DALLAS — Individuals who are seeking to manage their cholesterol levels, especially those with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, may want to try a Mediterranean diet with an extra serving of virgin olive oil. A Mediterranean diet “traditionally includes fruits, vegetables, pasta and rice,” the Mayo Clinic explains. A new study finds the combination may improve the effects of what’s commonly referred to as “good” cholesterol.
This assertion is based on research shared in the study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation.
During this study, 296 people at risk for cardiovascular disease with an average age of 66 were randomly selected to try out three diets. One plan followed a Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil (about four tablespoons) each day. The second followed a Mediterranean diet enriched with extra nuts (about a fistful) daily. The third was a healthy “control” diet that reduced consumption of red meat, processed foods, high-fat dairy products, and sweets. Participants used the diets for one year and had their blood tested before and after the study.
Both Mediterranean diets, and especially the one that included extra doses of olive oil, improved the functioning of high-density lipoproteins or HDL (known as the “good” cholesterol). HDL is considered beneficial because it functions in several ways to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. For example, it removes cholesterol from the arteries and keeps low-density lipoproteins or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) from oxidizing and triggering plaque development in the arteries. HDL also helps to relax blood vessels so blood can flow smoothly.
For individuals at high risk of cardiovascular disease, like those in this study, HDL often doesn’t work as well. This makes the study’s support of a Mediterranean diet with olive oil especially important for this demographic.
The research team was surprised to find that the control diet reduced LDL and overall cholesterol levels, but also reduced positive HDL function. They also noted that because all three diets were healthy, there were no dramatic differences between the results.
“Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our ‘good cholesterol’ work in a more complete way,” senior study author Montserrat Fitó, M.D., Ph.D says in a release.