During the low-fat era, which reached a peak in the 1990s, experts told you to follow a low-fat diet without taking into account how different fats influence health. Today, it's known that all fats are not created equal. The fats found in olive oil fall into the healthy fat category. General advice is to cut back your intake of saturated and trans fats and increase your intake of unsaturated fats. One teaspoon of olive oil provides your body with healthy fat and beneficial compounds called polyphenols.
Benefits of Unsaturated Fat
Olive oil is rich in unsaturated fat, particularly monounsaturated. One teaspoon provides your body with 3.2 grams of monounsaturated fat and 0.6 gram of polyunsaturated fat. This gives you close to 4 grams of healthy fat. Unsaturated fat protects your heart health by helping to reduce the level of bad cholesterol in your blood, according to the American Heart Association. That's why these fats are referred to as "heart-healthy."
Other Heart-Health Benefits
The journal "Annals of Internal Medicine" published a study in September 2006 asserting that polyphenols in olive oil offer additional cardiovascular benefits. Researchers assigned 200 healthy male volunteers to a daily consumption of olive oil that had either low, medium or high phenolic content. After three weeks, they found the olive oil caused an increase in high-density lipoprotein -- good cholesterol -- and a decrease in total cholesterol and triglycerides. The higher the phenolic content, the greater the positive effect.
Polyphenol Antioxidant Benefits
Polyphenols, which belong to a large class of plant compounds called flavonoids, are known for their antioxidant benefits. Antioxidants are substances that reduce the potentially harmful effects of imbalanced atoms called free radicals. When your body has more free radicals than it can handle, it's called oxidative stress, which is linked to chronic disease and aging. The study published in "Annals of Internal Medicine" observed that olive oil polyphenols cause a decrease in oxidative stress markers.
Other Healthy Oils
Oils rich in monounsaturated fats contribute vitamin E to your diet. Although the amount in 1 teaspoon of olive oil is quite small, it adds up when you take into account your overall monounsaturated fat intake. Other oils rich in monounsaturated fat are canola, peanut, safflower and sesame. Polyunsaturated fats are found in oils like soybean, corn and sunflower and the oil of fatty fish like salmon. Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fats as well, which are necessary for brain health.