The exotic names of olives—Moroccan, Kalamata, nicoise, picholine and Manzanilla—sound almost as good as these varieties of olives taste. But taste is only one of the reasons to enjoy them. Olives and olive oil have long been considered part of a heart-healthy or weight loss diet, but a new research shows that these foods may help protect the brain against brain diseases.
Olives are an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. Monounsaturated fats have a beneficial role to play in maintaining the outer membranes of brain cells, protecting your body’s genetic material and the energy-producing cellular components (mitochondria) that help fuel your brain.
Vitamin E offers antioxidant protection to the fatty components of your brain and can lower your risk of damage and inflammation. This vitamin is also your body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant, meaning that it neutralizes damaging free radicals in all the fat-rich areas of your body, including your brain and the protective coating of your nerves. Your brain is more than 60 percent fat, making vitamin E a significant contributor to brain health. Like other types of monounsaturated fats, vitamin E also helps protect the energy production centers in your cells to ensure that your cells are capable of creating adequate energy for your many bodily processes and brain functions.
Olives and olive oil also help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. Oxidized cholesterol has been linked to stroke. These anti-inflammatory actions of monounsaturated fats , vitamin E and beneficial plant chemicals called polyphenols help lessen the likelihood of inflammation in your brain. Olive oil is also rich in Omega-9 fatty acids that are important for your brain.
And, a recent study published in the Journal of Molecular Biology even suggests that oleic acid found in olives and olive oil may help to prevent or halt brain cancer. The study was preliminary so more research needs to be done before we can definitively say that olives and olive oil can help with brain cancer.
Be sure to use only organic olives or organic, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil since it retains more beneficial nutrients and lacks potentially brain-damaging pesticides. When cooking with any type of oil, including olive oil, it is important to be sure that the oil never smokes. If it does, it has reached the oil’s “smoke point,” which is different for every type of oil. The smoke point is the point at which the oil will smoke and have a damaging effect on your body. Olive oil has a smoke point around 324 degrees Fahrenheit. Most types of vegetable oils available in grocery stores are heated to over 500 degrees Fahrenheit during processing, which is well beyond the smoke point even before they get to your kitchen. That means they should be completely avoided. Extra-virgin olive oil is the rare exception that tends to be processed at lower temperatures and is therefore fine for cooking at low temperatures.
Remember this when you’re cooking with any type of oil: if it smokes while you are heating it, it is essential that you throw it out and start over. Otherwise, the benefits of the oil are destroyed by the heat and it becomes capable of damaging cells in your brain through free radicals and inflammatory processes. Also, be sure to choose olives that are free from sulfites, as many commercial brands contain these and other chemical preservatives.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Boost Your Brain Power in 60 Seconds: The 4-Week Plan for a Sharper Mind, Better Memory, and Healthier Brain.