Health Benefits of Olive Oil

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Health Benefits of Olive Oil

The health benefits of olive oil have been recognised by many ancient physicians like Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, and Diocles. In recent years, modern doctors and nutritionists have realised that extra virgin olive oil, particularly, contributes significant nutritional value to human health.

You should not be too surprised if you read that people in the Mediterranean region, where the bulk of olive oil is produced and enthusiastically consumed, have reaped immense health benefits from olive oil.

Olive Oil and Cholesterol

  • Researchers at the University of Minnesota, for one, have discovered that while Greek, Cretan and other Mediterranean men consumed almost as much dietary fat as Americans, they had much lower rates of heart disease. The difference was attributed to the Mediterranean’s consumption of extra virgin olive oil, which is largely monounsaturated fat.
  • Researchers at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid in Spain found in a study that a diet rich in extra virgin olive oil helped to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and, perhaps more importantly, stimulated an increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Researchers at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands discovered that simply following a low fat diet reduced total cholesterol but HDL cholesterol also declined; in contrast, a high fat diet based on extra virgin olive oil also reduced total cholesterol but HDL cholesterol actually increased.

This is all very good for those concerned about their cholesterol levels, especially the good HDL cholesterol, and the effects on the human circulatory system.

About Cholesterol

Cholesterol is not a water-soluble substance: it floats around in our bodies, attaching itself to proteins and making them lipoproteins. Two types of cholesterol are formed. LDL or low density lipoproteins, is the so-called “bad” cholesterol; it accumulates in bodily tissues and sticks to artery walls as plaque, causing arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) if left unchecked. The other type is HDL or high density lipoproteins, the “good” cholesterol, which helps prevent artery-clogging deposits. The levels of these two cholesterols are affected by the types of fat that we take in daily.

The structures of different fats are described as saturated, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated. Saturated fats come primarily from animal meats. They are thought the greatest damage to our health, because they increase levels of LDL resulting in arteriosclerosis.

Poly-unsaturated fats come mainly from vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains. They lower the body’s overall cholesterol level, but to do so they reduce both LDL and HDL. You may want LDL lowered, but you would want HDL increased.  There are also tests indicating that in higher doses polyunsaturated fats may do more damage than good, increasing the risk of nervous system problems, brain synapse connectivity, gall bladder stones, and perhaps even cancer, unless their action is controlled by antioxidants.

Monounsaturated fats are found in varying amounts in all fats. They lower LDL but promote increases in HDL. Thus, the best oil you can use is that has little saturated and polyunsaturated fats content but has plenty of monounsaturated fats.

Fortunately, such an oil exists: olive oil. In olive oil you find some of the lowest levels of saturated and polyunsaturated fats, averaging only 10 to 15% for saturated and 8 to 9% for polyunsaturated. More significantly, olive oil has by far the highest level of monounsaturated fat among all oils, about 75% to 80%.

Effect of Dietary Fats on Cholesterol Levels
Found in
State at Room Temperature
Effect on Cholesterol Levels
Olives; olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil; cashews, almonds, peanuts, and most other nuts; avocados
Lowers LDL; raises HDL
Corn, soybean, safflower, and cottonseed oils; fish
Lowers both LDL and HDL
Whole milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream; red meat; chocolate; coconut milk, and coconut oil
Raises both LDL and HDL
Most margarines; vegetable shortening; partially hydrogenated vegetable oil; deep-fried chips; many fast foods; most commercial baked goods
Solid or

Raises LDL; lowers HDL


Olive Oil and Rheumatoid Arthritis

A study in Greece showed that people who had the lowest lifetime consumption of extra virgin olive oil had two and a half times greater probability of developing rheumatoid arthritis than those with the highest lifetime consumption. If you know somebody who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, you must be familiar with the pain and inconvenience it can cause. A rheumatologist of the Arthritis Foundation, which did the research, cites that adding olive oil to your diet could help you protect yourself against rheumatoid arthritis. And, the spokesperson added, since the type of oil consumed in Greece is extra virgin olive oil, that offers additional protection.

Olive Oil and Antioxidants

Among the major components of extra virgin olive oil are antioxidants. Olive oil provides beta carotene (pro-vitamin A) and tocopherol (vitamin E) which are excellent buffers of acids produced in the gastrointestinal tract and those resulting from body metabolism. Extra virgin olive oil contains 88% of its vitamin E in the form of alpha-tocopherol, which is easily synthesised by the body. These are very important antioxidants that prevent the oxidation of LDLs. Such oxidation can cause damage to ordinary cells, nerve cells and arteries and lead to arteriosclerosis, coronary heart disease, or even cancer.

Olive Oil and Aging

Medical studies have indicated that diets which are deficient in vitamin E accelerate the breakdown of certain fatty acids, a process which invariably leads to aging. The vitamin E content in olive oil is thought to provide a defence against such effects, and thus help maintain mental faculties and muscular control longer and better. Among other benefits, the vitamin A helps prevent and minimise the development of skin wrinkles.

As we get older, our digestive capacity becomes markedly reduced resulting in more difficulty to absorb nutrients from food, especially vitamins and minerals. Olive oil is very digestible and its nutrients are easier to digest. It also has beneficent effects in aiding digestion and stimulating the appetite.

Another problem associated with aging – bone calcification – can be rectified by olive oil consumption. Studies have shown that a diet containing enough oleates as well as a moderate supply of essential fatty acids is needed for healthy bone mineralisation – a process that aids the developing bones in children and prevents calcium loss in adults.

Olive Oil, good for every body function

Olive oil is nature’s storehouse of many healthful nutrients like vitamins A, E, D and K. Other nutrients found in olive oil are:

  • Magnesium-rich chlorophyll encourages formation of healthy red blood cells.
  • Squalene, a precursor to phytoesterols, helps reduce acidity.
  • Phytoesterols (in the form of beta-sitosterol) assists in preventing cholesterol absorption.
  • Caffeic and gallic nutrients stimulate the flow of bile which helps alkalise food coming out of the stomach, reducing stress on the pancreas.
  • Phenolic compounds protect against fermentation of fats and cholesterol, and may promote higher production of fat-digesting enzymes in the pancreas.
  • Cycloartenol lowers the amount of cholesterol in free circulation and increases excretion of bile to mop up excess acidity and increase alkalinity of the food coming out of the stomach.

 Olive Oil has been shown to have beneficial effects on virtually every aspect of body function, development and maintenance, including brain development, bone structure, digestion, aging process, the condition of skin and hair, metabolism, and on plaque formation in the blood vessels.

There is so much scientific evidence now that establishes the health benefits of olive oil. You will be hard put to find any other food that has so many positive effects on so many different parts of the body and their functions.

These health benefits can be derived from all forms of olive oil; however, refined oils undergo a lot of high temperatures during processing which destroys or alters the antioxidants, and thus have very little, if any, vitamins left. In order to gain the maximum medicinal benefit, you should use only Extra Virgin olive oil.

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