If you don’t have a bottle of extra virgin olive oil on your dining table, you are missing out on a whole host of health benefits. It is one of the world’s fastest growing sectors within the food industry and the United States is the third largest consumer; in 2011, the U.S purchased almost 293,000 metric tons according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.
Extra virgin olive oil is a key component of the famed Mediterranean Diet which is known for its heart-healthy properties. Below, we look at all the health benefits of this wonderful olive oil but first, let’s take a quick look at the product.
What Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
True extra virgin olive oil comes from a ‘cold pressing’ process which means only pressure is used to extract the oil from the olives. The extra virgin olive oil you consume comes from the very first pressing of the olives and contains just 1% acid. It is the best tasting oil because it offers the freshest and fruitiest flavor.
Make sure you look carefully at the bottle because olive oil comes in many different forms. Here are some other labels you might see:
- Virgin Olive Oil: This oil also comes from the first pressing but contains about 3% acid.
- Fino: A combination of virgin and extra virgin.
- Pure: A combination of refined extra virgin and virgin oils.
- Light: Most of the sediment is removed due to a filtering process. In this instance, light only relates to the color and not lower fat or calories.
The Health Benefits
1 – Reduces Risk of Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease is one of the world’s biggest killers according to the World Health Organization (WHO). However, the rate of heart disease is extremely low in a select few areas around the globe including countries located near the Mediterranean Sea. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that the Mediterranean Diet could reduce instances of heart disease by up to 30% in people at high risk.
It appears as if extra virgin olive oil can fight against a variety of issues associated with the condition:
- Reduced blood pressure.
- Prevention of blood clotting.
- Reduced inflammation.
- Improved endothelial function.
In simple terms, people who consume relatively large amounts of extra virgin olive oil are far less likely to die from strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions than those who don’t consume this healthy fat at all. The evidence is compelling so if you are at risk of heart disease, start using extra virgin olive oil when cooking!
2 – Potentially Reduces Risk of Cancer
Once again, countries located around the Mediterranean Sea have a much lower rate of cancer than nations such as the United States. One of the biggest contributors to cancer is oxidative damage because of free radicals but this damage is reduced by antioxidants; and extra virgin olive oil happens to have these potential life savers in abundance.
High quality extra virgin contains antioxidants which promote healthy cognitive function and protect the body from oxygen free radicals. The oleic acid in the oil is very resistant to oxidation and various studies have shown that the compounds found in olive oil are able to fight cancer at a molecular level.
At the time of writing, no human controlled trials have been completed to definitively show that olive oil can prevent cancer but the research to date is extremely encouraging.
3 – Fights Diabetes
Conventional wisdom once stated that a low fat diet was critical in order to prevent medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes; however, it turns out that the type of fat you consume is more important. Recent research has clearly shown how a diet rich in monounsaturated fats helps protect you against conditions such as diabetes.
As it happens extra virgin olive oil contains 73 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) per 100 grams which makes it one of the best food choices when at risk of diabetes. As well as delaying the onset of the disease, olive oil may also be a good alternative when treating the condition.
It achieves this by preventing insulin resistance and its possible implications by ensuring lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides levels, improved control of your blood sugar and raised HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
4 – Pain Relief
We briefly mentioned how extra virgin olive oil reduces inflammation which is one of the major drivers in a variety of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Inflammation is also a factor when it comes to arthritis but olive oil’s ability to reduce this issue means it can mimic the effects of pain relieving medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
One of the compounds in olive oil is called ‘oleocanthal’ and it works to prevent pro-inflammatory enzymes which is precisely the way in which the drug Ibuprofen works. When these enzymes are inhibited, the increase in pain sensitivity associated with them is dampened. The highest oleocanthal levels are found in extra virgin olive oil.
According to researchers, approximately 3.5 tablespoons is the equivalent of 200mg of Ibuprofen. However, please note that this amount of oil has 400 calories and should not be used as a pain reliever for more than 10 days.
5 – Improved Skin
You may be surprised to learn that olive oil is also a great way to keep your skin clear and healthy. The antioxidants it contains (polyphenols, vitamin E and phytosterols) not only have immune system benefits, they also help slow down the skin’s aging process. Olive oil also contains hydroxytyrosol which is a rare compound and prevents free radicals from damaging the skin.
When olive oil is placed on the skin, it penetrates it deeply and is a much better moisturizer than commercial products because it doesn’t clog the pores. You can also mix it with sea salt and rub it on the skin as this combination works perfectly as a natural exfoliating method.
Extra virgin olive oil is remarkably healthy as it helps reduce the risk of a variety of serious medical conditions including heart disease. Unlike fatty oils that are high in polyunsaturated fats, olive oil is fairly resistant to high heat so you can safely use it when cooking. This means you can enjoy delicious meals and remain healthy in the bargain!