Diet for the Heart: Extra Virgin Olive Oil Lowers High Blood Pressure by 6%
Although the health and longevity of the Mediterranean people are associated with a diet for the heart, high in plant foods and low in animal products, what has really defined this traditional diet is the abundant use of olives and extra virgin olive oil, the principal fat source and the culinary foundation of the Mediterranean cuisine.
For centuries, extra virgin olive oil has been a major player in the low incidence of heart disease among Mediterranean populations. Extensive research has shown that this kind of olive oil can:
Prevent damage to the arteries
Reverse high levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood
Increase the level of HDL cholesterol
Lower high blood pressure, a major risk for strokes.
In a study conducted by Montoya and associates, the participants followed four types of diets for a five-week period: One diet was rich in saturated fats; one in polyunsaturated fat (sunflower oil); one in monounsaturated fat (extra virgin olive oil); and the last one in omega-3 fatty acids from fish. The study showed that when people followed the diet rich in extra virgin olive oil, their levels of bad cholesterol went down and their blood pressure decreased 5 to 6 percent.
Extra virgin olive oil or refined olive oil?
1. Refined olive oils are loaded with chemicals
Thousands of years ago, the olives were crushed by hand in spherical stone basins; today, in a similar method, olives (with pits) are pounded and crushed using mechanical techniques. The oil produced in such a way (cold) is the extra virgin olive oil, the natural juice from the olives. It preserves the unique flavor, smell, and healthy properties of the fruit.
The solid residue that remains after the first extraction is sent back to the press to be beaten again and be exposed to different heat levels and chemical procedures. It is neutralized with sodium hydroxide, passed through charcoal filters, and extracted with hexane at low temperatures. The resulting oil lacks color and aroma, and has lost most of its antioxidant properties. That's why these second extractions are not recommended for consumption. With time, the use of oils that have been subjected to chemical agents may have a toxic effect on our bodies.
2. Extra virgin olive oil contains more antioxidants than their refined versions
Countless studies conducted to examine the activities of some minor compounds in olive oil have indicated that they are strong antioxidants and potent free radical scavengers. Free radicals are highly unstable and destructive molecules that subject our cells to oxidative stress, continuous damage that eventually kills the cells. When radicals kill or damage enough cells in an organism, the organism ages and eventually dies. The antioxidants in olive oil are found in larger amounts in extra virgin olive oil than in refined olive oils.
Is extra virgin olive oil, more expensive?
Yes, it is more expensive but buying extra virgin olive oil may save you a lot of money and a lot of grief in the long run. A nine-month study at the University of Granada in Spain compared the effects of extra virgin and refined olive oils on the levels of LDL oxidation in men with blood vessel disease (decreased blood flow to the arms and legs due to the thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels).
The participants consumed extra virgin olive oil for the first three months. During the next three months they did not consume any olive oil. For the final three months they were given refined oil. The results showed that the amount of LDL oxidation in the arteries was significantly lower after the patients consumed the extra virgin olive oil than after they consumed refined olive oil.
Let's buy extra virgin olive oil and take care of our arteries.
Emilia Klapp has a Bachelor Degree in Nutrition Science and is certified as a Registered Dietitian by the American Dietetic Association. She is the author of Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet.
She was born and raised in Spain and she currently shares her time between Los Angeles, California, and Madrid, Spain. She does nutrition counseling and she teaches adult nutrition in Adult Day Care Centers.