By David Stein, MD
Department of Internal Medicine
We all get a lot of advice on what is, and what isn’t, a healthy diet. Fortunately, there’s one food that virtually everyone, from cardiologists to vegans, agree is extremely healthy to consume – olive oil.
Made from whole olives, olive oil is the primary fat utilized in the Mediterranean diet and believed to be a key reason for many of its health benefits. Observational studies of the Mediterranean diet using olive oil have shown it confers lower risk of not just stroke and cardiovascular disease, but also breast cancer and even dementia. These are all powerful reasons to make olive oil a part of your diet, with proper moderation.
A versatile monosaturated fat that is the mainstay of the Mediterranean diet, you can use olive oil for:
- All types of cooking, including baking and sautéing
- As a dip for bread
- Drizzling on pasta or pizza
- As a dressing for salads and other colorful vegetables
Scientists believe that the reason olive oil is so healthy is due to the high level of polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds that help protect the body from cellular damage caused by free radicals. (Too many free radicals can cause oxidative stress in the body which can lead to disease.) Olive oil is also high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation and are beneficial to overall health.
When you purchase olive oil, it’s best to choose an extra virgin olive oil, as this type of olive oil has the highest amount of antioxidants and is not processed with heat or chemicals before bottling. Extra virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 376 degrees F, so it is safe to use for most cooking methods. Although many people cook or fry foods using corn, sunflower, or canola oil, these products are highly processed, oxidize easily, and are not considered as healthy as olive oil. Since extra virgin olive oil is a natural product made from cold-pressed olives, it does not lose its health benefits during processing.
Considering all the health benefits contained in extra virgin olive oil, there’s good reason to use it regularly, especially when combined with the highly recommended Mediterranean diet. Enjoy up to 2 tablespoons of it daily – give it a try!