How to Protect Your Heart with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in America.  

Though many lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise, can prevent and even reverse cardiovascular disease, it often goes undetected. It’s referred to as a “silent killer,” meaning symptoms are often overlooked until a traumatic event, like a heart attack or stroke, occurs. 

Additionally, it’s often something we’re battling most of our life, as plaque build up can start as early as childhood. As we age and more plaque is present, our heart must work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body. 

In addition to creating extra work for the heart, this plaque is seen by the body as a foreign invader, triggering an immune response called inflammation. White blood cells rush to defuse the threat, causing inflammation within the blood vessels. 

And when plaque remains, inflammation persists. This results in chronic inflammation and constricted blood flow. 

Think of it this way –– if you compare blood vessels to a straw, imagine what happens when you make a chunky smoothie. If a piece of fruit clogs the straw, it makes it harder for that delicious smoothie to travel from the glass to your mouth. This is because the pathway becomes too narrow for the drink to easily flow through it. 

When this occurs in blood vessels, blood pressure rises due to the pressure caused by the blood trying to move through a narrowed space. And, if the pathway becomes completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack or stroke, depending on the location of the blockage.

So what can we do to prevent, or even reverse, this plaque build up and inflammation? 

The American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean diet and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) as one key component of diet change that can lower inflammation within the blood vessels. 

But why extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)?

According to Buckland, “There is converging evidence on the benefits of olive oil for preventing several CVD risk factors, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.” This was concluded from a review of recent cohort studies and dietary intervention trials. Buckland also stated, “These health benefits are supported by strong mechanistic evidence from experimental studies, demonstrating that specific components of olive oil have antihypertensive, antithrombotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic action.” 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) also contains monounsaturated fats that help lower LDLs and raise HDLs.

  • HDLs = take plaque away from the arteries and remove it from the body
  • LDLs = take plaque to the arteries and contribute to build up

According to the American Heart Association, “adhering to the Mediterranean diet, especially when enriched with virgin olive oil, was associated with increases in four important HDL functions: ability to remove cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol metabolism, HDL antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and vasoprotective effects.” 

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is an all-around beneficial source of nutrition to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Written by Chloe Morrill

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How does extra virgin olive oil help prevent heart diseases and strokes?
Extra virgin olive oil helps lower "bad" cholesterol and raise "good" cholesterol to prevent plaque buildup in arteries and blood vessels. This also attributes to extra virgin olive oil's anti-inflammation properties that prevent heart diseases and strokes.

Q: Is there any difference in between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil in regards to heart health?
Extra virgin olive oil may be better for heart health as extra virgin olive oil contains more natural antioxidants and vitamins, which are often lost during processing of regular olive oil, that contribute to anti-inflammation properties and reduce plaque buildup.

Q: How should I incorporate extra virgin olive oil into my diet?
Try following or going on the Mediterranean diet that uses monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and focuses on daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. The Mediterranean diet has been known to be one of the most effective diets for heart health and disease prevention.