By now, you’ve probably heard that olive oil consumption is associated with heart health and lower cardiovascular disease. For many years, doctors and scientists attributed this to the “healthy” unsaturated fats in olive oil, but recent evidence points to the “medicinal” polyphenolic molecules in the oil as the true heart guardians. These potent molecules mean that even a little bit of the right olive oil consumed daily can protect from cardiovascular disease and reduce existing damage to the heart and arteries. This is why cardiologists recommend switching to high-phenolic olive oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Heart Healthy
High-phenolic olive oils are naturally rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant molecules such as tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal, and oleuropein. Each one of these molecules in isolation, and in combination with olive oil, has been shown to improve cardiovascular health: lowering blood pressure, reducing the “bad” cholesterol, and preventing plaque formation. One study, conducted in Spain, followed participants over a period of five years and found that those supplementing their diets with high-phenolic olive oil had significantly lower incidence of heart disease. In fact, higher than average phenolic content is what qualifies an olive oil to be labeled heart-healthy, according to the European Health and Safety Authority.
What are the Important Polyphenols for Heart Health?
However, the type of phenols present in the oil is just as important as the overall phenolic content. A study in 2017 showed that those who consumed EVOO with high amounts of oleocanthal specifically, displayed the lowest risk of platelet aggregation and blood vessel blockage. Another report showed consumption of high phenolic oil with other high phenolic ingredients like thyme, reduced harmful cholesterol levels and the hardening of arteries.
The correlation between these compounds and cardiovascular benefits seems compelling, but the exact way in which phenols are causing these effects warrants more investigation. One study showed that introducing high phenolic olive oil into the diets of healthy participants for just three weeks caused changes in genes known to be involved in blood pressure regulation. These EVOO-induced gene expression changes resulted in decreased blood pressure post-study.
Best Olive Oil for Heart Health
How much olive oil do you need to protect your heart? There is no straightforward answer to that question. Most studies provide participants with two spoons per day, and this is enough to see positive effects. Yet, other studies show that the more olive oil people consume, the more protected they are. But quality is more important than the quantity – the more polyphenols the better, so always choose the highest-grade olive oil you can afford.