Replacing other fats in your diet with olive oil could reduce your risk of having a stroke by more than 40% according to a French study, published in the journal Neurology.
Olive oil has previously been identified as having many health benefits, such as reducing the risk of many cancers, being effective against HER-2 breast cancer, and lowering cholesterol levels. Because it contains monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, it is seen by many nutritionists as a healthy alternative to traditional fats.
What Did the Study Show?
The study was carried out by the French research center INSERM, and other academic and medical centers in France including the University of Bordeaux. Its aim was to assess the risk of people over 65 having a stroke, and to see whether this risk was affected by their olive oil consumption.
The research involved 7,625 participants from three cities; Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpellier. When the study began in 1999-2000, the participants were all over 65 and had no history of strokes. They were interviewed by psychologists and nurses about their dietary habits, and were asked what kinds of fats they used for cooking, and as spreads, dressings or dips.
The participants were divided into three groups; those that used olive oil intensively, those that used olive oil moderately, and those that never used olive oil. Over the following six years 148 of the participants suffered from strokes. The risk for the two extreme groups was as follows:
- The group that used olive oil intensely had a 1.5% risk of having a stroke
- The group that never used olive oil had a 2.6% risk of having a stroke
These results showed that over a six year period participants who never included olive oil in their diet had a 41% higher risk of suffering from a stroke than those that used olive oil intensely.
Dr Cecilia Samieri from the University of Bordeaux, who lead the study, stated “Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older. Stroke is so common in older people, and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.”
Although this study certainly does indicate that olive oil can have a protective effect against strokes in older people, and the results were adjusted for other stroke risk factors such as weight, smoking, and exercise, olive oil may not be the only reason for the reduction in stroke risk. It may be that the participants in the group that used olive oil intensely generally adhered more to the Mediterranean diet than the other groups.
The Mediterranean diet is now well known for its health benefits, and people that follow it tend to have a lower risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol, and better mental health. It is characterized by moderate consumption of saturated fats, dairy and red wine, very low consumption of red meat, and high consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, and olive oil.
How To Include Olive Oil in Your Diet
Here are four ways to incorporate olive oil into your diet:
- Add olive oil to foods after they are cooked. Although olive oil can be heated on the low to moderate heat setting, it has a low smoke point. Heating any fat beyond its smoke point is not a good idea because at this point, free radicals are released. The best way to combine olive oil with cooked foods is to add it after the cooking if finished.
- Use olive oil as a dip. Olive oil makes a delicious dip and is much healthier than many of the creamy dips available from supermarkets. For full flavor try pouring a little balsamic vinegar into a dish of extra virgin olive oil and dip fresh bread or cut vegetables into it.
- Use olive oil in salad dressings. Olive oil not only tastes great as a dressing for salads or vegetables but it also helps your digestive system break down your food more thoroughly, meaning that you get the benefit of all those good nutrients, and none of the uncomfortable symptoms of poor digestion. Try mixing olive oil with red wine vinegar and a little lemon juice.
- Use olive oil in sauces. Olive oil is the perfect ingredient for simple, healthy pasta sauces. Just saute some chopped vegetables with garlic in plenty of olive oil on low to moderate heat until they are soft, add tomatoes and herbs and simmer for ten minutes.