In the last few decades, olive oil has garnered its mainstream status due to its widely-touted health benefits and versatility in the kitchen. Let’s learn about the health benefits that olive oil has to offer with nutrition Expert Lindsey Janeiro.
As a staple in Mediterranean-based lifestyles and in many kitchen pantries, olive oil is well known for its versatility, flavor, and healthful properties. When it comes to all of those health benefits we hear about olive oil, most apply to extra virgin olive oil. This extra virgin classification is when oil is mechanically pressed from the olives without any heat or chemicals applied.
The International Olive Council and the USDA require that brands enforce the standards of oils that are labeled with extra virgin olive oil, but it’s always a good idea to do more research into the brand you’re buying as these standards are not regularly enforced. This has resulted in fraud in the olive oil industry, in which some companies will dilute extra virgin olive oil with other, cheaper oils to increase their profits.
So what’s makes extra virgin olive oil so healthy?
1. Rich in Heart-Healthy Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are a wonderful healthy fat to incorporate into your diet due to their heart health benefits. 73% of the fat in olive oil comes from oleic acid, a type of MUFA. Olive oil has been shown to help lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, protect LDL cholesterol, and may help in preventing unwanted blood clotting.
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants. Specifically it has a large number of (and large variety of) polyphenols, which function as antioxidants in the body, and may also have anti-inflammatory benefits as well.
It’s really unique that extra virgin olive oil can provide some anti-inflammatory benefits, because most fats tend to create more inflammation in the body. Those same antioxidant polyphenols are the same ones that have awesome anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. Digestive Health Benefits
Evidence from test tube trials and initial human trials suggest that olive oil can have antibacterial properties, specifically against the strain Helicobacter pylori. This is a bacteria that lives in the stomach and can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. One human study showed that 30 grams of extra virgin olive oil daily reduced Helicobacter pylori infection in 10-40% of cases within two weeks.
4. Cancer Fighter
Many studies have also shown that populations that consume diets rich in olive oil (like the Mediterranean diet) have lowered risk of upper digestive tract cancers, including stomach and small intestine. In fact, populations that consume frequent amounts of olive oil have shown to have lower incidence of certain types of cancer. Free radicals are believed to be a leading cause of cancer and the antioxidants in olive oil may help combat them.
5. Rheumatoid Arthritis
Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) that supplement their diets with olive oil have shown improved inflammatory markers and and reduced oxidative stress. This is especially true when olive oil supplementation is combined with fish oil. One study showed that participants taking olive oil and fish oil together had significantly reduced joint pain, increased grip strength, and decreased morning stiffness.
6. Cognitive Benefits
One benefit of the Mediterranean diet is improved cognitive function, especially among older adults. A lot of research is being done into the role olive oil plays specifically in this, as it is a critical component of the Mediterranean diet. Recent research is suggesting that in animal trials, olive oil can help during times of brain imbalance, like molecules passing too easily along the blood barrier. Other early-stage studies are suggesting that a substance in olive oil can prevent buildup of a type of plaque in brain cells that is a key feature of Alzheimer’s Disease, although further human studies are needed.
Some quick kitchen tips:
When using extra virgin olive oil, it is best to use it in cold applications like salad dressings, because heating it can destroy some of the benefits specific to extra virgin olive oil.
If you are cooking, simply use regular olive oil. It will retain some of the health benefits, but not quite the extent of the benefits found in extra virgin olive oil.
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Lindsey Janeiro RDN, CLC is a Registered Dietitian and Lactation Counselor based in Sarasota, FL focused on helping busy moms live stress-free in the kitchen. She inspires moms with the confidence and encouragement they need to create simple, affordable family meals that nourishes everyone’s health and happiness. Learn more about Lindsey at Nutrition to Fit.