Compared to the low-fat American Heart Association diet, the traditional Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil has more capacity to counteract potentially harmful “free radicals” and “reactive oxygen species” in our bodies, according to researchers at the University of Navarra in Spain.
Our tissues normally contain free radicals and reactive oxygen species, which are intrinsic to cell metabolism. They serve useful purposes. In excessive amounts, however, many believe they cause “oxidative damage” and thereby contribute to chronic degenerative conditions such as atherosclerosis, aging, dementia, and cancer.
Antioxidants are thought to neutralize free radicals and reactive oxygen species, which may lead to better health.
The PREDIMED study is an ongoing Spanish project testing the heart-protective effects of the Mediterranean diet in high-risk people over the course of four years. The three intervention groups are 1) Medi diet plus supplemental virgin olive oil, 2) Medi diet plus extra tree nuts, and 3) low-fat American Heart Association diet.
After three years of follow-up, the researchers measured “total antioxidant capacity” in the bloodstream of a subset of the PREDIMED participants.
They found that the two Mediterranean diet groups had significantly greater total antioxidant capacity, about 50% more than the low-fat control group. Within the Medi + olive oil group, the participants with the highest levels of antioxidant capacity actually tended to lose weight, an association not seen in the other groups.
The Researchers’ Conclusions
Mediterranean diet, especially rich in virgin olive oil, is associatied with higher levels of plasma antioxidant capactiy. Plasma total antioxidant capacity is related to a reduction in body weight after three years of intervention in a high cardiovascular risk population with a Mediterranean-style diet rich in virgin olive oil.
In other words, the Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil may help you keep your weight under control, and the antioxidant capacity may contribute to the well-documented health benefits of the diet.
PS: It’s impossible to tell from this report just how much weight loss was seen in the high-TAC Medi+olive oil subjects. I doubt it was much. Baseline body mass index for all participants was around 29, so they were overweight and just a shade under obese.
Reference: Razquin, C., et al. A 3 year follow-up of a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil is associated with high plasma antioxidant capacity and reduced body weight gain. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 63 (2009): 1,387-1,393. doi 10.1038/ejcn.2009.106