Olive oil is one of the healthiest kitchen basics you can have around. Few other simple ingredients have so much scientific evidence backing their efficacy when it comes to long-term health.
No matter what diet you’re on, you should include an ample amount of olive oil in your daily cooking. Olive oil has been proven to improve long-term health by reducing your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, and its benefits extend to gastrointestinal health and metabolic health too.
Here’s everything we know about the most important health benefits of olive oil.
Olive oil benefits
1. Olive oil is a super-fat with incredible long-term health benefits
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 fewer nutrients, and sometimes chemical residues, so it’s important to buy the good stuff if you want the benefits.
2. Olive oil can help with ulcers
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).
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).
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.
4. Olive oil contains potent antioxidants
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.
Laboratory studies show the compounds in olive oil actually kill cancer cells in test tubes (7), 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 (8).
5. Olive oil fights off bad bacteria in your stomach
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 (9).
6. Olive oil reduces inflammation
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 (10).
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.
7. Olive oil reduces risk factors for heart disease
It is effective for lowering blood pressure, which is a reliable predictor for an elevated risk of developing heart disease (11, 12). Another benefit includes the presence of oleocanthol, the component scientists believe keeps the LDL cholesterol in the blood from oxidizing (13, 14).
8. Olive oil might preserve brain function as you get older
Results from a randomized clinical trial with subjects consuming a diet high in extra virgin olive oil identified multiple beneficial effects on brain function. (15)
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. (16) Mice also navigated mazes more efficiently and showed signs of improved memory when fed olive oil. (17)
9. Olive oil also helps prevent metabolic disease
A diet rich in olive oil has been shown to cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40% (18). Several studies confirmed positive effects on blood sugar levels, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity (19).
10. Olive oil won’t make you gain weight
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 (20). Another study spanning 3 years with 187 adults showed increased antioxidant levels as well as a drop in weight (21).
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.
11. Olive oil can fight inflammation
Olive oil has long been suspected to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, because many of the chronic diseases it combats (like heart disease) are linked to long-term systemic inflammation.
Recent work published in the prestigious journal Nature undertook a detailed analysis of the biochemical effects of olive oil as it relates to inflammation (22).
Researchers were able to demonstrate that, although olive oil contains different molecular compounds, the effect is the same: an inhibition of specific enzymes linked to an inflammatory process in the body that might explain part of the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil.
Of course, you can’t get the same benefits of olive oil by just taking ibuprofen every day, so olive oil clearly offers more than just this specific enzyme inhibition.
12. Olive oil could help protect your liver from fat accumulation
One of the biggest health threats from a poor diet is the gradual accumulation of fat in your liver—a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, also known as fatty liver disease.
But, with the rise of Western diets, doctors began to see the same disease in people who were not alcohol abusers: nutritionists link it to the negative effects of the kind of high-fat, high-sugar, high-refined-carbohydrate diets now common in Western countries.
Emerging research now suggests that olive oil could help protect your liver from the kind of liver damage found in fatty liver disease (23).
Olive oil side effects
Olive oil is safe, but make sure you’re getting pure olive oil. 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.
Olive oil usage
Most studies recommend at least one to two fluid ounces per day. From both observational research and from intervention studies, where olive oil is “prescribed” as a treatment to reduce the risk of chronic disease, we have a pretty good idea of the minimum amount of olive oil needed get a benefit for your health.
Studies that have found benefits from olive oil interventions typically use “dosages” of between 25 and 50 mL (about one to two fluid ounces per day) (24). That dosage translates to about two to four servings of olive oil per day.
There is no upper limit on olive oil intake. There doesn’t seem to be an upper limit on olive oil intake; participants in an ongoing study on a Mediterranean diets and heart disease receive a full liter of olive oil every single week, and are instructed to use it “liberally” in cooking and as a salad dressing (25).
Observational research generally suggests that more olive oil consumption is better as well. While it’s less helpful than a specific amount, when it comes to olive oil, more is better. Shoot for at least 40 mL or 1.4 fluid ounces every day.
Olive oil benefits FAQ
Q: How much olive oil should you get per day?
A: Scientific research indicates that, at a minimum, you should strive to get 25-50 mL of olive oil per day. That translates to around one to two fluid ounces of olive oil per day.
Critically, this is the minimum amount, not the recommended amount. As there seems to be no upper limit for the health benefits of olive oil, the rule for now should be that more is better.
Q: Is olive oil bad for you?
A: Quite the opposite, actually. Virtually every aspect of olive oil is beneficial, and it’s hard to name a domain of health where there isn’t some evidence that olive oil exerts a positive benefit.
Olive oil is most heavily-studied as a way to reduce the risk of heart disease, but other research has found that it preserves cognitive function in older adults, combats obesity, improves liver health, and reduces inflammation. So far, research has not identified any upper limit to olive oil consumption, so feel free to use it liberally on a regular basis.
Q: How long does olive oil last?
A: Olive oil, when taken care of, can last for at least several months even after being opened. To make sure your olive oil stays as fresh as possible, and retains as much of its antioxidant properties as possible, buy olive oil that comes in an opaque or tinted container, and store it in a cool, dark place.
Q: Can olive oil help digestion?
A: Some of the most exciting frontiers of research on olive oil usage actually related to less-common applications such as addressing digestive problems. A very interesting study published in 2013 used olive oil in combination with probiotics to combat indigestion in a small group of volunteers (26).
The scientists in charge of the study hypothesized that the antioxidant properties of olive oil contributed significantly to the improvements in symptoms, but the interaction with probiotics is the most important takeaway.
Though more research needs to be done, taking olive oil alongside probiotics could be a great way to reduce indigestion without the side effects of some of the more common treatments for indigestion.
Direct sunlight, oxygen, and heat are the main enemies of the antioxidants in olive oil, so avoid exposing the oil to these whenever possible.
Related: Our best olive oil picks
When it comes to long-term health benefits, olive oil is hard to beat. Pretty much any diet can benefit by adding olive oil, and it’s especially useful for swapping out unhealthy fats with the healthy fats in olive oil.
Good scientific evidence indicates olive oil can reduce your risk of heart disease, and it’s also been studied for improving glucose control, sustaining healthy cognitive function, and cutting down on inflammation in your body.
Because of these long-term health benefits, it’s well-worth your time to seek out a high-quality olive oil and incorporate it into your diet on a regular basis.