Great Science-Backed Health Benefits of Olive Oil

It's no secret that health experts adore the Mediterranean diet, which consistently snags the #1 spot on U.S. News & World Report's list of best diets. However, while it features a variety of nutrient-rich foods, some researchers believe that the Mediterranean diet's abundance of healthy fats--particularly from olive oil--is what makes it an advantage.

Compared to many other cooking oils, olive oil is loaded of predominantly health-promoting monounsaturated fats, along with a ton of potent polyphenol compounds linked to everything from pain relief to improved cognitive health.

Here, discover the science-backed health benefits of olive oil, the way to find the maximum quality olive oil, and how to preserve its benefits while still cooking.

What makes extra virgin olive oil so healthy?

Most research citing health benefits of olive oil reference extra virgin olive oil. That's because EVOO is minimally processed and produced via mechanical extraction (by crushing olives and separating the oil from the fruit pulp)--a process that helps preserve the oil delicate polyphenols and other micronutrients.

In general, polyphenol compounds (found in olive oil and other plant foods) are thought to decrease morbidity and slow the development of cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and cancer. The main ones found in extra virgin olive oil include oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, and oleocanthal, which possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-microbial properties.

Regular olive oil (often just labeled"olive oil") is also healthy, but may not be as very as healthy as EVOO. It contains a combination of refined olive oil and about 15%-25% virgin olive oil. The refined part is treated with mild heat and chemical compounds to remove flavor defects, which results in somewhat reduced amounts of beneficial compounds such as polyphenols, according to a 2018 research . (Remember, though, even regular olive oil is quite a bit more nutritionally powerful than most other cooking oils.)

Additionally, all olive oil is made up of up to 83% oleic acid (greater than any other oil), a type of monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) using inflammation-fighting and anti-cancer properties)

10 science-backed health benefits of olive oil.
Thanks to the abundance of health-promoting compounds, high quality olive oil has been associated with a number of exciting health benefits. Here are some of the most promising research-backed ways olive oil may enhance your health.

Olive oil and cardiovascular health
The positive impact of olive oil on cardiovascular and heart health has been well studied. From the landmark PREDIMED research from 2013, which included over 7,000 adults in Spain, the participants consuming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either mixed nuts or extra virgin olive oil (4+ tablespoons per day) had a significantly lower risk of experiencing a major cardiovascular event compared to those eating a low-fat control diet.

The risk of joint stroke, heart attack, and death from heart disease was 28% lower in the Mediterranean diet with nuts group and 31 percent lower in the Mediterranean diet and olive oil category.

More recently, new research presented at the American Heart Association's EPI Scientific Sessions demonstrated that olive oil has a positive impact on health, even for people outside of Mediterranean areas. After accounting for diet and lifestyle factors, researchers found that participants (all living in the U.S.) who ate more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 15 percent lower risk of all cardiovascular disease and a 21 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.

A range of smaller studies have also related extra virgin olive oil to progress in cholesterol (in particular, the olive oil's polyphenols seem to help prevent"bad" LDL cholesterol from oxidizing to a harmful form), and significant reductions in blood pressure.

Olive oil and cancer
People residing in Mediterranean areas have lower rates of cancer compared to other populations--and research indicates that olive oil is partially to thank. While more studies are needed, a single large 2011 research review found that girls with the highest levels of olive oil in their diet had a lower risk of breast cancer and cancers of the digestive system, including colon cancer. Other research finds that olive oil, along with other components of a Mediterranean style diet, may help reduce risk of certain types of skin cancer, such as melanoma.

Olive oil's anti-cancer properties are thought to come from its own polyphenol compounds. Oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal, and others have been demonstrated to lessen inflammation, induce apoptosis (programmed cancer cell death), and interfere with the ability of cancer cells to grow new blood vessels and spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).

Olive oil and brain health (dementia)
Olive oil's potent polyphenols may even keep your memory sharp as you age. A growing body of evidence suggests that the polyphenol oleocanthal may be to thank.

Findings of a 2019 mouse research imply that consumption of oleocanthal-rich extra virgin olive oil may help slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer's disease. The oleocanthal-rich EVOO was demonstrated to reestablish blood brain barrier function and improve other aspects of brain health by reducing neuroinflammation.

Olive oil and inflammation + pain
Chronic inflammation is a driver of many kinds of pain, and by making strategic dietary shifts (believe: ditching the processed, pro-inflammatory foods in favor of nutrient-rich whole foods) can go a long way in quelling that inflammation. In fact, a Mediterranean diet has been shown in various studies to decrease the development and progression of osteoarthritis, a painful joint condition.

Olive oil, in particular, may be a key element to a pain-fighting diet. Not only is it rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to show favorable anti-inflammatory benefits (especially when eating them in place of saturated fats), but research indicates that the polyphenol compound oleocanthal has similar anti-inflammatory properties into ibuprofen.

Additionally, because consistent low doses of ibuprofen have been demonstrated to have anti-cancer and anti-thrombotic (i.e. bloodstream clot-preventing) effects, researchers speculate that consistent low doses of oleocanthal-rich foods like EVOO could reduce risk of a range of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Olive oil and weight loss
Olive oil is helping put an end to the myth that fat makes you fat. In recent study, women with excess body fat who supplemented their breakfast with approximately 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil underwent significantly greater weight loss and reduction in blood pressure than women consuming an equal amount of soybean oil, prompting researchers to urge that EVOO be included in programs for obesity treatment. These findings support an earlier study on more than 7,000 school students, which found that higher consumption of olive oil was not associated with weight gain over the duration of 28 months.