Get Clever: Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Whether your main health concern is your heart, weight, or skin, chances are, olive oil will have been recommended for you at some point. But the question remains: Why exactly is olive oil associated with good health?
The Fat Factor
The fatty acid in olive oil is predominantly a monounsaturated fat, which belongs to the broader category of unsaturated fats that are generally referred to as “healthy fats”.
A number of studies have linked the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, with favourable effects on body weight. A three-year study with 187 participants linked an olive oil-rich diet to higher levels of antioxidants in the blood, as well as weight loss. This alone is thought to offer protection against Type 2 diabetes.
But if you’re somewhere past your early thirties, you probably already know that fat is not only about your weight.
Your heart and cholesterol levels also suffer from saturated fat intake, and function much better with reasonable amounts of monounsaturated fats, because they do not appear to promote the formation of the waxy plaque that can build up in arteries. Although saturated fats do exist in olive oil, they only make up 14% of its content, while the remaining 73% consists of unsaturated fats.
A study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health shows that “higher blood omega-3 fats”, an important type of unsaturated fats, are associated with a lower risk of premature death in older adults. Given that cardiovascular diseases are the number 1 cause of death in industrialised countries, the importance of healthy fats cannot be underestimated.
The Age Factor
The second most important aspect of olive oil for health is its antioxidant effect. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are a cocktail of antioxidants.
Tunisian olive oil expert Sawssen Murad explained to us that olive oil also has particularly high levels of polyphenols, natural plant compounds that are proven to have a host of health benefits.
Polyphenols are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-allergenic; boost immunity by producing white blood cells; reduce morbidity; and slow the development of cancer (more on that below) as well as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Phenolic compounds have been shown to improve gut microbiota and reduce carcinogenesis.
“We call olive oil the elixir of youth, because of the polyphenols that give it its antioxidant effect, renewing the body and brain cells, and its effect on immunity in general,” says Sawssen.
Polyphenols Vs Cancer & Alzheimers
Aside from the polyunsaturated fats in olive oil, the anti-cancer properties of this “green gold” are also being investigated.
Colorectal cancer, the fourth most common cancer worldwide, is thought to be related to dietary factors in around 50% of cases; several studies suggest that a Mediterranean diet can prevent this kind of cancer.
Olive oil has also been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of breast cancer. One Spanish study, called PREDIMED,followed 4,300 women aged 60-80 over five years. The first group followed a Mediterranean diet with extra servings of olive oil, the second followed the same diet but with extra servings of nuts, and the third group was simply advised to cut their intake of fat.
Over the course of the study period, 35 participants were diagnosed with breast cancer. However, there were 62% fewer cancers in the group that consumed an olive-oil enhanced diet, compared with those told to reduce their fat intake.
And if that’s not enough to convert you to olive oil fandom, researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University have found that consuming extra-virgin olive oil protects against Alzheimer’s. Their study shows that EVOO protects memory and learning ability, while also reducing the buildup of proteins in the brain typical of Alzheimer’s.
Read more: Why Go EVOO?
Olive Oil and Folk Medicine
Olive oil has been used to moisturise skin, nourish hair, and in massages for millennia. But what many people don’t know is that it’s also used in folk medicine in various ways.
Marco Antonio Gómez Pelayo from the Almazara Xherín olive oil mill in the Granada province of Spain told us that any time anyone in his family had a sore throat, they would gargle with a little olive oil. The polyphenols in a high quality olive oil would naturally combat the inflammation, while the oil itself lubricates the throat.
Olive oil can also be a valuable ingredient in skin creams and balms. In a 2008 study published in “Paediatric Dermatology”, olive oil was found to be suitable for skin creams even for premature babies. Newborns treated every day with an olive oil-based cream had statistically less dermatitis than those treated with a water-in-oil emollient cream.
Olive oil soap is another way in which this marvellous green liquid has been used for natural health since time immemorial. Aleppo and Castille soap, which are made principally of olive oil, are thought to relieve acne, psoriasis and eczema as they are very mild and have anti-inflammatory qualities.
How Much is Too Much?
In spite of all these health benefits, olive oil can be a double-edged blade if not used in moderation. Like other fats, it’s high in calories: each tablespoon provides 119 calories. If you are on a calorie-restricted diet, moderating your intake of olive oil could prevent unwanted weight gain.
Nevertheless, researchers recommend that 20-35% of your total calories come from fat. If you eat an average of 2,000 calories a day, that’s the equivalent of about 40-70g of fat per day. Since one tablespoon of olive oil provides 13.5g of total fat, four tablespoons per day makes a total of 54g – a perfectly healthy amount to consume.
“Maybe it’s coincidence,” says Marco Antonio, “but my father is 83 years old – who was a miller before me, until he retired at 75 – and he’s in perfect shape, his blood pressure is 7/10 or 11. Another man I know who had an olive oil miller died at ninety-something.” Other millers he knew in the region lived to well over 80, in general good health.
So What Makes for the Healthiest Olive Oil?
By now olive oil might be sounding like a miracle cure, but not all olive oils are made equal.
That’s because the milling process itself can dramatically affect the quality of the end product. Whether olive oil is virgin, extra virgin, refined or pomace depends on the temperature and duration of the extraction, which can preserve or destroy the health-giving properties of the oil.
A number of factors can help you determine the healthy qualities of an olive oil, such as the taste, category, origin, and temperature used in milling. However, although we would all love to be what the French call “un client averti” (a conscious consumer), we don’t always have access to the right information.
Clever Harvest closes that gap by making the supply chain fully traceable and easy to access via a QR code, so that knowing the accurate health value of the oil you’re buying is a breeze.
Our Clever Tips:
- Switch to olive oil if you’re using other types of oil
- Learn about the nutritional values of the oil you’re consuming
- Use olive oil in moderation
- Browse all the values of fully traceable olive oils with Clever Harvest!