Mediterranean Diet Post 7: Olive Oil Is Relatively Devoid Of Nutrients, Except Fat

Here are the vitamins and minerals in one tablespoon of olive oil, from NutritionData:

So, what does olive oil have, if not vitamins and minerals? Fat:

Olive oil has no protein, and no fiber since it has no carbohydrate and all fiber is carbohydrate. Olive oil is an industrially-produced, ultra-processed, concentrated fat extract. This one tablespoon has more saturated fat (1.9g) than a large egg (1.5g). Olive oil has twice the saturated fat of other vegetable oils like safflower.

Yet companies claim that it is “very rich in vitamins and minerals” and other unsubstantiated flim-flam. An example:

The refining process removes vitamins, minerals, and polyphenolic compounds. Extra virgin olive oil is less refined and may contain more nutrients. But you can’t tell from reading the label if olive oil is extra virgin. That’s because a lot of extra virgin olive oil isn’t extra virgin, and sometimes it’s not olive oil at all. It could be hazelnut or soybean oil with chlorophyll added for color. The FDA doesn’t have the time or resources to oversee olive oil:

Adulteration And Corruption In The Olive Oil Trade
Most Imported Extra Virgin Olive Oil Is Probably Not “Extra Virgin”
Most Oil Sold As Italian Olive Oil Does Not Come From Italy, Some Isn’t Even Olive Oil

I know what you’re thinking, “Not my olive oil.” I was surprised to learn that many common oils sold as extra virgin didn’t live up to that designation in the UCDavis analysis (e.g. Berio, Bertolli, Colavita, Carapelli).

If it’s polyphenolic compounds you’re after, you can find them throughout the plant kingdom, without having to intake all that nutrient-void, calorie-laden, industrially-produced grease that may not even be olive oil. The lowly potato or celery has more polyphenols per serving than extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) with more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber to boot. (EVOO contains about 150-400 mg/L of polyphenols. There are about 68 tablespoons in a liter. So, there are about 2-6 mg of polyphenols per tablespoon of the very best EVOO you can buy, which may not be EVOO at all).

Polyphenols: Food Sources And Bioavailability, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, May 2004

This is a big table; I chopped it off. You can see the whole table here.

Mediterranean Diet Post 6: Olive Oil Promotes Atherosclerosis, Impairs Endothelial Function

Some of this is a repost from 2014. I added a couple studies at the bottom.
Olive OilThe following studies provide evidence for the atherosclerosis-promoting effect of olive oil, in monkeys, mice, and humans:

1. Hepatic Origin of Cholesteryl Oleate in Coronary Artery Atherosclerosis In African Green Monkeys, Enrichment By Dietary Monounsaturated Fat, Journal of Clinical Investigation, 1997

“[We observed in monkeys] that the amount of coronary artery atherosclerosis was similar in the monounsaturated and saturated fat groups, in spite of the significantly improved LDL cholesterol concentration and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio in the former.”

2. Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Promote Aortic Atherosclerosis In LDL Receptor–Null, Human ApoB100–Overexpressing Transgenic Mice, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, 1998

Mice were fed one of 6 diets with different fatty acid content: saturated, monounsaturated (cis and trans), polyunsaturated (n-3 and n-6), and a control diet.

“The reduction in aortic atherosclerosis was not found when either cis or trans monounsaturated fatty acids were fed. Rather, just as much atherosclerosis was seen when cis monounsaturated fat diets were fed as when saturated fat was fed, and significantly more atherosclerosis was seen when the trans monounsaturated fatty acids were fed.”

This is an important outcome when one considers that monounsaturated fats, often in the form of olive oil, are widely promoted as being healthful and effective for protection against heart disease.

3. Effect Of Fat And Carbohydrate Consumption On Endothelial Function, Lancet, December, 1999

“Consumption of a meal high in monounsaturated fat was associated with acute impairment of endothelial function when compared with a [low-fat] carbohydrate-rich meal.”

4. The Postprandial Effect Of Components Of The Mediterranean Diet On Endothelial Function, Journal of the American College of Cardiology, November 2000

“Contrary to part of our hypothesis, our study found that omega-9 (oleic acid)-rich olive oil impairs endothelial function postprandially.

The mechanism appears to be oxidative stress because the decrease in FMD was reduced (71%) by the concomitant administration of vitamins C and E. Balsamic vinegar (red wine product) and salad reduced the postprandial impairment in endothelial function to a similar extent (65%).

In a clinical study, olive oil was shown to activate coagulation factor VII to the same extent as does butter (44). Thus, olive oil does not have a clearly beneficial effect on vascular function.”

The major unsaturated fatty acids in olive oil are oleic acid (18:1n-9) and linoleic acid (18:2n-6) (42). A high-oleic and linoleic acid meal has recently been shown to impair FMD in comparison with a low-fat meal (28). (That’s the study above by Ong et al.)

In terms of their effects on postprandial endothelial function, the beneficial components of the Mediterranean and Lyon Diet Heart Study diets appear to be the antioxidant-rich foods—vegetables, fruits … not olive oil. Dietary fruits, vegetables, and their products appear to provide some protection against the direct impairment in endothelial function produced by high-fat foods, including olive oil.”

To these I will add:

5. The Influence Of Diet On The Appearance Of New Lesions In Human Coronary Arteries, JAMA, March 1990

The likelihood of new lesions developing increased significantly with each quartile of increasing consumption of total fat, monounsaturated fat [olive oil], and polyunsaturated fat.

Fatty acids significantly increasing the likelihood of the appearance of new lesions were lauric [coconut oil and palm kernel oil], oleic [olive oil], and linoleic [olive oil]

Reports of the reduction in arterial lesions at autopsy following semi-starvation conditions during World Wars I and II have suggested the necessity of austere diets to ameliorate atherosclerosis. However, more reasonable alterations of diet [substitution of low-fat foods for high-fat foods] appear adequate to produce detectable improvement of coronary lesions in angiographic studies.

6. Olive, Soybean And Palm Oils Intake Have A Similar Acute Detrimental Effect Over The Endothelial Function In Healthy Young Subjects, Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, January 2007

Conclusions: No difference was found in the acute adverse effect of the ingestion of different vegetable oils on the endothelial function. All the vegetable oils, fresh and deep-fried, produced an increase in the triglyceride plasma levels in healthy subjects.

I’m going to go ahead and say that this is why 179 people who were eating the Mediterranean diet in the PREDIMED study who had “no cardiovascular disease at enrollment” experienced a “major cardiovascular event” in the ~ 4.8 years of the study … because they were consuming a lot of fat, especially olive oil.

Clearly, olive oil is not the heart-healthy food it’s made out to be. It is a feat of marketing that a food which has been shown to impair artery function exists in people’s minds as an elixir.

Playing For Change

Remember that song montage of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” from about 10 years ago?

The people behind it, Mark Johnson, the founder of Playing For Change, and his collaborators set up a non-profit foundation to continue their work:

Here’s their foundation. There are other videos they’ve recorded there.

What they do:

15 music programs have been created in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ghana, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda, South Africa, Morocco, Mexico, Argentina and Thailand. Every week more than 2,000 young people attend free classes in dance, instruments, languages and musical theory, all taught by qualified local teachers.

Projects also help meet essential needs of the larger community, including the provision of aid such as food, clean water, medicine, clothes, books, school supplies, solar energy, computers, and other modern technology. Over 15,000 people have been impacted by the Foundation’s community development and empowerment efforts throughout our program regions and beyond.

Annual program evaluations reinforce the real and positive impact of music education and demonstrate change in action. When children play music together, collaboration increases and conflict is reduced. And critically important to children, particularly those who are vulnerable due to poverty, conflict, drugs, and neglect, is that learning music increases self-esteem and fosters resilience and joy.

How great is that?

Mediterranean Diet Post 5: Does The Modern Mediterranean Diet Prevent Heart Disease?

None of today’s Mediterranean diets restrict olive oil or advise to follow a near-vegan diet for more than half of the year. Yet it was this autere and more authentic Mediterranean diet that was responsible for long life and low rates of chronic disease. How did it come to pass that the modern Mediterranean diet is flush with oil, alcohol, and animal food?

Here’s the PREDIMED study that started it all.

Primary Prevention Of Cardiovascular Disease With A Mediterranean Diet, New England Journal of Medicine, 25 February 2013

There were 3 groups, about 2500 people in each group. One group ate the so-called Mediterranean diet plus a liter of olive oil a week. Another ate the diet plus 30 grams of nuts a day. The last group was a “low-fat” control group which failed to eat low-fat (was eating 37% of calories from fat).

A Mediterranean diet with olive oil or nuts prevents heart disease, right? Yet in this study, 179 people assigned to eat the Mediterranean diet (96 in oil group, 83 in nut group) experienced a “major cardiovascular event” in the ~ 4.8 years of the study. According to the authors, all 179 had “no cardiovascular disease at enrollment.”

Imagine having no cardiovascular disease, being put on a special diet that was designed specifically to prevent cardiovascular disease, and experiencing a “major cardiovascular event” less than 4.8 years later. These are pure numbers but I want to compare them to what Dr. Esselstyn did. He took people with advanced coronary artery disease, put them on a low-fat, plant-based diet, and 12 years later they had no more cardiac events! Why isn’t a low-fat, plant-based diet preferred over a Mediterranean diet?

Also, there was no difference among the groups for “death from any cause.” (There were 118 in the oil group, 116 in the nut group, and 114 in the control group who died “from any cause.”) The Mediterranean diet didn’t keep people from dying any more than the control group.

By the way, PREDIMED was sponsored by oil and nut groups.

I covered the study back in 2013: Is The Mediterranean Diet Really All That?

The UK Takes The Lead On Mindfulness At Oxford; And NATO Studies Mindfulness For Use In Military

Future Of Mindfulness Research At Oxford Secured With New Professorship, Campaign for the University of Oxford, 10 April 2019

A generous gift from The Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation has enabled the creation of a new Professorship in Mindfulness and Psychological Science. The post, which is to be held by the Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, promises to transform our understanding of the link between mind and body, and lead the world into a new era of human health.

Sometimes described as ‘the art of conscious living’, mindfulness is a natural capacity for moment-by-moment awareness – a practice that enables us to change the way we think and feel about our experiences by developing attentiveness to the present. In recent years, mindfulness has become a recognised form of treatment for both physical and emotional health in mainstream medicine.

Oxford now sits at the forefront of mindfulness research and teaching internationally. Through the Oxford Mindfulness Centre (OMC) – established in 2008 within the Department of Psychiatry – researchers combine ancient wisdom with rigorous contemporary science to better understand the practice’s potential for improving health and wellbeing.

The centre’s current research agenda has been developed in close collaboration with policy-makers, and the OMC is now undertaking major studies into the promise of mindfulness in education, the workplace and criminal justice systems. The establishment of a permanent post in mindfulness – the first of its kind globally – will enable Oxford to build a permanent research and training centre, and continue to be a leader in this field.

The new Ritblat Professor of Mindfulness and Psychological Science is Professor Willem Kuyken, an expert in evidence-based approaches to depression and current Director of the OMC. He says: ‘The last 50 years has seen enormous progress in treatments for health problems like heart disease. Our work in Oxford aims to contribute to seeing the same progress in treatments for mental health problems like depression. This Endowment is fundamental in enabling us to build this programme of work.’

Sir John Ritblat from The Family Foundation said: ‘By encouraging a greater awareness of the present moment, science, research and history has shown that mindfulness has the potential to significantly improve the health and wellbeing of those who practice it. We are delighted to partner with the University of Oxford in endowing The Sir John Ritblat Family Foundation Professorship of Mindfulness and Psychological Science, and hope our support will enable the Oxford Mindfulness Centre to lead the world into an era of self-managed and preventative practices to benefit human, mental and physical health across the world.’

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as:

… the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment — non-judgmentally.


This week, NATO plans to hold a two-day symposium in Berlin to discuss the evidence behind the use of mindfulness in the military.
The Latest in Military Strategy: Mindfulness, New York Times, 5 April 2019

One Tablespoon Olive Oil Has More Saturated Fat Than A Large Egg

Here’s another repost, this one from 2014. Olive oil is not a health food.

Health Nutrition: Longevity FoodPeople keep coming to the defense of olive oil. Olive oil has no fiber, no protein, no carbohydrate, very few vitamins and minerals, and one tablespoon has more saturated fat (1.9g) than a large egg (1.5g). Olive oil has twice the saturated fat of other vegetable oils like safflower.

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil have 28 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 238 calories.*
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil have more saturated fat than 2 large eggs or a cubic inch of cheddar cheese.
  • The saturated fat in olive oil consists mostly of palmitic acid, the same saturated fatty acid found in meat, cheese, butter, and other dairy products.

If, for example, I was following the advice of the American Heart Association (AHA) and keeping my saturated fat intake to below 7% of the day’s calories, I would be eating less than 14 grams of saturated fat (for an 1800 calorie intake).

If I ate all of the following (note that this would be a vegetarian diet), I would be eating more saturated fat than the AHA recommends.

  • 1 ounce cheddar cheese (6g sat. fat)
  • 1 ounce potato chips (2g)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (4g)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter (3g)

Olive oil is not a health food.

* Source: NutritionData: Olive Oil

Olive Oil Is “Heart Healthy”? Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Clinical Lipidology Says That’s A Hoax

This is a repost from 2009. Still applies. The belief that olive oil is “heart healthy” is a triumph of marketing.

OliveOilHeart2Here is the Editor-in-Chief of the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Lipidology, Dr. W. Virgil Brown, speaking in 2009:

Dr. Karmally: Because of the way the Mediterranean diet has been promoted, olive oil is in the center of that pyramid.

Dr. Brown (Editor-in-Chief of this journal): It’s viewed as healthful and as you pointed out, the Lyon Diet Heart Study really found that the one fat that correlated best with reduction in events was not monounsaturated oleic acid, the major fat of olive oil, it was linoleic acid. And so I’m afraid that this has become a great hoax applied to the American diet and that we have not paid as much attention to the data as we should have in order to make a better decision about the content of fat in our diet.

Clinical Lipidology Roundtable Discussion: Discussion on Dietary Fat, Journal of Clinical Lipidology, October 2009

Our fat should come from whole food sources. By the way, almonds are an excellent source of linoleic acid, the omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid that “correlated best with reduction in [heart] events.”