Perhaps you’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet. This name refers to the traditional diet eaten by people in Crete. First studied in the 1950s and ‘6os, the Mediterranean Diet was recognized as a particularly healthy eating pattern—one that seemed to promote long life expectancies and low rates of heart disease and some cancers. The Mediterranean Diet consists largely of plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, coarsely ground grains, beans, nuts, and seeds—as well as olive oil. Fish, poultry, and red meat are rare, special-occasion foods.
People who ate a Mediterranean Diet seemed to enjoy generally low blood pressure. Of course, the question remained: Was the low pressure a result of other components of the diet? What particular role did olive oil play? To learn the answer, a team from the University of Athens studied more than twenty thousand Greeks who were free of hypertension when the study began. At the end of the study, data confirmed that, overall, the Mediterranean Diet was consistently associated with lower blood pressure. When the effects of olive oil and vegetables were compared, olive oil alone was found to be responsible for the most beneficial effect in lowering blood pressure.
It seems olive oil has a beneficial effect on the vascular endothelium, the cells lining the blood vessels. A study in Spain found that subjects who used olive oil for four weeks reported both systolic and diastolic blood pressure to drop approximately 8 mm. Another very interesting study found that not only did olive oil lower blood pressure, it also rendered medication less necessary for the participating subjects.