Are There Health Benefits to Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on August 01, 2023
5 min read

Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet, which scientists say is good for heart health. It's often used in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. A drizzle of olive oil can also provide a delicious finishing touch to many foods.

Olive oil can come with many different prefixes. One of the most proclaimed is "extra virgin." The term refers to the degree to which olive oil has been processed by manufacturers. Extra virgin olive oil is often shortened to EVOO.

Chemicals and heat are used to process olive oil prior to selling. The more processing olive oil goes through, the longer its shelf life at the supermarket. However, many feel the cleaning process alters the oil's flavor.

Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed, freshest olive oil on the market. To maximize freshness, extra virgin olive oil is often made via cold press or stone press. This means no heat was used in the oil's production. Avoiding heat is one of the best ways to preserve the polyphenols and other antioxidants in olive oil.

Not everything is better with extra virgin olive oil, though. It is faster to smoke and turns bitter when heating, making regular olive oil an easier choice for cooking. Extra virgin olive oil also tends to be more expensive.

Are there also different health effects associated with extra virgin olive oil? Medical research may hold the answer.

The specific nutritional content of extra virgin olive oil will fluctuate slightly between manufacturers. This can be due to differences in olive varieties, the time of year the oil was pressed, and more.

One tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil contains approximately:

  • Calories: 126
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 14 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams

There aren't many micronutrients in extra virgin olive oil except for vitamin E and vitamin K. A single tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil provides approximately 13% of your daily recommended value of vitamin E and approximately 9% of your daily recommended value of vitamin K.

Quite a few healthful compounds are found in all olive oils, including cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fatty acids. However, there are some specific health benefits of extra virgin olive oil.

Heart health

Much has been said about the "Mediterranean diet" and its benefits for a healthy heart. One of the core components of this diet is extra virgin olive oil. Studies show that extra virgin olive oil is anti-inflammatory, contains abundant antioxidants, and is beneficial for vasodilation.

Anticancer properties

The antioxidant activities of polyphenols in olive oil may reduce the risk of developing cancer. The highest concentrations of polyphenols in any variety of olive oil are in extra virgin olive oil.

Bone health

A number of studies have linked high olive oil intake to maintaining healthy bones. This includes reduced risk of hip fracture and improved bone density. The mechanism behind this is also suspected to be based on polyphenols.

Diabetes prevention

A Mediterranean diet with olive oil could offer some protection against diabetes. In one study, a group using olive oil had fewer new cases of diabetes than two other groups.

Cancer prevention

Several studies have shown a reduced risk of cancer for those eating a diet high in olive oil. The best evidence was for the prevention of breast cancer and cancers of the digestive system. The evidence was inconclusive for many other types of cancer. Olive oil contains antioxidants that could be protective against some cancers.

Brain health

Olive oil appears to prevent mild cognitive impairment. In one study, participants were put on a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with nuts, or a low-fat diet. The group that used olive oil showed less impairment of thinking after 6.5 years.

There aren't many known health risks to consuming moderate amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Even "rancid," or stale-smelling, olive oil is not known to have significant side effects, beyond altering the taste of your meal.

The high number of calories in extra virgin olive oil is also not considered a major health risk. This is largely due to the fact that the dense, calorie-rich oil is thought to keep you full longer, ultimately reducing hunger and food cravings.

There are lots of types of olive oiland even more levels of quality. The way the oil is extracted from the fruit has a lot to do with the quality of the product you end up with.

Olive oil comes from the Mediterranean region, where olives are abundant. Olives are stone fruits, just like peaches and plums, but the oil they produce is truly unique.

Many things affect the quality of olive oil, like the weather, harvest style, soil, and type of olive used. The way olive oil is processed can also impact the quality of the final product.

Cold-pressed olive oil

Cold-pressed olive oil is one of the best ways for the oil to hold onto its top nutrients, including healthy fats and antioxidants. It may help control your insulin levels and the amount of fat in your blood.

Nutrient-rich. Cold-pressed olive oil is made when olives are pressed to produce oil without heat or additional chemicals. When cold-pressed, the olive fruit will stay below 50 C (or 122 F). At this temperature or below, the properties of the oil don't get damaged. This is why, when pressed cold, most of the olive's nutritional value sticks around after turning to oil.

Good for the environment. Cold-pressed olive oil is a more earth-friendly process than the high temperatures and chemicals used to make refined oils.

Stores well. Cold-pressed olive oil has high amounts of a healthy monounsaturated fatty acid called oleic acid. This form of fat helps keep the oil from going rancid. You can store it for a longer period, especially compared with other cold-pressed oils.

Infused olive oil

Olive oil flavored or infused with fresh herbs, fruit, or vegetables can make tasty marinades or dressings. But if you make your own infused oil, be aware those ingredients can contain spores, which can grow bacteria that leads to botulism. So, homemade infused olive oils should be kept refrigerated and used in a short time.

Some types of infused olive oils include:

  • Herbed
  • Garlic-infused
  • Garlic and lemon infused
  • Hot pepper
  • Rosemary-infused

Unlike olive oil, avocado oil is made from pressed avocados. It's similar to olive oil in use and nutritional value. Both have heart-healthy fats and help reduce inflammation. Like extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed avocado oil is unrefined and retains some of the flavor and color of avocados, leaving it greenish. Avocado oil can also be used in skin care.