Important Health Benefits of Adding Extra Virgin Olive Oil to Your Daily Diet
The common question "Is olive oil actually healthy for you?" arises, and with great reasoning. We should always question how we are nourishing our bodies, especially when our diet consumes a major role in our lives. Our diet alone can diminish or enhance our lifestyles, so it is important to implement the healthiest options without compromising the flavor, or fun of eating -- but what if I told you that you could eat delicious food and obtain major health benefits from it? Olive oil can help you achieve these higher standards of living, but how? First cold pressed extra virgin olive oil has been scientifically proven to contain phenolic compounds that contain a vast array of benefits to contribute to your overall health. Olive oil contains a high amount of antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties due to the polyphenol found in it. These properties aid in preventing certain cancers, helping metabolic disorders, contributing to life longevity, and even improving mental health and mood. Today, you will learn about these benefits and many more, as well as how adding olive oil to your daily diet can achieve them.
Figure 1: Attributes of Olive Oil Benefits in Correlation to Health.
First, we will look at the differences between olive oils and why first cold pressed olive oil contains the most benefits. Olives that are first cold pressed are crushed under a hydraulic press, and maintained at a temperature no higher than 80.6 degrees fahrenheit. This controlled temperature produces the highest quality and flavored olive oil, and temperatures higher than this may begin to compromise the grade of the oil. After the first press, the fruit no longer produces any more oil, so manufacturers will repeatedly crush the fruit under higher temperatures to produce a lower quality oil. After the first press, the olive oil is no longer considered extra virgin, and will oftentimes just be marketed as "Olive Oil" in stores. These oils contain some of the same effects of first cold pressed, but not nearly as much, so that is why looking for an unrefined first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil is important, rather than an oil that isn't extra virgin.
There are so many other incredible advantages to olive oil, so let's talk about them in detail to educate you on how it can personally affect you and your health. Researchers regard olive oil as a superfood due to the high polyphenol content. Polyphenols are micronutrients that are usually found in plants. Registered Dietician, Bill Bradley, posted an article that emphasizes the attributes that may benefit your health from consuming extra virgin olive oil. "Polyphenol-rich olive oil can reduce inflammation and pain in your body. It contains oleocanthal, a polyphenol, with pain and inflammation-reducing effects similar to the commercially available pain-relieving medicine, ibuprofen (Advil). It also contains hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol that’s a powerful antioxidant that has also been shown to protect eyes, skin, and other body tissues from damage." '13 Amazing Health Benefits of Polyphenol-Rich Olive Oil' Bill Bradley, R.D. 2022, Mediterranean Living website, accessed 3 February 2023, <https://www.mediterraneanliving.com/13-amazing-health-benefits-of-polyphenol-rich-olive-oil/#mental-health-and-mood>. In other words, you may have a natural way of relieving pain with something as simple as adding olive oil to your diet.
Now that we are familiar with the difference in how the oil is made, what is contained in the oil that is beneficial, and some of its attributes - let’s discuss specific health concerns that it can address, prevent, and regulate with ease. Medical research has been conducted to be conclusive and check multiple boxes when it comes to the overall benefits that extra virgin olive oil has to offer. This includes prevention of chronic diseases that are linked to CVD, cancers, diabetes, metabolic disorders, and cognitive function.
Olive oil has been proven to contribute to life longevity due to its ability to prevent a wide range of diseases. A large epidemiological study was performed over about a 13 and a half year period to conclude that those who consumed more olive oil were 19% lower risk of dying compared to those whose intake was of a lesser amount. The study also showed,
“They had a:
19% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease
18% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease
17% lower risk of dying from cancer
29% lower risk of dying from a brain disease such as Alzheimer’s disease.”
'13 Amazing Health Benefits of Polyphenol-Rich Olive Oil' Bill Bradley, R.D. 2022, Mediterranean Living website, accessed 3 February 2023, <https://www.mediterraneanliving.com/13-amazing-health-benefits-of-polyphenol-rich-olive-oil/#mental-health-and-mood>.
A recent Harvard Medical School study was published on April 1, 2022, by Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter, showing the scientists comparing the findings of two studies, “that people who consumed the most olive oil – a little more than a tablespoon per day – had a 19% lower risk of death from any cause over a 28-year period, compared with those who rarely or never consumed olive oil. Higher olive oil consumption was also associated with lower risks of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, or lung disease. Among people who replaced butter, margarine, or mayonnaise with olive oil, the death rate was as much as 34% lower than that of people who didn’t substitute olive oil for those fats.” ‘Harvard Study: High olive oil consumption associated with longevity’ Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, 2022, Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Health Publishing Website, accessed 21 March 2023,
At the Olive Oil Pantry #2 in Livermore, we carry a butter replacement olive oil that can substitute for unhealthy fats. My biggest question was how do they flavor the oil to taste like butter? Well, scientists have found a way to isolate the flavor molecule of butter, so you can enjoy the taste without the negatives associated with consuming saturated fats. This means that you can go from using an ingredient that may harm your health, to using a superfood to improve your health. Pretty cool, right?
The polyphenols in the olive oil can play a major role in benefitting your heart and cholesterol. The acid found (polyphenol) in the oil will enter in your bloodstream and neutralize in your blood. This helps keep your arteries plyable, but it also prevents any unhealthy cholesterol from building up because it’s almost impossible for a fat to solidify in such an acidic environment. The Heart Association wrote an article explaining the benefits of incorporating olive oil into your daily diet. In the article, they explain “Among all edible plant oils, olive oil has the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, which lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol and increases “good” HDL. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure and contains plant-based compounds that offer anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties known to reduce the disease process, including heart disease.” ‘The benefits of adding a drizzle of olive oil to your diet’ KC Wright, 2022, American Heart Association News, American Heart Association Website, accessed 21 March 2023. <https://www.heart.org/en/news/2022/09/28/the-benefits-of-adding-a-drizzle-of-olive-oil-to-your-diet> Some heart conditions can be caused by inflammation of arteries, the heart, or blood vessels, but olive oil has a natural anti-inflammatory property giving it the ability to reverse inflammation, therefore preventing some heart diseases. Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS, is a doctor of chiropractics, certified doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, and Co-Founder of Ancient Nutrition, who has a motive to help people get and stay healthy. On his website, he talks about this reversal and how it is possible. “Extra virgin olive oil helps reverse inflammatory reactions along with age - and disease related changes to the heart and blood vessels, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. Research shows it is beneficial for lowering high blood pressure because it makes nitric oxide more bioavailable, which keeps arteries dilated and more clear.” ‘Olive Oil Benefits for Your Heart & Brain’ Jillian Levy, CHHC, 2021, Dr. Axe website, accessed 14 march 2023. <https://https://draxe.com/nutrition/olive-oil-benefits/> This prevents the heart from hypertension from high cholesterol, and helps maintain and regulate your numbers.
There is an extensive list of benefits when it comes to olive oil and your metabolism. A list includes things such as helping aid diabetes by increasing insulin activity, lowering blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, promoting a healthy gut and digestion, aiding thyroid, liver, kidney, and skin disorders, fighting against obesity by promoting weight loss, and preventing major metabolic disorders. Olive oil changes the microbes in your gut, and changes how your body regulates its blood sugar and insulin. The anti-inflammatory properties also assist in helping inflammatory bowel diseases. Another benefit is your body will begin to metabolize food in a different manner, making it easier to lose and maintain a healthy weight. So, let's take a closer look at how this is possible
Consumption of olive oil has the ability of manipulating insulin sensitivity to regulate the excess insulin, which is a hormone that controls our blood sugar levels and makes us gain weight. When trying to lose weight it is shown that fats are known to reduce or satisfy hunger, therefore reducing hunger or cravings, leading to less excessive eating. Studies show the importance of keeping healthy fats in our diets when losing weight because without them, our bodies will crave to be satisfied. This is why studies show that maintaining a balanced diet with healthy fats are more effective than low fat diets, and help maintain weight regularly. Dr. Axe shared studies on his website backing these claims stating “Similarly a study published in the Women’s Health Journal found that an olive oil enriched diet brought about greater weight loss than a lower-fat diet in an eight-week comparison. Following the eight weeks, the participants also overwhelmingly chose the olive-oil enriched diet for at least six months of the follow-up period.” ‘Olive Oil Benefits for Your Heart & Brain’ Jillian Levy, CHHC, 2021, Dr. Axe website, accessed 14 March 2023. <https://https://draxe.com/nutrition/olive-oil-benefits/> Another section in the article further supports these claims by saying “While carbohydrates elevate blood sugar providing glucose, fats help stabilize blood sugar levels and regulate insulin. Even when you eat something high in sugar or carbs, adding extra virgin olive oil to the meal can help slow down the impact of your bloodstream.” ‘Olive Oil Benefits for Your Heart & Brain’ Jillian Levy, CHHC, 2021, Dr. Axe website, accessed 14 March 2023. <https://https://draxe.com/nutrition/olive-oil-benefits/> Proving that the healthy fats in addition to olive oil's ability to regulate your metabolism is highly effective when trying to regulate your weight or health.
There are two compounds in olive oil that are proven to help the health of your liver, thyroid, and kidney. Polyphenol being the first compound that is rich in antioxidants and radical scavengers. The second compound being hydroxytyrosol, which is rich in antioxidants too, but also has antimicrobial activity against foreign bacterias when in the presence of a third compound oleuropein, which is also found in the oil. Another article shares the connection between olive oil and the liver stating, “A 2018 review of laboratory studies found that molecules in extra virgin olive oil may help prevent or repair liver damage. The oil’s MUFAs, which are mainly oleic acid, and its phenolic compounds appear to help prevent inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and other changes that can result in liver damage.” ‘What are the health benefits of olive oil?’ Nutrition - Yvette Brazier, 2019, MedicalNewsToday, MedicalNewsToday Website, accessed 14 April, 2023. <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/316851> So, it's clear to see that olive oil is a major component to not only regulate your metabolism, but other parts of your endocrine and digestive systems too.
Surprisingly, olive oil has strong advantages when it comes to brain health. Polyphenol and the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil help fight against mild cognitive impairments. These help with memory and cognition by changing the way that microbiome communicates with the brain. As a result of this, medical issues such as Alzheimer’s, Dementia, or strokes may improve or even be prevented, just by adding olive oil to your daily diet. “In a study that compared olive oil use and stroke incidence, those who consumed the highest amounts of olive oil had a lower risk of stroke. While the incidence of stroke was low for both groups, those who consumed olive oil were 41% less likely to have them.”’13 Amazing Health Benefits of Polyphenol-Rich Olive Oil’ Bill Bradley R.D., 2022, Mediterranean Living, MediterraneanLiving website, accessed 3 February, 2023. <https://www.mediterraneanliving.com/13-amazing-health-benefits-of-polyphenol-rich-olive-oil/>
Polyphenol affects your bloodstream, which correlates to how it prevents clots from forming, thus lowering the risk of having a stroke or heart attack. The acid present makes it extremely difficult for fats to solidify in your arteries, but promotes the integrity of your arteries by keeping the channels clear. Polyphenol also is amazing for keeping your arteries pliable by preventing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.) This is essential to making sure your brain is functioning properly, and the reason why olive oil may help your overall cognition. “Tassos C Kyriakides (TCK): We found that extra virgin olive oil enhanced brain connectivity and reduced blood-brain barrier permeability, both markers of mild cognitive impairment and early Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, even though both extra-virgin olive oil and refined olive oil (with phenolic components removed) improved clinical dementia rating and behavioral scores, only extra-virgin olive oil had an effect on blood-brain barrier permeability, suggesting that it was the biophenols that contributed to such effect.” ‘Assistant Professor Tassos C. Kyriakides discusses the cognitive benefits of olive oil’ Amelia Lower, 2022, Yale School of Public Health, Yale Education website, accessed 3 February, 2023. <https://ysph.yale.edu/news-article/assistant-professor-tassos-c-kyriakides-discusses-the-cognitive-benefits-of-olive-oil/>
An article on olive oil was written by Howard E. LeWine at Harvard that further expresses the effects that olive oil has on the brain and body. Sharing that the Mediterranean diet is central to having a polyphenol rich diet, which does in fact contribute to your overall health. He also discusses the differences in quality of olive oil and how first cold pressed is essential to reaping all of the positive side effects. “In fact, observational studies have shown a link between lower risks of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and even dementia in people who consume higher amounts of olive oil than those who use little or none.”’Is extra-virgin olive oil extra healthy?’ Howard E. LeWine MD, 2021, Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publishing Website, accessed 8 February, 2023. <https://www.health.harvard.edu/nutrition/is-extra-virgin-olive-oil-extra-healthy> In the article, he shares a brief explanation that extra virgin olive oil offers something that regular extra virgin olive oil does not. First cold pressed extra virgin olive oil maintains the integrity of the acids presented when pressed. Due to the different kinds of oil produced from the skins and pits of the olives, and the hotter temperature from pressing the olives, and the ultra refining process that goes into regular extra virgin olive oil, you lose a lot of the properties that make the oil healthy. You should always make sure of what kind of olive oil to your diet to ensure that you get the most out of it.
Depression can also be tackled with the use of olive oil, especially by those that are hesitant to take prescription medication. Studies have been conducted to try to find other natural alternatives to western medicine. This being the case, olive oil was looked at as a potential component to treating mental health. Your brain is affected by chemicals that are released, and the irregularity or regularity of them can determine your overall mental well-being. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released from the adrenal glands in your brain that increases glucose in the bloodstream and increases the availability of substances in your body that repair and restore tissues. “Another surprising benefit of olive oil is that it boosts levels of two critical brain chemicals, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and nerve growth factor (NGF). These compounds encourage the formation and repair of brain cells. BDNF is a protein that stimulates new brain cell formation.BDNF can offset the negative effects of stress on the brain; low levels are associated with depression.” ‘How Polyphenol Rich Extra Virgin Olive Oil Looks After Your Mental Health As Well As Protecting Against Heart Disease.’ 2022, Morocco Gold Website, accessed 11 March, 2023. <https://morocco-gold.com/how-does-olive-oil-benefit-your-mental-health/#:~:text=Extra%20Virgin%20Olive%20Oil%20Increases%20Brain%2DBoosting%20Chemicals&text=These%20compounds%20encourage%20the%20formation,levels%20are%20associated%20with%20depression.> Olive oil is rich in antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress to brain cells. This is important for preserving your neurons from getting inflamed or dying, which is another reason why olive oil is considered liquid gold.
Our bones start to age as we mature and become more fraile. Bones begin to lose density with age, but they also lose their density when we maintain a poor diet that's low in vitamins and calcium. Olive oil has bone protective qualities, such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory that prevent these natural causes. “The bone protective effects of olive and its products are attributed to their ability to increase bone formation and inhibit bone resorption, by suppressing oxidative stress and inflammation.” ‘Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option’ Kok-Yong Chin and Soelaiman Ima-Nirwana, 2016. National Library of Medicine, National Library of Medicine website, accessed 28 April, 2023. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997441/>
Figure 2: Myths and Facts About Extra Virgin Olive Oil from the North American Olive Oil Association.
<https://www.aboutoliveoil.org/olive-oil-myths-facts> North American Olive Oil Association website.