Health Benefits of Olive Oil

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Weight-Loss Benefits From Olive Oil

Medical professionals are greatly concerned about the obesity problem in the United States. Obesity often comes hand-in-hand with high levels of cholesterol and lipids in the blood (hyperlipidemia), heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain cancers, and a higher rate of premature death.

Health-care professionals often recommend following a strict but healthy diet in order to lose weight. But there may be some good news for those overweight folks who struggle to limit dietary fat.

Simply switching to olive oil will trim down your waistline a bit.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Simply switching to olive oil will trim down your waistline a bit.

Research suggests that replacing other types of fats with monounsaturated fat, especially olive oil, helps people lose a moderate amount of weight without additional food restriction or physical activity. So just imagine what adding a lower-calorie diet and increased physical activity (which is always a good idea) to the consumption of monounsaturated fats like olive oil could do for your weight-loss efforts.

FDA scientists reviewed many different studies when they evaluated whether to allow health claims for monounsaturated fat on food labels in 2003. The researchers wanted to ensure that a proposed recommendation to eat 13.5 grams (one tablespoon) of olive oil per day wouldn't contribute to weight gain in the American population.

A number of studies showed that when people substituted monounsaturated-fat-rich olive oil for saturated fat, they either maintained their weight or lost weight. A diet high in monounsaturated fat and low in carbohydrates actually resulted in more weight loss than a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet.

What's more, the FDA determined that eating 13.5 grams of monounsaturated fat in a dietary pattern low in saturated fat and cholesterol would reduce total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 5 percent, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in coronary heart disease.

However, the FDA did not approve this particular claim for food labels. Instead, the agency approved a stronger claim linking the consumption of 23 grams (about two tablespoons) of olive oil to a decreased risk of coronary heart disease.

Another study showed that when people ate monounsaturated fat, they ate less. For example, when served bread with olive oil, participants ate 23 percent less bread than when they ate it with butter, a saturated fat.

Scientists speculate that because monounsaturated fat is more satisfying than other types of fat, people eat less of it. Additionally, the body's metabolism of monounsaturated fat after a meal appears to be different from the metabolism of saturated fat. This difference in metabolism may be what causes slight weight loss. (Researchers haven't yet determined exactly how this works.)

Several other studies indicate that monounsaturated fat may even enhance the body's breakdown of stored fat. A study of rats that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in December 2003 found that monounsaturated fat facilitated the release of fat from rats' fat cells. Also, insulin became less able to prevent the breakdown of fat, which made it easier for fat cells to release their stored fat for elimination by the body.

Thus, an increase in monounsaturated fat in the diet (along with, presumably, an equivalent decrease in saturated-fat intake) may help with weight loss; results were opposite in the rats that were given polyunsaturated fat.

A pair of studies that were published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004 looked at whether a diet high in monounsaturated fat was more effective for weight loss than a diet that was low in total fat. The studies also examined the effects of a Mediterranean diet on blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The two studies tracked a total of 255 participants (155 in one study, 100 in the other) for 15 months. Researchers concluded that a Mediterranean diet was very effective for weight loss in the short term (3 months) and 15 months later.

Participants who completed the study's initial three-month program had better weight-loss results and regained less weight after 15 months than those who did not complete the program. These results were comparable to or even better than the typical results found in studies of common weight-loss programs and combination diet/drug therapy.

The study also found that a Mediterranean diet had favorable effects on HDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels at three months and a neutral effect on total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels. (A neutral effect means there were no significant changes in these measurements.) In the study with 155 patients, HDL levels increased by 9.6 percent and triglyceride levels decreased by 31.6 percent.

In a small Australian study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in September 2003, eight men were given all their food and beverages for four weeks. Their meals and snacks were either high in saturated fat or high in monounsaturated fat. Later, the men switched diets. There were no significant differences in the amount of calories consumed or the amount of physical activity the men did.

Yet the results showed that when the men substituted monounsaturated fat for saturated fat, they lost weight and body fat.

Oh, Those Powerful Olives

Not all olives are created equal. Just as some varieties of apples are sweeter or more tart than others, different varieties of olives yield varying amounts of oil. Large black olives typically purchased in a can from the grocer's shelf may contain as little as 7 percent oil. These are table olives. At the other end of the spectrum, some olives contain up to 35 percent oil. These are the ones used for pressing.

No matter where the oil comes from, increasing the amount of olive oil in your diet is a great way to eat your way to good health. Whether you are trying to lose weight or ward of harmful diseases, olive oil can be a simple remedy you can try.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gayle Povis Alleman is a registered dietitian with a bachelor's degree in traditional nutrition from Western Washington University and a master's degree in alternative nutrition from Bastyr University. This varied background allows her to bring together the best of both approaches to offer research-based, holistic information about wholesome foods, nutrition, and health. As a writer, educator, and speaker, she encourages people to achieve optimum health through food, nutrients, and physical activity.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.
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