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This Common Food is a Powerful Anti-Inflammatory

Kaizen is the Japanese art of creating real, lasting change in your life. (Or in your business, if you happen to run Toyota. The leading car manufacturer ascribes all of its success to the kaizen principle.)

Kaizen works because it only asks for one small change at a time. And today, by making one small change to your diet, you can reduce the chronic inflammation that affects almost all of us and is linked to heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and many other ailments. And specifically you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes because this food modulates blood sugar as well. If you already have diabetes, this may reduce your symptoms by 12% or more.

I don’t know which is more exciting — the fact that this food is an across-the-board anti-inflammatory or the fact that it’s practically a natural “drug” to heal diabetes!

In 1992, The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) started recruiting participants for an enormous study. The researchers collected seven years worth of data from over 520,000 people in ten European countries, from Norway to Greece.1

One of the many things they found was that people from the Mediterranean region consumed far less saturated fat than did people from the north of Europe. Instead of using butter or animal fats, Greeks, Italians and Spaniards enjoyed the grassy taste of fresh olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).

Specifically, they concluded that using olive oil instead of butter reduces your chance of developing type 2 diabetes by 12%.2

Here Are Four Reasons Why:

#1. Olive oil helps control blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is like being on a blood sugar roller coaster, caused by too little insulin production and/or insulin resistance. A 2006 study (unrelated to EPIC) showed that participants who used olive oil in their diets significantly lowered their blood sugar levels—by as much as 10%.3

#2. Olive oil has anti-inflammatory qualities similar to ibuprofen.Inflammation is known to exacerbate or cause many diseases including type 2 diabetes.

Yes, it’s a remarkable finding, but a 2005 study from Nature proved that olive oil’s oleocanthal has the same strength of anti-inflammatory power as over-the-counter ibuprofen, the ingredient in Advil. And of course natural anti-inflammatories like olive oil are much safer than anti-inflammatory drugs because the latter cause intestinal bleeding and ulcers.4,5

According to the researchers, the more peppery the oil, the more oleocanthal it has.

#3. Olive oil reduces insulin resistance. The KANWU study found that MUFAs like olive oil work to increase insulin sensitivity.6

#4. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil don’t make you fat. One of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes is being overweight or obese. Saturated fats (like animal fats and butter) contribute to obesity (although carbohydrates are by far the biggest culprits). Saturated fat molecules literally stack up like Legos in your body. Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil, don’t stack. My non-expert (but well-informed) advice is to minimize fats from animal sources (meat and dairy) and pretty much eat all the saturated fats you want from avocado, coconut oil and nuts. The latter are EXTREMELY healthy. Do NOT try to avoid them.

Choosing The Best Olive Oil

Unfortunately, not every olive oil is created equal. Some oils are so refined or stale (“rancid”) that the oleocanthal has been completely oxidized out. Freshness is worth its weight in gold when it comes to olive oil. There are even mail order outfits that will rush you fresh-made olive oils for immediate consumption (expensive, needless to say).

For us plebeians who have to buy at the supermarket, here are some quick tips for purchasing a high quality olive oil likely to be high in oleocanthal:

  • Make sure it’s extra virgin.
  • Look for the USDA Organic label on a dark glass bottle. This label guarantees your EVOO is 100% extra virgin, and the dark glass keeps the oleocanthal from oxidizing away.
  • Ensure that your oil of choice tastes and smells bright, grassy, or “green”. Some stores will let you taste an olive oil before you purchase it.

If you’re on friendly terms with your grocer, I’d even try to find out when a new delivery of your favorite brand is due — and buy it right away.

A 12% lower risk of diabetes may be small, but it’s not insignificant. When it comes to your nutrition, kaizen is the most successful formula: take one small step at a time. Combine this with other techniques (like avoiding refined sugar and following an anti-inflammatory diet) and your risk for diabetes will only continue to drop.


  1. About Epic. The EPIC Project. The World Health Organization: International Agency for Research on Cancer.
  2. Rossi M. Mediterranean diet and glycaemic load in relation to incidence of type 2 diabetes: results from the Greek cohort of the population-based European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Diabetologia. 2013 Aug 22.
  3. Estruch R. Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006 Jul 4;145(1):1-11.
  4. Beauchamp G. Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil. Nature. 2005 September 1;(437)45-46.
  5. Painkillers, ibuprofen—side effects. NHS Choices. 2012 Feb. 7.
  6. Vessby B. Substituting dietary saturated fats for monounsaturated fat impairs insulin sensitivity in healthy men and women: The KANWU Study. Diabetologia. 2001 Mar;44(3):312-9.