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Is olive oil in the Mediterranean Diet is good for the heart?

Olive oil, tomato and herbs on rustic wooden table


Mediterranean diet comes highly recommended by healthcare professionals. If you want a healthy heart then this type of diet is for you. It incorporates the basics of healthy eating including fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and limits unhealthy fats. It even includes a splash of olive oil and a glass of wine.

But it is the olive oil that is of interest to a group of scientists.

According to them a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil may enhance the cardio-protective benefits of HDL or High Density Lipoproteins, also known as the “good” cholesterol – contributing this effect to the olive oil in the diet.

Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil improved key HDL functions - Reverse cholesterol transport, Antioxidant protection and Vasodilator capacity.

When there are high levels of LDL – Low Density Lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides in the body, it increases the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases. HDL will reduce this risk as it gets rid of excess cholesterol from the bloodstream.

But previous studies have shown that HDL does not work well in people with high risks of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases.

Other small trials have shown that consuming antioxidant foods like olive oil, tomatoes and berries improve the HDL function and humans and this is what the group of researchers tested on a larger scale.

296 people at a high risk of cardiovascular disease were randomly selected from the PREDIMED (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea) study. Blood samples were taken before the study and then after the study. The participants were at an average age of 66 years and were assigned to three diet groups:

• Traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with 4 tablespoons of olive oil each day
• Traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with a fistful of nuts every day
• A “control” healthy diet with reduced consumption of red meat, processed foods, high fat diary and sweets.

The Mediterranean diet included fruits, vegetables, and healthy legumes such as chick peas, beans and lentils along with whole grains and moderate amounts of fish and poultry.

The study found that the “control” healthy diet reduced total and LDL cholesterol levels. None of the diets increased HDL levels but they did find that the Mediterranean diet improved HDL function which was particularly significant in the diet with olive oil.

The researchers found that the control diet which was rich in fruits and vegetables like the Mediterranean diet had a negative impact on HDL anti-inflammatory functions, which was surprising.

A fall in in HDL’s anti-inflammatory capability is linked to cardiovascular disease. The study found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet did not experience any such decline in HDL’s capacity.

This study was mainly focussed on a high cardiovascular risk population, making it significant to them as they can gain the most benefit from consuming a Mediterranean diet and particularly with olive oil consumption.

A Mediterranean diet is healthy and does a world of good to our health. Add a dash or two of olive oil and it could protect our heart from cardiovascular diseases and improve the functioning of “good cholesterol” significantly.

Source: Circulation.


Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!