Extra virgin olive oil!
Read on to see what the research says about this Mediterranean favorite.
According to the USDA Nutritional Database, one tablespoon of olive oil contains:
- 119 calories
- Vitamin E – 1.94 mg (13% of your Recommended Daily Value – RDV)
- Vitamin K – 8.1 mg (9% RDV)
- Saturated fat – 1.9 g
- Monounsaturated fat – 9.9 g
- Polyunsaturated fat – 10.5 g
As you can see, olive oil contains a number of fats.
Based on the American Heart Organization’s guidelines, no more than 16 g of saturated fat should be consumed a day, if you’re following a 2,000 calorie diet. 1.9 g equates to roughly 12% of that maximum intake.
They also recommend that the majority of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated (MUFA) or polyunsaturated (PUFA), although there is no specific recommended amount.
As you can see, olive oil is high in both MUFAs and PUFAs, and it’s these high levels of ‘good fats’ (particularly the monounsaturated type) that give a simple spoonful of extra virgin olive oil some of its amazing health benefits.
Here are 14 of those benefits:
1. Antioxidant Activity
Antioxidants are substances that help prevent damage to our body’s cells caused by hazardous oxygen molecules known as ‘free radicals’.
Free radicals contribute to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other serious illnesses.
Olive oil contains some powerful antioxidants, which means it may help protect us against some of these serious conditions.
According to research published in Nutrition Research Reviews, two chemical compounds (hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein), which give extra virgin olive oil its bitter taste, have exhibited powerful antioxidant activity.
The vitamin E in olive oil also has proven and distinctive antioxidant activities, as does vitamin K.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Effects
If you’ve read my article on the Anti-Inflammatory Diet.
You’ll recall that chronic inflammation is linked to many of today’s most prevalent and serious medical conditions like asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer and more.
Thanks to its inflammation fighting properties, extra virgin olive oil can play a role in an anti-inflammatory meal plan.
One of the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil, oleic acid, plays an important role here. Studies show it can reduce the markers of inflammation.
Japanese research, conducted in 2007, looked at the levels of both oleic acid and markers of inflammation in over 3,000 people.
They found that intakes of oleic acid (among other fatty acids) reduced the signs of inflammation in the body, especially when polyunsaturated fat intake is at a moderate level.
Perhaps even more important than oleic acid is the presence of oleocanthal, a type of antioxidant.
Research has found that this substance mimics the effects of ibuprofen. With a 50 gram (1.75 oz) daily dose of olive oil providing 10% of the pain relieving power of a standard adult dose of ibuprofen.
Sure, 10% isn’t that high but researchers say that even low doses of other anti-inflammatory agents, like aspirin, can offer important health benefits when taken consistently over time.
3. Anti-Bacterial Properties
In addition to fighting oxidation and inflammation, extra virgin olive oil has been shown to fight certain types of bacteria.
When several different food items were tested for antibacterial activity. Both vinegar and liquid extracts of virgin olive oil showed the strongest activity against all strains of bacteria tested.
Even when virgin olive oil was used in mayonnaise and salads, it reduced the amount of both Salmonella and Listeria present in the food.
Another type of bacteria olive oil is effective against is H. pylori. A nasty bug that is linked to a majority of stomach ulcers and some types of gastric cancer.
An in vitro study has shown that substances in olive oil exert a strong bactericidal activity against eight strains of H. pylori – three of which are even resistant to some antibiotics!
A human study found that a mere 30 g of extra virgin olive oil taken daily can kill the H. pylori bug in up to 40% of people in just 14 days.
4. Linked with an Overall Healthy Diet
A higher intake of olive oil has been linked with an overall healthier diet.
One study, that looked at 1,600 individuals aged between 18 and 60, found that those with the highest consumption of olive oil (greater than 13.5% of total calories) ate healthier foods.
Unsurprisingly, those with the highest olive oil consumption also demonstrated high total fat intake, but saturated fats accounted for only a small amount of this. They also tended to more than meet their vitamin requirements.
Of course, the research isn’t saying that simply eating more olive oil will cause you to miraculously eat more healthily – it’s just saying there is a link.
Perhaps those who consume more olive oil do so as they stick to a Mediterranean-style diet, which is also rich in whole grains, fish and vegetables.
5. Prevents Heart Disease
Numerous studies have shown that following a Mediterranean diet promotes heart health.
One such study enrolled 7,447 participants, aged between 55 to 80, who did not have heart disease but who were at high risk for it.
Participants were assigned to one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra virgin olive oil; a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts; and a control diet.
The researchers discovered that the diets supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.
A review of 11 previous pieces of research into the heart benefits of the Mediterranean diet, of which a key feature is olive oil. Found that this type of healthy eating has favorable effects on cardiovascular risk factors.
Olive oil alone has been shown to reduce high blood pressure levels (hypertension) – one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease.
One study published in 2000 has shown that regularly eating olive oil can reduce the need for prescribed hypertension drugs by up to 48%.
6. Reduces Stroke Risk
Two large bodies of research have shown that olive oil can offer protection against the risk of stroke.
One of the research pieces was an analysis that looked at 32 cohort studies involving 841,211 subjects, to determine the effects of various types of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Of all the fats studied, reviewers only found ‘significant associations’ between higher intakes of olive oil and reduced risk of death by any cause. Cardiovascular events, and stroke – with stroke risk being reduced by 17%.
Another study that looked at olive oil’s effect on stroke risk in over 38,000 participants, found an inverse association of olive oil consumption with stroke.
7. Helps Balance Hormones
When trying to balance your hormones and reduce symptoms related to PMS, infertility or menopause, it’s important for your diet to include plenty of nutrients and healthy fats.
Olive oil supplies essential fats that can help regulate thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. These all work together to produce and balance sex hormones.
Olive oil also provides essential vitamin E benefits that help regulate estrogen production.
8. Fights Cancer
The incidence of cancer in Mediterranean countries is lower than in Scandinavian countries. The United Kingdom, and the United States prompting researchers to question whether diet plays a role in this reduced risk.
I’ve already mentioned how olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, substances believed to play a pivotal role in killing cancer cells.
And, studies have shown they do just that!
Take oleocanthal – it has been shown to kill cancer cells in less than an hour. According to a 2015 study, published in the journal Molecular & Cellular Oncology.
Under normal conditions, cells die in anywhere from 16 to 24 hours. Oleocanthal caused them to do so within a 30 to 60-minute window.
Other 2015 research has shown promise when it comes to breast cancer.
4,000 women, between the ages of 60 and 80, were asked to follow either the Mediterranean diet with olive oil diet or a control diet for six years.
Those following the Mediterranean diet had a 68% lower relative risk of developing breast cancer in the 5 years after the study, compared with those in the control group.
9. Promotes Brain Health
Extra virgin olive oil may just help protect your brain against Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, which causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.
In people with Alzheimer’s, there is a buildup of proteins (beta amyloids) in certain parts of the brain.
Extra virgin olive oil was shown to clear these beta amyloid proteins from the brains of mice, thus helping to prevent Alzheimer’s.
In humans, a Mediterranean diet which includes olive oil has been shown to promote cognitive function.
10. Treats Rheumatoid Arthritis
Given that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory condition, and we already know that olive oil is a potent anti-inflammatory. It’s reasonable to conclude that olive oil can relieve the pain and swelling associated with RA.
Science backs this up – albeit in a small number of studies.
For example, 2014 research carried out in Spain points to the Mediterranean diet decreasing both the pain and disease activity associated with RA – with olive oil being seen to reduce inflammatory markers and stop oxidative stress.
What’s more, in one 24 week-long study, taking olive oil along with fish oil improved joint pain intensity, hand grip strength, duration of morning stiffness and onset of fatigue in RA sufferers.
11. Fights Mood Disorders and Depression
Healthy fats, including olive oil, have hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory effects that can prevent neurotransmitter dysfunction.
Low-fat diets are often linked to higher rates of depression and anxiety.
Mood or cognitive disorders can occur when the brain doesn’t get a sufficient amount of “happy hormones” like serotonin or dopamine, important chemical messengers that are necessary for mood regulation, getting good sleep and thought-processing.
One 2011 study conducted by the University of Las Palmas in Spain found that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat intake had an inverse relationship with depression risk.
At the same time, trans-fat intake and depression risk had a linearrelationship, showing that higher trans-fat consumption and lower PUFA and MUFA could up the chances of battling mood disorders and treating depression.
12. A Good Choice for Cooking
While plenty of oils taste good, not all can be used for cooking with.
Some oils can’t withstand very high temperatures, and begin to smoke, emitting toxic fumes and free radicals that are very damaging for our bodies.
Researchers have looked at olive oil’s ability to stand up under extreme heat.
In one study, several types of olive oil were fried for 24 hours. Scientists found that the olive oil was highly resistant to oxidation, with extra virgin olive oil faring even better.
Another study looked at the oxidation of sunflower oil and olive oil during forty non-consecutive frying periods.
During the first twenty frying periods, the olive oil proved much more stable than the sunflower oil, but after that the differences decreased between the two.
Bottom line – olive oil is likely safe for frying as long as you change the oil in the pain after every cooking period.
13. Maintains a Healthy Weight
Like I’ve said many times, eating fat doesn’t make you fat, but eating sugar does!
In fact, according to one 2-year study of over 1,100 elderly people, those who follow a Mediterranean diet have an 88% lower risk of obesity.
An even larger study of 7,368 Spanish university graduates followed for over 2 years.
Showed that a high amount of olive oil consumption is not associated with higher weight gain or a significantly higher risk of becoming overweight or obese.
14. Prevents Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic in the US, with 1 in every 3 Americans expected to suffer from it by 2050.
Olive oil, like certain other fats, can have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar and insulin levels, meaning it could help you stave off this hard-to-manage condition.
In a trial of 418 non-diabetic subjects, those eating a Mediterranean diet with olive oil had more than a 40% lower risk of developing diabetes than those in the control group.
A more recent, 2015 study backs up these findings where 25 participants were given a typical Mediterranean lunch, consisting of fruits, vegetables, grains and fish, on two separate occasions.
With the first meal, the researchers added 10 g of extra virgin olive oil, and with the second 10 g of corn oil.
After each meal, blood glucose levels were tested with the olive oil causing a much smaller rise in levels than did the corn oil.
If olive oil is high in fat, why is it considered healthy?
The main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). MUFAs are considered a healthy dietary fat.
If you replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats, such as MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), you may gain certain health benefits.
MUFAs and PUFAs may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.
In addition, some research shows that MUFAs may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be helpful if you have or are at risk of type 2 diabetes.
But even healthier fats like olive oil are high in calories, so use them in moderation.
Choose MUFA-rich foods such as olive oil in place of other fatty foods — particularly butter and stick margarine — not in addition to them. And remember that you can’t make unhealthy foods healthier simply by adding olive oil to them.
Grades Of Olive Oil
When you go in the market, you find different types of olive oils. What does extra virgin olive oil mean? What does US Fancy olive oil mean?
There are two main types of gradations that you will find, IOOC standards and US standards.
The International Olive Oil Council ( IOOC) has released the Trade Standard Applying to Olive Oils and Olive-Pomace Oils.
The council has provided descriptions for different types of oils; some of these descriptions are given below:
Virgin Olive Oil
It is the oil that is prepared from purely mechanical and physical means. There is no alteration to the oil after processing.
Edible virgin oil has a free acidity of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams. No food additives are permitted in this oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This is a type of edible oil, which has a free acidity content of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams. No additives are permitted in this oil.
Ordinary Virgin Olive Oil
This has a free acidity content of no more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams. This oil does not contain any additives.
Lampnate Virgin Olive Oil
This oil is not fit for human consumption. It has a free acidity content of more than 3.3 grams per 100 grams. It is used for refining and technical purposes.
Refined Olive Oil
It is the refined form of virgin olive oil. It has a free acidity content of not more than 0.3 grams per 100 grams.
This is a blend of refined and edible virgin olive oil. It has a fatty acid content of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Olive Oil: Which Is Healthier?
Have you ever gone into the oil aisle at the store and been instantly overwhelmed? There are so many choices now, including:
- virgin olive
- extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- oil infused with herbs or seasonings
The list seems to go on and on. But how do you know which to use? Do they actually taste different? Is one healthier than the others? Here’s how to navigate the oil aisle.
Is olive oil healthy?
Different oils have different uses. Olive oil is relatively heat-stable for cooking. It has great flavor for eating unheated. But olive oil has recently started to fall from grace. Is it healthy or not? And if it’s OK to use, which type is best?
The main type of fat found in olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are considered a healthy fat. What does “healthy fat” mean, since it sounds like an oxymoron?
It means that if you replace other fats in your diet — trans fats and saturated fats —with MUFAs, you can lower your risk of heart disease. You’ll raise your HDL (“good” cholesterol) and lower the oxidized LDL (“bad” cholesterol) in the bloodstream.
Olive oil vs. extra virgin olive oil
Most of the modifiers that go before olive oil, such as “virgin” or “extra virgin,” are referring to the process that made the oil.
For example, extra virgin olive oil means it’s been touched the least. But why does that matter?
Vegetable oils are pretty fragile as far as food goes, which is why your foodie friend will have a few different types of oil.
They’ll decide what to use depending on what they’re cooking and at what temperatures.
Certain oils will go rancid when stored at the wrong temperatures or for too long, and others will become unstable when cooked at higher temperatures, losing nutrients and flavor.
When oils are processed, they’re cleaned with chemicals and then heated. These things prolong the shelf life, which is great for the food industry, but not so great for your body. These processes also strip away a lot of the oil’s flavor.
Good, fresh, unprocessed extra virgin olive oil will:
- be a little fruity (olives are fruits, after all)
- be a little bitter (like biting into an olive)
- have a pungent pepperiness
If it’s metallic, flavorless, or musty, it’s gone bad or was overprocessed.
Should you buy extra virgin olive oil?
The next time you’re at the store, you’ll want to shell out the few extra bucks for extra virgin olive oil. Again, EVOO tastes better.
When figuring out which of the EVOO options to go with, look for the words “cold pressed” and “unfiltered.”
If you can find even fancier types, such as “stone pressed,” go for it. But the main two things to look for are:
- you don’t want heat added to the process, as it is with regular olive oil
- you don’t want it filtered (which normally introduces chemicals)
What about pure olive oil or light virgin olive oil?
Don’t be fooled by claims of “pure olive oil.” Look at the package and be sure you know what you’re getting. Pure olive oil and even some virgin olive oil (light virgin olive oil is a common culprit) are a blend of extra virgin olive oil and processed oils.
No matter the claims on the front of the bottle, always read the full label, too. In this context, “light” doesn’t mean lower in calories. It means lighter in color.
That means it’s been processed and refined to strip down the color and, therefore, the flavor.
Processing makes the oil last longer and is often able to be heated at a higher temperature, but this also adds chemicals and strips out nutrients.
Olive oil storage
Store your olive oil somewhere cool, dry, and dark. You don’t have to worry about constantly moving it away from your stovetop while you’re cooking.
But when you’re done, put it somewhere it won’t get radiant heat, either from appliances or the sun. It’ll stay flavorful and healthful longer.
Olive oil in cooking and smoke point
If you’re using oil for cooking, keep your heat level in mind. If you plan on searing something at high temperatures, pick another fat to help grease the cooking surface.
Oil smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down, become carcinogenic, and release smoke into the air. In other words, when the oil starts to burn.
The smoke point for olive oil varies, so do your research. For higher heat cooking, consider looking into other healthy oil options, like avocado.
If your choices are olive oil or extra virgin olive oil, go with high quality EVOO every time. It has fewer chemicals and free radicals. It’s also higher in antioxidants and still has vitamins K and E. Which are stripped away during the processing of regular olive oil.
EVOO also still has a high percentage of omega fats (polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart) along with its monounsaturated goodness.
Avoid processed oils and remember to use EVOO in moderation. Yes, the types of fats in EVOO are good for you.
They can lower your risk of heart disease and help control your blood sugar levels.
But even the highest quality EVOO is still high in calories and low in nutrients when compared to actual vegetables. Use EVOO instead of overly processed oils and butter, not with them.
As you can see, olive oil contains a lot of beneficial substances and confers a number of health benefits, meaning it may just be one of the healthiest oils around!
Make sure you always choose extra virgin olive oil for the full nutrient load, and strive to buy the best quality oil you can.
Of course, don’t forget that fats are still fats and extra virgin olive oil packs in 120 calories per tablespoon…so go easy on this liquid gold!