Olive oil may help fight disease

Most health experts agree one of the best dietary fats to use regularly is extra-virgin olive oil. This oil, a mainstay in the Mediterranean Diet, is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and also contains disease-fighting phytonutrients.

Scientific studies now indicate these properties of extra-virgin olive oil may provide protection against disease.

For example, researchers writing in Journal of Nutrition found two biophenols found in extra-virgin olive oil — protocatechuic acid and oleuropein — prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol. LDL is known as the “bad” cholesterol because when it oxidizes it can deposit on artery walls.

Other research indicates olive oil may help fight breast cancer. Researchers reporting in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention found that among residents of Northern Italy those who consumed higher amounts of raw salad vegetables and olive oil had significantly reduced risk of breast cancer. Other studies have indicated extra-virgin olive oil can reduce the risk of some cancers, such as colon cancer, by influencing the metabolism of the intestines.

Olive oil contains 77 percent monounsaturated fat with only 9 percent polyunsaturated fat. Other good sources of monounsaturated fat include almonds and avocados.

While most other dietary oils are virtually absent of phytonutrient phenols, extra-virgin olive oil, obtained from the whole fruit using the cold-press technique, is very high in phenols. Other sources include fruits, vegetables, cocoa, and red wine.

Extra-virgin also is the tastiest and has less than 1 percent natural acid. It is best consumed raw on salads or used in low-heat cooking. Though the polyunsaturated portion is relatively low, this fat is subject to oxidation at high heat, and heat also may destroy the valuable phytonutrients in the oil.