Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Really Healthy For You?

Recent studies have confirmed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which cuts the risk of heart disease. The diet's nutritional benefits probably come from a variety of sources, however, the diet's generous use of olive oil has also drawn a great deal of attention.

Olive oil, regardless of type, is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, containing about 75% by volume. When substituted for saturated fat, monounsaturated fats help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil add benefits beyond cholesterol lowering.

Extra-virgin olive oil is pressed mechanically from ripe olives and processed with no elevated heat or chemical solvents. This shields chemicals in the oil called phenols. Small laboratory-based experiments suggest that phenols may have beneficial effects in the bloodstream. In contrast, highly processed olive oils shed these beneficial chemicals.

Regardless of the laboratory-based evaluations, there has been no definitive research comparing the ability of refined versus extra-virgin olive oil to avoid heart disease.

Extra-virgin olive oil may have some unique properties, but it is not the sole healthy ingredient in a Mediterranean diet. Think of it as just 1 aspect of the Mediterranean style of eating, which includes fruits, vegetables, and nuts; entire grains; restricted amounts of animal foods such as red meat; and, for those who imbibe, moderate amounts of wine.