The low-fat diet trend is fading, and both experts and everyday folks are coming to recognize the importance of healthy fats in our diet. And amidst this change, olive oil stands out as a powerhouse of nutrients that supports all aspects of our well-being–especially if consumed uncooked.
Let’s explore eight impressive health benefits of drinking olive oil, making this beneficial food a staple in health-conscious kitchens worldwide. But first, why is fat important for health and well-being, anyway?
Why is fat important for health?
In the past, fat’s gotten a bad rap, being linked to heart disease, obesity, and other serious ailments. But recent research shows these claims aren’t necessarily true. Rather, fats are vital players in our diet’s ability to keep our bodies strong and healthy.
Not only do fats help us absorb important vitamins like A, D, E, and K, but they’re the building blocks of every cell in the body. They give us energy and keep us satiated between meals. On top of that, more than half the brain is made up of fat, which goes to show how much we need fat for optimal functioning.
However, not all fats are created equal. Consuming excess saturated and trans fats (found in some meats, plants, and fried foods) can lead to health problems like high cholesterol, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. But unsaturated fats–like those in olive oil–are actually beneficial and integral to our health in many ways.
Olive oil: central to the Mediterranean Diet
Southern Europeans, known for their diet rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, and olive oil, tend to live longer and with fewer health challenges compared to Americans. The Mediterranean Diet has been linked to decreased risks for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even death due to any cause.
Central to these benefits is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). It’s estimated that Italians and Spaniards each consume about 11 to 13 liters of olive oil each year, often enjoying it fresh and uncooked in the morning.
Let’s dive into the merits of olive oil and how it can play a part in boosting your well-being.
Health benefits of drinking olive oil
Olive oil for heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. But olive oil offers heart-healthy prevention.
Packed with monounsaturated fats, olive oil can help lower blood pressure and decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, thereby reducing your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.
Olive oil for brain health
Alzheimer’s is the number one brain disease globally. It’s characterized by harmful build-ups of proteins in the brain, called beta-amyloid plaques. Some tests on mice suggest olive oil might help get rid of these protein build-ups.
Research involving humans suggests a Mediterranean-style diet rich in olive oil can also enhance cognitive function and–according to one study–even lower your risk of dying from dementia by 28%.
Olive oil for gut health
Olive oil helps maintain the lining of the stomach, which can reduce the risk of gastric ulcers and promote overall digestive health. Furthermore, the compounds in olive oil help balance gut bacteria, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria over harmful ones.
By coating the stomach and intestines, olive oil may even help reduce irritation from acid reflux or inflammatory bowel disease.
Olive oil to manage blood sugar levels
The healthy fats in olive oil help stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity, which can be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes. It may also help prevent these conditions from developing.
In one study, blood sugar levels stayed lower in those who ate their meal with olive oil, compared to a group of people eating a meal made with corn oil. This makes sense since corn is a starch, which can raise blood sugar levels much more than olives.
Olive oil for bone health
Research suggests olive oil can help keep bones strong and lower your chances of developing osteoporosis. This is likely because a key compound in olive oil, oleuropein, helps bone-building cells grow and reduces fat cell formation, which can accumulate within bone marrow and negatively impact bone repair.
Consuming oleuropein can even help prevent the bone thinning that occurs as a result of aging.
Olive oil for cancer prevention
High-quality EVOO’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds make it a great way to reduce your risk of certain cancers.
The polyphenols in EVOO work as defenders against harmful free radicals that can damage cells, potentially causing cancer. One study even found that olive oil could deter colon cancer at different stages.
While it’s no replacement for regular health check-ups, incorporating olive oil into your daily routine might offer some protective perks.
Olive oil for healthy skin
Olive oil might be a secret weapon against wrinkles and aging signs, according to some research. A comprehensive French study involving nearly 3,000 participants aged 45-60 found those who consumed olive oil had noticeably fewer signs of skin aging.
Olive oil can be blended into a sugar scrub for exfoliation or applied as a moisturizer. But by drinking it, you’re already taking in its natural anti-aging elements, including antioxidants and vitamin E.
Olive oil for weight loss
While drinking olive oil alone may not be a magic diet pill, it can support a healthy weight. That’s because olive oil is satiating and can curb hunger, due to its monounsaturated fat content.
Past research found overweight men who switched from saturated to monounsaturated fats were able to shed some pounds–even without changing overall calorie intake. Recent studies confirm the idea that unsaturated fats, like those in olive oil, may help with weight management.
Olive oil also has a good amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). These fats are quickly processed in the liver and converted into energy.
Some research suggests MCTs can increase feelings of fullness and may even help the body burn calories more efficiently.
How to use olive oil for health benefits: start your day with a shot
It might sound strange, but many Southern Europeans start their day with a shot of olive oil–up to a ¼ cup straight from a glass. This practice is believed to contribute to their renowned health and longevity.
Start with a tablespoon and gradually increase the amount as you get used to drinking olive oil. Or, for a more enjoyable experience, mix the oil with warm water and lemon juice. Lemon juice has an added benefit of helping break down fats and supporting healthy liver function.
While cooking with olive oil is still a healthy practice, consuming it uncooked may provide more of its beneficial compounds, such as antioxidants and vitamin E–which might diminish somewhat when heated, according to some studies.
It’s important to choose a high quality EVOO. High-quality EVOO is minimally processed, allowing it to keep its natural antioxidants and vitamins that often diminish in more refined oils. .
From supporting heart health to enhancing cognitive function and even supporting skin vitality, the health benefits of drinking extra virgin olive oil are impossible to deny. So embrace this Mediterranean secret, pour yourself a shot, and get a taste of better well-being for yourself.
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