When it comes to healthy foods, most people don’t think of oil as being very diet-friendly, that is, of course, unless you’re talking about olive oil.
It’s true: olive oil is a type of fat, obtained from pressing whole olives from olive trees traditionally from the Mediterranean Basin. It is however a “healthy” fat, meaning it benefits the body rather than impedes it.
The health benefits of olive oil are many, especially if you are using fresh, organic forms of this product.
Health benefits of olive oil
It may seem odd that an oil can provide health benefits for the body, but Discovery indicates it is not the oil itself which is responsible.
There are two main reasons why olive oil is considered a healthy food: the presence of polyphenols and the presence of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), both of which are important for heart health.
“The health benefits of olive oil are 99 percent related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself,” Nasir Malik, research plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, said to Discovery Health.
Without these compounds, Malik indicates olive oil would be no better than canola oil when it comes to promoting wellness.
Polyphenols are chemicals which provide the health benefits of olive oil by decreasing heart disease risk factors by lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, reducing blood clotting, and improving the health of artery linings. Polyphenols also activate the expression of genes in the human body associated with a decreased risk for metabolic syndrome, the umbrella term for a group of symptoms associated with heart disease risk.
And if that wasn’t enough, poylphenols in olive oil reduce an individual’s risk for cancer by lowering chronic inflammation throughout the body and acting as antioxidants, protecting cells from damage and oxidative stress.
In fact, the heart-health and anti-cancer health benefits of olive oil are one reason it is a vital component in the popular Mediterranean Diet plan.
Polyphenols are only half of the equation, however. The other reason for the many health benefits of olive oil include its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which the Mayo Clinic explains are healthy dietary fats that provide significant benefits for heart health.
MUFAs decrease heart disease risk by lowering total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, and these compounds also boost blood clotting and help to normalize blood sugar levels.
Some research also suggests olive oil may be beneficial in reducing memory loss of elderly patients.
Topical uses of olive oil
While olive oil is great for heart health and protecting the body from cell damage from the inside out, it is also great for the outside of the body.
Olive oil has been used for centuries in beauty products and remains a staple for many cultures around the world.
Topical uses for olive oil include:
- Cleansing of the skin with steaming.
- Sunburn after-treatment.
- Lip moisturizer.
- Hair conditioner.
- Dandruff relief.
- Skin moisturizer.
- Topical way to remove stains from the skin.
- Mix olive oil with other skin products for a smoother application.
- Improve skin’s elasticity.
- Relieve dry feet.
- Removing makeup.
- Hair detangler.
- Tooth whitener.
What to keep in mind when using olive oil
While olive oil used topically is generally safe, consuming olive oil for its health benefits comes with a word of caution.
First, olive oil is still a source of fat and therefore a significant source of calories. Too much can contribute to weight gain when used as an additive to other fats in the diet.
The healthiest way to consume an repeat the health benefits of olive oil is to use it as a replacement fat, meaning you do not add it to your diet but rather swap it in for other fats like salad dressing or butter. There are a surprising number of recipes out there which allow olive oil as a butter substitute without any sacrifice of flavor.
Another consideration when incorporating olive oil into your diet is the quality of the product you are using.
Store-bought olive oil may not be as healthy for you as you think; preservatives can reduce the number of active polyphenols.
Your best bet is to buy olive oil as fresh as possible and ideally in the form of extra virgin olive oil. “Extra virgin” means no chemical processes have been used to extract the oil from the olives; only the mechanical method of pressing was employed.