Heart disease is one of those health problems that stems from a complicated mixture of factors. Preventing heart disease, or at least lowering the risk, can be done through a variety of lifestyle choices, and diet is very important. In particular, scientists are looking at extra virgin olive oil as an additive that could greatly improve the health factor in many foods.
In the present study, scientists look at dark chocolate as the vessel for delivering extra virgin olive oil. Both of these products are associated with an improved “cardiovascular risk profile,” but they aren’t the only ones by far.
"Fruits and vegetables exert their protective effects through plant polyphenols, which are found in cocoa, olive oil, and apples,” explained lead author Dr. Rossella Di Stefano, a cardiologist with the University of Pisa in Italy.
According to experts at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) who study the relationship between polyphenols and post-exercise inflammation and immune suppression, polyphenols are “bioactive compounds” found in fruits and vegetables that are strongly associated with health benefits.
Di Stefano’s study compared the effects of dark chocolate enriched with extra virgin olive oil versus chocolate enriched with the Italian Panaia red apple on the development of atherosclerosis in people with existing heart disease risk factors. “Research has found that the Italian Panaia red apple has very high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants,” Di Stefano explained.
Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and impedes the flow of oxygenated blood. In the study, researchers measured the development of atherosclerotic plaques by assessing metabolic changes, lipid profiles, blood pressure, and levels of circulating endothelial progenitor cells (EPCs). EPCs, which Di Stefano calls “repairing cells,” are vital for vascular repair and maintenance of endothelial function.
The study’s participants had at least three of the following risk factors for heart disease:
Family history of CVD
Each participant in the study received 40 grams of dark chocolate daily for 28 days, 14 consecutive days with 10 percent extra virgin olive oil and 14 with 2.5 percent Panaia red apple. The results showed that chocolate enriched with olive oil was more so associated with significantly increased EPC levels, “good” cholesterol technically known as high-density lipoprotein, and lower blood pressure than the chocolate infused with apple.
There’s still more to uncover about how extra virgin olive oil and other polyphenol-rich foods act on the body to produce positive effects, but for now, if you’re not using olive oil already, maybe you’ll start.