Olive oil is composed primarily of the fatty acid, oleic acid, also designated an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid. Pecan oil, sunflower oil, and animal fats are also rich in oleic acid, though usually not as rich as olive oil. Although it varies with source, olive oil is typically around 75% oleic acid. In general, the higher the quality of extra-virgin olive oil, the higher the oleic acid content (as triglycerides, with little free or unbound oleic acid).
Of course, for many years olive oil and other oils and fats were demonized due to the higher caloric density of fats (9 calories per gram) compared to that of carbs and sugar (4 calories per gram) and the misinterpretations of early studies suggesting that fats and oils caused cardiovascular disease. This overly-simplistic logic that ignores many other factors such as provocation of blood sugar and insulin by carbs/sugars that leads to insulin resistance, provocation of liver de novo lipogenesis by carbs/sugars, provocation of small LDL particle formation, the satiating effect of oils and fats, and the differing microbiome implications of different foods led to decades of useless–actually harmful–dietary advice such as to reduce total and saturated fat and increase grain consumption.
For this and other reasons, we therefore never limit fats or oils in the Wheat Belly lifestyle. We embrace fats: more butter, never choose lean meats, never trim off the fat but eat it, full-fat dairy, coconut oil, etc.
But olive oil and other sources of oleic acid stand out as being especially healthy. One of the effects of oleic acid-rich olive oil is that oleic acid is the precursor to an endocannabinoid called oleoylethanolamide, or OEA. (Despite the classification of several fatty acid-like compounds as “endocannabinoids,” they have nothing to do with cannabis except that they all share some receptors in common.) OEA produced by intestinal cells from oleic acid has some unique effects:
- OEA is satiating–i.e., OEA turns off appetite. It serves as a key regulator of food intake.
- OEA is an activator of PPAR-alpha–PPAR-alpha is a key mediator of numerous metabolic processes. The activation of PPAR-alpha reduces triglycerides, reduces blood sugar and insulin resistance, reduces blood pressure
- OEA causes a bloom of Akkermansia–There is a 10-fold increase in Akkermansia populations in the gastrointestinal tract that adds to the direct PPAR-alpha mediated effects such as reduced insulin resistance/blood sugar.
- OEA provokes oxytocin release–This is the basis for much of the appetite-suppressing effect of OEA.
Combine the last item, i.e., increased oxytocin from OEA, with the oxytocin-boosting effect of L. reuteri yogurt, and you have an extremely effective way to control appetite. And, of course, add this to the already-reduced appetite that results when you eliminate gliadin-derived opioid peptide appetite stimulants from wheat and related grains and control over appetite is profound in the Wheat Belly lifestyle.
Oleic acid and OEA are, by the way, the most likely reason why the Mediterranean diet has been shown to be beneficial in reducing cardiovascular risk, risk for atrial fibrillation, risk for type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.
The weight loss-inducing effect of olive oil/oleic acid/OEA is modest, typically amounting to an extra few pounds lost over a year. By engaging in the Wheat Belly lifestyle, of course, you are doing far more than including olive oil; you have also eliminated gliadin-derived opioid peptides that drive appetite, eliminated the source of insulin-raising amylopectin A, have eliminated the intestinal inflammation effect of wheat germ agglutinin, and other beneficial effects that all add up to effective weight loss. But including plentiful quantities of extra-virgin olive oil provides considerable advantage in your overall program for health while making a modest contribution to weight management.
Here are recipes for two delicious salad dressings, a tasty way to boost your intake of olive oil while also getting plenty of galactooligosaccharide prebiotic fibers.