Why I Recommend Olive Oil
I encourage my patients to increase healthy fat intake. Along with fish, certain nuts and seeds, avocado, and even a few saturated fats like coconut oil, I strongly advocate for daily intake of extra virgin olive oil. Most patients know that olive oil is healthy, but are confused about how to incorporate this oil into their everyday diet. More on that shortly.
Those that follow Mediterranean style eating (fruits, veggies, nuts, olive oil, fish, a "little wine") have a longer life expectancy and lower risk of stroke, heart disease and hypertension. Other diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease may also be reduced in the context of regular extra virgin olive oil consumption.
Olive oil is a rich source of not only monounsaturated fatty acids but also polyphenols; polyphenols are micronutrients that are chock full of antioxidants and health benefits. A meta-analysis suggests that the benefits of olive oil exceed the benefits of other rich sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, which may mean those polyphenols are playing a large role in the benefits. (Avocado and macadamia nuts are probably the other two richest sources of monounsaturated fats; liquefy a macadamia nut and it will be 82 percent identical to olive oil!)
Olive oil consumption may:
- Lower LDL
- Increase HDL
- Improve HDL function (improved ability to get cholesterol out of the artery wall compared to a version lower in polyphenols)
- Reduce LDL oxidation (makes it less dangerous)
- Reduce blood coagulability particularly after eating meals–it thins the blood a bit
- Reduces TMAO levels (TMAO is a substance made by bad gut bacteria and is linked to coronary artery disease)
- Improves endothelial function in your arteries as measured by an increase in circulating nitric oxide. Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels which improves blood flow.
- Induce apoptosis in certain cancer cells (I explain apoptosis to patients as “self destructing”)
While olive oil may cost a little more and have a distinctive aftertaste, I think it’s worth the effort. Aim for 1.5 to 2 tablespoons daily, which is the amount in most of the studies demonstrating benefit.
Most patients are only willing to swap their usual salad dressings for ones using olive oil, which often requires packing lunch or having a stash of olive oil at work. But you can also dip evening vegetables in olive oil—this actually helps with vitamin and nutrient absorption.
You can also do as I do: Take a tablespoon or two of a high-quality, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil as part of breakfast. Yes, I take it like a tablespoon of cough medicine—straight. The polyphenols give it a slightly bitter taste, which is characteristic of high quality extra virgin olive oil and is something that experts look for when certifying an oil as extra virgin.
These are the best ways to get the benefit. In general, you’ll want to avoid cooking with extra virgin olive oil—especially at high temperatures as it has a lower smoke point (the point at which oil oxidizes or “browns”). Instead, regular olive oil should be used for low and medium heat cooking.