Olive Oil: A Gem for a Healthy Gut

Digestive health is finally getting its just due; people around the world are trying to combat anything from stomachaches to serious digestive ailments by improving their diet. We’ve heard of the benefits in fiber, yogurt, and probiotics, but did you ever imagine a world where ingesting a beloved Mediterranean staple like olive oil could improve the health of your gut?

Preferred Dietary Fats for Beneficial Bacteria

We all know that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for the heart, but did you ever wonder if the olive oil ‘effect’ could do more for you?

The answer is in the research: It starts with the positive and advantageous alteration of your GI tract’s microbiome (the colony of digestive bacteria).

In November 2015 the European Journal of Nutrition published the research of Dr. Martin-Pelaez, which found that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil increased the bifidobacteria (one of the major genera of bacteria that make up the colon flora) count in test subjects, which is linked with reduced cholesterol in the blood. Bifidobacteria is one of the preferred probiotic strains found in vitamin supplements and yogurts and has been studied for its positive effects on gastrointestinal disorders such as Type 2 diabetes and IBS (for more on how diabetes is more of a digestive ailment that could potentially be managed or avoided by dietary changes).

The Mediterranean diet is built on increasing beneficial flora in the gut through foods, which enhance the overall diversity of your microbiota. The more diversity and balance of microbiota, the better.

The Tastiest Immune Booster

The second benefit of eating more olive oil is quite the boon, it’s a gut-based immune booster.

This is probably one of the most fascinating areas of research because over 70% of the immune system resides in our GI tract. In the April 2016 issue of Nutrients, researchers found that olive oil in the diet is linked to increased intestinal immunity, decreased inflammation, bolstering the defenses of the intestinal lining, and overall stimulation of the immune system. This is very important to note because our immune system governs so much of our health, especially from a preventative. Your goal should always be to consume olive oil raw and combined with vegetables. Both olive oil and plant fibers work really well together by increasing the overall flora in your gut. More diversity and balance in the microbiome equals a healthier gut and a robust immune system.

A Staple for a Reason

Unless our stomachs begin to grumble or ache, many of us simply don’t realize how much of an impact our GI tract has on our overall health. The microbiome that we carry within us has a great deal of influence over our waistlines, or whether we extract nutrition as efficiently as possible from our food, and could even produce vitamins that prime the immune system and aid it in resisting pathogens.

Fortunately, we are not doomed to live our lives ruled by our microbiomes. Just as they can affect us we can guide them—through our diet! And even more fortunate than the news that you’re in charge: the Wild Mediterranean diet is chock-full of delicious items that are absolutely great for optimizing your gut health. The pile of research continues to grow and it’s becoming clearer every day: olive oil is practically as medicinal as it is delicious. It’s one of many “gems” that I will explore throughout articles and my upcoming book Wild Mediterranean.

Through my clinical work and the exploration of my Greek roots, I’ve found that a Mediterranean diet is the best option for improving digestive health and keeping it robust for the long term. I’ve successfully applied this program to hundreds of clients throughout the years.

Ultimately, the advice is simple: find every excuse to include olive oil into your diet. As you pour it onto your next salad or braised vegetables, be sure to thank Mother Earth for the olive tree.