Olive Oil is a wonderful example of heart-healthy dietary fat. High quality extra virgin olive oil is incredibly healthy. Due to its powerful antioxidants, it benefits your heart, brain, joints and more. In fact, it may be the healthiest fat on the planet. Dozens of studies indicate that extra virgin olive oil has powerful benefits for your heart.
Olive oil is the natural oil extracted from olives, the fruit of the olive tree. About 14% of the oil is saturated fat, whereas 11% is polyunsaturated, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The predominant fatty acid in olive oil is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, making up 73% of the total oil content. Studies suggest that oleic acid reduces inflammation and may even have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer. Monounsaturated fats are also quite resistant to high heat, making extra virgin olive oil a healthy choice for cooking.
Extra virgin olive oil is nutritious. Apart from its beneficial fatty acids, it contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K. Most importantly, olive oil is also loaded with powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants are biologically active and may reduce your risk of chronic diseases. They also fight inflammation and help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidation. These benefits may lower your risk of heart disease.
Chronic inflammation is thought to be a leading driver of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and even obesity. Extra-virgin olive oil can reduce inflammation, which may be one of the main reasons for its health benefits. The main anti-inflammatory effects are mediated by the antioxidants. Key among them is oleocanthal, which has been shown to work similarly to the anti-inflammatory drug, ibuprofen. Some scientists estimate that the oleocanthal in 3.4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil has a similar effect as 10% of the adult dosage of ibuprofen.
Research also suggests that oleic acid, the main fatty acid in olive oil, can reduce levels of important inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP). One study also showed that olive oil antioxidants can inhibit some genes and proteins that drive inflammation.
Stroke is caused by a disturbance of blood flow to your brain, either due to a blood clot or bleeding. The relationship between olive oil and stroke risk has been studied extensively. 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 heart disease. In another review in 140,000 participants, those who consumed olive oil were at a much lower risk of stroke than those who did not.
Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world. Observational studies conducted a few decades ago showed that heart disease is less common in Mediterranean countries. This led to extensive research on the Mediterranean Diet, which has now been shown to significantly reduce heart disease risk. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the key ingredients in this diet, protecting against heart disease in several ways.
It lowers inflammation, protects “bad” LDL cholesterol from oxidation, improves the lining of your blood vessels and may help prevent excessive blood clotting.
Interestingly, it has also been shown to lower blood pressure, which is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and premature death. In one study, olive oil reduced the need for blood pressure medication by 48%.
Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, with favorable effects on body weight. In a 30-month study in over 7,000 Spanish college students, consuming a lot of olive oil was not linked to increased weight. Additionally, one three-year study in 187 participants found that a diet rich in olive oil was linked to increased levels of antioxidants in the blood, as well as weight loss.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative condition in the world. One of its key features is a buildup of so-called beta-amyloid plaques inside your brain cells. One study in mice showed that a substance in olive oil can help remove these plaques.
Additionally, a human study indicated that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil benefitted brain function.
Olive oil also appears to be highly protective against type 2 diabetes. Several studies have linked olive oil to beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. A randomized clinical trial in 418 healthy people eating the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil showed that it reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by over 40%.
People in Mediterranean countries have a lower risk of some cancers, and many researchers believe that olive oil may be the reason. The antioxidants in olive oil can reduce oxidative damage due to free radicals, which is believed to be a leading driver of cancer.
Test-tube studies demonstrate that compounds in olive oil can fight cancer cells.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by deformed and painful joints. Though the exact cause is not well understood, it involves your immune system attacking normal cells by mistake. Olive oil supplements appear to improve inflammatory markers and reduce oxidative stress in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.
Olive oil seems particularly beneficial when combined with fish oil, a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. In one study, olive and fish oil significantly improved handgrip strength, joint pain and morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Olive oil contains many nutrients that can inhibit or kill harmful bacteria. One of these is Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that lives in your stomach and can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. Test-tube studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil fights eight strains of this bacterium, three of which are resistant to antibiotics. A study in humans suggested that 30 grams of extra virgin olive oil, taken daily, can eliminate Helicobacter pylori infection in 10–40% of people in as little as two weeks.
How to Buy
Buying the right kind of olive oil is extremely important.
Extra virgin olive oil retains some of the antioxidants and bioactive compounds from olives. For this reason, it’s considered healthier than the more refined variety of olive oil.
Even so, there is a lot of fraud on the olive oil market, as many oils that read “extra virgin” on the label have been diluted with other refined oils.
Therefore, examine labels carefully to ensure you’re getting real extra virgin olive oil. It’s always a good idea to read ingredient lists and check for quality certification.
How to Store
When stored properly, freshly harvested olive oil can last up to two years. To store oil properly, it’s important to keep it away from light, heat, and oxygen. Olive oil that isn’t stored properly will go rancid.
Protect from light! Sunlight and fluorescent lights will deteriorate the quality of the oil. Store your oil in a pantry, closet, cupboard, or other dark area with a door. Never leave the olive oil on your counter, in a window sill, or anywhere that it will be exposed to light for extended periods of time.
The ideal container for olive oil is a stainless-steel tin or dark glass bottle that will further protect the oil from light. Olive oil often comes in clear glass bottles, and if you don’t have another container to transfer the oil to, then wrap the bottle with aluminum foil to protect it from light. Don’t use reactive metals, such as iron and copper. These materials can contaminate the oil and cause an undesired chemical reaction.
The ideal temperature for storing olive oil is 57 F, but it can safely be stored anywhere up to 70 F.
You can store the oil in the refrigerator, though this isn’t necessary if you can keep the oil at the right temperature outside of the refrigerator. Oil stored in the refrigerator will solidify and become cloudy, so you’ll need to warm it up to room temperature before you can use it.
Olive oil will be freshest within a year of the olives being harvested, but the oil will still be good for another year after that or the freshest and longest-lasting olive oil possible, look for a harvest date on the bottle, and buy oil made with freshly harvested olives. Go by the bottling date if you can’t find a harvest date on the oil. When stored properly, the oil will be good for 18 months to two years from the bottling date.
Plastic bottles don’t protect olive oil from light the way dark glass and metal containers do, so oil that comes in plastic containers may already have a shortened shelf life. Olive oil stored in plastic bottles also tends to have fewer carotenes, less chlorophyll, and phenols, which are antioxidants found in olives.
How to Cook
Olive oil is a delicious garnish that you can add to foods right before serving. The oil will add an extra dimension to the flavor, add richness to the dish, and bring out some flavors in the food. Drizzle on some oil right before serving foods like:
Olive oil makes an excellent substitute for butter in some situations. Instead of spreading butter on your toast, sandwiches, muffins, or fruit breads, drizzle and spread some olive oil on top.
- For fresh bread, try combining olive oil and some balsamic vinegar on a flat plate and dip the bread into the oil and vinegar before eating.
Fresh olive oil has a light and non-greasy taste, which makes it ideal for making vinaigrettes and salad dressings. You can either follow a proven vinaigrette recipe, or make your own by experimenting with different combinations of:
- Olive oil
- Balsamic, rice, or wine vinegar
- Lemon juice
- Honey or maple syrup