11 Health benefits of extra virgin olive oil that you can’t ignore
BY: JOE LEECH
Olive oil is widely recognised as one of the world’s healthiest oils.
In fact, people tend to live longer and healthier lives in regions where olive oil is a staple part of the diet.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest quality olive oil available, extracted from the olive fruit without the use of any heat or chemicals.
In this article we’re looking at the major health benefits of adding Extra Virgin Olive Oil to your diet, based on the latest scientific evidence.
1. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL IS A FANTASTIC SOURCE OF ANTIOXIDANTS AND HEALTHY FATS
Regular olive oil is refined and stripped of important nutrients and antioxidants.
In contrast, the natural extraction process used to produce Extra Virgin Olive Oil ensures it retains all the nutrients and antioxidants from the olive fruit.
In particular, it contains over 30 various types of phenolic compounds, which are powerful antioxidants that help protect the body against free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that cause cell damage and contribute to disease and the aging process (1).
The fat composition of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is also a major contributor to its healthfulness. It’s primarily made up of monounsaturated fat (approximately 73%), a heart healthy fat that is a staple of the Mediterranean diet.
Studies consistently link a diet high in monounsaturated fat with favourable effects on markers of cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke). This includes a reduction in markers of chronic inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels (2, 3, 4).
Key Message: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a rich source of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, both of which are thought to protective cardiovascular health.
2. MORE OLIVE OIL COULD HELP REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
Heart disease is the number one cause of premature death worldwide.
Interestingly, populations residing in mediterranean regions have low rates of mortality (death) from heart disease. While this is due to a combination of factors, their high consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil is thought to be a major one (5).
It appears the active compounds in Extra Virgin Olive Oil have powerful cardio-protective properties, such as helping to lower blood pressure and preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) (2, 6, 7).
One giant review study, which included data from over 840,000 subjects, found that those who ate the most olive oil were 9% less likely to have heart issues and 11% less likely to die early compared to those who ate the least olive oil (8).
Key Message: Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains a number of active compounds that contribute to heart health. Observational studies consistently find that those who consume the most have a lower risk of heart disease.
3. OLIVE OIL MAY PROTECT AGAINST STROKE
Stroke is the second largest killer after heart disease.
It’s closely linked to heart disease and shares many of the same risk factors, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
One French study that compared olive oil use and stroke incidence that those who consumed the highest amounts of olive oil had a 41% lower risk of stroke. A number of other studies have also found similar results (9, 10).
These findings make sense because people who use olive oil will likely be replacing other less heart healthy fats in their diet. Combine this with the high antioxidant and monounsaturated fat content in Extra Virgin Olive Oil and it’s clear why it appears to have a favourable impact on cardiovascular health.
Key Message: A diet high in olive has been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of stroke in observational studies.
4. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL MAY HELP LOWER YOUR RISK OF TYPE 2 DIABETES
Around one million people in Australia are thought to have type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the reduced effectiveness of insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) out of the blood and into cells to be used as energy.
It’s thought that the phenolic compounds present in Extra Virgin Olive Oil aid in glucose metabolism and improve the sensitivity and effectiveness of insulin.
A large analysis found that including olive oil in your daily diet could reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%. In comparison to a low-fat diet, a diet high in olive oil was also found to help normalise blood glucose in people who already had type 2 diabetes (11).
These beneficial effects are even more pronounced when combined with a Mediterranean style diet. One study found that a Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts or Extra Virgin Olive Oil decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 50% (12).
Key Message: Extra Virgin Olive Oil may help improve insulin sensitivity, which can help protect against type 2 diabetes or to manage pre-existing diabetes.
5. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL IS THE BEST COOKING OIL
There are a lot of different cooking oils that claim to be the best.
However, when you consider the major factors that influence how an oil reacts to high temperatures – oxidative stability and ratio of monounsaturated fats – Extra Virgin Olive Oil is number one.
While virgin coconut oil has a similar oxidative stability (due to its high saturated fat content), it’s extremely low in antioxidants. By comparison, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in beneficial antioxidants such as tocopherols and hydroxytyrosol (13).
Additionally, if you use an oil regularly you must consider the known health effects of its primary fats. Saturated fat (coconut oil) has zero known benefits while monounsaturated fat (olive oil) appears to significantly benefit heart health in the long run.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is also more practical for cooking because it comes in a variety of different flavour profiles (much like wine) and can complement both sweet and savoury dishes.
Key Message: When you consider its oxidative stability, superior antioxidant contents and ratio of monounsaturated fat, as well as its diverse flavour profile, Extra Virgin Olive Oil is easily the best choice for cooking.
6. COOKING WITH EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL CAN MAKE YOUR FOOD MORE NUTRITIOUS
Still not convinced that Extra Virgin Olive Oil should be your main cooking oil?
Studies show that cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil can even increase the nutrient content of your food.
This is because the antioxidants in Extra Virgin Olive Oil are so resistant to high heat that they don’t break down and instead end up being absorbed by the cooked food. In addition, it also helps the cooked food to retain some nutrients that are usually lost through cooking (13, 14, 15).
For example, one study showed that when broccoli was cooked with sunflower oil or even refined olive oil, several beneficial compounds in the broccoli (such as vitamin C) were reduced. However, when cooked in Extra Virgin Olive Oil the levels of those beneficial compounds remained unchanged (16).
Key Message: Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil can help retain – and in some instances increase – the number of nutrients and antioxidants in the cooked food that would otherwise be lost or damaged.
7. OLIVE OIL CONSUMPTION MAY IMPROVE BONE HEALTH
Olive oil, especially those rich in polyphenols such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil, may prevent bone loss with aging.
Animal and human studies propose that olive oil can inhibit bone reabsorption (the breakdown of calcium) and increase bone formation.
The results of a recent study in 870 participants seem to support this theory. They found that people who consumed the highest amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil had a 51% reduced risk of bone fractures (17, 18).
This is an exciting prospect, however, more research is needed as most human studies have been relatively small in size.
Key Message: Emerging evidence links polyphenols and olive oil consumption to a reduced risk of bone loss in old age. More research is required to prove this with any certainty.
8. THE COMPOUNDS IN OLIVE OIL MAY PROTECT AGAINST CERTAIN CANCERS
It’s known that what and how we eat can influence cancer risk.
Observational studies have shown a lower incidence of some cancers in regions where olive oil consumption is high (19).
A large analysis of 19 previous studies found that those with a higher consumption of olive oil had a lower risk of breast cancer and cancers of the digestive system (20, 21).
How or why isn’t completely understood, but researchers suspect that the unique oleocanthal content of Extra Virgin Olive Oil may play a protective role. Interestingly, oleocanthal is an antioxidant that forms during the malaxation of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and is not found in any other food… not even olives (22).
We cannot say for certain that Extra Virgin Olive Oil has anti-cancer properties, but the early evidence is promising.
Key Message: Extra Virgin Olive Oil could potentially protect against some cancers, at least theoretically.
9. A DIET HIGH IN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL MAY BE GOOD FOR BRAIN HEALTH
Olive oil could potentially reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related dementia.
The phenolic components of Extra Virgin Olive Oil may help clear the compounds that cause brain degeneration.
One study compared an Extra Virgin Olive Oil-enhanced Mediterranean diet with a standard low fat diet and found those on the Extra Virgin Olive Oil diet suffered less cognitive decline (loss of brain function and memory) after a 6.5 year follow up (23).
More research is need to confirm these benefits but it’s a hopeful area.
Key Message: Early research suggests that a diet high in Extra Virgin Olive Oil may inhibit the compounds responsible for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
10. OLIVE OIL CAN CONTRIBUTE TO HEALTH AND LONGEVITY
In regions where olive oil is a central part of the diet, people tend to live longer.
A large epidemiological study followed over 40,000 Spanish subjects over 13.5 years. Those with the highest olive oil intake were far less likely to die early compared to those consuming the least amount of olive oil (24).
It makes sense that two of the places where people live the longest – Icaria and Sardinia – residents eat a diet rich in Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Key Message: Observational studies consistently show that those who eat a diet rich in Extra Virgin Olive Oil tend to live longer.
11. AUSTRALIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL IS THE BEST QUALITY
Not all Extra Virgin Olive Oil is created equal.
Data shows that Australian certified olive oil is the highest quality in Australia when it comes to freshness and quality.
For the healthiest and most nutritious olive oil make sure to source yours locally and check for this Australian certification triangle.
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