Olive oil is a staple food of the Mediterranean diet, which has been keeping people healthy and beautiful since the Ancient Greek era. Nowadays, science is beginning to uncover it’s untold truths, as olive oil is full of natural wonders to help you lose weight, stay young and stave off disease. Endorsed by UK Chef Jamie Oliver and Jeanne Calment (the oldest woman ever) as the secret to remaining youthful, could olive oil really be the elixir of life?
10. Olive oil is full of antioxidants
Olive oil contains a cocktail of antioxidants including Vitamin E, carotenoids (naturally found in carrots, corn and other healthy foods) and phenolic compounds (found in fresh fruit and veg). These antioxidants are found in higher quantities in Virgin olive oils. Olive oil is the only oil from fruit, which means that it has vitamins that you can’t get from other oils. Olives have a characteristically high antioxidant content as they grow in air and must defend themselves from oxygen as it is broken down into damage-causing free radicals. This natural ability is conferred to the oil when it is manufactured, which means that the antioxidants can then protect your cells from harmful oxygen radicals. Free radicals have been linked to aging, as they can affect DNA and proteins in your cells. It seems Italy may have cracked the code to aging, as they have one of the highest centenarian populations in the world. Although it isn’t just the olives, researchers have found that these centenarians have higher levels of antioxidants than the average Joe. So, if you’re looking to live longer, a Mediterranean diet full of olive oil might be the way to go!
9. Olive oil has anti-inflammatory properties
Inflammatory issues are often associated with diseases such as Cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis. Inflammation can be associated with diet, and anti-inflammatory foods are recommended to manage inflammatory diseases. Olive oil is a great source of phenolic compounds, which have been identified as potent anti-inflammatory chemicals and can protect against chronic inflammation. One particular compound called Oleocanthal is found mainly in olive oil, and scientists say it has similar anti-inflammatory powers to ibuprofen. This could be an alternative treatment for some people who take ibuprofen regularly as it has fewer side effects and can be incorporated into food easily. As inflammation is a key stage in cancer development, these properties are now being investigated as a ‘compound of interest’ in cancer research. Research on cancer cells in the lab has shown oleocanthal can reduce cancer growth and increase cancer cell death, although this hasn’t been tested in people yet. While olive oil alone won’t cure cancer, a diet enriched with anti-inflammatory compounds may contribute to some alleviation of the symptoms of inflammatory diseases. It seems that the benefits of olive oil may go beyond just reducing fat as it might actually improve your overall health and reduce disease.
8. Olive oil may prevent strokes and heart disease
Heart disease and strokes are huge killers in developed countries, representing the first and second most common causes of death. Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats, especially oleic acid, which are much healthier than the saturated fats normally found in lard and fatty red meats. A review of studies with over 800,000 subjects found that oleic acid in olive oil can lower overall mortality, especially from cardiovascular and stroke events. Olive oil is therefore strongly correlated with a lower risk of strokes and heart disease. The lowered risk of these diseases from making the change to olive oil is also coupled with the anti-inflammatory properties, which means it doesn’t just lower your risk but can actively help you to make your heart healthier. As it protects bad cholesterol (LDL) from oxidation, it improves cardiac health in the long-term by preventing your arteries from hardening. If you’re interested in getting a healthier heart, switching to extra virgin olive oil could be a great start to improve your diet. Olive oil? More like Alive oil!
7. Using olive oil in baked goods prolongs shelf-life
Olive oil has a large amount of vitamin E, which is well known as a preservative and is used often in makeup to extend its shelf-life. Olive oil can also be used in baking as an alternative to vegetable oil, and is especially tasty in breads. For recipes with butter, use 3 tablespoons oil for every 1/4 cup butter, as long as it’s not for creaming with sugar. Recipes with oils can be substituted without any quantity conversion. If you’re using it for brownies or other sweet goods, however, you might want to use half olive oil and half whatever oil you like, as olive oil does have a savory tang to it. As well as vitamin E, olive oil contains biophenols which have also been catching the attention of scientists as a potential alternative to traditional preservative chemicals. The ability to increase shelf life comes from their natural anti-oxidant properties which are good for protecting the food and for your body. Other benefits of making the switch are the lower saturated fat content and health properties such as lowered reduced heart disease risk. Being healthier can be as easy as switching your oil, so you can have your cake and eat it!
6. Olive oil can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s
It has been reported recently that olive oil may reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a leading cause of dementia. As seen in other experiments, olive oil is really good at decreasing inflammation, which is good as brain inflammation is one of the characteristics seen in brains with Alzheimer’s disease. Research has also found that extra virgin olive oil increases autophagy, which is when your cells destroy excess materials that build up. The build up of small proteins called ‘amyloid-beta’ proteins causes plaques in Alzheimer’s disease, which kills brain cells. Tau proteins also cause tangles in the brain which can damage the cells. Tests in mice have shown that extra virgin olive oil prevents tangles and lowers the amount of harmful amyloid-beta protein in their brains. They found that the olive oil group had improved memory and lower inflammation in the brain. This means that stimulating your body to clear away these proteins by autophagy before they build up may help to prevent Alzheimer’s from developing. Although mice are not humans, there is also an association with people eating a Mediterranean diet and lowered risk of Alzheimer’s disease. So apparently, a bit of olive oil could definitely help to keep your body AND your mind healthy as you age.
5. Olive oil may reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes causes blood sugar levels to increase to dangerous levels as insulin is unable to control them at healthy levels. As our diets get more and more unhealthy, type 2 diabetes has been steadily on the rise. Dietary habits can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. For example, eating large amount of fried, processed and high-fat foods increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, the Mediterranean diet has been proven to decrease your risk of diabetes, and your risk can be lowered more by adding olive oil into the mix. In research, the group who had olive oil with their food had a 10% chance of diabetes, compared with 17% for the normal population. This improvement was seen regardless of any weight lost during the study, so there’s definitely something magical about the olives. Other studies have found that it can help you become more sensitive to insulin. A chemical called oleuropein in olives causes the pancreas to release more insulin and breaks down proteins that build up to damage the pancreas. In other words, oleuropein can help you to keep your blood glucose more manageable. The science proves it, olive oil can both prevent and help you live with type 2 diabetes.
4. Olive oil does not cause weight gain
So at this point, you might be thinking ‘it does sound good, but i can’t just eat oil all day without putting loads of weight on!’. But actually, if oil is something you use often, switching to olive oil might actually help you to lose weight, even without cutting down your usage. Eating a Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce obesity and lower BMI. Studies have also shown that even people who consume a large amount of olive oil do not have a higher risk of weight gain or obesity, and the same cannot be said for people who eat large amounts of other cooking oils. This is because, while olive oil is high in fat, the monounsaturated fats release the same amount of energy as the saturated fats but may prevent body fat from building up. Olive oil is also one of the best sources of monounsaturated fats, along with nuts and seeds. Diets high in these monounsaturated fats have also been shown to be at least as effective as low-fat, high-carb diets at helping you to lose weight. Experts say that, as long as the calories you eat per day isn’t changing, switching to olive oil can help you to stay healthy and reduce your risk of obesity. When you consider that weight-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are also helped by olive oil, this is a really incredible food for your overall health. Who would’ve thought that oil could be so healthy?
3. Olive oil could be great for your skin
Olive oil can be used on the skin for a range of things from removing makeup to soothing sunburn. As an after-sun, olive oil not only calms and moisturizes the skin, but has been shown to protect UV damaged skin against cancer in mice, (although this hasn’t been tested in humans). Olive oil is also effective at improving wound-healing, as using olive oil along with routine cares dramatically improved ulcers of type 2 diabetes patients. This might be because olive oil has natural anti-microbial properties, which can help to keep it clean and prevent infection. Olive oil is also used in natural makeup removers for this reason, and that the fats help to break down the water-resistant or waterproof makeup and gently lift them off the skin. If you want to use olive oil on your face, the recommendation is to use it sparingly and wipe off the excess to prevent clogging pores. For best results, the higher quality oils should be used as they are purer and better for the skin. It is also worth saying that this will not work for everyone, and should not be used on people with sensitive or damaged skin, such as eczema sufferers or babies. Research has found that in these cases, it can make skin worse and so a patch test is recommended before you try this natural skincare regime.
2. Olive oil comes in many forms
Olive oil can either be refined, virgin or extra-virgin, and these can be very different. Extra virgin olive oil is regarded as the tastiest, most nutritious and is normally more expensive. To be classified as extra virgin olive oil, the oil must be taken from the first press of the olives, normally within a day of harvesting. The oil is extracted from grinding and pressing the olives without heat or chemicals. It also has to adhere to strict regulations around its acidity and fat content to be certified as top-quality oil. It has the strongest taste and aroma, but takes the most time to produce and perfect, which is why it has the bigger price tag. Virgin olive oil is also from the first press but has less strict rules around acidity and generally has a milder taste than extra virgin. Refined oil is made by heating the pulp left from the pressing and refining the oil extract using chemical agents to remove impurities. This is high in fat and is acidic, but loses the antioxidants and flavor that the extra virgin olive oil has. Manufacturers often add a splash of extra-virgin olive into the mix to make it more palatable. Manufacturers may label this as ‘pure olive oil’ to make it look more like the extra-virgin olive oil, but double-check to make sure you’re buying the one you want.
1. You need to look after your olive oil!
Olive oil has delicate flavors and compounds and loses a lot of its taste and healing ability during storage. While it can be kept unopened for up to 2 years in some cases, the story changes once you crack it open, as you have 30-60 days to get the most out of your oil. To keep it fresher for longer, you should avoid exposing it to light, heat and oxygen, as the compounds that give its taste and health benefits are very sensitive. Most olive oils are put into a dark bottle to prevent light from affecting the taste. Due to its sensitivity, you should also store the oil in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove or oven. If you are cooking at high temperatures, the taste of extra virgin olive oil may be affected, so to save money many people use refined oil instead as there is little taste difference. Having said that, the nutrient content of refined oil is much lower, so it might not be ideal if you are looking for a healthier oil to cook with. If you do decide to use extra-virgin, just like a wine, when you reseal the bottle, make sure it is tightly shut to keep the oxygen out. This prevents oxidation, which can damage the important and delicate chemicals in the oil. If you don’t use much oil at a time, my recommendation would be to buy small amounts often so that you’re always getting the full benefits of the oil. Olive oil isn’t the only super-food out there, check out Top 10 Foods That Are Actually Super for more!