The Mediterranean diet is favored by people around the world, and not only for the rich flavors and textures associated with this traditional cuisine. A wide range of health benefits have been ascribed to the Mediterranean pattern of eating, including protection against heart disease, depression, cancer, high cholesterol and dementia.
Brightly colored vegetables and fruit are typically found on the menu, as are cold-water fish, whole grains and healthy fats, especially extra virgin olive oil. Any of these foods eaten regularly, alone or in combination, might be responsible for improvements in health.
Scientists and health-care providers have increasingly been turning their attention to the fruit of the olive tree and its oil, and in some cases to olive leaves, all with good reason.
Heart Health Benefits
The Mediterranean diet developed in an area of the world where the olive (Olea europaea) has long been cultivated. In turn, olives and olive oil hold a place of prominence on the dinner table, so much so it is estimated that nearly half of all the fat ingested in the region comes from olives.
This is noteworthy because olives are known to be an excellent source of monounsaturated fat (oleic acid), to which many of olive oil’s health benefits have been ascribed, especially its capacity to help prevent heart disease. Both olives and high-quality olive oil have been studied for their potential beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels, their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and their mild blood-thinning effects that may help prevent inappropriate blood clot formation.
Olives and olive oil contain a variety of additional compounds that may also offer health benefits. Antioxidant phenols such as hydroxytyrosol possess antimicrobial activity, “thin” the blood, and may help ensure the proper flow of nutrients throughout the body by dilating blood vessels.