Olive oil: Health properties that may surprise you

Science by Temple Stewart, RD

Olive oil has been considered a “superfood” for centuries. It’s a staple in many diets across the globe and has a wealth of health benefits and uses. The type of olive oil most known to people is ‘Extra-Virgin’, which describes the minimal processing method that preserves the most health benefits. Let’s discuss some of the practical aspects of purchasing olive oil, it’s health benefits, and how to incorporate it into your diet.

It’s important to note, when purchasing extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) that you look for bottles made from darker glass (green or amber), which help prevent oxidation during storage. EVOO will typically last for 12-18 months. Consuming olive oil that’s old or rancid is not beneficial as the health benefits have been lost with rancidity. Here are a couple of ways to tell if your olive oil is rancid:

      • Taste it: If it’s bitter, sour, or stale, it’s likely no longer usable.
      • Smell it: If it’s rancid or old, it may smell “off.” Some websites state that when it’s rancid it will smell like crayons or glue.

Olive oil has a very distinct taste, but isn’t overpowering. This allows for it to be added to meals in all different types of ways, and almost all experts agree, olive oil is one of the healthiest fats on the planet! Some of the health benefits of EVOO include (but are not limited to):

      • Anti-Cancer Properties: The antioxidants in olive oil are powerful at reducing oxidative damage (leading driver of cancer) in the body. Studies also show that the main fat in olive oil, monounsaturated oleic acid, has positive effects on genes that are linked to cancer (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
      • Very Powerful Anti-Inflammatory Compounds: Inflammation plays a huge role in heart disease, type II diabetes, Alzheimers, arthritis, and so much more. Olive oil can reduce inflammation, and decrease inflammatory markers like c-reactive protein (6).
      • Protective Against Stroke, Heart Disease, and Type II Diabetes: Many research articles target the Mediterranean diet, in which olive oil is the key ingredient, and which shows a significant reduction in heart disease. This is thought to happen as inflammation lowers and as cholesterol is protected from oxidation. Olive oil is also thought to improve the lining of blood vessels. Another heart protective factor found in olive oil is its ability to reduce blood pressure. Blood sugar and insulin improvements also have been linked to olive oil, one study showing a diet heavy in olive oil can reduce risk of type II diabetes by 40% (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13).
      • Supports a Healthy Gut Microbiome: The polyphenols in olive oil help reduce inflammation throughout the GI tract, and help support the growth of good bacteria (14).
      • Brain Health/Depression Improvements: A study done on mice showed that olive oil may help remove beta-amyloid plaques that are thought to lead to Alzheimer’s. Another study done on the Mediterranean diet also found improved brain function. A fascinating and growing body of research also suggests that it could also be used in depression treatment. One study showed that 30% of participants entered depression remission after 12 weeks of consuming a Mediterranean style diet (including olive oil) (15, 16, 17).
      • Bone Health and Protection: Consuming olive oil days can prevent the decline in bone mineral density, which is especially important in the elderly. Studies show that women with higher intakes of olive had increased bone density (18, 19).

As you can see, EVOO has many protective and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Incorporating olive oil in your diet can be done in several ways. You can use olive oil and vinegar as a salad dressing, or maybe even roast vegetables coated in olive oil. Olive oil is also incredibly resistant to heat, which protects the fats from being damaged during cooking processes. Here is my favorite recipe using EVOO:

Vinaigrette Recipe
Ingredients:
¾ c Olive Oil
5 tablespoons Vinegar (Apple Cider or Balsamic)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons of Fresh Minced Garlic
Salt/Pepper to taste
1-3 Drop of Liquid Stevia

Directions:
Mix together
Refrigerate (will keep approximately 7-10 days)

Resources

  1. R;, M. J. (n.d.). Oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid of olive oil, suppresses Her-2/neu (erbB-2) expression and synergistically enhances the growth inhibitory effects of trastuzumab (Herceptin) in breast cancer cells with Her-2/neu oncogene amplification. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15642702/
  2. R;, M. J. (n.d.). Mediterranean dietary traditions for the molecular treatment of human cancer: Anti-oncogenic actions of the main olive oil’s monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid (18:1n-9). Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17168666/
  3. Owen RW;Haubner R;Würtele G;Hull E;Spiegelhalder B;Bartsch H;. (n.d.). Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15554560/
  4. Owen RW;Giacosa A;Hull WE;Haubner R;Spiegelhalder B;Bartsch H;. (n.d.). The antioxidant/anticancer potential of phenolic compounds isolated from olive oil. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10882862/
  5. R;, M. J. (n.d.). Oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid of olive oil, suppresses Her-2/neu (erbB-2) expression and synergistically enhances the growth inhibitory effects of trastuzumab (Herceptin) in breast cancer cells with Her-2/neu oncogene amplification. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15642702/
  6. I;, B. A. (n.d.). Dietary factors that promote or retard inflammation. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16484595/
  7. Estruch R;Ros E;Salas-Salvadó J;Covas MI;Corella D;Arós F;Gómez-Gracia E;Ruiz-Gutiérrez V;Fiol M;Lapetra J;Lamuela-Raventos RM;Serra-Majem L;Pintó X;Basora J;Muñoz MA;Sorlí JV;Martínez JA;Martínez-González MA; ;. (n.d.). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23432189/
  8. Rees K;Hartley L;Flowers N;Clarke A;Hooper L;Thorogood M;Stranges S;. (n.d.). ‘Mediterranean’ dietary pattern for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23939686/
  9. M;, P. L. (n.d.). Cardiovascular disease: C-reactive protein and the inflammatory disease paradigm: HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, alpha-tocopherol, red yeast rice, and olive oil polyphenols. A review of the literature. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11410071/
  10. Ruano J;Lopez-Miranda J;Fuentes F;Moreno JA;Bellido C;Perez-Martinez P;Lozano A;Gómez P;Jiménez Y;Pérez Jiménez F;. (n.d.). Phenolic content of virgin olive oil improves ischemic reactive hyperemia in hypercholesterolemic patients. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16286173/
  11. Salas-Salvadó J;Bulló M;Babio N;Martínez-González MÁ;Ibarrola-Jurado N;Basora J;Estruch R;Covas MI;Corella D;Arós F;Ruiz-Gutiérrez V;Ros E; ;. (n.d.). Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with the Mediterranean diet: Results of the PREDIMED-Reus nutrition intervention randomized trial. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20929998/
  12. DB;, K. C. (n.d.). Dietary patterns and prevention of type 2 diabetes: From research to clinical practice; a systematic review. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19531025/
  13. Massaro, M., Scoditti, E., Carluccio, M. A., Calabriso, N., Santarpino, G., Verri, T., & De Caterina, R. (2020, May 26). Effects of Olive Oil on Blood Pressure: Epidemiological, Clinical, and Mechanistic Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7352724/
  14. Larussa, T., Imeneo, M., & Luzza, F. (2019, March 20). Olive Tree Biophenols in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: When Bitter is Better. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6471980/
  15. Martínez-Lapiscina EH;Clavero P;Toledo E;Estruch R;Salas-Salvadó J;San Julián B;Sanchez-Tainta A;Ros E;Valls-Pedret C;Martinez-Gonzalez MÁ;. (n.d.). Mediterranean diet improves cognition: The PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23670794/
  16. Abuznait AH;Qosa H;Busnena BA;El Sayed KA;Kaddoumi A;. (n.d.). Olive-oil-derived oleocanthal enhances β-amyloid clearance as a potential neuroprotective mechanism against Alzheimer’s disease: In vitro and in vivo studies. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23414128/
  17. Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R., Itsiopoulos, C., Cotton, S., Mohebbi, M., . . . Berk, M. (2018, December 28). A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). Retrieved from https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y
  18. Chin, K., & Ima-Nirwana, S. (2016, July 26). Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997441/#:~:text=Human studies revealed that daily,prevent osteoporosis among the elderly.
  19. Roncero-Martín, R., Aliaga Vera, I., Moreno-Corral, L. J., Moran, J. M., Lavado-Garcia, J. M., Pedrera-Zamorano, J. D., & Pedrera-Canal, M. (2018, July 26). Olive Oil Consumption and Bone Microarchitecture in Spanish Women. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115724/