Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on August 23, 2022
Olive Oil Basics

Olive Oil Basics

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You get olive oil from grinding or pressing whole olives and collecting the oil that seeps out. You can use olive oil in all kinds of dishes. You can cook with it, drizzle it on bread, pasta, or salads, or use it as an ingredient in baked goods. Best of all, it comes with a whole host of health benefits.

Types of Olive Oil

Types of Olive Oil

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Olive oil comes in one of three types, or grades: extra virgin, virgin, and refined (light). They’re labeled based on how much processing they go through before they’re bottled and sold. Refined olive oil is the most processed of the three.

Which Is Healthiest?

Which Is Healthiest?

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The olive oil that goes through the least amount of processing to make is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Because of this, EVOO has more nutrition than virgin or refined olive oils do. For example, it’s high in healthy plant nutrients called phytochemicals that may help fight cancer and heart disease. So to get the most from your olive oil, reach for the EVOO.

Boosts Heart Health

Boosts Heart Health

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Large studies have shown that when you get more extra virgin olive oil in your diet, you lower your risk of getting heart disease. Active compounds in EVOO help lower blood pressure and keep your arteries from hardening.

Lowers Stroke Risk

Lowers Stroke Risk

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Replacing less healthy fats with olive oil in your recipes may lower your chance of getting a stroke by more than 40%.

Fights Inflammation

Fights Inflammation

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Inflammation in your body leads to chronic disease. Certain antioxidants in EVOO can reduce inflammation in your body in the same way that drugs such as ibuprofen do. The oleic acid in olive oil is an anti-inflammatory, too.

High in Antioxidants

High in Antioxidants

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Free radicals are unstable atoms in your body that damage your cells. Antioxidants are compounds that can help prevent or slow down that damage. EVOO is teeming with antioxidants that can lower your risk of disease.

Zaps Bacteria

Zaps Bacteria

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Some of the nutrients in olive oil can fight harmful bacteria. Helicobacter pylori is a stomach bacteria that can cause ulcers and even cancer. Compounds in olive oil help destroy it. 

Prevents Cancer

Prevents Cancer

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A Mediterranean diet favors plants over meat and is rich in olive oil. Researchers have found that people who eat this way  have a much lower risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, endometrial, breast, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.

Boosts Your Brain

Boosts Your Brain

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Another bonus of an olive-oil heavy Mediterranean diet: It can give your brain a boost. Studies show a menu that’s high in olive oil can help you think, understand, and remember better, and may even help ward off Alzheimer’s disease.

Show Sources

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SOURCES:
HortScience: “Olive Oil: History, Production, and Characteristics of the World's Classic Oils.”

 

Harvard Health Publishing: “Fill up on phytochemicals.”

 

University of Arkansas: “Olive Oil.”

 

Lipids in Health and Disease: “Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies.”

 

Journal of Translational Medicine: “Beneficial effects of the olive oil phenolic components oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol: focus on protection against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.”

 

Phytomedicine: “Effects of high phenolic olive oil on cardiovascular risk factors: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”

 

Neurology: “Olive oil consumption, plasma oleic acid, and stroke incidence: the Three-City Study.”

 

Current Pharmaceutical Design: “Molecular mechanisms of inflammation. Anti-inflammatory benefits of virgin olive oil and the phenolic compound oleocanthal.”

 

Huntington's Outreach Project for Education at Stanford: “About Free Radical Damage.”

 

Journal of Epidemiology: “Dietary intake of fatty acids and serum C-reactive protein in Japanese.”

 

Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry: “Major phenolic compounds in olive oil: metabolism and health effects.”

 

Immunopharmacology: “Phenolic compounds in olive oil: antioxidant, health and organoleptic activities according to their chemical structure.”

 

Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry: “In vitro activity of olive oil polyphenols against Helicobacter pylori.”

 

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention: “Cancer and Mediterranean dietary traditions.”

 

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry: “Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial.”

 

ACS Chemical Neuroscience: “Olive-oil-derived oleocanthal enhances β-amyloid clearance as a potential neuroprotective mechanism against Alzheimer's disease: in vitro and in vivo studies.”