What’s the first thing you grab when you start cooking? Most of us reach for a trusty bottle of olive oil to grease up our pans. The versatile liquid can also make a delicious pasta topper or salad dressing. It’s almost impossible to list all of the amazing ways olive oil can add rich flavor to our favorite dishes, but it’s not just our palates that are benefiting when we include it in our meals. According to new study, it can also help us live longer, healthier lives.
Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School decided to take a closer look at what exactly it is about the Mediterranean diet that helps those following it age better. Previous studies assumed it was the inclusion of red wine that helped activate pathways in our cells that are known to increase lifespan and prevent age-related illnesses. While there’s still no harm in enjoying a glass or two of your favorite red vino, study author Doug Mashek, PhD, claims that it’s actually the prevalence of olive oil that unlocks those cellular pathways.
Of course, you can’t just start guzzling loads of olive oil and expect to magically live forever. According to Dr. Mashek, you also need a modest calorie intake and regular exercise (which we should all do anyway) to get the most benefits. “We found that the way this fat works is it first has to get stored in microscopic things called lipid droplets, which is how our cells store fat,” Mashek explains. “And then, when the fat is broken down during exercising or fasting, for example, [that’s] when the signaling and beneficial effects are realized.”
Another study published just a few days ago also confirmed that even when olive oil gets heated up in a pan, it still maintains its healthy properties. The researchers from the University of Barcelona measured the difference in the level of polyphenols, a potent antioxidant, before and after raising olive oil’s temperature. Although the amount did drop, there were still plenty of health-boosting polyphenols when used for cooking. Study author Julian Lozano explained, “[This] means it has properties that protect oxidation of LDL cholesterol properties,” making it especially helpful for our heart health.
Whether you’re eating it on salad or using it to sauté on the stove, go ahead and add a few splashes of olive oil to your next meal!