Olive oil is touted all over the world as a healthy, good-for-you oil. Benefits range from the prevention of cancer, heart disease and diabetes to lowering blood pressure to reducing levels of obesity. They go on and on from there.
So what exactly is it in olive oil that makes it so healthy? Well, there's a number of chemical components that do your body good.
But first it's important to understand which type of olive oil you should be eating to get all of these benefits.
Extra Virgin Contains The Most Benefits
In terms of the health benefits found in olive oil, Extra Virgin has far more of the good stuff than the lower grades.
Refined grades like Pure Olive Oil, Refined (Light) Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil are going to have less (or debatably, none) of the healthy-for-you components. That said, they are still high in healthy monounsaturated fats, so they are a great choice in comparison to other oils.
So let's look at the benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in particular.
What Is It In Olive Oil That Makes It Healthy?
Polyphenols are a key component to olive oil, and are considered to be one of the best health benefits. Polyphenols furnish the immune system, protect us from heart diseases and display anticancer activity as they act as free radicals traps. They protect olive oil from oxidative damage and they contribute to its superior oxidative stability among other edible oils. They also affect its taste, giving it a distinctive bitter flavor.
There are a number of different types of polyphenols, including oleuropein, tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol, oleocanthal and oleacein. Each are considered extremely strong antioxidants, and are linked to a number of different benefits, including:
- Maintenance of normal blood pressure
- Upper respitory tract health
- Affects certain proteins in the brain that are involved in memory, learning and thinking
- Helps keep blood sugar under control
- Potentially treat or reduce the symptoms of and/or prevent type 2 diabetes
- Protects blood lipids from oxidative damage ¹
Vitamin E is a good example of one of these antioxidants. Vitamin E is a significant compontent of olive oil, and is thought to decrease the risk of many cancers.
This is one of the important polyphenols that produces a stinging feeling in the back of your throat in especially peppery or bitter olive oils. That taste is a learned one for some people, but the properties of this component are known to be some of the best parts of the oil for you.
This component mimics the effects of ibuprofen, by reducing inflammation. This has a particular effect on long term inflammatory illnesses, including certain cancers and is considered beneficial in the prevention of Alzheimers.
The sterols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil are known to decrease the blood cholesterol levels and help inhibit cholestrol absorption in the small intestine. Sterols have also been shown to act as anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-ulcerative, anti-oxidant and anti-tumor component. ²
Squalene is a component believed to prevent certain types of cancer and is beneficial for patients with heart disease and diabetes. Olive oil has the highest concentration of squalene compared to other edible oils (for example, olive oil has 5-20x more squalene than found in corn oil).
Fat is a vital component of a healthy diet. Though the word "fat" is looked down upon in our day and age, not all fats are actually bad for you. In fact, it is the type of fat that is important.
Monounsaturated fats (as opposed to saturated or polyunsaturated fats) are commonly found in nuts, seeds and olive oil and are considered to be a better-for-you fat. One reason is because monounsaturated fat doesn't oxidize in the body, while polunsaturated fat does. Many agree that these monounsaturated fats have the following benefits for a healthy body:
- Protects from chronic diseases
- Improves the arterial function in elderly individuals
- Reduces the risk of metebolic syndrom (a combination of obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholestrol and high blood sugar)
These monounsaturated fats are found in all of the grades so that is the good thing that you'll get from eating any olive oil -- Pure Olive Oil, Light Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil -- not just Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
The moral of the story? Go out there and enjoy your olive oil!
Information resources: ¹European Food Safety Authority and ²Olive Oil Times
Topics: Olive Oil