Mediterranean Diet Revisited: Fat is a MAJOR Contributor to its Health Benefits

Much has been written about the health benefits of the "Mediterranean diet". What exactly is the "Mediterranean diet" and why is it so good for you? Without going into great detail this diet emphasizes the consumption of meals that consist primarily of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, replacing animal fats in things like butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil, and using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.

One of the MAJOR benefits of the Mediterranean diet comes from the use of olive oil in cooking and adding to things like salad dressing. So what exactly is it that is so beneficial about the use of olive oil? Olive oil is enriched in a fatty acid called oleic acid. Specifically oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) and, as such, is one of the two most critical MUFAs that human cells need for normal function (the other is a fatty acid called palmitoleic acid). The health benefits of oleic acid are broad and profound. Numerous studies have shown that consumption of oleic acid (as well as palmitoleic acid) is important to maintain low levels of low density lipoproteins, LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol) in the blood and is also associated with the potential for elevated high density lipoprotein, HDL (the so-called "good" cholesterol). The terms good and bad cholesterol are highly deceptive since all cells NEED cholesterol and therefore, cholesterol, in and of itself, is not bad, even when in the context of LDL. What is bad is when the normal cholesterol homeostatic processes in the body become disturbed and LDL remains elevated in the blood for too long and becomes oxidized: that is BAD. But that whole discussion is for another blog post.

Another HUGE benefit to the consumption of olive oil is that within the intestines oleic acid is converted to what is called a lipid amide, specifically the compound called oleoylethanolamide, OEA. OEA exerts effects directly within the gastrointestinal (GI) system and it is released into the bloodstream and exerts numerous additional effects. Within the GI system OEA activates neural signals back to the brain that initiate the sensation of satiety, the feeling of being full and thus less hungry. OEA is, therefore, directly correlated to a reduction in the desire to consume food, a potentially important natural anti-obesity "drug".

For more details on the biochemical and physiological processes activated by OEA go to my website:

From the perspective of the major disease in the US, type 2 diabetes, OEA is of significant benefit. When released into the blood, OEA interacts with the pancreas and stimulates this important organ to secrete insulin. The release of insulin then reduces the level of blood glucose. In type 2 diabetes the chronic elevated levels of blood glucose (hyperglycemia) contribute to the major pathologic consequences of this disease. 


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