While the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet are well-known, it’s only recently that a large scale study has shown that olive oil actually reduces cardiovascular risk factors.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
The large European study of people aged between 55 to 80 years in Spain saw significant improvements in risk factors for participants consuming olive oil on a daily basis.
The research published in the journal BMC Medicine looked at more than 7000 men and women at high risk of contracting cardiovascular disease.
It found those in a control group with diets supplemented with extra-olive oil and nuts, had a 30 per cent reduction in cardiovascular disease after a five year period.
Dr Marta Guasch-Ferre is a nutritional epidemiologist researcher in the Unit of Human Nutrition in the Rovira i Virgili University in Spain and a key researcher with the study.
“It’s the first time that it has been proven that olive oil in people with high risk cardiovascular disease could prevent cardiovascular disease. So in people who had risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There are some studies that have proven that olive is good for cardiovascular disease but this is the first study to prove it for the primary prevention of cardio vascular disease”
Sara Grafenauer from the the Dietitians Association of Australia says the results of the study are encouraging.
“These people were at high risk of heart disease so the fact that they saw such a dramatic improvement as a result of including olive oil or a handful of nuts, so there were two groups plus a control group and they got these results is absolutely fabulous that you’re seeing a food effect with olive oil and with that sort of healthy handful of nuts being included.”
Dr Marta Guasch-Ferre says olive oil contains compounds called phytosterols, which were shown to have a positive effect in even small servings of olive oil.
She says these compounds were common in early human diets, but are less common in modern western diets.
“What we have found is than for each 10 grams a day increase in extra-virgin olive oil, there was a reduction of 10 per cent in the risk of cardiovasucular disease. However olive oil should be included in a balanced diet including all types of food including fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish.
The study was conducted with people from Spain, a country which traditionally has high olive consumption.
And while the results are encouraging for people in the Mediterranean region, Sara Grafenauer, believes the results would be similar in other countries that don’t traditionally consume olive oil.
“Genetically we’re all actually pretty similar in this respect and so it would be interesting to test that in different populations. The beauty of having studies that in Mediterranean region is that their food choices, their culture, their cuisine naturally lend to olive oil type cooking so it would need to be studied in those populations. But I think like when we study mice we can assume that there are certain things that transfer across by studying a population it’s really about working with their cuisine.”