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Some Olive Oils are Better For You Than Others
One of the current theories regarding heart disease is that it's at least partially caused by a chronic level of low-grade inflammation in the body. Olive oil, as part of the style of eating known as the Mediterranean Diet, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

Does olive oil lose its health benefits when it is heated?
I have read this many times before and there have been people who have written to me about the topic. They have, in fact, been quite adamant that heating olive oil is very bad and unhealthy. The claims range from the heat producing everything from carcinogens contained in the smoke created by heating, to conversion to trans-fats. Fortunately, the science doesn't support these claims. 

Tomatoes, Olive Oil, and Heart Disease
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to protect against heart disease, but just why it does so isn't quite clear. Its effects have been credited to a variety of foods in the typical Mediterranean Diet, including components of the fruits and vegetables and the red wine. The effects have also been credited to tomatoes and tomato products, which are an important source of lycopenes (an antioxidant - See The Health of It All: Lycopenes). 


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Olive Oil Alone

If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for a while you've heard me talk about how following a Mediterranean-style diet, like The Dr. Gourmet Diet Plan or the plan outlined in Just Tell Me What to Eat! can have a positive impact on your health. There have been hundreds of research studies on the effects of the diet as a whole, and we know, for example, that a Mediterranean-style diet can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers.

A new study just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2012;96(1):142-9) took the novel approach of looking at the relationship between just one of the nine sections of the diet and the risk of death from various causes. They chose to study olive oil partly because it is the main source of fats, especially monounsaturated fat, in the diet.

The research was carried out in Spain, making use of data gathered through a large-scale, long term study including over 40,000 adult men and women who were tracked for an average of 14 years. At the start of the study the participants provided demographic and lifestyle information and responded to a detailed dietary questionnaire. Over the course of the study the researchers regularly followed up with the participants, and in the event that a participant died, they were able to determine cause of death through records kept in Spain's National Statistics Institute. The dietary and lifestyle factors, including the amount of olive oil they consumed, was then compared with the survivors.

What they found is fascinating: after adjusting for all sorts of variables that might affect an individual's risk of death, including Body Mass Index and Waist to Hip Ratio; amount of exercise; whether they had a history of diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer; whether they smoked; or how well their diet matched a Mediterranean-style diet; those who consumed the most olive oil were 26% less likely to die from any cause than those who consumed the least. In fact, every 10 grams of additional olive oil consumed per day represented a 7% reduction in risk of death for all causes - and a 13% risk of death from heart disease.

What this means for you

I am told that the ancient Greeks considered olive oil a potent source of health and youth - and they may well have been right. Find out what it means to follow a Mediterranean-style diet - and how delicious it is - by reading up on it in our section, "What is a Mediterranean Diet?"

First posted: July 11, 2012