Olive oil is widely thought of as being good for our health. In fact, in terms of its health benefits, olive oil is unrivaled. New research continues to reveal more benefits almost every day. Nevertheless, we are only beginning to understand the countless ways olive oil can boost our health and quality of life. What is it that makes olive oil so beneficial to our health?
Nutrient composition of extra virgin olive oil
Olive oil contains modest amounts of Vitamins E and K, as well as a wealth of beneficial fatty acids. To start, let's take a look at the nutritional facts of extra virgin olive oil:
100g of olive oil contains:
13.8% saturated fat
73% monounsaturated fat
9.7% Omega 6
0.76% Omega 3
72% RDA Vitamin E
75% RDA Vitamin K
*RDA: Recommended Daily Allowance
However, one of olive oil's well-known benefits is its antioxidant content, which helps the body fight serious diseases. Olive oil's main antioxidants protect the body from oxidation (more on this below) and against LDL (bad) cholesterol. With these facts in mind, let's look at how olive oil can benefit the body:
A low-fat diet is typically recommended to prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. In fact, studies have shown that high-fat diets may increase the risk of certain diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. With that being said, it's worth pointing out that it's the type of fat intake rather than the amount that affects health most severely. Consequently, it has been found that a diet rich in monounsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and seeds) actually offers protection from many chronic diseases. Furthermore, according to a study published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care, it was shown that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil reduced the risk of Type II diabetes by almost 50% when compared to a low-fat diet. Type II diabetes is the most common and preventable form of diabetes.
According to a study from France, published in the online issue of Neurology, older individuals who consume olive oil daily may be able to protect themselves from stroke. The study gathered information from medical records of 7,625 individuals over the age of 65 from three cities in France - Bordeaux, Dijon, and Montpellier - none of whom had a history of stroke. The individuals were then categorized into three groups, based on their olive oil consumption. After five years, 148 strokes were reported. The results showed that individuals who frequently consumed olive oil had a 41% lower risk of stroke, compared to those that did not consume olive oil at all.
As we grow older, our heart goes through a normal aging process. Artery function tends to decline with age, leading to a number of health problems. In a recent study, Spanish researchers discovered that a diet rich in olive oil or other monounsaturated fats could improve arterial function in elderly individuals.
A disease predominantly characterized by a decrease in bone mass, osteoporosis causes the architecture of bone tissue to become fragile, increasing the possibility of fractures, making even the slightest of bumps or falls potentially fatal. However, olive oil supplementation was found to positively affect the thickness of bones. While olive oil is not the only solution, scientists have concluded that it is very promising for the development of future treatments of the disease.
While olive oil has been found to be beneficial for a number of physical ailments, what about emotional health benefits? Spanish researchers from the University of Navarra and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria found that a diet rich in olive oil can protect from mental illness too. It was recently discovered that a higher intake of olive oil and polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish and vegetable oils lowered the risk of depression. According to the findings, cardiovascular disease and depression share some common mechanisms related to diet.
A recent study found that olive oil may contribute to the prevention of malignant melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer). Nevertheless, the use of sunscreen remains the best way to prevent sunburn, however, consuming olive oil and other Mediterranean food could help counter the oxidizing effect of the sun.
Numerous studies have been conducted on olive oil and how it may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. One study published in the journal of Chemical Neuroscience showed that the oleocanthal (a type of natural phenolic compound found in extra-virgin olive oil) has the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and the cognitive decline that comes with aging. Olive oil polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, which may help reverse oxidative damage that occurs due to the aging process.
A diet rich in fats is directly related to a higher risk of cancer. However, the types of fats consumed can actually play a protective role against the development of tumors. Virgin olive oil is rich in oleic acid - a mono-unsaturated fatty acid, containing several bioactive compounds such as antioxidants. Research shows that a moderate and regular intake of olive oil reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Studies suggest that olive oil can protect the liver from oxidative stress. To test this theory, scientists exposed rats to a moderately toxic herbicide known to deplete antioxidants and cause oxidative stress. The findings showed that rats fed a diet containing olive oil were partially protected from liver damage.
Chronic inflammation is believed to be one of the leading causes of many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, Alzheimer's and arthritis. However, one of the benefits of olive oil lies in its ability to fight inflammation. The oil's anti-inflammatory effects seem to be mediated by the antioxidants in olive oil. One such antioxidant is oleocanthal - which has been shown to work like ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug. In fact, it has been found that 50ml of extra virgin olive oil has an effect similar to 10% of the adult ibuprofen dosage for pain relief.