Good news: Olive oil is definitely good for you.September 06, 2020 2:56 pm
Olive oil health benefits range from conditioning your hair and skin to supporting internal organs such as your brain and heart. But how does this unsung hero of the larder have such a positive effect on your body?
First and foremost, olive oil is an incredibly powerful antioxidant. It’s so potent that it has frequently been called the healthiest fat there is. We have the fatty acids in olive oil to thank for this ability. (It’s important to note that extra virgin olive oil contains a significantly higher percentage of both antioxidants and fatty acids than other grades of olive oil do.)
Beyond its impressive antioxidant capabilities, olive oil also has a number of other qualities which can help support the body’s natural function.
As it’s such a familiar ingredient, eating olive oil is a great way to easily incorporate some health benefits into your diet. Its distinctive, nutty and slightly bitter taste is the perfect foil for a whole range of delicious foods, and is complementary to almost anything you might dream up in the kitchen.
So, whether you like your olive oil simply with some fresh bread for dipping, or you love using it to whip up a classic vinaigrette, get ready to look at this stalwart of the kitchen shelf in a whole new way.
Olive oil benefits for brain and heart
Oleic acid is the primary monounsaturated fat in olive oil. Research has supported numerous benefits of oleic acid. (1)(2) These abilities play out alongside the antioxidants we’ve mentioned.
'Many of these, such as oleocanthal, also fight inflammation and help support heart health.(3)'
It’s good to remember that inflammation often builds up slowly over years and years before it starts to do us visible damage. Thus, maintaining a healthy diet over the long term will have rich cumulative effects.
All of this helps to illustrate the healthy, sensual Mediterranean diets and cultures that olive oil is historically central to. Further, olive oil is a compelling deterrent to stroke. Stroke happens when there is a change in the flow of blood in your brain. Moreover, in Western countries, stroke lags behind only heart disease as the leading cause of death.
A large review of studies looked at the effect of monounsaturated fats on the heart. Monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, include animal fats such as butter, eggs and poultry. Plant-based MUFAs include plant-based cooking oils and margarines. Out of all these monounsaturated fats, olive oil was the sole one to be effective against heart disease and stroke.(4) That’s a true good fat for you!
Olive oil is antibacterial
The above is plenty to go on already, but the list of olive oil benefits just goes on and on.The wondrous olive oil benefits us in antibacterial ways as well. For example, Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria which lurks in your gut. Scientists connect it to stomach ulcers and some stomach cancers.(5)
Moreover, some types of this bacteria do not respond to antibiotics – but studies indicate that the benefits of olive oil work quite well here as well!(6) In one study, 12 of 30 individuals with H pylori did not show infection within 1-3 days after washed virgin olive oil was last taken. Washing is a treatment of olive oil which is sometimes taken when olive oil is used in health research. However, further research is needed to validate this finding.
Olive oil benefits the joints
We’d also like to mention olive oil benefits for the joints. Lubrication of our joints can become more of a problem as we grow older. Joint pain leads to such painful disorders as rheumatoid arthritis. Central to rheumatoid arthritis are inflammation and oxidative stress. Studies have pointed towards the potential of olive oil to soothe both symptoms, and the associated pain, in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.(7)(8)
What about extra virgin olive oil benefits?
Extra virgin olive oil, or ‘EVOO’ as it is sometimes known, is a type of olive oil which is completely natural and unrefined. No heat or solvents will have been used in its production.
Taste testing carried out by certified, accredited olive oil producers indicates that extra virgin olive oil is significantly more pleasurable for the taste buds in terms of both texture and flavour. It also smells earthier and richer. The colour should be green-yellow.
Extra virgin olive oil is the least acidic of all the varieties of olive oils. Further, extra virgin olive oil fights more effectively against oxidative damage.
However, extra virgin olive oil has a low smoking point. This means it does not stand up well to heat. Enjoy extra virgin olive oil on salads. Drizzle it on top of food, rather than using in cooking.
Which olive oil should I choose?
There are different types of olive oils. The categories depend on region and producer. However, bear in mind that, no matter who you are talking to, there is a real difference between natural and refined olive oils.
In other words, natural olive oils are made in the same way as natural fruit juice is made from fruit. When the oil does not taste good enough to meet the standards of natural oils, heat or chemicals are brought in to process the olive oil further in order to remove flaws – and nutrients, flavour, and colour along the way. The nutrients in olive oil are key to its health benefits, so you want a variety which retains as many as possible.
There are many ways to process olive oil and more than one processing method may be used on a single oil. Confusingly, some natural oils are not suitable for human consumption, and some refined oils are.
The more natural, the better
The key thing to remember, if you’re looking for an olive oil that can give you lots of health benefits, is ‘the more natural, the better’.
Look for organic varieties, where the origin and varietal of the olive is clearly shown on the label.
If you can, try and buy single-estate olive oil, which has been sourced from one place and will not have been as heavily processed as other types of olive oil.
You should also consider buying cold-pressed olive oil. Cold pressing is a method of extracting oil from olives which doesn’t require heat or chemicals, so the oil retains more nutrients (and more health benefits for you!).
So, now you know everything there is to know about the benefits of olive oil, it’s time to get creative and start dreaming up new ways to include it in your meals!
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