Olive Oil: Health Benefits
Olive oil, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, is a major component of the Mediterranean diet. Populations from that region have longer life expectancies and lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, compared with North Americans and Northern Europeans.
Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) are considered a healthy dietary fat, as opposed to saturated fats and trans fats.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Olive oil is a fat obtained from the fruit of the Olea europaea (olive tree), a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean region, where whole olives are pressed to produce olive oil.
The oil is used in cosmetics, medicine, cooking and soaps, and was also used as a fuel for traditional lamps. Although originating in the Mediterranean countries, today it is used worldwide.
Greece has the highest olive oil intake per person in the world. Greeks consume, on average, 24 liters per-person-per-year, according to the North American Olive Oil Association
(resource no longer available at www.aboutoliveoil.org)1. Spaniards and Italians consume about 15 and 13 liters-per-person-per year, respectively.
Health benefits of olive oil
It has numerous beneficial qualities. Apart from being a good cooking aid, it is also known to have unique medicinal qualities. Some of them are as follows:
Reduce Heart Problems: Natural olive oil contains 70% monounsaturated fatty acid. As a result, it lowers cholesterol accumulation in the blood and reduces heart problems. It reduces the LDL, while at the same time increasing the HDL levels. The website of Montelcastelli Solutions Ltd. provides a table comparing the fatty acid composition of different types of oils.
Blood Cholesterol: LDL cholesterol is the bad type of cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart attacks and pulmonary heart disease. Extra virgin olive oil, which is rich in almost 40 antioxidant chemicals, helps reduce the oxidation effects of LDL cholesterol.
Weight Loss: Medical experts suggest that it is very difficult to gain weight from the mono-unsaturated fats present in olive oil. Experiments involving Mediterranean olive oil have shown positive results in regards to a reduction in human body weight.
Metabolism: Olive oil boosts the metabolism, the growth of good bone structure, and brain development in children. It is an excellent source of vitamin E, which is very beneficial for older people.
Anti-inflammatory and Antimicrobial Properties: The phenols present in olive oil have anti-inflammatory properties. The antimicrobial characteristics of the oil are a result of its strong aroma.
Digestion: Olive oil is known to aid in the digestive process. It is used as a medicinal oil to clean the digestive tract and to improve bowel movements.
Aging Process: Rich in antioxidants, olive oil slows the natural aging process of the human body. Used in cosmetic products and natural herbal therapy, it does wonders for the skin, which gets a natural shine and glow from the enriching oil.
Prevention of Gall Stones: This oil is also effective in preventing gall stones.
Healthy Cell Walls: Olive oil contains polyphenol which helps in stronger cell walls. It also increases the elasticity of arterial walls, protecting against various heart conditions.
Cancer: Olive oil is said to protect the human body against cancerous growth, especially bowel cancer. Medical research done at the prestigious Oxford University has shown positive signs that the acidic content of this oil can prevent the commencement of rectum and bowel cancer. In the UK, bowel cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, and kills almost twenty thousand citizens every year.
Breast cancer: Recent research study suggests that hydroxytyrosol, a major component of olive oil may help prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women.
Hypertension: Recent research study suggests that Mediterranean diet comprising of food rich in unsaturated fats (found in olive oil and nuts) and nitrite and nitrate (found in leafy green vegetables) may help protect you from hypertension.
There are several grades of olive oil, according to the flavor, aroma, acidic value and color. Readers are advised to buy authentic oil with proper evaluation for cooking or medicinal purposes.