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It’s absolutely not news by now that following a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Just a few months ago, I wrote about how the Mediterranean diet may boost the effectiveness of statins, the widely-prescribed class of drugs that lowers “bad” cholesterol in an attempt to fight heart disease. So is it any wonder this diet is a natural way of eating in countries like Greece, Italy, Spain, and North Africa?
Now, a new study takes a closer look at whether eating more olive oil, one of the main components of the Mediterranean diet, is associated with a lowered risk of heart disease here in the United States. And with COVID-19 on the loose, heart disease will just make you that much more vulnerable.
Vegetable oils are always better than butter for your heart
“Mostly, these associations have been shown in the past in Mediterranean and European populations,” said Dr. Marta Guasch-Ferre, lead author of the study.
“But until now, there was no previous study that showed results in a U.S. population.”
Dr. Guasch-Ferre is a research scientist in the department of nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The study looked at almost 64,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, a long-term study that has looked into the risk factors for major chronic diseases in women. The latest installment of the study ran from 1990 to 2014.
Food frequency questionnaires were given every four years to assess the subjects’ diet.
Not surprisingly, as far as heart health goes, olive oil came out head and shoulders above animal-based fats commonly eaten here in the United States, including butter, margarine, and mayonnaise.
What’s so special about “fresh-pressed” olive oil… and why can’t you find it in U.S. supermarkets?
But there was one unexpected finding.
While olive oil is better for your heart than animal-based fats, so are other vegetable oils.
“While olive oil was better than animal fat … they were not superior to vegetable oils,” Dr. Guasch-Ferre explained. “This means that other vegetable oils could be a healthy alternative compared to animal fat, especially because they tend to be more affordable in the U.S. compared to olive oil.”
Olive oil “not a miracle cure”
These findings mean that safflower, corn or even vegetable oil are better for your heart than butter or mayonnaise.
Dr. Benjamin Hirsh, director of preventive cardiology at Northwell Health’s Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, New York, would agree.
He cautions that olive oil alone is not the “miracle cure” for heart disease.
“I believe that focusing on one component of nutrition misses the benefits that derive from the change in the overall dietary pattern,” he said. “It is likely that those [in the study] who switched to consuming more olive oil as a substitute for unhealthy fats probably also enacted changes in their lifestyles to consume healthier food and be more active.”
In other words, adding olive oil to your diet is only one part of the changes you’d need to make to lower your risk of heart disease.
What else you can do
If you or a loved one are already living with heart disease or coronary artery disease during this pandemic, it’s crucial that you eat and supplement to protect your heart.
The virus is especially unkind to those with heart disease. Eating more olive oil, and sticking as closely as you can to a Mediterranean diet, are a start.
Also, supplementing with some key vitamins and minerals that protect the heart is a great idea.