Olive oil has long been recognized as one of the world’s healthiest oils. It is extracted from olives, the fruit of the olive tree, by pressing or crushing whole olives and separating the oil from the pulp.
There are three main grades of olive oil:
- Refined olive oil
- Virgin olive oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be the healthiest option. It is cold pressed, meaning no heat or chemicals are used to extract the oil. This process produces a more pure oil packed with antioxidants, healthy fats, and nutrients, which provides many health benefits.
Extra virgin olive oil is a staple ingredient of the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and a longer life expectancy.
What makes extra virgin olive oil healthy?
Extra virgin olive oil is a healthy liquid fat, which is packed with antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
The main component of extra virgin olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid. It also contains a small amount of saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Extra virgin olive oil is packed with antioxidants, which are natural compounds that may delay or even prevent some types of cell damage.
The main antioxidants found in extra virgin olive oil are oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol.
These powerful antioxidants help fight oxidative stress, a type of stress that can cause damage to DNA, lipids and proteins. This helps reduce the risk of heart disease, reduces high cholesterol, and reduces the risk of developing chronic and neurological diseases.
A small amount of vitamin E is also found in extra virgin olive oil and this acts as an antioxidant as well. It helps protect against oxidation and reduces cell damage.
Extra virgin olive oil also contains oleocanthal, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, which can reduce inflammation and provide other health benefits. It works in a similar way to the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to reduce C-reactive protein levels, an inflammatory marker, which is elevated in people with conditions such as cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis. It is also thought to block the action of other proteins and genes that cause inflammation.
5 health conditions that may benefit from extra virgin olive oil
1. Cardiovascular disease
Extra virgin olive oil is beneficial for cardiovascular health. People who eat a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil, such as the Mediterranean diet, appear to have a reduced risk of heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties play a role in improving heart health.
Antioxidants in the oil inhibit the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the ‘bad’ cholesterol. This helps prevent the build up of fatty deposits or plaques on the insides of arteries which contribute to the development of heart disease. They also help to lower high blood pressure and inflammatory markers elevated in people with heart disease.
Extra virgin olive oil may have anticancer properties. In countries where people consume a lot of extra virgin olive oil fewer people appear to get cancer. A recent study showed that people that consumed a large amount of extra virgin olive oil, approximately half a tablespoon full per day, had a 17 percent lower risk of cancer.
Antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil can also reduce the damage of oxidative stress on DNA cells. This may stop some cancers from developing and reduce the risk of breast, colon, and skin cancers in particular.
The oleic acid in extra virgin olive oil is also thought to possess anti-cancer properties and inhibit the development of tumors.
One study has found that people who consumed a lot of extra virgin olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who did not use extra virgin olive oil.
The antioxidant and monounsaturated fat in extra virgin olive oil may reduce high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and block certain enzymes and proteins that cause inflammation. These actions are thought to contribute to the oil’s ability to prevent stroke.
4. Alzheimer's disease
Extra virgin olive oil has a beneficial effect on brain health and may help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
It has been shown to improve visual memory, improve cognitive function, reduce neuroinflammation, and delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
In a study conducted in mice, extra virgin olive oil reduced the accumulation of the proteins beta-amyloid and tau, which are known to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Oxidative stress is also associated with the progression of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer's. Extra virgin olive oil may help prevent the damage to cells that oxidative stress causes and lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
5. Type 2 diabetes
Extra virgin olive oil may play an important role in preventing and managing type 2 diabetes.
Extra virgin olive oil has been shown to improve the body’s ability to release insulin after food is consumed and increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin, which helps to keep blood sugars stable.
People who consumed larger amounts of olive oil also had a 16 percent reduction in their risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduction in fasting blood glucose, according to the results of four cohort studies
Antioxidant compounds in olive oil may also help to prevent type 2 diabetes by reducing oxidative stress, cholesterol levels and inflammation, which all contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest type of olive oil and has many health benefits, including those listed above.
It is less processed than other types of olive oil and retains more antioxidants and nutrients than other types.
Extra virgin olive oil is also a stable fat that can handle the high temperatures associated with cooking without losing its flavor or health benefits.
It can be used in a variety of ways including frying, sautéing, in dressings and in baking. Try replacing margarine, butter, mayonnaise and other types of fat with extra virgin olive oil.
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