Eating olive oil thought to ward-off disease, promote healing
Can an oil-filled diet really add years to your life? If it’s olive oil, then yes. According to a new study, a generous intake of the healthy fat can help prevent strokes for older individuals.
The research, conducted in France, shows that people ages 65 years and older who use olive oil for cooking and as dressing had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who never use it.
“Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it,” says the author of the study, Cecilia Samieri, PhD, with the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux, France.
The health benefits of olive oil stretch far and wide, with many doctors linking it to the prevention of diabetes, obesity and other cardiovascular diseases. Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of Columbia University who wrote a follow-up editorial based on the study, notes that the particular protective element of olive oil is not immediately recognizable. He also says that the information provided by the study is applicable to Americans, as their intake of olive oil is generally comparable to that of the French.
“The subjects used in this study do not consume very large amounts of olive oil, like Greeks, Italians and Spaniards do,” he said, noting that if a food or nutrient is beneficial, it is beneficial to most ethnicities.
The study was conducted by looking at the medical records of 7,625 people aged 65 and older with no history of stroke. Their consumption of olive oil was grouped into three categories: “no use,” “moderate use” and “intensive use.” After five years, there were 148 reported strokes, with those who regularly used olive oil at a much lower risk.
While this news sounds great to olive oil fans (and who doesn’t love a slice of bread dripping in the stuff?), Scarmeas warns against getting too giddy with prospects. He notes that it might be the foods olive oil is traditionally added to (like salads loaded with veggies and whole grain breads and pastas) providing the benefits, not the oil itself, and that follow-up studies on the matter are the only conclusive way of knowing for sure.
Elisa Zied, a New York City-based registered dietitian and author of the book, “Nutrition at Your Fingertips” (November 2009, Alpha Books/Penguin), says a recent review of several studies also showed that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats (like those found in olive oil) lowered total cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels more than a low fat high carbohydrate diet.
“Olive oil also a good source of vitamin E, a fat soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant and fights damage caused by harmful free radicals in the body and in the environment that can contribute to the development of disease,” Zied says.