Nutrition: Top 5 Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Certified Nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explains the nutritional benefits of olive oil, including what makes this extra virgin oil good for our health.
What is olive oil?
Olive oil is the liquid fat, or natural oil, obtained by pressing whole olives. The fruit, from a tree native to the Mediterranean, has a unique flavor that depends on its country of origin – some are sweet, others peppery or even bitter. The processing techniques make it possible to obtain olive oils of different “qualities”, refined or not.
Unrefined oils are pure and untreated, meaning no heat or chemicals were used in the extraction process. This gives a purer oil with a more pronounced taste. Refined oils have been processed to remove any defects, and are generally lighter in color and milder in taste.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is an unrefined oil obtained from the first “virgin” pressing of the fruit. No heat is used in the extraction process, which preserves beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Considered the best quality, EVOO is more expensive.
It also has a more pronounced taste and a darker color. Regular or light olive oils are usually a blend of cold pressed and refined oils.
What are the top 5 health benefits of olive oil?
1. May Improve Heart Health
Olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, and a lot of research has been done to demonstrate its benefits (especially those of EVOO) on heart health. These include its ability to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels, two factors that help reduce the risk of heart disease.
A large review of these studies demonstrated that olive oil was the only source of monounsaturated fat associated with a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease.
2. May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is believed to be one of the main factors behind some of our most chronic health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. Research investigating the role of antioxidants and their anti-inflammatory effect, including oleic acid found in olive oil, found that these play a role in reducing inflammation and inflammation marker, known as protein C -reactive (CRP).
Olive oil is rich in polyphenols, one of which is called oleocanthal. This compound appears to share the same pharmacological activity as ibuprofen, and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, this helpful property has been associated with positive changes in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
3. May Improve Mood
As part of a healthy diet that includes a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fatty fish, olive oil has been found to play a role in reducing the risk of depression.
4. May Improve Brain Function
A 2015 study found that in older populations, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts was associated with improved cognitive function, and may reduce Alzheimer’s risk.
5. May Protect Against Chronic Disease
Other early research suggested that olive oil and its high polyphenol content may have a protective effect against type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer. However, more research is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
Is olive oil safe for everyone?
Olive oil is a staple food for many of the world’s healthiest populations. It is considered a good choice for the majority of people. That said, rare cases of allergy have been reported, although these are usually to the pollen of the olive tree rather than the oil of the fruit.
Due to its caloric density, olive oil should be used in moderation and replaced with other fats in the diet.
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