In recent years, scientific research has confirmed that the consumption of extra virgin olive oil is tied to an abundance of health benefits, from brain fitness to heart health.
It’s a myth that olive oil is unhealthy simply because it’s a fat. “Not all fats are created equal,” says Molly Cleary, a registered dietician based in New York. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, which are known as the “good fats,” she explains. Rather than clogging your arteries, this type of fat benefits your body in multiple ways — for instance, by providing key nutrients for your cells and balancing cholesterol levels.
But, the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil don’t end there. In fact, they extend to almost every system in the body.
For your heart
According to a recent FDA review, it’s likely that the oleic acid in extra virgin olive oil can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. In fact, many of the compounds in extra virgin olive oil have properties that may help lower blood pressure, prevent atherosclerosis (the buildup of fats and plaques inside the arteries) and protect against heart attacks.
Extra virgin olive oil is “important for our heart and for the control of blood cholesterol levels, particularly LDL,” says Anna Cane, Scientific and Public Affairs Director at Bertolli. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, otherwise known as the “bad cholesterol,” is the type of lipid associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks. In one recent study, participants actually reduced their LDL cholesterol levels by taking extra virgin olive oil supplements.
For your brain
Monounsaturated fats aren’t just good for the cardiovascular system; studies suggest they may also help lower your risk for depression. This makes sense in the context of recent accumulating evidence that supports a relationship between good nutrition and better mental health.
Alzheimer’s disease is another brain-related condition that’s likely to share a connection with extra virgin. This relationship is due to another of the powerful disease-fighting nutrients in olive oil — antioxidants. These compounds decrease inflammation, which is a significant contributor to many health conditions like Alzheimer’s. Research shows that one of the main antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil, called oleocanthal, could help remove beta-amyloid plaques, which are associated with the progression of the disease in the brain.
However, consumers should be wary. Not every bottle of olive oil contains the same quantity of antioxidants. Levels of this nutrient, in particular, are depleted in lower-quality olive oils, and in oil that has gone rancid over time. Only fresh, high-quality extra virgin olive oil will deliver the full health benefits to your body and brain.
Another olive oil brain benefit could be indicated by the strong correlation found between a diet rich in olive oil and a lower risk of stroke. One new study published by the American Academy of Neurology even suggests that regularly consuming olive oil could be an “inexpensive and easy” way to prevent this common but devastating issue among people ages 65 and older.
For your metabolism
For those monitoring their weight or metabolism, extra virgin olive oil can be a huge help. “Extra virgin olive oil may help reduce levels of obesity, because consuming it may keep us from feeling hungry for a longer time,” says Cane. This should come as no surprise, since olive oil is one of the staples of the Mediterranean diet — a regimen shown to be one of the best for weight loss and maintenance.
The metabolic benefits of extra virgin olive oil are especially pronounced for those at risk for type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that adding extra virgin olive oil to your diet may be powerful for preventing and controlling the disease.
For the rest
By this point, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that extra virgin olive oil has a powerful effect on the aging process. Its antioxidants protect the body against free radicals, which accelerate the aging process, and studies show that the oil’s monounsaturated fats and polyphenols can slow the development of rheumatoid arthritis and bone loss, which often come with aging.
Research also suggests that extra virgin olive oil consumption may help lower the risk of cancer. In particular, one recent study from Universidat Autònoma de Barcelona suggests consuming virgin olive oil is connected to lower rates of breast cancer.
Moreover, a recent study carried out by the University of Bari showed benefits for intestinal epithelium reducing inflammation and protection against intestinal cancer development.
If the taste alone isn’t enough to convince you to make extra virgin olive oil a daily diet staple, hopefully these findings on its health benefits will do the trick. Not only will using extra virgin olive oil enhance the flavors of your food, but your body will appreciate the extra dose of antioxidants and disease-fighting compounds. When choosing your olive oil, make sure you’re picking out a bottle that is high-quality. Low-quality olive oil, normally indicated by a lower price that seems too good to be true, degrades at a much faster rate than a high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Once the product becomes rancid, the taste—and health benefits—quickly diminish.