In a nutritional environment where fats and oils have been blamed for everything from heart disease to obesity, olive oil rises above the fray to the point where it might be labeled as a superfood.
We’re talking about extra virgin olive oil, not the cheap imitators diluted with more refined versions of the real thing; more refining means less nutrients, and sometimes chemical residues, so it’s important to buy the good stuff if you want the benefits.
With qualities across the board to protect against common health issues, extra virgin olive oil can even aid in avoiding ulcers by creating an environment discouraging to the bacteria that cause this common problem. (1) In fact, it only took 30 grams a day for two weeks in a test group with ulcers to eliminate the bacteria for up to 40% of participants. (2)
Olive oil is composed of 26% saturated fats, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Another 73% is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat known for its anti-inflammatory properties and positive effects on C-Reactive Protein (CRP) readings. (3)
Olive oil is stable at relatively high heats, which makes it a good choice for cooking. After heating olive oil for 36 hours at 350˚F, researchers concluded the oil held its molecular structure and remained safe to consume. (4)
The “Anti-“ Winner
When you check out oils for health properties, you may find coconut oil comparably impressive, but extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, antibacterial agents, anti-inflammatory properties, and even anti-cancer compounds.
Check out these 7 unique benefits of olive oil:
- Rich in biologically active antioxidants, olive oil can help fight serious diseases, increasing your chances of staying healthy. At least 30 phenolic compounds help your body protect itself against imbalances that can lead to physical degeneration. (5, 6)
- Preventing the cholesterol in blood from becoming oxidized may contribute to dropping the risk of developing heart disease. (7) In one trial, young women with high blood pressure lowered the numbers through improving endothelial function in blood vessels, cutting their chances of heart disorders.
- Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria resulting in stomach ulcers that can lead to stomach cancer, backs off in the presence of olive oil, as do other potentially harmful bacteria. (8)
- Oxidative damage from free radicals may be a contributing factor to cancer, and the antioxidants in olive oil can reduce this type of internal harm. (9)
- Laboratory studies show the compounds in olive oil actually kill cancer cells in test tubes. (10) The polyphenols thought to be responsible for offing breast cancer cells in the lab show promise for the development of medication that could be used for women at high risk for the disease. (11)
- Reducing inflammation may be one of the most important benefits of choosing olive oil. The association of chronic inflammation with serious diseases is well known, and the antioxidants in this oil suppress the expression of genes linked to inflammatory response. (12)
- Oleocanthol, an antioxidant in olive oil, has a similar anti-inflammatory effect to ibuprofen. (13)
Think of extra virgin olive oil as a top-quality lubricant to keep your body in top form for navigating the nutritional highway to vital health.
Add These Benefits to the List
People following a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil have historically enjoyed overall good health at much higher rates than those who didn’t use olive oil; to ferret out the reasons for this, many studies have been done.
Reviewing these conclusions from trials and studies will illustrate why extra virgin olive oil could be a wise choice in your diet.
Here’s 4 more olive oil facts you should know:
- The unique compounds in olive oil can protect against heart disease through some of the key mechanisms mentioned above. (14, 15) It is effective for lowering blood pressure, which is a reliable predictor for an elevated risk of developing heart disease. Another benefit includes the presence of oleocanthol, the component scientists believe keeps the LDL cholesterol in the blood from oxidizing. (16, 17)
- Results from a randomized clinical trial with subjects consuming a diet high in extra virgin olive oil identified multiple beneficial effects on brain function. (18) Another study on mice indicated compounds in olive oil help dissolve amyloid plaques that accumulate inside brain cells, and are linked with Alzheimer’s disease. (19) Mice also navigated mazes more efficiently and showed signs of improved memory when fed olive oil. (20)
- A diet rich in olive oil has been shown to cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%. (21) Several studies confirmed positive effects on blood sugar levels, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity. (22)
- Eating olive oil isn’t likely to plump you up. When 7000 Spanish college students ate even more olive oil than usual over 2.5 years, the change in diet could not be correlated with weight gain. (23) Another study spanning 3 years with 187 adults showed increased antioxidant levels as well as a drop in weight. (24)
Peripheral dietary factors may exert some influence on results in studies like these, but all conclusions were reached with subjects eating generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil.
For centuries, the process for extracting oil from olives has remained reassuringly simple: ripe olives are pressed with mechanical force between stone surfaces, then the oil is separated from vegetable matter and fluids before bottling.
Some modern manufacturing plants use chemicals to extract olive oil, so it’s important to make certain you know what you’re getting. Mixing quality olive oil with inferior oil processed in undesirable manners is one way to increase profits, and in these cases, the end result will not deliver the antioxidants and substances associated with the health benefits listed above.
Even if a product is labeled “Extra Virgin Olive Oil,” it may be diluted with chemically extracted oils; it’s well worth it to spend more time and money, if necessary, and get the right stuff.
Many of the fats and oils available in today’s marketplace deserve a bad rap, including trans fats commonly found in junk food and certain highly processed seed and vegetable oils, like canola oil and grapeseed oil.
Summary: The pure and simple version of extra virgin olive oil is a great investment for supporting your health.