The Mediterranean countries, because of their diets, have much better health than most anywhere else in the world. It is certainly not a study, but we have to assume that because of their diets, it has a huge impact on the quality of their health and a lower risk of disease. Since a good, healthy diet of food is the foundation of our health, it may lower the risk of diseases, and an unhealthy diet, most assuredly, increases the risk of diseases. So, what makes the Mediterranean diet so healthy?
Well, we know eating more fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy diet, but experts believe something else is a major factor contributing to the health and well-being of those in the Mediterranean countries. Yes, increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but that may still not be enough.
There are two foods consumed in the Mediterranean countries that we do not consume in America. Wine at almost every meal (2-3 glasses daily), and PLENTY of high-quality olive oil consisting of a high concentration of polyphenols that, when consumed, provides a peppery, spicy aftertaste that sort of leaves a catch in the back of your throat, an indication of the level of polyphenols (Hydroxytyrosol) in olive oil.
On an average, each individual of some Mediterranean countries consumes 15-20 liters of olive oil per year. That averages to be about 4 tablespoons per day. We do not consume much olive oil in America at all. In fact, it is less than 1 liter per individual per year.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil -
Mary Flynn has been researching olive oil for over 30 years. I guess you could call her an expert in the nutritional value of olive oil and this is what she has to say;
“Published studies show that no other food comes close to Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.” Associate Professor Mary Flynn, Brown University.
Q and A with Extra Virgin Olive Oil Expert – Dr. Mary Flynn
Summary of the current evidence:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil has many well evidenced health benefits as an individual food, and as part of the Mediterranean diet.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the main source of fat, and the ubiquitous cooking medium, in the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is now well established through multiple systematic reviews and meta-analysis to reduce overall risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases and diabetes.1
The well-known PREDIMED study, a high quality randomized, controlled study, elucidated in more detail the effect of Extra Virgin Olive Oil specifically as part of the Mediterranean Diet. It compared a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with greater than or equal to 4 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil with a low-fat diet. This resulted in a thirty percent reduction in cardiovascular disease and stroke, and the trial was stopped after seven years for ethical reasons when the advantages of the Mediterranean diet became clear.2
The diet is now recommended by governments, scientists, and health professionals as an example of a nutritional gold standard to support health and wellness, with the PREDIMED trial often cited.3, 4
Extra Virgin Olive Oil as an individual food is now recognized for its health properties beyond those attributed to its fat profile. For more than two decades, evidence has been mounting into the role of the powerful bioactive compounds in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.5 It is now well established that the biophenols found in Extra Virgin Olive play a key role in the health attributes pertaining to this oil, particularly their antimicrobial, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.6
Further references on the positive effect of the biophenols in EVOO, and EVOO as an individual food on risk factors for disease such as blood pressure, blood glucose, plasma lipoproteins, oxidative damage, inflammatory markers, and platelet and cellular function are listed below.
The evidence on the beneficial effect on biophenols found in Extra Virgin Olive Oil is particularly strong for cardiovascular health with, as demonstrated by a permissible health claim in Europe. The European Food Safety Authority now includes a permissible health claim in recognition of the significance of the biophenol hydroxytyrosol and its derivates in Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the protection of LDL cholesterol from oxidative stress. This claim is: ‘Olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress’. The claim may be used for olive oil which contains at least 5mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (e.g. oleuropein complex and tyrosol) per 20g of olive oil. In order to bear the claim, information shall be given to the consumer that the beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 20g of olive oil.7
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the principal fat included in a Mediterranean Diet. The history of olive oil and the Mediterranean Diet dates back to 8,000 BCE.
What would you like to achieve in the field of olive health and wellness in the future? (e.g. any research desires, changes you may like to see in terms of population EVOO research).
I would love for people to realize that extra virgin olive oil has unique health benefits and that the health benefits are due to the phenol content of the oil, not the monounsaturated fat content. This is clearly demonstrated by studies comparing refined olive oil, which has minimal phenols, to higher phenol content olive oils. What has not been tested is how does canola oil compare to extra virgin olive oil? As of 2017, all US health guidelines that I know of recommend olive oil (and do not make the distinction of “extra virgin”) and canola oil interchangeably, despite no studies comparing them.
The Olive Wellness Institute is a science repository on the nutrition, health and wellness benefits of olives and olive products, which is
all subject to extensive peer review.
Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN developed this website starting in October 2015. She is an Associate Professor of Medicine (Clinical) at Brown University and teaches courses in nutrition at Brown, and lectures on nutrition in the Albert Medical School. She has been a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital (Providence, RI) since 1984. Her main research interest is how food can be used as medicine and her main food of interest is extra virgin olive oil, which she has been researching since 1998. In 2013, she founded The Olive Oil Health Initiative of The Miriam Hospital at Brown University that has a mission of educating the public and medical community on the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil. In 1999, she developed a plant-based, olive oil diet that she has tested for weight loss and improvement in clinical biomarkers for chronic disease in women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer; in men with prostate cancer; and to decrease food insecurity in low-income groups. She worked with McAuley House, Providence, RI to develop the Healing Foods program, which has a goal of combating type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity and heart disease that disproportionately impacts those living in poverty.
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