Heart Smart

Eating an apple a day may keep the doctor away, but two tablespoons of olive oil has the power to keep your heart healthy for a long, long time. According to research from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, a study beginning nearly 20 years ago, just two tablespoons of olive oil cuts the chance of dying from heart disease practically in half. The equivalent of one tablespoon cuts the risk by about 28 percent.

The Heart Foundation reports that this year, more than 920,000 Americans will have a heart attack and nearly half of them will occur without prior symptoms or warning signs. And while heart disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., (killing nearly 1 million people each year), it will be the leading cause of death in the world by 2020. And to think, 50 percent of these deaths can be prevented simply by adding two tablespoons of olive oil into your daily diet? Sign me up.

Olive oil is also known in the nutrition world as one of the best sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, a type of fat that has been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels. But its healing powers actually come from polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that has been linked to protecting arteries from hardening, called atherosclerosis.

Scientists originally believed that the heart-healthy qualities of olive oil were due mainly to the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids, however new research published in Clinical Nutrition shows that its antioxidant content is equally important.

After thorough testing, results showed that the consumption of polyphenol-rich olive oil (extra virgin is the best), increased the levels of an antibody that reduces levels of oxidized LDL cholesterol. This “bad cholesterol” is what is known to lead to artery hardening and heart disease.

So, how can you incorporate two tablespoons of olive oil into your daily diet?

  • Use an olive oil dressing on your favorite salad.
  • Dip pieces of 100-percent whole grain bread in a dish of olive oil that has been dusted with pepper and oregano.
  • Sprinkle green vegetables with olive oil instead of margarine or butter.
  • Add flavor to olive oil by infusing the oil with a sprigs of rosemary or other dried herbs.

As you start using more olive oil in your daily regimen, remember: oil that is stored in a dark, cool spot in a dark container retains more of its antioxidants, while long storage times reduce the antioxidant content.

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