A spoon and a half a day of virgin olive oil does wonders for your health by significantly reducing the risk of death – but common olive oil has no benefit in protecting against mortality, according to a study.
This level of consumption – about 22 grams per day – reduces your risk of dying from any cause in any given period by 34%.
And it reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases, for example heart disease, by 57%, according to the research.
By contrast, common olive oil — which was refined — resulted in no reduction in either risk, the study found, although that’s not to say it didn’t. not potentially offer other health benefits.
This is the first research to directly compare the effects of virgin and common olive oils on mortality risk, based on a representative group of the general population – making it the most comprehensive study on the issue so far, according to experts.
The superior health properties of virgin or extra virgin olive oil (they are essentially the same thing, virgin olive oil being much less common) are believed to be due to the fact that they contain levels much higher antioxidants.
This group of chemicals protects against the effects of ‘free radicals’ – molecules produced by the body that have been linked to diseases such as heart disease and arthritis.
“This is the first study able to accurately differentiate the type of olive oil consumed: common and virgin. And this clearly shows that the one who brings benefits is the virgin, not the common,” said lead researcher Carolina Donat-Vargas, from the Autonomous University of Madrid. I.
“Currently, several dietary guidelines recommend healthy vegetable oils such as olive or canola oil as part of the usual diet. Based on our findings, these dietary guidelines should emphasize the preferable consumption of virgin olive oil compared to refined one,” she said.
“Whether virgin olive oil is also superior to other vegetable oils, however, needs to be tested in future studies,” Dr. Donat-Vargas added.
Despite the cost of living crisis, Dr. Donat-Vargas says that if you can, “it is worth making the economic effort to buy an extra virgin olive oil instead of a common oil , not only to eat raw, but also to cook”.
The research did not distinguish between raw olive oil — for example, that drizzled over a salad or spread on bread — and heated olive oil, used in stews, soups, or sauces. , for frying bacon or grilling vegetables.
She explains that extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point (240C) than other vegetable oils, so it is more resistant to temperatures.
This means that it does not break down and lose its nutritional properties or generate toxic substances.
“The message is to use extra virgin olive oil for everything in the kitchen and end the misguided belief that it should only be used raw. The higher the quality of the oil, the better is its smoke point and the better it cooks,” she said.
Experts not involved in the study welcomed its findings.
“These results are really important and will rightly be considered in all dietary guidelines – because mortality is the most important measurable endpoint in clinical research. This type of reduction in cardiovascular mortality is hardly achievable with a drug. — and without the side effects,” said Ramón Estruch, senior consultant in the hospital clinic’s internal medicine department and lead author of a landmark trial on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
“The type of olive oil that should be recommended for inclusion in a healthy diet should be extra virgin olive oil,” added Dr. Estruch, who is also an associate professor at the University of Barcelona.
“Although extra virgin olive oil is an excellent type of fat, it should be consumed as part of a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. Due to the synergies of the effects of different foods in the Mediterranean diet , it achieves higher healthy effects when consumed with healthy foods such as vegetables, legumes, wholemeal bread,” he adds.
It’s unclear exactly why extra virgin olive oil is so much more beneficial than common olive oil, although Dr. Donat-Vargas says it could be because it contains much higher levels. high in bioactive compounds such as polyphenols – a group of at least 8,000 compounds that protect plants against stressors, such as sun damage, insects and pathogens.
Humans may also benefit from these compounds, which may be rich in antioxidants, with strong anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties.
“Virgin olive oil is enriched with abundant bioactive compounds such as polyphenols that have a broad spectrum of beneficial health effects,” she says.
“However, during the refining process used to obtain the common variety of olive oil, most of these minor compounds are lost and chemical solvents are added. Therefore, these healthy compounds are essentially only found in sufficient quantities in the virgin variety of olive oil, which is obtained only by mechanical means by crushing and pressing the olives. “
“In contrast, common olive oil, which is a mix of virgin (20%) and refined (80%) contains far fewer bioactive compounds,” she said.
Some 12,161 people, aged 18 and over, representative of the Spanish population, were recruited between 2008 and 2010 and followed until 2019. Usual food consumption was collected at baseline with a validated computerized food history.
After a mean follow-up of 10.7 years (129,272 person-years), 143 cardiovascular deaths and 146 cancer deaths occurred.
The study is published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The difference between virgin and extra virgin is minimal and in practice there are only extra virgin oils, explains Dr. Donat-Vargas.
“A virgin oil is that obtained by first cold pressing of the olive and by mechanical processes. To be qualified as “extra”, it must respect certain acidity parameters. If it does not, it cannot be called “extra” but the nutritional quality and the polyphenol content are the same. It is difficult to find a virgin oil on the market that is not Extra Virgin.
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