Olive trees themselves have been around for many thousands of years. With a long history dating back to ancient civilizations, olive oil is even considered to be one of the most important Bible foods. It’s a staple of the Mediterranean Diet and has been included in the diets of some of the world’s healthiest, longest-living people for centuries — like those living in the blue zones.
Real, high-quality extra virgin olive oil has well-researched anti-inflammatory compounds, antioxidants and numerous heart-healthy macronutrients. Extra virgin olive oil benefits include lowering rates of inflammation, heart disease, depression, dementia and obesity. But with all of that in mind, unfortunately, not all olive oil is created equally — not even all of the “extra virgin” kinds have the requisite olive oil benefits!
Olive oil is made from the fruit of the olive tree, which is naturally high in healthy fatty acids. There are several types of olive oil on the market today, including extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil and regular olive oil — but research shows that extra virgin olive oil benefits are more abundant than the other varieties.
One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains:
- 120 calories
- 14 grams fat (9.8 of which is monounsaturated)
- Zero sugar, carbs or protein
- 1 milligrams vitamin K (10 percent DV)
- 9 milligrams vitamin E (10 percent DV)
8 Extra Virgin Olive Oil Benefits
1. Protects Heart Health
Studies have found that high monounsaturated fat diets lower LDL cholesterol, raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides better than lower-fat, higher-carb diets do. Thanks to powerful antioxidants known as polyphenols, extra virgin oil is considered an anti-inflammatory food and cardiovascular protector. When someone’s immune system essentially begins to fight her own body as a result of a poor diet, stress or other factors, inflammatory responses are triggered that lead to dangerous, disease-causing inflammation.
The purpose of inflammation is to protect us against illnesses and repair the body when needed, but chronic inflammation is extremely harmful to arterial health and linked to heart disease, autoimmune diseases and more. Extra virgin olive oil helps reverse inflammatory along with age- and disease-related changes to the heart and blood vessels, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. Research shows olive oil is beneficial for lowering hypertension because it makes nitric oxide more bioavailable, which keeps arteries dilated and clear.
The protective effects of a Mediterranean-style diet rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from olive oil have been shown in many studies, with some finding that this type of higher-fat diet is capable of decreasing the risk of cardiac death by 30 percent and sudden cardiac death by 45 percent!
2. Helps Fight Cancer
Researchers feel that it’s probable that high olive and olive oil consumption in southern Europe represents an important contribution to the beneficial effects of cancer prevention and health in the Mediterranean diet.
3. Helps with Weight Loss and Obesity Prevention
Eating plenty of healthy fats is a key element in controlling excess insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels, makes us gain weight, and keeps the weight packed on despite us cutting calories and exercising more. Fats are satiating and help reduce hunger, cravings and overeating. This is one reason why numerous studies have found that diets low in fat don’t result in weight loss or weight maintenance as easily or often as balanced, higher-fat diets do.
After reviewing five trials including a total of 447 individuals, researchers from University Hospital Basel in Switzerland found that individuals assigned to higher-fat, low-carbohydrate diets lost more weight than individuals randomized to low-fat diets. There were no differences in blood pressure levels between the two groups, but triglyceride and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol values changed more favorably in individuals assigned to the diets higher in fat!
Because diets with ample amounts of healthy fats are more satisfying, people are much more likely to be able to stick with them. A 2002 study published in the Women’s Health Journal, for example, found that an olive oil-enriched diet brought about greater weight loss than a lower-fat diet in an eight-week comparison. Following the eight weeks, the participants also overwhelmingly chose the olive oil-enriched diet for at least six months of the follow-up period.
4. Supports Brain Health
The brain is largely made up of fatty acids, and we require a moderately high level on a daily basis to perform tasks, regulate our moods and think clearly. Like other sources of healthy fats, olive oil is considered a brain food that improves focus and memory.
Olive oil helps fight age-related cognitive decline because it protects against inflammation, oxidative stress and ADDLs, proteins that are toxic to the brain that can trigger dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
5. 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.
6. Great for Boosting Skin Health
Diets high in healthy sources of fat can help counter the harmful effects to our skin from exposure to toxicity, free radicals, UV light damage, and inflammation-causing poor diets or food allergies.
As a high source of vitamin E and other antioxidants, olive oil can also help hydrate skin, speed up wound healing, and help fight infections or hormonal imbalances that can lead to acne, eczema and other skin conditions, making extra virgin olive oil a home remedy for acne and natural eczema treatment.
7. Can Help Prevent or Treat Diabetes
Fatty acids influence glucose metabolism by altering cell membrane function, enzyme activity, insulin signaling and gene expression. Evidence suggests that consuming polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated fats (the kind found in olive oil) has beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and is likely to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.
While carbohydrates elevate blood sugar by providing glucose, fats help stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate insulin. Even when you eat something high in sugar or carbs, adding extra virgin olive oil to the meal can help slow down the impact on your bloodstream. Consuming olive oil is also a great way to feel more satisfied after meals, which can help prevent sugar cravings and overeating that can lead to diabetes complications.
8. 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.