Asked by Uma Gopakumar, Gilbert, Arizona
How healthy is olive oil for the heart? Does it control cholesterol?
Diet and Fitness Expert
Dr. Melina Jampolis
Physician Nutrition Specialist
Hi Uma - There is a great deal of research suggesting that extra virgin olive oil, the principal source of fat in the Mediterranean diet (which is also rich in vegetables, cereals, fruit, fish and wine), is very healthy for your heart in several ways. Olive oil is composed predominantly of the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. Consumption of monounsaturated fat, particularly when consumed in place of unhealthy saturated fat such as butter, cream, cheese, mayonnaise and high-fat meats or unhealthy carbohydrates such as sugary or highly processed grains, can help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides, raise good cholesterol and lower blood pressure.
Olive oil is also a rich source of potent antioxidants called polyphenols, which may help slow the progression of atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries because of cholesterol and inflammatory cell accumulation) by decreasing the susceptibility of bad cholesterol to oxidative damage and stress.
In addition to being heart-healthy, research suggests the olive oil-rich Mediterranean diet may also protect against age-related dementia, Alzheimer's disease and certain types of cancer. Just remember that although olive oil is very healthy, it is also very high in calories, so it is important to watch your serving sizes and to consume olive oil in place of, not in addition to, less-healthy foods to avoid weight gain, which may negate some of its beneficial health effects.
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