Why Bring Olive Oil to the Restaurant?
I’ve been blogging and speaking about the health benefits of olive oil for quite some time, and with good reason. Olive oil, which is pretty much a staple in kitchens around the world, is not just celebrated for its rich, earthy flavor but also for its myriad health benefits. It is a central player in the Mediterranean diet, one of the world’s most researched and praised dietary patterns, olive oil boasts of nutritional components that contribute significantly to wellness. Among these components, polyphenols get a lot of attention, and rightly so.
1. What are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants, known for their antioxidant properties. These compounds play a role in the plant’s defense against ultraviolet radiation and pathogens. When consumed by humans, they carry forward these protective attributes in several ways.
2. Rich Source of Antioxidants
Olive oil’s high polyphenol content contributes immensely to its antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are crucial for human health as they combat free radicals, unstable molecules that can damage cells in the body. By neutralizing these free radicals, antioxidants in olive oil help prevent cellular damage and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
3. Cardiovascular Health
Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), has been linked to improved heart health. Studies suggest that polyphenols in EVOO can increase the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol while reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Moreover, polyphenols have anti-inflammatory properties, which help in reducing inflammation in blood vessels, a major factor contributing to cardiovascular diseases.
4. Brain Health
Emerging research highlights the potential of olive oil polyphenols in supporting cognitive functions. They appear to mitigate oxidative stress in the brain, which can be a factor in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Additionally, polyphenols can modulate brain plasticity, which could contribute to better memory and learning capabilities. And finally, olive oil, especially EVOO, has been shown to improve the function of the blood-brain barrier as I described in a recent blog entitles, How to Fix Your Leaky Brain.
5. Anti-Cancer Properties
Olive oil polyphenols have shown potential in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. While the exact mechanisms remain an area of active research, it is believed that these compounds can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells and inhibit their proliferation.
6. Diabetes Management
Olive oil may play a role in stabilizing blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity, making it a beneficial component for those at risk of type 2 diabetes. The polyphenols in olive oil are thought to be responsible for these effects by improving cellular response to insulin and reducing oxidative stress in metabolic pathways.
7. Digestive Health
The Mediterranean diet, abundant in olive oil, has long been associated with good digestive health. The polyphenols in olive oil may assist in protecting the digestive tract lining, promoting healthy gut bacteria balance, and facilitating smoother digestion.
8. Skin Health
Topical application and dietary intake of olive oil can contribute to healthier skin. The polyphenols protect the skin from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, one of the main factors in premature aging. Furthermore, they hydrate the skin, enhance its elasticity, and may even accelerate wound healing.
Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet, originating from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, places a significant emphasis on plant-based foods, lean proteins, whole grains, and, notably, liberal use of olive oil. This diet, laden with fruits, vegetables, and nuts, becomes even more potent with the addition of olive oil, enhancing its protective effects against chronic diseases.
Olive oil, with its high polyphenol content, transforms everyday meals into a powerhouse of nutrition. It’s not just a cooking medium; it’s a declaration of good health, a nod to tradition, and a testament to the age-old wisdom of the Mediterranean culture.
With this information in mind, let’s turn our attention to some real-world data looking at how we can continue to recommend olive oil consumption as a way to help improve health. An important study entitled, Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults, was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Over the course of nearly three decades, this meticulously designed study sought to uncover the broader health implications of olive oil consumption among Americans. Utilizing data from two significant cohorts—the Nurses’ Health Study, which included 60,582 women, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, encompassing 31,801 men—the researchers did a deep dive into examining the potential links between olive oil intake and overall as well as specific-causes of death. Dietary habits of these participants, all of whom were initially free from cardiovascular diseases and cancer, were tracked using a food frequency questionnaire administered every four years.
By the study’s end, 36,856 participants had passed away. Intriguingly, the results showcased a consistent pattern: those who consumed olive oil more frequently exhibited substantially reduced mortality rates. Specifically, high olive oil consumers faced a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, a 17% decrease in cancer mortality, a noteworthy 29% reduced risk for death due to neurodegenerative diseases, and an 18% reduction in respiratory disease-related deaths.
Furthermore, the study presented a compelling case for substituting commonly consumed fats. When participants replaced just 10 grams per day (2 teaspoons) of fats like margarine, butter, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with olive oil, the mortality risk plummeted between 8% to 34%.
This study reinforces olive oil’s well-documented cardiovascular benefits but also underscores its broader potential in promoting overall longevity and reducing risks associated with a variety of ailments including, as mentioned above, a dramatic risk reduction for mortality related to brain degenerative disease.
Yes, I suspect it looks a bit hokey when my wife and I bring olive oil with us when we eat out. But I’m certain it has become clear why we bother.