Oil made from Mediterranean olives is one of the healthiest substances in the world. Years ago, researchers looked closely at what it called the “Mediterranean diet” and tried to pinpoint what it was that contributed to the low rates of heart disease in countries that bordered the sea. After accounting for all aspects of Greek food, Turkish food, Italian food, and others, there was one common denominator that stood out: olive oil.
Now there is a new direction for research into olive oil occurring. According to a new study, using lots of olive oil in one’s diet prevents the type of damage to cells that one day triggers cancer. The results could explain why, just like heart disease, the rates of many cancers are lower in Southern Europe (where olive oil is a staple in the diet) than in Northern Europe.
They looked at 182 men in Europe and found proof that olive oil limits oxidative damage to the DNA of cells, which is the exact chain of events from which cancer grows. The men were between 20 and 60 years of age, and lived in five different countries. Over two weeks, they all consumed one-quarter cup of olive oil each day. At the end, each man had an average 13% reduction in a substance that indicates how much oxidative damage occurred in the DNA.
This is a significant percentage based on the fact that it was just two weeks. In olive oil there are many healthful substances, including monounsaturated fatty acids and “phenols,” which are strong antioxidants. But, because the researchers used three different oils that had various levels of phenols, that substance didn’t account for the drop in cancer-causing cellular damage. Instead, they firmly believe that it is the massive unsaturated fat levels that are behind this effect.
This all means that olive oil is likely at least partly responsible for the dip in breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancer rates in Mediterranean countries. The researchers add that the diet extends beyond olive oil and is also high in fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains.
What we can take out of this study is further proof that the Mediterranean diet is the world’s most healthy — and disease-resistant — way to eat. The key is to replace saturated fat from meat and butter with vegetable fat from olive oil.