The health benefits of consuming a Mediterranean Diet have long been touted and olive oil is an ingredient that makes its way into this style of cooking. Now, researchers in Spain have discovered that adding extra virgin olive oil to recipes and food preparation can reduce overall total cholesterol in the elderly and can also increase the HDL (aka good cholesterol) levels.
A study, published in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics included participants 65 to 96-years-old. There were 62 people in the group and they were divided into a control group that maintained their usual diet and an olive oil group that used extra virgin olive oil as the only added fat in their daily diet and also consumed three additional tablespoons of the oil per day.
At the six week mark, the individuals in the olive oil group were found to have had a significant reduction in
their total cholesterol and an increase in their “good” cholesterol. The olive oil group also had a “higher plasma total antioxidant capacity” which led researchers to believe that the inclusion of the oil also improved the antioxidant health of the elderly people in the group.
These findings show that a Mediterranean diet could be ideal for the elderly. Additionally, another study conducted by the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that elderly men who consumed this diet regularly had a close to 100% lower chance of developing depressive symptoms than those who didn’t consume a diet based on the Mediterranean philosophy. Memory loss was the focus of a study published in Neurology and it found that of the 17,000 individuals over 45-years-old that ate a Mediterranean style diet, there was a lower risk of developing memory loss as they aged. A separate study performed by Spanish researchers found that the use of olive oil and adherence to a Mediterranean diet could improve vascular dysfunction and could protect against many of the chronic diseases that are associated with aging.
What is a Mediterranean Diet?
At its most basic, a Mediterranean diet is one rich in plant based foods and low in fats. The Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid recommends seven to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Whole grains and legumes, which account for a large part of the diet should be high-fiber whole grains. Choose legumes such as beans, lentils and peas as they are high in fiber and are a good source of protein. While this diet is not a “no-fat” diet, it is a “low fat” option. Olive oil is a primary cooking oil and you should avoid saturated fats such as those found in dairy products and meat. Although the Mediterranean diet focused on plant based foods, dairy and meat can also be part of the plan, as long as they are eaten in moderation. Shellfish and other fish should be part of your diet at least two meals a week. Skinless poultry is also on the diet one or two times a week while lean cuts of red meat should be eaten no more than twice a month.
This diet has many healthful benefits but before beginning any type of diet you should check with your doctor first to see whether it is right for you.