Health Benefits of Olive Oil

 We’ve all noticed the crowded supermarket shelves with a wide array of cooking oils. Are there certain oils we should not include in the shopping cart?   

  Avoid cooking oils high in saturated fat that can increase both LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Saturated fat is typically solid at room temperature and includes tropical oil such as palm oil. Choose oil low in saturated fat, have no trans-fat (adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils in an industrial process that makes the fat more solid) but are high in monounsaturated fat (typically liquid at room temperature but starts to turn solid when chilled). Of all the commonly available vegetable oils (canola, peanut, corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower), olive oil, a key component of the Mediterranean diet, provides the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that has excellent health benefits, especially for the heart.

  When consumed in moderation, monounsaturated fats reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by helping to decrease the levels of artery-clogging lipids in the blood. Studies have shown that olive oil can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

  The cholesterol lowering action of olive oil prompted the Food and Drug Administration in the United States to allow a qualified health claim for the healthy oil. The claim states “limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil.”

  Not all olive oils are equal when it comes to protecting against heart disease. Extra virgin olive oil, which comes from the first pressing of the olives, is considered the best. This type of oil contains more powerful antioxidants than refined olive oil. In addition to the heart healthy, monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid, olive oil contains more than 30 plant compounds. This higher class of antioxidants known as polyphenols, may further promote heart health, protect against cancer and other diseases.

  Here are some more findings on what recent research says:

  Antioxidant compounds found in virgin olive oil, are not only good for your heart, they may be effective against several strains of Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which infects the lining of the stomach. This species of bacteria has been linked to millions of cases of gastritis and peptic ulcers each year.

  Extra virgin olive oil contains a natural ingredient “oleocanthal” that inhibits the activity of an enzyme involved in inflammation in the same way as ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Inflammation has been associated with a variety of conditions including heart disease and cancer. 

  Olive oil plant compounds may also increase enzymes that impede activation of carcinogens and help in their removal from the body. These compounds seem to curb development of cancer cells and escalate their self-destruction.

  When choosing olive oil, make certain to purchase the extra virgin or virgin olive oil. These grades of olive oil contain the highest levels of phytochemicals and nutrients. They are not refined in any way, and have a superior taste compared to refined olive oils. As the oil can turn rancid when exposed to light and heat, store it in a cool dry cupboard, or in the refrigerator. Its high monounsaturated fat content enables the oil to be kept for over a year, longer than most other oils. For best flavour, it is wise to use the oil within a year after it’s pressed.


Joe Smulevitz is a Chartered Herbalist, a Master Herbalist, a nutritional researcher and author of numerous health articles.