In the world of ancient Greece, it was called liquid gold. Olive oil has a rich medicinal and culinary history, and it still graces the tables of people who enjoy good food today. Whether we use olive oil for a saute, as a dipping oil, or as the base for a salad dressing, you can enjoy the benefits of this oil with the rich, enticing fragrance. When you add olive oil to your diet, especially extra-virgin olive oil, you’ll enjoy some surprising health benefits, some of which you might not be aware of. Let’s look at five surprising health benefits of olive oil.
Olive Oil May Improve Bone Health
Women, especially thin and small-boned women, are at higher risk of developing osteoporosis, a pathological loss of bone mass. As bone mass declines, the bones become weak, brittle, and prone toward fracture. Eating a diet that contains enough calcium and vitamin D may help prevent osteoporosis, but olive oil may also benefit your bones. Extra-virgin olive oil contains polyphenols that studies show may reduce bone breakdown and stimulate new bone formation. The benefits show up in animal studies, but we need more research in humans to determine with certainty whether olive oil lowers the risk of osteoporosis and how much you need to get the benefits.
Olive Oil May Aid in Weight Loss
Although fat is more calorie-dense than protein or carbohydrates, consuming olive oil as part of a balanced diet may give you a weight loss advantage. How can olive oil help your waistline? For one, olive oil has satiety benefits – but why? It may be the high oleic acid content of olive oil that helps silence appetite. Monounsaturated fats may also be a factor. Studies suggest that monounsaturated fats may help to empty out fat cells in the belly faster than saturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Olive Oil and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Both Have Advantages
Extra-virgin olive oil is less processed than bottles of golden liquid labeled as standard olive oil and are a better choice if you won’t be taking a recipe to a high temperature. That’s because extra-virgin olive oil, also known as EVOO, is made by pressing olives without heat. As a result, EVOO retains more flavor and more of its natural polyphenols that reduce inflammation and fight oxidative stress. In contrast, olive oil contains processed oils combined with cold-pressed olive oil. Adding processed oils raises the smoke point, giving the oil the ability to withstand higher temperatures. So, use extra-virgin olive oil for low-temperature cooking and olive oil if you’re cooking at a high temperature. Another oil, avocado oil, has similar health properties to extra-virgin olive oil but has a higher smoke point.
Olive Oil May Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Some of the longest-living cultures live along the Mediterranean Sea. Traditionally, these populations consume lots of olive oil, mostly fish and plant-based diets. These cultures also have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. One reason may be their love of olive oil and the frequency with which they include it in many of their traditional dishes. Of course, you can’t disregard the fact that they eat lots of fruits and vegetables too!
Why might olive oil be good for your heart? A powerful driver of cardiovascular disease is inflammation, the kind that causes the inner walls of arteries to become inflamed. EVOO has an anti-inflammatory effect, partially due to a compound called oleocanthal, a phytonutrient that a similar effect to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen.
In addition, the natural polyphenols in EVOO have anti-inflammatory activity in the human body. Plus, monounsaturated fats are a heart-healthy form of fat. A literature review of multiple studies found that olive oil associated with a lower risk of both heart attack and stroke. In addition, research shows that extra-virgin olive oil lowers blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol, other risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke. In fact, research shows that consuming 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily may lower cardiovascular risk, but include it in your recipes as a substitute for other forms of fat. There’s no evidence that drinking olive oil in isolation is good for your health.
A Diet Rich in Olive Oil May Lower the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
One of the most common chronic problems people deal with these days is insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Substituting olive oil for other sources of fat may help with blood glucose control. A small study found that a meal with 10 grams of extra-virgin olive oil raised blood sugar less than an equivalent amount of corn oil. So, switching to olive oil as your preferred cooking oil trumps corn oil, an oil that you find in ultra-processed foods. In one study, subjects who ate a meal that included olive oil had a 22% lower blood glucose after a meal relative to the control group.
The Bottom Line
Enjoy the health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil but choose wisely. Some sellers dilute legitimate EVOO with cheaper oils to increase the profit margin. Look for a brand certified as authentic. Always buy olive oil in a dark glass bottle to protect it from light and prevent oxidation. Consider replacing a bottle of olive oil every 6-8 months to ensure freshness. Olive oil is a healthier replacement for the processed oils on the market, including corn oil and soybean oil. It may cost a little more, but the health benefits are worth it!
- Curr Pharm Des. 2011;17(8):754-68.
- N Engl J Med. 2018 Jun 21;378(25):e34. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1800389. Epub 2018 Jun 13.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Oct;80(4):1012-8.
- co.UK. “Extra virgin olive oil lowers blood glucose and cholesterol, study finds”
- Nutr Diabetes. 2017 Apr; 7(4): e262.Published online 2017 Apr 10. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2017.12.
- Nutr Diabetes. 2015 Jul; 5(7): e172.Published online 2015 Jul 20. doi: 10.1038/nutd.2015.23.
- com. “Does Drinking Olive Oil Have Any Benefits?”
- Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Aug; 13(8): 755.
- Br J Nutr. 2004 Jul;92(1):119-27.
Related Articles By Cathe:
Are You Getting the Full Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?
Vegetable Oils: Why They’re Not as Healthy as You Think
Does the Type of Fat You Eat Affect Muscle Development?
The Healthy Cooking Oil You Probably Aren’t Using
Can You Improve Your Health by Eating an Anti-Inflammatory Diet?
5 Heart-Healthy Foods That Can Lower Your Risk for Heart Disease
Dietary Fat: How Much Fat Should You Consume Each Day?