Compared to other cooking oils, olive oil has the unique potential to deliver a one-two punch to chronic and degenerative diseases from the potent polyphenol compounds found in extra virgin olive oil and the high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in all grades. As a result, olive oil consumption has been associated with everything from improved cholesterol levels to better mood to stronger bones.
Here are some of the most exciting research-backed health benefits:-
1. It’s packed with polyphenols
Extra virgin olive oil is a particularly abundant source of polyphenols, natural bioactive compounds with antioxidant properties that are found in plant foods like fruits, veggies, and olives. Polyphenols benefit health, in part, because they combat oxidative stress—a type of stress within the body that damages lipids, proteins, and DNA in a way that contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia. Two abundant polyphenols present in olive oil are hydroxytyrosol and oleocanthal, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, neuroprotective, and antimicrobial properties.
2. It strongly promotes cardiovascular health
Olive oil is considered heart-healthy for (many) good reasons. In the frequently cited PREDIMED study, people who ate a Mediterranean-style diet that included 4+ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, and their combined risk for heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease was around a 30% lower than people who ate a low-fat diet. EVOO has also been linked to improved cholesterol levels and reduced blood pressure. Oleic acid (the most abundant MUFA in all olive oil grades) and various polyphenols are likely to thank, given their ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, and modify cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.
But you don’t have to consume 4+ tablespoons of olive oil per day to reap the benefits. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s credible evidence to support the claim that consuming 1 ½ tablespoons of oleic acid-rich oils, including olive oil, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, provided they replace fats/oils higher in saturated fat and do not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.
3. It may reduce risk of certain cancers
While no food is a magic bullet for cancer prevention, olive oil consumption may be one reason cancer rates tend to be lower in Mediterranean countries. Findings from a recent 2020 study suggest that extra virgin olive oil triggers changes in gut bacteria that are associated with prevention of colorectal cancer; and previous research has shown that women who eat the most olive oil tend to have a lower risk of colon cancer and breast cancer. Several components of olive oil have demonstrated anti-cancer properties, including oleic acid, hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal, phytosterols, and squalene.
4. It supports healthy memory + brain function
Oxidative stress is implicated in the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. But extra virgin olive oil’s polyphenols—particularly oleocanthal—function as potent antioxidants that may help counter this effect. A 2019 study on animals found that oleocanthal-rich olive oil helped restore healthy blood-brain barrier function and reduce neuro-inflammation in a way that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.
5. It supports healthy mental outlook + mood
Olive oil’s brain-nourishing nutrients can help elevate your mood, too. In fact, fascinating studies from 2010, 2017, and 2019 all support a growing body of research suggesting Mediterranean-style diets can actually help treat depression! In one of the studies, 30% of participants entered remission for their moderate to severe depression after a 12-week Mediterranean diet intervention that included olive oil. Additional research suggests that olive oil’s beneficial fats support the central nervous system, helping nerves function properly and increasing levels of the mood-supporting neurotransmitter serotonin.
6. It combats pain + inflammation
Olive oil may be a particularly good addition to your diet if you suffer from arthritis or another chronic inflammatory condition. For one, monounsaturated fats have been shown to reduce levels C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker that’s elevated in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis. Extra virgin olive oil also contains the polyphenol oleocanthal, which has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen. Some experts believe that regular intake of oleocanthal-containing foods may reduce risk for risk for inflammatory diseases. More