For thousands of years, olive oil has been an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Olive trees are found mostly in the Mediterranean region. However, with growing awareness of olive oil’s health benefits, its popularity has soared around the world.
This edible oil is a culinary favorite that can liven up a wide array of preparations, in terms of both flavor and nutritional value. While dietitians, nutritional experts, and health enthusiasts can’t stop raving about the perks of consuming olive oil, its pharmacological worth is not a recent discovery.
Olive oil has been used for the longest time in traditional folk medicine to address a range of health concerns, from being a digestive aid to being a cure for colic, sciatica, muscle aches, rheumatic pain, paralysis, and hypertension.
Olive oil is also suggested to exhibit sedative, aphrodisiac, and laxative properties, and some claim it works as a tonic to mitigate the effects of excess alcohol consumption. It also has a myriad of beauty advantages to offer that help improve your skin and hair health.
History and science increasingly support the manifold health benefits of consuming olive fruit and its oil, particularly as part of a balanced diet.
Nutritional value of olive oil per 100 grams:(9)
|Total lipid (fat)||g||100.00|
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||µg||60.2|
Fatty acids, total saturated
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||72.961|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||10.523|
Olive oil is a rich source of different polyphenols, including simple phenols, terpenes, flavones, hydroxycinnamic acids, anthocyanins, flavanols, flavonoid glycosides, lignans, and hydroxybenzoic acids. These polyphenols work as both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients in the body, which means they protect body cells from harmful damage.
Moreover, this plant oil is unique in terms of its fat composition. It is mostly made of oleic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fat. It also contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids as well as vitamins E and K. Plus; olive oil is naturally free of cholesterol and gluten.
Types of Olive Oil
There are several variants of olive oil available in the United States, namely, extra-virgin (sometimes referred to as EVOO), virgin, light, and classic (pure) olive oil. Irrespective of the category, olive oil of any kind is extracted by crushing and then pressing olives.
Moreover, the caloric value of all these olive oils is more or less the same. Like any other fat, olive oil contains roughly 120 calories per tablespoon.
Extra-virgin olive oil is extracted after the first cold pressing of the olives and is not subjected to any filtering or refining process thereafter.
The extraction of virgin olive oil is also along the same lines, but the two categories differ by virtue of their acidic content, taste, and nutritional value. The other types of olive oil are refined to get rid of impurities and may be blended with other oils.
Extra-virgin olive oil is considered to be the most superlative of all the varieties, in terms of both flavor and composition. In addition to its delicately flavored goodness, this type of olive oil has the lowest acid content and the highest amount of nutrients, including heart-healthy polyphenols.(12)
Virgin olive oil, despite being produced and processed the same way, has a slightly higher acid content. The antioxidant level, however, is the same as that of extra-virgin olive oil, according to the North American Olive Oil Association.
Olive oils can also be categorized in terms of color. The color of the oil depends upon the ripeness of the olives from which it is extracted. Oils that carry a greenish hue are made with unripe olives and have a relatively bitter flavor.
Emerald-tinged oils have a strong, overpowering taste that can be characterized as fruity, grassy, or peppery. Given that these pungent oils usually dominate the palate, they are best paired with neutral-flavored or strong-flavored foods or ingredients that complement the taste of the oil.
Olive oils that are golden in color are considered to be a subdued version of their green counterparts. They owe their color to the ripe olives used to produce them, and they are characteristically milder, smoother, and somewhat buttery in taste. This oil goes well with subtle flavors as it does not eclipse the taste of the other foods or ingredients.
The quality of the taste and flavor varies greatly among different olive oils and is largely determined by where the olives were grown and how the oil was produced. Thus, you will have to sift through the various options available at the market to pick out premium-quality olive oil that will best serve your purpose.
Some would even say the process requires the skills of a connoisseur, in much the same way as wine tasting. As many low-quality olive oils are available on the market, you need to be very careful when buying them. The best type is extra-virgin olive oil, which is cold pressed and has the best taste and smell.
Uses of Olive Oil
Here are some health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil.
1. Lowers Cholesterol Level
Extra-virgin olive oil can help lower your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level. Cholesterol buildup, especially from LDL cholesterol, in the blood can cause narrowing of the arteries.
Olive oil contains oleocanthal and oleuropein that protect LDL molecules from oxidative damage. When LDL is oxidized, the risk of cardiovascular disease is increased.
According to a 2015 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, regular intake of olive oil helps to bring down cholesterol levels in the body and is therefore associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.(1)
Additionally, olive oil increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level in the body; HDL plays a protective role and helps prevent unwanted blood clotting, a key reason behind heart attacks and strokes.(1)
To enjoy the cholesterol-lowering effects of extra-virgin olive oil, use this oil for cooking in place of fats higher in saturated fats such as butter, margarine, or animal fat.
2. Reduces High Blood Pressure
The health-promoting virtues of olive oil, particularly for the management of hypertension, were shown in a 2016 study published in Current Vascular Pharmacology. The study recommends virgin olive oil as the only edible fat that can be consumed as a natural fruit product with no additives or preservatives.(2)
What makes olive oil particularly effective in reducing hypertension is its composition, which is characterized by a unique mix of bioactive entities, namely, oleic acid and minor constituents.
Researchers believe that the oleic acid in olive oil is easily absorbed in the body and, thereby, lowers blood pressure. It is thought that this oil also slows down the aging of the heart due to its healthy monounsaturated fat content.
To regulate high blood pressure and enjoy a young and healthy heart, use virgin olive oil for cooking and for making healthy salad dressings or dips.
3. Fights Type 2 Diabetes
Olive oil is beneficial in the treatment of diabetes and can even help prevent or delay the onset of the disease. It improves blood sugar control and enhances insulin sensitivity. Plus, the monounsaturated fats in olive oil help keep triglyceride levels in check.
A 2017 study published in the scientific journal Nutrition & Diabetes concluded that the consumption of olive oil, as a food unto itself and not as a component of other foods, could help in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes.(3)
- Following a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes olive oil as the main source of dietary fat, has been associated with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes by almost 50% in comparison with a diet low in fats.(15)
- To reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, include about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in your daily diet. This can be in place of other dietary fats.
4. Protects Your Bones
Our bones are constantly being broken down and rebuilt. With age, breakdown is higher than rebuilding, which can lead to weak bones. This gradual weakening of the bones, if left unchecked, can take the form of a full-fledged ailment that goes by the name of osteoporosis.
In fact, osteoporosis is so prevalent that it has emerged as one of the major health issues affecting large populations worldwide.(16) Diet and exercise play primary roles in fortifying our bones against osteoporosis, with some foods faring better than others.
Olives exhibit a great deal of bone-building and bone-strengthening potential. You can significantly improve your bone health by increasing your intake of the fruit, the oil derived from it, and the olive polyphenols.
Olive oil has been found to increase osteoblast production, which is needed to build bone strength. Thus, olive oil is beneficial for people suffering from osteoporosis, who are susceptible to fractures due to reduced bone mass.
A 2016 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health suggested that olive oil may help lower inflammation and prevent the decline in bone mineral density with age.(4)
A Mediterranean diet majorly relies on extra-virgin olive oil as the source of dietary fat. It has been observed that people who regularly consume a Mediterranean diet that is rich in olives and olive oil tend to have a high level of osteocalcin in their blood.
5. Aids Weight Loss
Olive oil taken in moderation may help in weight loss. Although it is high in fat, it is mainly healthy monounsaturated fats, which may have a role in reducing belly fat.
A 2018 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition concluded that consuming extra-virgin olive oil helps to reduce body fat and improve blood pressure.(6)
In this study, women with excess body fat were put into two groups for 9 weeks, both on an energy-restricted normal fat level diet. One group received 25 mL of extra-virgin olive oil, and the other group received 25 mL soybean oil. The EVOO group had about 80% higher fat loss at the end compared with the other group.
Olive oil is not a magic bullet that will make you reach your weight goals all by itself. You must incorporate it in an overall well-balanced diet that meets your nutritional needs without overdoing the caloric intake. To that end, you can use olive oil as a dressing for salads and as a replacement for your regular cooking oil.
6. Softens Ear Wax
Your ear cavity is one of the most delicate parts of your body and should be treated with utmost care and gentleness. One of the most common ear complaints is the buildup of wax within the ear tubes, which is usually addressed through wax-softening ear drops to facilitate its natural expulsion from the ear.
Some of the solutions available on the market can prove too harsh for sensitive-skinned people, especially those with a preexisting skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis.
In such cases, olive oil is preferred as a safer alternative to traditional ear drops. Not only is it readily available in most homes, but it is also relatively milder and more comfortable to use.
Results of a 2017 study showed that warm olive oil is as effective as the various commercial ear drops in its ability to soften ear wax in the outer ear canal (external auditory canal) and make it easier to remove.(10)
- Two or three drops of olive oil, twice a day, for 1 to 2 weeks is usually sufficient, and the wax will usually then come out by itself. If you have any pain, irritation, or inflammation in your ear canal, consult your doctor before using olive oil.
7. Rejuvenates the Skin/Promotes Healthy Skin
Olive oil is valued for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which are important in achieving healthy-looking skin.
It helps arrest the oxidative stress caused by free radicals on the skin, which is chiefly responsible for premature skin aging. Olive oil also works as a skin salve that promotes faster wound healing and helps repair the skin barrier.(7)
Olive oil works as the perfect moisturizer for dry skin. Being rich in vitamins A and E as well as several other minerals and fatty acids, it helps keep the skin looking soft and smooth. It also helps stimulate the process of skin healing.
Moreover, olive oil prevents skin aging, including the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, and protects the skin from free radical damage. You can also get rid of ugly stretch marks with olive oil.
- Regular body massage with warm olive oil before taking a bath will improve blood circulation and help keep your skin young.
- You can also use olive oil instead of a lip balm to prevent chapped lips during the winter.
- Olive oil may be used as a natural makeup remover.
- Substituting your regular cooking oil with olive oil, in addition to using it as a source of healthy fats in an overall healthy diet, can help provide the nutrients for a healthy-looking skin.
8. Fights Inflammation (Arthritis)
Certain diseases such as arthritis are primarily triggered by chronic inflammation at the base. Olive oil exhibits significant anti-inflammatory activity that accounts for its therapeutic potential against inflammatory diseases.
- Arthritis patients are increasingly vulnerable to a list of other serious ailments, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke.(16) Making the right food choices can reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases. In this context, eating right generally entails a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins. When olive oil is added to the mix, your odds of preventing these chronic ailments may increase.
An animal study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry in 2014 suggested that the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) in Mediterranean diets may be beneficial. A wide range of evidence indicates that the phenolic compounds present in EVOO are endowed with anti-inflammatory properties. However, further studies are required to prove its efficacy.(8)
9. Helps Treat Cradle Cap
A lot of babies develop a crusty or scaly rash on their scalp shortly after birth, which usually clears on its own. This condition does not pose any threat to the baby’s health, and the rash is neither itchy nor painful.
Although the exact cause for this condition remains unidentified, experts believe that it may be linked to the hormonal changes experienced by the mother during pregnancy, which stimulate the infant’s oil glands.(17) The excessive secretion of oil inside the body may be responsible for the scaling and crusting of the baby’s skin.
A 2014 study published in Dermatology and Therapy suggested that olive oil is useful for softening the rough, scaly patches of the cradle cap. Although olive oil is a safe and natural balm for your baby’s sensitive skin, it is wise to consult a doctor before trying any new remedy to avoid any undue complications.(11)
More so, these findings that support the use of olive oil for cradle cap treatment have been derived from relatively small studies and need further evidential data to conclusively establish the efficacy of its usage.
- You can also use a soft brush to gently scrape off the stubborn flakes. Gently massage a few drops of olive oil onto the baby’s scalp to soften the crusts.
- Use a doctor-approved mild shampoo to wash your baby’s hair regularly, which will help loosen and remove the flakes.
10. Improves Hair Health
Enriched with fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamin E, olive oil has all the makings of a great hair tonic.
What makes it a cut above the standard hair care products flooding the market is that it is completely devoid of any chemicals.
Olive oil works as a hydrating conditioner that can breathe life into dull, dry, and damaged hair by restoring moisture to the cuticles, or the outer layers of the hair strand, and sealing it within.
Olive oil is a one-stop solution for a variety of common hair-related complaints: hair fall, split ends, and hard-to-manage frizzy hair. A nice, soothing head massage with warm olive oil every now and then will leave your hair noticeably stronger and more lustrous than before.
- Apply warm olive oil thoroughly on your scalp and hair shafts.
- Using your fingertips, massage your scalp for 5 minutes.
- Cover your hair with a warm towel and leave it on for 30 minutes or overnight.
- Shampoo and condition your hair as usual.
- For the greatest benefit, some experts suggest doing this once a week.
11. Improves Brain Functioning
Olive oil has favorable effects on brain functioning and may reduce the risk of cognitive impairment.
A 2013 study published in the American Chemical Society found that a phenolic component called oleocanthal in extra-virgin olive oil helps reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The high monounsaturated fat content of olive oil can also slow down the cognitive decline associated with diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.(5)
Selection of Available Forms/Products and Storage
The overwhelming variety of olive oils available on the market can leave you spoiled with choices. However, not all olive oils are created equal, and you need to know exactly what to look for in order to make the right choice.
Fresh, cold-pressed olive oil made from ripe greenish-yellow olives is your best bet, as it is considered to be the purest and highest grade of all varieties. Not only does it taste different from the rest, but it is also abundantly supplied with antioxidants.
Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil extracted using traditional methods is usually chemical-free and has a lower acidic content, the highest smoke point, and a long shelf life.
Extra-virgin oil has the lowest acid content of less than 0.8%. The lower the acidity, the lower the amount of free fatty acids, which means the higher the smoke point of the oil. Olive oils with higher acidity have a lower smoke point.
Refrigeration is not necessary for the storage of olive oil, but it does help extend its shelf life. Olive oils fare better when stored away from heat and fluctuating temperatures. If you wish to savor your bottle of oil for long, it may be best to stash it in the fridge once opened. An opened bottle of olive oil can survive for about 6 months on a shelf, while refrigeration can keep it from going bad for up to a year.
Cough Test for Olive Oil
One way of determining if a particular batch of olive oil meets the quality standards involves an age-old custom of tasting the olive oil and seeing if it causes a burning sensation in the throat. This trick is regularly employed by connoisseurs and is termed as a cough test.
The logic behind the name can be explained by the mechanism behind the test. When olive oil is swallowed, certain receptors at the back of the human throat latch on to an anti-inflammatory agent found in superior-quality EVOO called oleocanthal.
These receptors are lined with TRPA1 protein that is sensitive to oleocanthal, and the two react by making you cough. The number of coughs can indicate the phenolic content of the oil.
According to experts, the cough response helps determine the pungency of the oil, which is taken as a marker of its purity. The results of this “cough test” are usually calculated on a scale of one to three coughs and provide a scientific basis for the establishment of the qualitative superiority of olive oil.(13)
- To derive the various health benefits of olive oil, make sure you use extra-virgin olive oil. Needless to say, consume it in moderation.
- Do not store your olive oil near the stove as the heat may damage it.
- A high-quality, low-acid olive oil has a high smoke point. You can use this oil for high-temperature frying as well. After frying, you can filter the oil and use it two to three more times. Use this oil for frying only.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
- Berrougui H, Ikhlef S, Khalil A. Extra Virgin Olive Oil Polyphenols Promote Cholesterol Efflux and Improve HDL Functionality. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine: eCAM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606102/. Published 2015.
- Lopez S, Bermudez B, Montserrat-de la Paz S, Jaramillo S, Abia R, Muriana FJ. Virgin Olive Oil and Hypertension. Current vascular pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26775852. Published 2016.
- Schwingshackl L, Lampousi A-M, Portillo MP, Romaguera D, Hoffmann G, Boeing H. Olive oil in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies and intervention trials. Nutrition & diabetes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5436092. Published April 10, 2017.
- Chin K-Y, Ima-Nirwana S. Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option. International journal of environmental research and public health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997441/. Published July 26, 2016.
- Olive-Oil-Derived Oleocanthal Enhances β-Amyloid Clearance as a Potential Neuroprotective Mechanism against Alzheimer’s Disease: In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Olive-Oil-Derived Oleocanthal Enhances β-Amyloid Clearance as a Potential Neuroprotective Mechanism against Alzheimer’s Disease: In Vitro and in Vivo Studies | ACS Chemical Neuroscience. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/cn400024q.
- GalvãoCândido F, Xavier Valente F, da Silva LE, Gonçalves Leão Coelho O, Gouveia PeluzioMdo C, Gonçalves AlfenasRde C. Consumption of extra virgin olive oil improves body composition and blood pressure in women with excess body fat: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled clinical trial. European journal of nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28808791. Published October 2018.
- Lin T-K, Zhong L, Santiago JL. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/. Published December 27, 2017.
- Rosillo MÁ, Alcaraz MJ, Sánchez-Hidalgo M, Fernández-Bolaños JG, Alarcón-de-la-Lastra C, Ferrándiz ML. Anti-inflammatory and joint protective effects of extra-virgin olive-oil polyphenol extract in experimental arthritis. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25294776. Published December 2014.
- Food Composition Databases Show Foods — Oil, olive, salad or cooking. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/04053.
- Outer ear infection: What helps if earwax builds up? InformedHealth.org [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279354/. Published November 30, 2017.
- Hengge UR. Topical, Non-Medicated LOYON(®) in Facilitating the Removal of Scaling in Infants and Children with Cradle Cap: a Proof-of-Concept Pilot Study. Dermatology and therapy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4257950/. Published December 2014. \
- Gorzynik-Debicka M, Przychodzen P, Cappello F, et al. Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Plant Polyphenols. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877547/. Published February 28, 2018.
- Parkinson L, Keast R. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4139846/. Published July 11, 2014
- Esposito K, Giugliano D. Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes/metabolism research and reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24357346. Published March 2014
- Facts and Statistics. Facts and Statistics | International Osteoporosis Foundation. https://www.iofbonehealth.org/facts-statistics.
- Liou T-H, Huang S-W, Lin J-W, Chang Y-S, Wu C-W, Lin H-W. Risk of stroke in patients with rheumatism: a nationwide longitudinal population-based study. Scientific reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4046260/. Published June 5, 2014.
- Nobles T. Cradle Cap. StatPearls [Internet]. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK531463/. Published January 23, 2019.
- Parkinson L, Cicerale S. The Health Benefiting Mechanisms of Virgin Olive Oil Phenolic Compounds. MDPI. https://www.mdpi.com/1420-3049/21/12/1734. Published December 16, 2016.