Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Written by Bonnie Gabaldon


Olive oil has been extolled and utilized for thousands of years as lamp oil, skin care, and food. However, it isn't just any food. It is a super-food.


Ancient Olive Tree


Olive Oil Benefits

The beneficial health effects of olive oil are numerous. It is known to: lower the risk of coronary heart disease; normalize blood clotting; benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control (especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes); reduce body fat and blood pressure; prevent stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s; may protect the liver from oxidative stress; and may have a protective effect against depression.

Olive oil is great for your skin as a sunscreen and moisturizer. It can be used on hair as a conditioner. 


How to Determine the Quality of Olive Oil

Here are a few tips to ensure that you are receiving the most health benefits from olive oil.

Extra virgin is the highest quality grade, according to various governing standards. Virgin is the second highest.

Unfortunately, many “extra virgin” olive oils found in grocery stores are not always what they claim to be.

Virgin oil has not undergone chemical, thermal, or nonphysical methods in production.


The Chemical Composition that Provides the Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Polyphenols  are responsible for many health benefits of olive oil. They are a range of phytochemicals in olive oil with strong antioxidant, powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and chemical properties that resemble ibuprofen

There are approximately 700 distinct varieties of olives.

Tocopherols are compounds that are collectively referred to as vitamin E. They have high levels of antioxidant properties and are widely used in the cosmetics industry to shield the skin against sun damage.

Extra virgin olive oil contains more than 80% oleic acid that:

  • is relatively resistant to oxidation and gives the oil a longer shelf life; 
  • provides the major health benefits of the Mediterranean diet;
  • has a disabling effect on a gene that causes 25% to 30% of breast cancers; and
  • easily penetrates the skin, allowing the oil to heal damage, reduce wrinkles, and improve texture. 


How to Choose a Premium Olive Oil

Taste.  Three characteristics of good olive oil considered desirable by sensory scientists are: bitter, fruity, peppery (or pungent).

Pungency and bitterness are indicators of the presence of beneficial antioxidants. The slight peppery throat-sting indicates high oleocanthal content (the anti-inflammatory property that resembles ibuprofen). 

Chemical composition.  The higher the rating of polyphenols, the better. Numbers below 300 are low quality, and above 500 are high quality. 

Free fatty acids are an important indicator of quality. Excellent extra virgin oil has a FFA of .2% or lower. Anything over .5% is most likely inferior.


Polyphenols

This particular property of olive oil is what makes the oil with the highest polyphenol count fly off the shelves. One store owner tells me that most of her customers buying the oil are heart specialists and surgeons. It is worth noting what the experts are buying as it indicates the importance of polyphenol count when seeking to reap the health benefits of olive oil.


Certifications.  Look for certifications such as COOC (Certified Extra Virgin from California), EVA (Extra Virgin Alliance global), and UNAPROL which is an Italian certification.  

What to avoid.

Anything older than one year.

Ignore words like: "pure," "natural," "cold pressed," "first pressed." These words are meaningless.

Olive oil is expensive to produce, although higher prices don’t guarantee a great oil.  Anything under $10 for a liter is most likely inferior in quality.


I can personally attest to the health benefits of olive oil. It's one of those things I have been doing right -- before the science explained why. 



Learn more:


Writer/attorney, Bonnie Gabaldon, is the owner/developer of the health & fitness website, BodiesOfEvidence.com.

Bonnie graduated summa cum laude from Oregon State University with honors. She is a member of Beta Beta Beta Biological Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. 

She researched and authored a significant undergraduate independent study paper, The Effect of Female Hormones on Elite Female Athletes During the First Trimester of Pregnancy.

Bonnie attended the University of New Mexico School of Law and Georgetown Law Center, and has been a licensed attorney since 2003.

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