Extra virgin olive oil is a nutrient-rich source of healthy fats and antioxidants, making it one of the healthiest fats you can include in your diet. The beauty of EVOO is that it’s as tasty as it is nutritious. It’s so delicious, in fact, that many people who use extra virgin olive oil for baking, cooking, drizzling, or dipping do so without even knowing the incredible health benefits the oil provides. Maybe you’re one of them. If so, you’re going to love what we’re about to share with you.
Olive Oil Nutrition at a Glance
We realize it may seem counterintuitive to suggest adding fat to your diet. That’s why it’s important to remember that all fats are not the same. Saturated fats, which are commonly found in red meat, dairy products, and processed foods, have been linked to adverse health conditions such as heart disease and high blood pressure. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help counteract many of the problems associated with saturated fats.
One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains approximately 14% saturated fat and 73% monounsaturated fat, as well as moderate amounts of polyunsaturated fat in the form of omega 6 fatty acids. If you’re tracking your foods and wondering how many calories are in olive oil, it’s worth noting that extra virgin olive oil contains roughly 120 calories per tablespoon. While the monounsaturated fats in olive oil can have a positive impact on your health, consuming too much of it can lead to an overabundance of calories. As with most dietary ingredients, moderation is key.
8 Health Benefits of Olive Oil
1. Olive oil promotes overall heart health.
Extra virgin olive oil is a rich source of monosaturated fat — primarily in the form of oleic acid. According to the American Heart Association, research suggests that people who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil each day had a 15% lower risk of having cardiovascular disease and a 21% lower risk of coronary heart disease. In addition to the essential fatty acids that protect against heart disease, EVOO also contains omega 6 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fats that have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol in the blood, which, in turn, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Need to consume more olive oil? Learn more about the benefits of drinking olive oil.
2. Olive oil boasts impressive anti-inflammatory properties.
Extra virgin olive oil contains a natural compound called oleocanthal, a powerful antioxidant with significant anti-inflammatory properties that are similar to those found in ibuprofen. When you consider that chronic inflammation contributes to a wide range of diseases and health conditions — from asthma and arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes — olive oil’s ability to reduce inflammation just might be its most broad-spectrum health benefit.
3. Olive oil can help fight cancer.
While the oleocanthal mentioned above can reduce inflammation, it has also been recognized as a beneficial anti-cancer compound. Multiple studies have shown that oleocanthal can counteract human cancer cells without damaging healthy, non-cancerous cells in the process. Since extra virgin olive oil has higher oleocanthal levels than refined olive oil, it’s easy to see why EVOO is the olive oil of choice. It’s worth noting that oleocanthal is not the only antioxidant found in extra virgin olive oil. High-quality EVOO also contains high Vitamin E levels, an antioxidant that combats free radicals that can damage cells and lead to various diseases.
4. Olive oil can play a role in healthy weight management.
As a key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, widely considered one of the healthiest diets in the world, olive oil can play a significant role in weight loss and management. Not only does olive oil highlight the flavors of nutritious foods like fish and vegetables, but the healthy fats found in olive oil can also help you feel full and satisfied, which can reduce cravings for additional snacks or sweets. If you’ve ever finished a meal of highly processed foods and found yourself craving a snack or something sweet soon after, you know how easy it is to consume empty calories. By keeping you “full,” olive oil can help you drop unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight.
5. Olive oil contributes to good digestive health.
Because it contains such high levels of monounsaturated fats (almost 73%), olive oil does an effective job at lubricating the intestinal tract. By helping food move through the digestive tract more efficiently, olive oil can help ensure the intestinal tract works as it should. Not only does olive oil lubricate the intestinal tract, but it also reduces the overproduction of gastric acid, which can lead to frustrating and potentially harmful conditions like heartburn and acid reflux.
6. Olive oil enhances nutrient absorption.
We started this article by mentioning how extra virgin olive oil can be used for all sorts of food preparation: cooking, baking, sauteing, or finishing. While the fresh flavor is reason enough to add EVOO to your diet, it also has the ability to help you get more nutritional benefit from the foods you’re eating. When you eat foods that are high in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, the healthy fats in olive oil can help your body absorb those vitamins more efficiently.
7. Olive oil has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar.
In addition to the multiple nutrients and compounds discussed so far, extra virgin olive oil contains oleuropein, a polyphenol that gives the oil its distinctive bitterness and pungency. Research has shown that when consumed, oleuropein also prompts the pancreas to release insulin, which helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. Because of this, the American Diabetes Association has indicated that olive oil can be an effective aid in reducing the body’s glycemic response to high-glycemic foods, which is incredibly helpful in the management of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
8. Olive oil can help you maintain healthy skin and hair.
From hair treatments to lotions and balms, olive oil has been a part of beauty regimens for thousands of years. The oil’s cosmetic benefits lie mainly in its high levels of Vitamin E and Vitamin K, both of which are essential for healthy skin and hair. And while the popularity of external olive oil applications has lessened over the years, EVOO consumption can provide many of the same benefits from the inside out.With so many health benefits packed into each serving, olive oil can dramatically improve your health and wellness. But before you rush out to the store and buy the first bottle of olive oil you see, it’s important to remember that there is a big difference between regular olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. Regular olive oil is highly processed and refined, which causes it to lose most of the vitamins and nutrients that provide the benefits we’ve listed above. If you want to take advantage of the natural health benefits, be sure to buy the freshest extra virgin olive oil you can find and store it in a cool, dry place that protects it from heat, oxygen, and light.