Drizzling your salad with olive oil won’t just make it more tasty. It could also help keep your blood pressure down. A sprinkling of nuts or a few slices of avocado could also help. The advice follows a British study that suggests that unsaturated fats found in olive oil make lettuce extra good for us.
The researchers, from King’s College London, say that when we eat the two types of food, a chemical reaction occurs in the stomach. This creates compounds called nitro fatty acids. These, in turn, react with an enzyme to lower high blood pressure, experiments on mice showed. Often dubbed the ‘silent killer’ because the symptoms go unnoticed until late, high blood pressure trebles the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
It can also damage the kidneys and eyes and is becoming increasingly linked to dementia. The finding, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that doing something as simple as tossing salad in olive oil could make a difference to health. The two key ingredients for the chemical reaction to occur are the unsaturated fats found in olive oil olive oil, nuts, avocados and oily fish and compounds called nitrites and nitrates found in high levels in many salad vegetables. Good sources of nitrates and nitrates include lettuce, spinach, celery, carrots and beetroot.
Those who don’t fancy feasting on salad may eventually have another option. An American scientist who worked on the study with the British team is trying to create a pill that produces the benefits of nitro fatty acids, without the need to eat copious amounts of lettuce. King’s College London researcher Philip Eaton said the study could help explain why the Mediterranean diet is good for the heart – despite followers eating large amounts of olive oil and other fats. He said, ‘The findings of our study help explain why previous research has shown that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attacks.”
Dr Sanjay Thakkar, of the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the research said, ‘This interesting study goes some way to explain why a Mediterranean diet appears to be good for your heart health. The results showed a way in which a particular compound could combat high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.However, more work is necessary as these experiments were conducted in mice and this compound could also be having its effect through other pathways.”