurolive study, published in the September 2006 Annals of Internal Medicine.

It's likely the abundance of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, not the monounsaturated fatty acids, are responsible for its well-known cardiovascular benefits.

The Reason the Mediterranean Diet Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
Olive oil may be the primary reason that eating a Mediterranean diet reduces breast cancer risk, suggests a laboratory study published in the Annals of Oncology. Oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, has been shown to reduce the expression of the Her-2/neu oncogene, which is associated with the aggressive growth of breast cancer tumors. High levels of Her-2/neu are found in one-fifth of breast cancers, especially those that are resistant to treatment.

When they combined oleic acid with Herceptin, a drug used to treat breast cancer, oleic acid greatly enhanced the effectiveness of the drug, dropping Her-2/neu expression as much as 70% and lessened the effective dosage of the chemotherapy drug as well. The end result: oleic acid promoted the apoptotic cell death (suicide) of aggressive, treatment resistant breast cancer.

Better Blood Sugar Control
Studies in diabetic patients have shown that healthy meals that contained some olive oil had better effects on blood sugar even than healthy meals that were lower in fat.

In addition to this, a good diabetic diet with some olive oil added helps to keep the triglyceride levels low. Triglyceride levels tend to be high in diabetic patients, which is a key component to the development of heart disease.

Helps Prevent Belly Fat and Improve Insulin Sensitivity
What you eat may affect where fat deposits on your body. Belly fat is associated with insulin resistance, which leads to further weight gain and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

When researchers fed type 2 diabetic patients different diets - a high carbohydrate diet, or a diet rich in either saturated fat or olive oil (Mediterranean diet) - the high carb diet increased abdominal fat compared to the either of the fat-rich diets. Of the three diets, the diet rich in olive oil did best, preventing not only belly fat accumulation, but the insulin resistance and drop in adiponectin seen after the high carbohydrate diet meals.

Adiponectin, a hormone produced and secreted by fat cells regulates sugar and fat metabolism, improves insulin sensitivity, and has anti-inflammatory effects on the cells lining the blood vessel walls. Low blood levels of adiponectin are a marker for metabolic syndrome (a pre-diabetic condition), and are also associated with increased heart attack risk.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Regular use of olive oil has been associated with lower rates of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, because the monounsaturated fats in olive oil help the body produce anti-inflammatory substances. 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.

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 grain-fed meats, corn, safflower and sunflower oils) contributes to the development several health conditions where inflammation is the key ingredient. Olive oil compounds are capable of either significantly inhibited production of these problem-causing molecules or rendered them harmless.

Olive Oil Phenols' Help Prevent Bone Loss
The bone-sparing effects of olive polyphenols revealed in several scientific studies are so dramatic that a new Belgian supplement company, BioActor, has licensed patents to use olive polyphenols for osteoporosis prevention.

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 also contributes to osteoporosis. Today, a woman's lifetime risk of osteoporotic fracture is 30-40%, and even men face about a 13% risk.

Olive Oil Phenols Protect DNA from Free Radical Damage
When women in a research study consumed extra-virgin olive oil high in phenols, their DNA experienced a whopping 30% less damage than that seen when they consumed an olive oil in which the content of phenols, which can be destroyed by light and heat, was low! Thirty percent!

One scientist noticed that high quality olive oil produced a throat-stinging sensation similar to that caused by ibuprofen. A compound in olive oil (oleocanthal) actually suppresses the prostaglandin system in a similar way that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, such as ibuprofen work.

Although oleocanthal should be present in any extra-virgin olive oil, concentrations will vary depending upon a range of factors, including the variety of olive and the age of the olives at pressing.

The best way to check your olive oil for oleocanthal content? Taste a spoonful of the oil and see how strongly it stings the back of the throat. The greater the sting, the greater the oleocanthal content.

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.

And it is no surprise that 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.

Olive Oil Effective Against Helicobacter Pylori
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.

Virgin olive oil, one of the few edible oils that are 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, it was also found that olive oil has the ability to kill H.pylori even against some strains resistant to antibiotics.

This Healthy Fat Burns Body Fat
Substituting olive oil, a monounsaturated fat or MUFA, for other processed vegetable oils in your diet can translate 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. At the end of the MUFA-rich diet, despite the fact that no significant differences were detected in caloric intake, 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 body fat cells (adipocytes).

Are You Convinced Yet?

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 and may actually cause more harm than good, but when pure, extra virgin olive oil is used as a primary source of fat in a whole foods, healthy eating plan, the potential goodness of this oil prevails.

Extra virgin olive oil-organic, if available-may cost a bit more than lesser quality oils, but the significant increase in cardiovascular benefits, not to mention richer flavor it provides, make it an extremely good investment in your health.

Enhances Health Benefits of Broccoli and Cruciferous Vegetables
Broccoli is known to be a rich source of cancer-preventive glucosinolates, phenols, vitamin C and minerals (potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, zinc, and copper). Stir-frying methods that would best maintain broccoli's rich array of nutrients were investigated by Spanish researchers.

When they stir-fried freshly harvested broccoli florets in various edible oils (extra virgin olive oil, refined olive oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil), they discovered that levels of vitamin C and phenolic compounds were more affected than those of minerals and glucosinolates. Only broccoli lightly stir-fried in extra virgin olive oil or sunflower oil retained the same glucosinolate and vitamin C levels as uncooked broccoli

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
  • - Use extra virgin olive oil in your salad dressings. Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes and extra virgin olive oil together to make exceptionally delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste. 
  • - Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over healthy sautéed vegetables before serving. 
  • - Purée extra virgin olive oil, garlic and your favorite beans together in a food processor. Season to taste and serve as a dip. 
  • - Instead of putting the butter dish out on the table, place a small cup of extra virgin olive oil out instead to use on your bread or rolls. For extra flavor, try adding a little Balsamic vinegar or any of your favorite spices to the extra virgin olive oil. 
  • - Marinate your meats in a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice and seasonings to enhance its health effects.
Enjoy this liquid gold whenever and wherever you can!

George Mateljohn, WH Foods,

Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986 1986.

Hashim YZ, Eng M, Gill CI, McGlynn H, Rowland IR. Components of olive oil and chemoprevention of colorectal cancer. Nutr Rev. 2005 Nov;63(11):374-86. 2005.

Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988 1988.