MIND Diet: Olive Oil
Content by: Jamie Rinaldi, RD, MS in Applied Physiology & Nutrition
Learn how olive oil can help to protect cognition!
Olive oil has been touted as a health food for centuries, in fact, it was described as “liquid gold” by ancient Greek poet Homer in The Iliad. Scientific research concurs! Please note, however, that studies support extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for its health properties, not “light”, “extra light”, or “pure” olive oil. True EVOOs undergo the least processing of all olive oils, thereby retaining more nutrients and a more pleasant flavor.
EVOO contains numerous antioxidants, including polyphenols, vitamins E and K, carotenoids, and chlorophyll. These antioxidants protect the brain from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, impairing brain health. They are also anti-inflammatory - inflammation is a known contributing factor to cognitive decline. High intake of polyphenols has been linked to improved cognitive function and decreased blood levels of beta-amyloid protein - that pesky plaque-forming protein - in the blood, which is a marker for Alzheimer’s disease. Consuming plenty of different tocopherols, the different forms of vitamin E, may decrease the activation of microglia, cells in the central nervous system that are strongly related to Alzheimer’s disease. One of vitamin K’s many functions is to regulate calcium levels in the brain, and it has been suggested that an imbalance of brain calcium may contribute to the damage that precipitates Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin K is also involved in the development and maintenance of some central nervous system cells, therefore inadequate intake may cause neurodegenerative dysfunction.
Although the mechanisms are unclear, research has demonstrated that EVOO consumption boosts levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). BDNF stimulates new brain cell formation and NGF supports nerve cells that are responsible for transmitting information.
The monounsaturated fatty acids in EVOO increase levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter known to be memory-protective. Monounsaturated fats also help prevent cardiovascular disease, another risk factor for Alzheimer’s, in part by protecting endothelial function.
- Purchase EVOO in dark glass bottles and store in a cool, dark place, as heat and light can degrade its nutritional properties and shelf life.
- Cook with olive oil - heat does not destroy its quality!