People are always amazed when they hear that olive oil is not a health food. Some people think that they MUST consume olive oil in order to be healthy. This is really a myth but how did it get started and why does the myth persist?
The “health benefits” of olive oil were promoted in the 1950s by an American nutritionist who noticed that the people on the island of Crete had low rates of heart disease and seemed to live longer than other people groups. Because of this he conducted a 15-year study of the heart disease and cancer rates in Greece (Crete and Corfu), Finland, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, the United States and Yugoslavia. This was known as the “Seven Country Study” and showed lower rates of heart disease in Greece and Japan.
The people on the island of Crete did consume olive oil (about 3 tablespoons a day – but think of this – it would be easy to put twice that amount on a salad). They also had some other healthy habits: lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains plus lots of physical activity (about 9 miles of walking each day). So is it likely that the consumption of olive oil is the reason they had lower heart disease rates? Maybe not! What is likely is that their other healthy habits helped them to overcome what we now know are the detrimental effects of consuming olive oil or any free oil.
The residents of the island of Crete still consume olive oil but they have increased their meat and fish consumption and their health has declined; heart disease, cancer and diabetes have increased dramatically. Oh dear … plus… a recent study shows that those people on Crete who consume more olive oil also develop more heart disease.
Okay then, oil is out… but we still have the Mediterranean Diet. That’s healthy, isn’t it? Hmmm… perhaps we should check.