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Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Heart Health

The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and a system of vessels consisting of arteries, veins, and capillaries. In this intricate network, the heart functions by pumping blood and allowing it to flow throughout our bodies. Arguably one of the most essential organs, it’s imperative we do what we can to ensure the heart is protected. Two places we can focus our efforts are diet and exercise. Today we’ll focus on diet –– more specifically, the benefits of extra virgin olive oil!

What is Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)?

Let’s begin by unpacking some information regarding major heart diseases. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term that includes “... all types of diseases that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease (clogged arteries), which can cause heart attacks, stroke, congenital heart defects and peripheral artery disease” (1). As you can see, a wide variety of heart diseases impact people everywhere. In fact, over 800,000 people die of cardiovascular disease in the U.S. every year (1). But this number can decrease. According to the CDC, cardiovascular disease is a leading killer, yet “80% of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, are preventable” (2)
Since such a deadly disease can be prevented, you may be wondering what measures we should be taking to protect ourselves. In particular, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests that we ask doctors about blood pressure, cholesterol, and A1C, while simultaneously reducing sodium intake, keeping physically active, controlling weight, refraining from smoking, and managing stress (1). Overwhelmed by these steps? No problem –– let’s simply focus on the diet piece!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its usage of extra virgin olive oil. It contains polyphenols, phytosterols, and vitamin E, all of which act as bioactive and antioxidant components (3). A study conducted by Guasch-Ferré et al. (2014) suggests that “Olive oil intake is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the general Spanish population and in a cohort of Italian women” (3). The researchers found that greater consumption of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) was associated with “Reduced cardiovascular disease and mortality risk in an elderly Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular risk” (3). Evidence suggests it is beneficial to incorporate extra virgin olive oil to help prevent future health issues.

Comparatively, another study by Guasch-Ferré et al. (2020) found, “Higher olive oil intake was associated with a lower risk of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and total CVD in two large prospective cohorts of U.S. men and women” (4). These findings suggest that by increasing extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) into our diets, we can lower our risk of facing CHD and even CVD. 

The study goes on to state, “The substitution of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat with olive oil could lead to lower risk of CHD and CVD.” These condiments are common additions in everyday meals, but they can be easily substituted for extra virgin olive oil to make your meal more heart healthy. It may seem intimidating, but it’s important to continue taking steps to form a healthy and nutritious diet.

Recipes

Creating a healthy diet can be intimidating. It may feel like you’ll have to sacrifice your favorite foods for eternity. Thankfully this isn’t the case! As you will see on Olivaio’s website, it merely means replacing less desirable ingredients with nutritious alternatives. You and your family can even try making the classic, family favorite Neapolitan style pizza. As you will see, the ingredients are easily accessible and delicious!

Written by Mridini Chandrasekaran
Reviewed by Reviewed by Kelly Powers, MA, RDN, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who takes a holistic approach to nutrition and health. Kelly is a recipe developer with a food blog highlighting whole foods, simple recipes, and her life in San Francisco. She’s the creator of 52 Weeks, a weekly meal plan program that helps users get back in the kitchen and feed themselves well. Kelly is also a co-founder of Olivaio

Image Credits: elements.envato.com/user/Feirlight