According to a new study from Europe, it appears that polyphenols, the anti-oxidant compounds found in olive oil, may reduce LDL cholesterol levels and the build-up of LDL in arterial walls.
Now, as you may recall, I don’t typically put a lot of emphasis on cholesterol. That’s because cholesterol, in itself, isn’t the troublemaker the medical “authorities” say it is. And lowering it will do nothing to help lower your risk of having a heart attack or dying from heart disease.
However, cholesterol is an inflammatory marker in the body. So, for that reason, it’s worth keeping tabs on. I’ll tell you the best way to do that in just a minute. But first, let me tell you a little more about this new research.
In the study, called the EUROLIVE, healthy men, aged 20-59 years consumed a little less than an ounce of either an olive oil rich in polyphenols for three weeks, or an olive oil low in polyphenols. And the results were pretty amazing.
The men who consumed the polyphenol-rich olive oil showed a 12% reduction in total LDL, compared with a 5% increase in men consuming a low-polyphenol olive oil.
The polyphenol-rich olive oil was also associated with a reduction in the formation of abnormal fatty or lipid masses in arterial walls, including a decrease in small LDL particles and enhanced resistance of LDL against oxidation.
And oxidative LDL levels are a more useful predictor of heart disease risk than just total cholesterol levels or LDL cholesterol levels.
The problem is, the standard total cholesterol test most primary care physicians order for their patients won’t give you all this information. Which is why I recommend a screening called the Vertical Auto Profile, or VAP. The VAP gives a much more in-depth look at your blood lipids. Unfortunately, your doctor won’t order it for you unless you specifically request it. But it costs about the same as a regular, routine lipid profile. And it’s covered by Medicare and most insurance carriers, which is good news.
And, as this study shows, the even better news is that there’s a simple, natural way to improve your results.
Of course, there’s one very important detail from this study that shouldn’t be overlooked. In order to get these benefits, the olive oil you choose absolutely must be high in polyphenols! Remember, the study showed that low-polyphenol oil actually increased the number of dangerous small LDL particles.
So how do you know if your olive oil is high in polyphenols?
Well, there are a few guidelines I suggest you follow when choosing an olive oil:
- Look for a “harvest date” on the bottle. It should be within the past year. Unfortunately, this is hard to find unless you live in Italy. Seriously, it’s just about impossible to find this on any labels in the US, even if they were imported from Italy. More likely, you’ll see a “sell-by” date, which in most cases is two years after the harvest. But the polyphenol content diminishes drastically after two years. So the further away the “sell-by” date, the better.
- Age of the olive tree, the olives and harvesting method. Again, these aren’t facts that are easy to come by. You may be able to get this information from a high-end gourmet shop or direct from an importer. If you are able to track this info down, you want oil from greener olives grown on older trees—both of which have higher levels of polyphenols. Gentle harvesting is also a plus. If the olives were treated roughly and exposed to the elements, this would reduce polyphenols.
- How many times was it processed? As you can probably guess, the less processing the better. “Extra Virgin” means it was only cold-pressed once, and this has the highest levels of polyphenols. Extra Virgin is the only way to go. Anything else just isn’t worth it.
- Are you cooking with the oil or using is as a salad dressing? If you use extreme heat, you’ll burn up the polyphenols.
It’s a lot to consider…and some of it is nearly impossible to know for sure. Which is one of the main reasons I recommend macadamia nut oil instead of olive oil. It has all the same health benefits of olive oil—including polyphenols—without all the question marks.
But whether you choose olive oil or macadamia nut oil, the new research I told you about above just re-affirms what I’ve been telling you all along. Choosing high-quality, healthy oil is a simple way to reduce your chances of developing heart disease.
Want some proof? For the next few weeks, why not put yourself in your own study? Try taking 2 tablespoons of olive oil (only the purest you can find) or macadamia nut oil every day. (And don’t forget to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood every evening too.) Then at your next doctor’s appointment, ask for a VAP screening and see if your LDL number has gone down. It’s worth a shot.