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Olive oil is a fat from olives or the fruit of Olea europaea trees.  It is used extensively in those who eat a Mediterranean diet. It contains unsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g.. oleic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid) which are considered healthy because they lower your bad (LDL) and total cholesterol.

This month in the British Journal of Nutrition, experts from Barcelona Spain evaluated the relationship between olive oil intake and heart disease using data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Spanish cohort study.  The EPIC study enrolled 40,142 individuals who initially had no heart disease between 1992 and 1996 and followed them until 2004. Dietary and lifestyle information was collected and followed over time. After adjusting for other cardiac risk factors (e.g.. age, smoking, hypertension, cholesterol levels) those in the highest one fourth (highest quartile) of olive oil intake had an overall 7% lower risk of developing heart disease compared to those who ingested less olive oil.  The risk of heart disease was 11% lower in those who never smoked, 25% lower in those with low alcohol intake, and 14% lower in those who used virgin olive oil.

Other aspects of the Mediterranean diet are also considered to be heart healthy. This diet consists of eating plant based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), and nuts. Olive oil replaces butter while herbs and spices are used instead of salt. Red meat is de-emphasized while fish or poultry is eaten at least twice per week.

In addition to being heart healthy, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease premature aging, lower mortality, decrease strokes, improve blood glucose control and decrease rates of some cancers.

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