Imagine a very, very old tree. One with an enormous, gnarled trunk and tall branches. Because it’s so old, you'd think it very dry, riddled with disease and burrowing insects, and it would catch fire if so much as a spark got near it.
But imagine instead this tree is resistant to flame, disease and drought. It can live for thousands upon thousands of years; scientists have found several over 6000 years old. It can even re-sprout itself, even if chopped down to a stump.
Yes, this is a real tree. But perhaps you thought of a giant redwood… a towering evergreen in the Rockies… or an ancient Kapok tree deep in the Amazon.
What you may not have thought of is the Olea europa—the olive tree. And according to recent studies, the “fruit juice”—or oil in this case—might actually pass on the tree’s miraculous powers of healing.
Olive oil from the ancient and revered olive tree is a primary ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. And it doesn't just support a healthy heart… olive oil has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes by a study of over 22,000 people.
The EPIC Study and Olive Oil
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) studied over half a million people living in the Mediterranean. Many sub-studies have been performed, concluding (among many things) that increasing olive oil intake can reduce the risk of diabetes by supporting healthy blood sugar, inflammation levels, and fatty acid ratios.
“Although more data are mandatory,” the authors of one study wrote, “olive oil does not contribute to obesity and appears to be a useful tool in the lifestyle management of metabolic syndrome, [a group of risk factors for type 2 diabetes.]” (1)
Olive Oil Stabilizes Blood Sugar
The major symptom of type 2 diabetes is uncontrollable blood sugar levels, from either too little insulin production or insulin resistance. These spiking and dipping levels also lead to other secondary diseases, like neuropathy, retinopathy, and inflammation in the arteries, which leads to heart disease.
A 2006 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that Mediterranean diet participants that emphasized olive oil significantly lowered their blood sugar levels.
A fasting glucose level of over 126mg/dL is considered diabetic. This study showed that those who emphasized olive oil were able to drop their glucose levels an average of 7.02mg/dL and as much as 12.6mg/dL. For someone who was diabetic, that would be a 10% reduced blood sugar level—a significant reduction. (2)
Olive Oil Helps Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is known to exacerbate or cause many diseases including diabetes.
One study published in Nature concluded that the oleocanthal—a phenolic compound—in olive oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties the same strength as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen. (3)
And considering ibuprofen has so many long-term side effects (stomach ulcers, anyone?) increasing your intake of olive oil to reduce inflammation is a far healthier choice. (4)
The same 2006 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine agreed: those who emphasized olive oil in their diet reduced C-reactive proteins (a marker of inflammation) significantly.(1)
According to olive oil experts, the best, freshest oils have a “peppery” flavor that almost stings. That peppery sensation indicates high levels of oleocanthal—and increased antioxidant activity for you!
Olive Oil Increases Healthy Fatty Acids
Even though olive oil is technically a fat, the American Diabetes Association says that the type of fat you eat is more important than the quantity.
Condiments like butter and animal fats, for example, are typically saturated and trans fats—the kinds that contribute primarily to obesity. Olive oil on the other hand is a monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, according to the KANWU study. (5)
According to results from the EPIC study and Dr. Carlo La Vecchia, followers of the Mediterranean diet are 12% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. (6)
Remember, to get the most diabetes-fighting benefits out of olive oil, be sure to purchase a high quality extra virgin. The flavor should be bright and “grassy”—and the more pepper zing to it, the better!
(1) Perez-Martinez, PA. "Mediterranean Diet Rich in Olive Oil and Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome and Diabetes Mellitus." Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2011;17(8)769-77. Healthwise. Criteria for Diagnosing Diabetes. WebMD. 2011 July 1.
(2) Estruch R. Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006 Jul 4;145(1):1-11.
(3) Beauchamp G. Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature. 2005 September 1;(437)45-46.
(4) Painkillers, ibuprofen—side effects. NHS Choices. 2012 Feb. 7.
(5) Vessby B. Substituting dietary saturated for monounsaturated fat impairs insulin sensitivity in healthy men and women: The KANWU Study. Diabetologia. 2001 Mar;44(3):312-9.
(6) Rossi M. Mediterranean diet and glycaemic load in relation to incidence of type 2 diabetes: results from the Greek cohort of the population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Diabetologia. 2013 Aug 22.
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