Oleic acid is the main component of olive oil (over 65% in Evoolution olive oil) and is one of the reasons why EVOO is considered such a heart-healthy food.
Oleic Acid- the Nitty Gritty
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid: it has one (mono) double bond in its chain comprised of 18 carbon atoms. Since it is not completely saturated with hydrogen atoms (due to that double bond) it is considered unsaturated. The double bond bends the structure of the fatty acid and prevents it from closely aligning with other similarly bent fatty acids, instead permitting them to move more freely. In essence, this is what makes oils like olive oil liquid. Compare that with solid fats like butter or coconut oil, whose constituent fatty acids are primarily saturated. These straight-chain saturated fatty acids can pack together closely, which makes these fats solid at room temperature.
But what can oleic acid in your diet actually do for you? Well, we know that fat is an important part of a healthy diet, but the type of fats consumed can have different impacts on the body. As a monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid is considered a "healthy fat" because it can help improve your cholesterol profile and heart-health by lowering your LDL cholesterol. But to understand how the fats in EVOO can have these effects on your body, we have to understand the function of cholesterol.
What is a Healthy Cholesterol Profile?
We need cholesterol in our bodies. It is necessary for building cell walls, producing hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids. The negative association with cholesterol is mostly due to its role in heart disease.
Cholesterol is moved around the body in a sort of protein package called a lipoprotein. You may be familiar with the two types, which are what we talk about when we refer to the two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol, is the culprit for most harmful cardiovascular events when levels of this cholesterol get too high and clog the arteries. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, is known as the “good” cholesterol, as it moves cholesterol to the liver for removal from the body.
Why is a Healthy Cholesterol Profile so Important?
Your liver and intestines produce the majority of the cholesterol your body requires. Only about 20% of your cholesterol comes from the foods you eat. However, dietary consumption and the effect it can have on your health is not to be ignored. When there is an abundance of LDL cholesterol in the blood, it can lead to plaque buildups in arterial walls. The more plaque that accumulates, the narrower the pathway for blood flow through the vessels, which can lead to increased blood pressure. Along with high blood pressure can come a host of other cardiovascular complications, including stroke, angina, and heart attack.
Heart disease is widespread in countries where the average diet includes high levels of saturated and trans fats, red meat, and processed carbohydrates. In places where monounsaturated fats such as olive oil are prioritized, such as in the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe, the incidence of heart disease is significantly lower. You can learn more about these trends in our video about the Mediterranean diet.
Making the Swap
Great news: not only does EVOO contain zero cholesterol, but due to the abundance of oleic acid, EVOO can actually help lower your LDL cholesterol! Lower circulating levels of low-density lipoprotein means less cholesterol deposited in artery walls and a lower risk of heart disease. Swapping in heart-healthy EVOO where you would normally use butter, coconut oil, margarine, mayonnaise, etc, can help improve your cholesterol profile in the most delicious way!
Although there are always other factors at play in a person’s heart health, such as lifestyle, family history, and genetics, modifying your diet can still make a difference. Fortunately, Evoolution is here to help when you are ready to venture into the world of quality extra virgin olive oils for every recipe. You can reap the benefits of the high oleic acid concentrations in all of our EVOOs in everything from your favourite focaccia bread and salad dressings to desserts and everything in between. Happy cooking!