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Olive oil has been a mainstay of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years and is well known as a heart healthy fat. A study published online in Neurology now suggests that consuming olive oil may also help prevent strokes in older people.
The research was conducted in France at the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux. The researchers were so excited by their results that they suggested a new set of dietary recommendations to prevent stroke in people 65 and older. Stroke is very common in older people and they believe olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it.
Researchers looked at the medical records of 7,625 people ages 65 and older who had no history of stroke. Olive oil consumption was categorized as "no use," "moderate use" such as using olive oil in cooking or as dressing or with bread, and "intensive use," which included using olive oil for both cooking and as salad dressing or with bread. The study participants mainly used extra virgin olive oil, since that is 98 percent of what is available in France.
After a little over five years, there were 148 strokes among the participants but those who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as dressing had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who never used olive oil in their diet (1.5 percent in six years compared to 2.6 percent).
The authors weren't clear about which particular elements of olive oil could be responsible for the protective effects. In fact, the benefits of olive oil could even be indirect by making other healthy foods tastier.
When buying olive oil, quality does matter in order to obtain the health benefits. Recent studies have found that "extra virgin olive oil," obtained from the first pressing of the olives, is healthier than oil labeled "virgin olive oil" or just "olive oil." This is because the extra virgin oil contains higher levels of anti-inflammatory compounds which protect against unwanted inflammation.
Extra virgin olive oil contains higher concentrations of phytonutrients and especially polyphenols (antioxidants). These compounds decrease the risk of heart disease and also have been shown to lower blood pressure.
Other research shows olive oil turns off the genes that lead to heart disease and inflammation.
What does this mean for you? First, clear your cupboards of fats like corn or soybean oil, vegetable oil or sunflower oil, and start using olive oil instead.
And definitely splurge on the extra virgin olive oil. Don't be fooled by the lower priced varieties or inferior products marketed as "light." They won't give you the same benefits.