Humans have enjoyed and praised olive oil for thousands of years. Homer called it "liquid gold," and Hippocrates, the father of medicine, referred to it as "the great healer." Today, olive oil is still a prized ingredient used around the world.
Olives contain up to 30% oil. Just as the ancient Greeks did, olive oil is made by crushing the fruit. Oil that is obtained manually, without chemicals or heat, is called extra - virgin olive oil. When heat and/or chemicals are used to extract the oil, it can decrease some of its nutrients, including antioxidants known as polyphenols.
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.
A one-tablespoon serving of olive oil contains:
- Calories: 126
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 14 grams
- Carbohydrates: 0 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Olive oil is a good source of:
Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Experts regard the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways of eating. Scientists have struggled to isolate which parts of the diet are responsible for the health benefits. Large portions of fruit and vegetables play a part, but studies have also found that some benefits likely come from using olive oil instead of less healthy fats.
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid, sometimes called a MUFA. Researchers have found that MUFAs in the diet lower total cholesterol and LDL, the "bad" cholesterol. The polyphenols in olive oil could be responsible for this effect.
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.
One study found that olive oil had a positive effect on the vascular system, which includes the blood vessels that carry blood through the body. It matched a group on a Mediterranean diet with one on a low-fat diet. Those on the Mediterranean diet used at least 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily. After one year, they tested better on several measures of vascular health.
However, a different study found that replacing olive oil in the Mediterranean diet with canola oil had a positive effect on vascular function. More research is needed to understand olive oil’s potential benefits on vascular health.
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 when compared to two other groups.
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.
Potential Risks of Olive Oil
The benefits of olive oil don't apply to all individuals. Consider these health risks when consuming olive oil:
Olive oil is a high-calorie food that can contribute to obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or more. Obesity has several health risks. For some individuals, cutting fat, even olive oil, can be a better strategy for their health.
Eating too much olive oil can be harmful for anyone. Remember that one serving is just one tablespoon. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet come from several factors — not just olive oil. The diet is high in fish and seafood, low in red meat, and rich in fruits and vegetables.
Simply adding olive oil to your existing eating habits doesn’t mean you’re eating a healthy diet. You may need to make more changes in the way you're eating to get all the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.