Olive oil is the natural juice of the fruit of the olive tree. Extra virgin olive oil has become a go-to cooking oil if you are health conscious. Some of its many health benefits are demonstrated by the low rate of cardiovascular disease in people who eat a Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is the key component.
Taking olive oil daily may also help you manage your weight, control your blood sugar, alleviate depression, maintain cognitive function and protect you from chronic diseases.
A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil taken each day can set you up for a host of health benefits, including vitamins E and K as well as healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Choosing the Healthiest Oil
Not all olive oils are the same. Their nutritional content can vary significantly, so choose the oils that contain the most antioxidant properties.
Olives don't fully ripen from green to black until late winter, and it's the green olives that are highest in antioxidant polyphenols, including oleocanthal. Therefore, it's best to purchase olive oil made from "early harvest" olives when possible.
Extra virgin oil is produced by a cold-pressing process and is the best grade of olive oil. Because it's unrefined with very little processing, extra virgin olive oil has the highest level of antioxidants compared to other categories: "pure" or "light" oil, "olive oil" and "pomace olive oil."
Read more: Extra Virgin Olive Oil Nutritional Facts
Dietary Fat in Olive Oil
Not only does fat make food taste better, it provides energy and is a macronutrient with numerous health benefits. Fat helps with the absorption of many vitamins — including vitamins A, D, E and K — so they can be used by your body. Fat is vitally important for building cell membranes and the sheaths surrounding nerves. Your body needs fat for functions such as blood clotting and muscle contractions_._
For long-term health, some dietary fats are better than others. Good fats include the unsaturated kind — monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include trans fats, and to some extent, saturated fats.
All of the 119 calories in a tablespoon of olive oil a day come from fat. But it is primarily healthy unsaturated fatty acids — 9.8 grams of monounsaturated fat and 1.4 grams of polyunsaturated fat. Of the monounsaturated fatty acids, 55 to 83 percent is oleic acid. USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat for good health. That equates to between 44 and 78 grams of fat per day on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
The phenolics in olive oil have antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that contribute to the many benefits of 1 tablespoon of olive oil a day. Chronic inflammation may contribute to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and heart disease, and even obesity.
The key antioxidant in olive oil is oleocanthal, which shares unique anti-inflammatory characteristics with ibuprofen, according to a 2014 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Researchers estimated that the oleocanthal in 3.4 tablespoons, or 50 milliliters, of extra virgin olive oil has a similar effect as 10 percent of the adult dosage of ibuprofen.
In addition to the oleocanthal, another antioxidant benefit of 1 tablespoon of olive oil a day is vitamin E — 10 percent of your daily allowance. Vitamin E helps protect you from chronic disease by neutralizing harmful free radicals in your cells, produced through metabolic processes such as digestion or from environmental sources such as air pollution.
Helps in Fighting Depression
If you are depressed, a spoonful of olive oil a day may just help you. Your brain is 60 percent fat, consisting partly of polyunsaturated fatty acids — omega 3 and omega 6. Omega fats control normal brain development and function, and are associated with many mood disorders.
A 2018 study from France published in Frontiers in Physiology reviewed the role of polyunsaturated fatty acid and its effect on brain afflictions, such as anxiety and depression. Researchers found that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids had a negative effect on mood-related behavior and suggested polyunsaturated fats may be beneficial in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders.
Read more: Major Signs of Depression
Helps With Memory
Taking olive oil daily may contribute to lessening your risk of cognitive decline. Progressive memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible age-related disorder.
A study investigated the association of phenolic compounds in extra-virgin olive oil and the prevention or delay of Alzheimer's. Researchers reported that consumption of extra virgin olive oil led to improvement in learning and memory and reversal of age-related dysfunctions.
The 2018 paper, published in Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, concluded that extra virgin olive oil may help protect brain tissue against toxic substances that can cause Alzheimer's disease and that olive oil may be a viable therapy for preventing or halting the disease.
Lowers Blood Glucose Levels
For diabetics, a spoonful of olive oil a day may help to improve the response of cells to glucose. Extra virgin olive oil contains oleic acid, which acts as an anti-inflammatory. Diabetes in an inflammatory condition, and olive oil may reduce many of the symptoms of diabetes, including lowering blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
The effects of extra virgin olive oil were assessed in a 2015 study using 25 healthy subjects. Participants were given meals with either olive oil or corn oil added. As published in Nutrition and Diabetes in 2015, researchers found that two hours after the meal, the group given olive oil had significantly lower blood glucose levels and improved lipid profiles.
In addition, the olive oil group showed a reduction in LDL — low-density lipoprotein levels.
Taking Olive Oil Daily and Weight
Being overweight can contribute to the development of many chronic diseases. The positive effects of the Mediterranean diet, with its high olive oil component, on body weight was demonstrated in a five-year study.
Findings published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology in 2016 reported that of three interventions, the group with supplemental extra virgin olive oil had the highest reduction in body weight and waist circumference. Researchers concluded that intake of healthy fats such as olive oil should not be restricted for weight maintenance.
Weight Loss and Chronic Disease
With many heart conditions, diabetes, some cancers and other serious diseases, the recommended treatment is positively related to weight loss. Researchers found that olive oil given to patients with prostate cancer proved to be beneficial for weight improvements and maintenance.
The Journal of Cancer Therapy published a study in 2017 that found that adding 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day to the plant-based diet recommended by the Prostate Cancer Foundation proved to make the diet more acceptable for long-term use in weight management, and produced better glycemic control.
The majority of participants in the study who received the extra olive oil lost at least 5 percent more of their baseline weight by the end of six months. In addition, the study group reported a higher energy level on the diet that included olive oil.
Omega Fatty Acids in Olive Oil
The polyunsaturated fatty acids in olive oil include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and DPA (docosapentaenoic acid). All these forms of omega 3s can help reduce risk factors for serious health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases.
Keeps Your Arteries Healthy
Plaque, which consists of cholesterol, fat and calcium, can build up in your arteries and limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart and brain. When this buildup, called atherosclerosis, causes a reduction of the flow of blood to your brain, it can cause a stroke.
The purpose of a 2014 review was to examine the potential effects of omega-3 fatty acid in preventing or reducing the risk of death from atherosclerosis. In the study, patients with bleeding on the brain were given EPA the day after surgery and 30 days onward.
Researchers found that EPA reduced neurological symptoms and frequency of arterial spasms after the onset of a stroke. The conclusions, published in the journal World Neurosurgery, confirmed that oral EPA reduced the frequency of the narrowing of blood vessels to the brain.
Reduces Your Risk of Stroke
Stroke is the number one cause of long-term disability and death in the U.S. Consuming a spoonful of olive oil a day may help keep your arteries healthy and reduce the risk of a stroke.
Results of a cohort study in 2017, published by the American Heart Association's "Stroke," identified 953 incidents of stroke in subjects with a broad range of dietary habits and medical conditions. Researchers found that omega DHA and DPA, but not EPA, lowered the risk of ischemic stroke after an eight- to 11-year follow-up.
Read more: Benefits of Olive Oil for Hair
- University Health News Daily: Olive Oil Health Benefits: The Key Is to Purchase an “Early Harvest” Oil
- Harvard Health Publishing: The Truth About Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between
- SELFNutritionData: Oil, Olive, Salad or Cooking
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Current Disease-Targets for Oleocanthal as Promising Natural Therapeutic Agent
- USDA Dietary Guidelines: Appendix 7. Daily Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Oleocanthal, a Phenolic Derived From Virgin Olive Oil: A Review of the Beneficial Effects on Inflammatory Disease
- Rehabilitation Info Portal: The Human Brain
- Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience: Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Brain: A Review of the Independent and Shared Effects of EPA, DPA and DHA
- Frontier in Physiology: Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety
- Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology: Extra‐Virgin Olive Oil Ameliorates Cognition and Neuropathology of the 3xTg Mice: Role of Autophagy
- Nutrition and Diabetes: Extra Virgin Olive Oil Use Is Associated With Improved Post-Prandial Blood Glucose and LDL Cholesterol in Healthy Subjects
- The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology: Effect of a High-Fat Mediterranean Diet on Bodyweight and Waist Circumference: A Prespecified Secondary Outcomes Analysis of the PREDIMED Randomised Controlled Trial
- Journal of Cancer Therapy: Including Extra Virgin Olive Oil May More Improve Glycemic Control Despite Similar Weight Loss Compared to the Diet Recommended by the Prostate Cancer Foundation: A Randomized, Pilot Study
- American Heart Association: Stroke: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Incident Ischemic Stroke and Its Atherothrombotic and Cardioembolic Subtypes in 3 US Cohorts
- World Neurosurgery: A Prospective, Multicenter, Randomized Study of the Efficacy of Eicosapentaenoic Acid for Cerebral Vasospasm: The EVAS Study