Olive oil is not only an excellent cooking oil, but it is also comes with a whole host of health benefits. Now, let’s take a look at some of the incredible health benefits of olive oil.
Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives (Olea europaea), a species of small tree that belongs to the family Oleaceae. Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean region and are grown for their fruit and the oil they produce.
Olive oil is produced by crushing the whole olives and extracting the oil from the olive pulp. Depending on the amount of processing involved, olive oils come in three different grades; extra-virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and refined olive oil.
Each type of oil has a different smoke point, and this smoke point depends on the quality of the oil. The lower the smoke point, the better the quality. Oil with a high smoke point is appropriate for cooking purposes.
- Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). This is the least refined and processed among the three. Therefore, it is considered the highest grade because it retains most of the natural flavor and aroma. This oil even has lower acidity content compared to its standard virgin counterpart, containing no more than 0.8 percent acidity.
- Virgin olive oil. It has less quality than the extra virgin type. It contains slightly high acidity content between 1 to 4 percent and has a slightly milder taste. This is suitable for low-heat cooking purposes.
- Refined olive oil. This kind of oil is obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods that do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure. The refining process removes color, odor and flavor from the olive oil. It’s considered low quality and therefore is only good for cooking purposes, especially one that involves high temperature. It has the same fat content as the above two oils.
Olive Oil Nutrition Facts
Olive oil is one of the healthier oils because of its heart-healthy fats, making it one of the most popular choices when it comes to cooking or dressing up meals. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one tablespoon (14 grams) of olive oil, provides:
- 124 calories
- 14 g of fat
- 2 mg of vitamin E
- 8.4 µg of vitamin K
It also contains traces amount of calcium and potassium, as well as polyphenols which possessed powerful antioxidant properties. Of all the edible oils, extra virgin olive oil has one of the highest levels of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Studies have shown that consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids reduces the body’s total cholesterol levels, which may help lower your risk of heart disease. The high monounsaturated fat content of olive oil has also been reported to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and promote weight loss in several observational studies.
Health Benefits of Olive Oil
1. Protects against heart disease
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, and several studies have found that people who consume extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and have a low-fat diet tend to be at a lower risk of heart disease.
EVOO contains high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids, which helps protects against heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
A 2017 study suggested that the polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil provide protection against heart disease by preventing atherosclerosis and lowering blood pressure .
2. Prevents stroke
Monounsaturated fatty acids also contribute to the reduction of stroke risk. A large review of studies in 841,000 people found that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat associated with a reduced risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease .
Additionally, a study published in Neurology journal found that participants who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as dressing had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who never used olive oil in their diet .
3. Fights cancer
People in Mediterranean countries tend to have a lower risk of some cancers, and many researchers believe that olive oil may be the reason.
According research published in 2019, olive oil contains substances that may help prevent colorectal cancer. Lab tests have found evidence that antioxidants in olive oil may help protect the body from inflammation, oxidative damage, and epigenetic changes .
While there are many studies to do before the benefits of extra virgin olive oil against cancer are fully confirmed, you may consider it.
4. Reduces type 2 diabetes risk
Olive oil appears to be useful for reducing the risk of diabetes as well. A 2017 research review found that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts and veggies, can play a role in preventing diabetes. The Mediterranean diet is loaded with polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds that function as antioxidants) and researchers believe this high polyphenol intake can reduce type 2 diabetes risk by improving insulin sensitivity .
Moreover, a randomized clinical trial in 418 healthy people recently confirmed the protective effects of olive oil against type 2 diabetes .
5. Prevents Alzheimer’s disease
Several epidemiological and clinical studies have suggested that diets high in extra virgin olive oil could reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
A 2015 study found that in older populations, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts was associated with improved cognitive function, and thus decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s .
One study in mice showed that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, may help reduce brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease .
Furthermore, a human study indicated that a Mediterranean diet (supplemented with either extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts) can improve cognition compared with a low-fat diet .
6. Aids in weight loss
Olive oil is loaded with monounsaturated fats, which studies show that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats can actually help to lose weight.
One study comparing a low-carb, low-fat, and Mediterranean diet followed over 300 obese people for a 2-year period found that those following a Mediterranean-style diet lost almost twice as much weight as people following a low-fat diet. Those on the Mediterranean diet also ended up consuming more fiber and had the highest ratio of healthy monounsaturated fat to saturated fat .
7. Promotes skin health
Olive oil is packed with vitamin E, healthy fats, and antioxidants, and these components can benefit your skin.
The healthy fats in olive oil is a great natural moisturizer that helps in sealing the moisture and forms a layer on the skin, which helps in protecting it. Olive oil’s antioxidant properties help protect your skin cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. This in turn, works against premature aging.
People with normal or dry skin might benefit from adding olive oil into their skincare routine. But if you have acne-prone or oily skin, you should definitely be careful with this option and try incorporating it in your daily skin care slowly and gradually.
Note: If you choose to incorporate olive oil into your skincare routine, always choose organic extra-virgin oil.
8. Hair care
Extra-virgin olive oil is a rich source of vitamin E and antioxidants, which can help to reduce the impact of oxidative stress on hair. It also helps maintain a healthy scalp by fighting off dandruff, eliminating dryness, and acting as a shield against potential fungus.
To use it, simply massage your scalp with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil using your fingertips. Afterward, shampoo and rinse thoroughly. Repeat this once a week for healthy, shiny hair.
How to Select and Store Olive Oil
When buying olive oil, make sure to choose the extra virgin variant. This kind of olive oil contains more antioxidants and nutrients, so it is much more healthier than the other types of olive oil.
When it comes to storing olive oil, it’s important to limit the oil’s exposure to light, heat, and oxygen, as over time these can degrade the quality of the oil, eventually turning it rancid. Be sure to use oil soon after purchasing it, and always keep it stored with a cap or lid.