Benefits of extra virgin olive oil

©2014 Francesca Kontea, Clinical Dietrician & Nutritionist

For over 3000 years Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has been characterised as ‘liquid gold’. Nowadays there is accumulating scientific evidence showing that EVOO consumption may benefit our health in numerous ways. Some of the most important attributes of EVOO is that it may reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, as well as Type 2 Diabetes.
Scientists now widely recognise that having some fat in the diet is crucial in many developmental processes through life, such as physical growth and hormone production. However it is now becoming increasingly apparent that eating the right types of fat may be more important to health than the overall amount of fat consumed. The World Health Organisation(WHO) is currently encouraging people to not only review the total dietary fat intake, but to also consider the types of fat consumed. A healthy balanced diet including EVOO consumption has been shown to be more beneficial to cognition and reduction of blood pressure, incidence of stroke and heart attack than low fat diets. But, what components of this ‘liquid gold’ are having such an effect?
Oleocanthal a compound found in Olives and Olive Oil has been found to mimic the action of the anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen. It is therefore thought of by scientists as a natural anti-inflammatory compound that may be beneficial in the treatment of joint and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Researchers are also studying the possible positive role of Oleocanthal in the treatment of various types of cancer including breast cancer. In addition EVOO contains substantial levels of precious antioxidants which are shown to reduce oxidative stress and thereby also reducing the risk of cancer.
EVOO is high in Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. It is widely recognised that a high consumption of saturated fatty acids found in meat and meat products, can have many negative health effects, such as increasing the risk of heart disease. Scientific literature indicates that the substitution of Saturated fats with Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated fats can lead to a wide range of health benefits including reduction of LDL cholesterol otherwise known as ‘Bad’ Cholesterol.
The WHO has also concluded that there is convincing evidence showing that substituting Carbohydrates with Monounsaturated fats can cause an increase in HDL, good cholesterol. Therefore EVOO may be an ideal choice for people following a low carbohydrate diet as long as recommended intake is not exceeded.
In conclusion there is a plethora of emerging scientific evidence showing how people may benefit their health by enriching their diet with EVOO. It is therefore apparent that one tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil per meal per day is a valuable investment in your cognition, cardiovascular and overall health. As a excellent source of Monounsaturated fats, EVOO should ideally be combined with foods such as fresh vegetables, avocados, nuts, grains as well as fish and specifically oily fish which are high in Polyunsaturated fats. It can be drizzled on salads, added to sauces, dips, casseroles, used in stir fries or for basting meat and fish.


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Francesca Kontea

Francesca Kontea

Clinical Dietician & Nutritionist BSc (Hons), CRD, registered member of the HCPC and BDA

Miss Kontea graduated from the University of Surrey attaining a BSc (Hons.) degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She has undertaken placements in three district general hospitals in the United Kingdome as part of the Country’s National Health System’s (NHS) clinical training of dietitians.

She is now a Certified Registered Dietitian (CRD) at the British Health Care and Professions Council (HCPC) as well as a registered member of the British Dietetic Association(BDA). Miss Kontea is presently engaged in a postgraduate degree in Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey as well as maintaining her own private practice in Athens.