When it comes to natural oils, olive oil perhaps has the richest and longest history. The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean region and archeological evidence shows that by 6000 BC olives were being turned into olive oil.
High-quality extra virgin olive oil is being extensively researched for its anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants and macronutrients.
Olive oil is extract from the fruits of the olive tree that are exceptionally high in healthy fatty acids. These fatty acids have been linked to lower rates of depression, dementia, obesity and inflammation.
But all these benefits of olive oil depend on the type of oil you use. There are numerous varieties olive oil available in the market. The trick is to choose the healthiest kind of oil.
In this article we have collected all the research-backed health benefits of olive oil along with the tips and guidelines to select, buy and store olive oil.
10 Best Benefits of Olive Oil
1. Reduce the Risk of Cancer, Specially Breast Cancer
The polyphenols present in olive oil help to lower the risk of certain typed of cancer. In most cases, cancer is initiated when the cells are damaged by oxidative stress or chronic excessive inflammation. Phytonutrient oleocanthal present in olive oil mimics the effect of ibuprofen in reducing inflammation which in turn reduces the risk of cancer and its recurrence. Research studies show that consuming as little as 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a daily basis can reduce the risk of cancer of the breast respiratory tract, digestive tract to a great extent. Olive oil also improves cell membrane function and lowers the risk of developing cancer. It also protects our DNA structure from oxidative stress. A study of women in Sweden found out that those whose diet included higher amounts of monounsaturated fats compared to polyunsaturated fats had less frequent incidence of breast cancer.
2. Protect the Heart
A diet rich in olive oil, such as the Mediterranean Diet can actually slow down the aging of the heart. Gradual blocking of the arteries and blood vessels is known as atherosclerosis and this is one of the most common causes of heart disease. Oxidative stress and underlying chronic inflammation are the two main culprits that causes blockage of the arteries. Olive oil is a rich source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients that lowers the risk of oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. Polyphenols in Olive oil lowers the risk of lipid peroxidation in the blood stream that prevents the LDL molecules from oxygen damage. Polyphenols such as hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and luteolin keeps the blood platelets in check and prevent them from clumping.
3. Reduce the Risk of Stroke
According to a recent study from France that was published in the online issue of Neurology, elderly individuals who consume olive oil may have better protection against stroke. The researchers collected data from the medical records of 7625 people over the age of 65. None of the participants had a history of stroke. The participants were categorized in 3 groups based on their olive oil consumption. In 5 years there were only 148 cases of stroke. It was seen that those who used olive oil for both cooking and dressing had 41% lower risk of stroke compared to those who did not use olive oil.
4. Lower the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Studies suggest that consuming polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats, the kind found in olive oil has beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and it can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Fatty acids in olive oil influence glucose metabolism by altering the function of cell membranes, insulin signaling, enzyme activity and gene expression. When you eat carbohydrates your blood sugar level gets elevated, but when you consume fats it helps to stabilize your blood sugar levels and regulates insulin activity. Even when you eat carbs along with olive oil, it slows down the release of glucose in your blood stream. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care showed that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost 50% compared to a low fat diet.
5. Fight Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases of the bones that cause the bone tissue to become fragile. It is more common in women compared to men. The increased fragility of bones also increases the possibility of fractures. Olive oil supplementation is an effective remedy to improve the thickness and density of bones. Olive oil intake improves the blood level of calcium. Two polyphenols in olive oil – tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol are especially effective in increasing bone formation. Although, most of the research and study in this area has been conducted on laboratory animals, but a recent group of research suggests that olive oil may prove to have special bone benefits in post-menopausal women.
6. Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Olive oil is considered a brain food that improves focus and memory and fights age-related cognitive decline caused by inflammation and oxidative stress. The brain is made up of mainly fatty acids and our body requires it on a daily basis to perform various tasks, regulate the mood and maintain mental clarity. Olive oil also protects the brain against ADDLs, a particular type of protein that is toxic to the brain and can trigger Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Oleocanthal, a specific type of natural phenolic compound found in olive oil removes the ADDL proteins from the brain. A study published in the journal Chemical Neuroscience tracked the effect of oleocanthal in the brain cells and brains of laboratory mice. It was seen that in both the cultured brain cells and brain of mice oleocanthal boosted the production of two key proteins and enzymes that are crucial for the removal of beta-amyloid from the brain.
7. Alleviates Depression
Healthy fats such as olive oil have a hormone-balancing and anti-inflammatory effect on the body that prevents neurotransmitter dysfunction. In most cases, mood disorders or depression occurs when the brain does not get optimum amount of hormones serotonin and dopamine – the important chemical messengers that are necessary for mood regulation, promoting good sleep and though-processing. As per a study conducted by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain published in PLoS ONE, olive oil has a protective effect regarding depression. The team collected and analyzed data of 12000 volunteers over a period of 6 six years. It was seen that people who consumed trans fat had 48% higher risk of developing depression compared to the volunteers who consumed olive oil.
8. Aids Weight Loss and Reduces Belly Fat
When it comes to weight loss, most of us think of limiting the consumption of high-fat foods. But it is the type of fat that matters. Healthy fats such as olive oil play a key role in controlling excess insulin, a hormone that controls blood glucose levels and promotes weight gain. Insulin makes it difficult to lose weight even after counting calories and exercising. Healthy fats are a satiating food option that reduces hunger and cravings and prevents overeating. Researches from the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland found that people who were assigned a high-fat, low-carb diet lost more weight compared to individuals on low-fat diets.
9. Protect the Liver
Oxidative stress is one of the main causes of liver damage. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in olive oil and its extract prevent oxidative damage of the hepatic tissues and promote liver health. A recent study by researchers in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia exposed rats to a moderately toxic herbicide that is known to deplete antioxidants and promote oxidative stress. It was seen that the rats that were fed a diet rich in olive oil were partially protected from the liver damage inflected by the herbicide.
10. Prevents Digestive Disorders and Ulcerative Colitis
Numerous studies found out populations that regularly consumed olive oil had lower rates of digestive tract cancers, specially cancer of the upper digestive tract including stomach and small intestine. Most of the cancer-preventive benefits of olive oil are attributed to the polyphenols in olive oil along with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The poyphenols in olive oil helps to maintain the balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. The polyphenols in olive oil slow down the growth of unhealthy bacteria that is responsible for digestive tract infection. Oleic acid in Olive oil can also help to fend off ulcerative colitis by blocking the chemicals that aggravate inflammation in the bowel.
Side Effects of Using Olive Oil:
- The biggest concern while using olive oil topically or consuming it is choosing the right kind of oil and storing it in the right way.
- Olive oil is safe when consumed in safe quantities. Olive oil should comprise 14% of the total daily calories. This should be approximately 2 tablespoons daily.
- Topical application of olive oil to the skin can cause allergic responses and contact dermatitis in rare cases.
- High doses of olive oil can cause diarrhea-like symptom.
- To get maximum benefits of olive oil rotate it with other sources of healthy fats such as coconut oil, ghee, organic grass-fed butter, nuts, seeds and wild-caught fish.
Nutritional Value of Olive Oil:
Olive oil comprises of mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, the most important of which is oleic acid.
One Tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Contains –
- 120 calories
- 14 grams fat (9.8 grams of it is monounsaturated fat)
- 1 milligram vitamin K
- 9 milligrams vitamin E
How to Select and Buy Olive Oil?
Types of Olive oil – Before selecting your olive oil, it is important to have some knowledge about the different types of olive oils available in the market.
- Extra virgin Olive Oil – It is the highest quality olive oil produced by cold-pressing the olives. It does not make use of any chemicals for refinement. The entire procedure avoids high-heat that can destroy the fatty acids in nutrients in the oil.
- Virgin Olive Oil – It is produced from a second pressing of the pulp after the extra virgin oil is extracted. Virgin olive oil is also derived from ripe olives.
- Light Olive Oil – Light olive oil or olive oil blends are prepared by combining refined olive oil with other vegetable oils. Light olive oil is chemically processed and is a mixture of low-quality oils that have undergone high heat while being manufactured.
Packaging – Always opt for olive oils that are packed in dark-tinted glass bottle or a tin. Exposure to light and heat destroys the oil’s flavors. Avoid olive oil that is sold in clear or plastic container.
Harvest Date or Best-by Date – Olive oil is a perishable product and unlike wine it does not improve with age. So, check for the harvest date or best-by date on the label while buying your olive oil and don’t buy any oil that is more than 2 years old.
Estate name – Small farms and producers who grow their own olives and press them often mention their estate name on the label. You might not recognize the name on the label but it is a sign of quality. It ensures that the oil comes from a designated region that specializes in producing olive oil.
How to Store and Cook with Olive Oil?
- Store your olive oil away from heat, light and air. All the three factors can cause oxidation and turn the oil rancid.
- Store it in a cool and dark place. The best temperature is 57 degree F/14 degree C.
- Pour the olive oil in an opaque dark glass bottle or stainless steel container so that it lasts longer.
- Make sure the lid of the olive oil container is tight. It is best to use bottles with cork stoppers.
- Use up extra-virgin olive oil within a year and lower-quality oils within a few months.
- It is best not to cook with extra virgin olive oil because it is less stable compared to other fats and can turn rancid.
- Extra virgin olive oil is ideal for drizzling on pasta, salads, etc.
Olive oil is described as “Liquid Gold” and it is truly one of the healthiest of vegetable oils that you can apply topically to your skin or add to uncooked foods to boost the nutrient value of your diet.