As a top importer of the world’s olive oil, the United States has a serious passion for this popular salad topper. America’s olive oil consumption has increased by nearly 1000% since the mid 1900s. With all this hype, you might just ask, why?
If you haven't already discovered the benefits of olive oil — or if you're looking for more reasons to love your favorite fat — here are six characteristics of olive oil that have a tremendously positive impact on your health:
1. Olive oil will improve your cholesterol profile.
While increasing research demonstrates that eating fat doesn’t necessarily lead to health issues, follow the science one step further. Eating more monounsaturated fats like those found in olive oil can lower your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol number, with a study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing almost a 20% reduction in LDL levels on this higher fat diet. Even better, olive oil may decrease LDL oxidation, a process increasingly associated with deadly diseases like atherosclerosis and stroke.
2. Olive oil lowers your chances of heart disease.
Considering that heart disease is the top killer of Americans, it’s nice to know that adding a little olive oil to your meal may decrease this risk. Data from nearly 12,000 men showed that those who consumed the most olive oil had lowered risk of death, as well as specifically of dying from heart disease. More recent data from 7,400 people showed supplementation of diet with olive oil was associated with a 30% reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease.
3. Olive oil helps you lose weight.
“But doesn’t eating fat make you fat?” It’s easy enough to jump to this false conclusion with all the “low-fat” hype. After all, there are a lot of calories in oil. But hang on. Olive oil is actually linked with weight loss. This may well be due to olive oil’s unique effect on satiety, which interestingly may be linked to the parts of the oil that give it its characteristic smell. So before you go jump on the low-fat bandwagon, consider this Harvard study showing that over an 18 month-period, overweight people eating moderate amounts of monounsaturated fats like olive oil lost around 9 pounds, while those attempting a low-fat diet gained over 6 pounds. And as an added bonus for those having a hard time saying “no,” a recent study shows olive oil may also help prevent binge eating.
4. Olive oil lowers chances of getting diabetes.
In 2013, around 300,000 American died from diabetes related health issues. What’s more, in the US, diabetes is the top reason for performing an amputation. When you consider that diets high in olive oil can lower your risk of getting this terrible condition, that salad looks even better. For those who are already diabetic, a higher-fat Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil was recently shown to be significantly effective in improving blood sugar. As an added bonus, the people on the olive oil diet also were able to lose weight, while the low-fat participants did not.
5. Olive oil lowers blood pressure.
It’s amazing that 1 in 3 Americans suffer from high blood pressure, a condition that leads to increased risk of stroke, heart attack and death. With this in mind, it’s even more significant to note research showing olive oil intake can lower both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. This health-promoting effect appears to be linked to oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that makes up the majority of the oil.
6. Olive oil can lower risk of cancer.
There’s even more good news. New information shows olive oil consumption may help prevents certain cancers from developing. Multiple studies show that olive oil may lower chances of developing breast cancer. Keep in mind that this effect does not extend to all oils, as in a study showing olive oil reduced risk of breast cancer by 25%, while margarine increased the risk of breast cancer. While the strongest evidence lies in a protective effect against breast cancer, olive oil may also decrease risk of digestive tract and respiratory tract cancer.
Things to consider:
- Virgin, or extra-virgin olive oil is healthier than alternatives, with more antioxidant activity.
- Buy organic if you can. Nonorganic olive oil has been shown to be much higher in pesticide content.
- Heating olive oil decreases the health friendly antioxidants, so use it raw whenever possible.
- Up to 70% of olive oils in the United States may have been adulterated. For best chance of the real thing, buy oils with a harvest date within the last two years, and a PDO (protected designation of origin) or PGI (protected geographical indication) stamp.
Dr. Austin Perlmutter is a board-certified internal medicine physician and internationally recognized expert on how environmental influences affect our mental and brain health.
His research on lifestyle factors in depression have been featured and cited in peer-reviewed literature and he educates on the topic on top podcasts, and in keynote presentations around the world. He is a co-author of the New York Times and international bestseller Brain Wash, which he wrote with his father David Perlmutter M.D. and covers our poor modern-day brain health and the role of everything from diet to social media on our cognitive and mental state. He is a frequent contributor to websites including MedPage Today, Doximity, KevinMD, Medium, and Psychology Today, and hosts the Get The STUCK Out podcast.
He currently serves as the Senior Director of Science and Clinical Innovation at Big Bold Health, where he is running an IRB-approved pilot trial exploring the effects of polyphenols on epigenetic expression. His overarching focus is in helping people find non-pharmaceutical strategies for getting "stuckness" out of their brains and bodies using the best that science and nature have to offer.