Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Olive Oil for a Healthy Heart

Good news here?
I went for a semi-annual checkup at my doctor’s recently.  I was delighted to hear him report that the results of my fancy blood work confirmed what he and I both suspected – that I am I am vigorously alive and quite well.  Good news.  At my age I get a little nervous.  My blood pressure remains a puzzle for us both, however.  For twenty years it has been high—not dangerously high, and well controlled with medication, but stubborn when it comes to responding to non-medical means of control.

In our conversation that followed, he shared with me that a new study has shown what others have suggested, that olive oil can be very helpful in preventing heart disease, and may make an impact on my blood pressure.
An ancient and wonderful food
So I did some reading…

To be sure, olive oil all by itself may not help much, but in conjunction with a diet of a good variety of vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and seeds, it can make a big difference in overall heart health.  In a recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, participants were to consume at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil a day, or an ounce of mixed nuts.  The benefit was so great--a 30 percent reduction in risk, even among people at high risk, many of whom were already taking drugs for high blood pressure and cholesterol levels--that the researchers stopped the trial early, considering it wrong to continue when the benefits were so apparent. I should, in fairness, mention that the same study also recommended seafood, fatty fish like salmon, tuna, or sardines; a tomato, garlic , and onion sauce in olive oil at least twice a week.  Some wine is good, as is chocolate, as long as it’s at least 50% cocoa.

High quality foods + olive oil
Back to olive oil.  It is high in monounsaturated fat (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fat, (PUFAs),both of which can help lower cholesterol and control insulin levels in the body. The way it works is that, as the coronary arteries provide blood to the heart muscle, the MUFAs help to keep those arteries clear so that your heart can get enough oxygen and nutrients to keep pumping. The benefits of olive oil thus abound, and include the following:

       - Consuming more than four tablespoons a day can significantly lower your risk of having a heart attack, suffering from a stroke, or dying of heart disease.

      - Some research shows that MUFAs may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes.

     -  May help to prevent some forms of cancer.

Many choices
Buying and Storing

When you’re buying olive oil, look for the extra virgin, cold pressed, which is the least refined, and thus retains the most of its valuable nutrients.  It is also good to buy olive oil that comes in dark green glass or metal, both of which protect it from light.  Heat and light can damage the oil by creating oxidation which will also change the beneficial chemical compounds.

Olive oil is best stored at room temperature, where it will keep for about a year, or within six months after it is opened. Some of the healthy phytonutrients, as well as the taste, can slowly degrade over time. 

A  Reminder

As beneficial as good olive oil seems to be, it’s important to remember that it is a fat, so has a high caloric content.  It is certainly a better choice than many other fatty foods, such as vegetable oils and margarine, not in addition to them.  Additionally, unhealthy foods cannot be made healthier by adding olive oil to them.  You know what I’m talking about here.

My Takeaway

With regard to my elusive blood pressure, I’m going to increase my olive oil consumption, and keep it balanced with the substantial amount of raw nuts and seeds I consume.  I also am fond of coconut oil, also very beneficial for many of the same reasons that olive oil is.

Let me know what you think about all this. In my next post, I’ll talk a little more about some aspects of olive oil that I have found very interesting.  It's a wonderful, beautiful food.


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