Is olive oil bad for your health? What the latest research says

Olive oil is often hailed as the cornerstone of healthy eating, particularly praised for its role in the Mediterranean diet. Many view it as a superfood, essential for anyone aiming for a heart-healthy diet. 

However, recent discussions and studies prompt us to examine this belief more closely: Is olive oil really as beneficial as we think, or could there be hidden downsides to its consumption?

This blog aims to provide a clear, current, and factual analysis of olive oil based on the latest research findings. We’ll explore the science behind health claims and consider any new evidence that might challenge their reputed benefits.

What is the latest research on olive oil?

While olive oil is often praised for its health benefits, recent studies have prompted a closer look and challenged some long-held beliefs about its universal health advantages. 

Olive oil is high in calories, and if consumed excessively without appropriate dietary adjustments, it can contribute to weight gain [1].

Some studies suggest that overreliance on olive oil might lead to an imbalance in dietary fat intake, particularly reducing the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, which are also crucial for heart health.

Numerous research investigations have revealed that incorporating a moderate amount of extra virgin olive oil into daily diet routines, typically ranging from 1 to 1.5 tablespoons, correlates with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality by 19-33% when compared to individuals consuming lesser amounts of olive oil [2], [3].

Substituting as little as one teaspoon of margarine or mayonnaise with olive oil daily has decreased the risk of fatal dementia by 8-14% [4].

The health benefits of olive oil might not be as significant in non-Mediterranean populations, suggesting that lifestyle and genetic factors also play substantial roles.

These findings suggest a more nuanced approach to consuming olive oil, emphasizing moderation and a balanced diet to enjoy its potential health benefits fully.

What are the health benefits of olive oil?

Olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, is renowned for its role in promoting health. It’s a staple in the Mediterranean diet, widely recognized for its potential in maintaining a healthy heart and body. 

Below, we explore the numerous benefits of olive oil, providing a clearer understanding of why it’s a beneficial addition to a balanced diet.

1. Rich in healthy monounsaturated fats

Olive oil stands out primarily because it’s rich in monounsaturated fats, making up about 73% of its content, predominantly in oleic acid. This type of fat is celebrated for its health benefits, notably for heart health.

Consuming olive oil regularly can lead to several positive outcomes:

  • Lowers bad cholesterol – Oleic acid helps reduce levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is often labeled as bad cholesterol because high levels can lead to heart disease.
  • Supports cell membranes – The monounsaturated fats in olive oil contribute to the structural integrity of cells, aiding in their function and longevity.
  • Enhances insulin sensitivity – For those managing or preventing type 2 diabetes, oleic acid can improve the body’s ability to use insulin effectively, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.

These benefits position olive oil as a heart-friendly option that supports overall metabolic health, making it a wise choice for anyone looking to improve their dietary habits.

2. Packed with antioxidants

The antioxidants in olive oil help combat oxidative stress, which is linked to numerous health issues, including heart disease and premature aging. Here are some key antioxidants found in olive oil:

  • Vitamin E – This powerful antioxidant supports skin health and strengthens the body’s natural defense against illness and infection.
  • Polyphenols – These are vital for reducing inflammation and protecting the heart. They also help lower blood pressure and may prevent the formation of blood clots.

Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, contains higher levels of these antioxidants than more refined varieties [5]. This makes it a heart-friendly choice and beneficial for overall wellness, providing a natural barrier against many chronic illnesses.

3. Anti-inflammatory properties

These benefits stem primarily from the antioxidants found in olive oil, such as oleocanthal, which has been shown to function similarly to ibuprofen, a well-known anti-inflammatory drug.

Here’s how olive oil helps reduce inflammation:

  • Mimics anti-inflammatory drugs – Oleocanthal offers an all-natural method of reducing inflammation without any of the negative effects of synthetic drugs. 
  • Lowers risks of diseases – Numerous illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease, are associated with chronic inflammation. By reducing inflammation, olive oil can lower the risk of these conditions.
  • Supports overall health – Regular consumption of olive oil can lead to long-term health benefits by keeping inflammation in check, essential for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Integrating olive oil into your daily diet can be a delicious way to fight inflammation and promote a healthier lifestyle.

anti-inflammatory properties

4. Benefits for heart health

Olive oil is widely recognized for its benefits to heart health, making it a key component of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Here’s how olive oil supports cardiovascular wellness:

  • Lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) – Olive oil helps reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, which, when oxidized, can lead to heart disease.
  • Increases good cholesterol (HDL) – It also has the ability to raise HDL cholesterol, which helps remove other forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream.
  • Improves artery health – The monounsaturated fats in olive oil can improve the function of the endothelium, and the lining of the blood vessels, enhancing blood flow and decreasing the risk of blood clot formation.
  • Reduces blood pressure – Regular consumption can lead to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, further reducing heart disease risk.

These factors contribute to olive oil’s reputation as a heart-friendly oil, essential for anyone looking to support their cardiovascular health naturally.

5. May help prevent stroke

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, and research suggests that the monounsaturated fats in olive oil might play a role in reducing this risk. Here’s how olive oil contributes:

  • Reduces blood clotting – Olive oil improves the health of blood vessels, potentially reducing the formation of blood clots that can lead to strokes.
  • Lowers blood pressure – Consistent intake of olive oil has been linked to lower blood pressure, a significant risk factor for stroke.
  • Protects against cholesterol buildup – By lowering levels of LDL cholesterol and increasing HDL cholesterol, olive oil helps prevent the buildup of fatty deposits in blood vessels, which can cause blockages leading to strokes [6].

These protective qualities highlight the potential of olive oil as part of a diet focused on stroke prevention and overall cardiovascular health.

How do you use olive oil in a daily diet?

Olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, renowned not just for its flavor but also for its health benefits. Understanding how to incorporate olive oil into your diet effectively can enhance your meals’ taste and overall health.

Cooking with olive oil

Olive oil is a versatile ingredient perfect for enhancing flavors in your cooking. Here are some optimal ways to use it:

SautéingCooking food quickly in a small amount of olive oil over medium to high heat in a skillet.
RoastingDrizzling olive oil over vegetables or meats before baking in the oven for a crispy finish.
BakingReplace butter with olive oil in recipes for a lighter, moist result in cakes and breads [7].
FryingDeep frying or shallow frying foods in olive oil for a crispy texture and rich flavor.
GrillingBrushing olive oil directly onto foods like fish, poultry, or vegetables before grilling.
Dressing and DippingMixing olive oil with vinegar, herbs, and spices for salads or using as a dip for bread.

These methods allow olive oil to elevate your meals, providing both flavor and health benefits.

Raw uses in diet

Olive oil is great for cooking and shines when used raw, preserving its full spectrum of flavors and health benefits. Here are several ways to incorporate raw olive oil into your diet:

  • Drizzling on finished dishes – Add olive oil to cooked vegetables, pasta, or grilled meats to enhance flavor and add richness.
  • Salads – Olive oil is the perfect base for salad dressings, especially when combined with vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Dipping – Use olive oil as a dip for fresh bread or as a base for herb-infused dipping oils.

These simple additions can significantly elevate your meals, making them more delicious and nutritious.

raw uses in diet

The right quantity

Managing the quantity of olive oil in your diet is key to balancing calories while reaping its health benefits. 

Aim for about one to two tablespoons per day. This amount is enough to provide benefits without excessive calorie intake. Always measure olive oil rather than pouring it directly from the bottle. This helps control the quantity and manage overall calorie consumption.

If your diet includes other high-fat foods, consider reducing the amount of olive oil to maintain a healthy fat balance.

These guidelines will help you enjoy olive oil’s flavor and health properties without overindulgence.

Choosing the best olive oil

Selecting the best olive oil can greatly enhance both the taste and health benefits of your meals. Here are a few tips to help you make the right choice:

  • Made from pure, cold-pressed olives without any chemical treatment, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the best quality available [8].
  • Freshness matters, so look for oils with a recent harvest date.
  • Oils from a single source or region often provide superior flavor and quality.
  • Production standards that are regulated and closely watched are indicated by certifications such as organic labels or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

These steps will guide you to a high-quality product that brings the best to your table.

In closing

Olive oil offers a wealth of health benefits, from enhancing heart health to providing vital antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

The versatility of olive oil in cooking and its role as a dietary staple in some of the healthiest populations around the world underlines its importance in a balanced diet.

By making informed choices about the type of olive oil you use and how you incorporate it into your meals, you can enhance your food’s flavor and boost your health. Consider experimenting with different brands and origins to find the one that best suits your taste and culinary needs.

FAQs

Is olive oil good for cooking at high temperatures?

Olive oil can be used for cooking at moderate temperatures, but its smoke point is lower than some other oils, making it less ideal for high-temperature cooking. For high heat, consider using refined olive oil or another oil with a higher smoke point.

Can I use olive oil on my skin?

Yes, olive oil can be used on the skin. It is hydrating and rich in antioxidants, making it a popular choice for moisturizing and anti-aging treatments.

How can I tell if olive oil is of high quality?

High-quality olive oil should have a fresh, fruity aroma and no greasy aftertaste. It should also come in dark glass bottles to protect it from light.

Can olive oil help with weight loss?

Olive oil can aid in weight loss by promoting a feeling of fullness and reducing the intake of less healthy fats, although it should be consumed in moderation due to its high calorie content.

[1] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/extra-virgin-olive-oil 
[2] https://www.deseret.com/2023/11/20/23969276/olive-oil-extra-virgin-health-benefits-heart-antioxidant-studies/ 
[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-022-01221-3 
[4] https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20230727/is-olive-oil-the-ultimate-superfood 
[5] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318397 
[6] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lower-cholesterol 
[7] https://handletheheat.com/butter-vs-oil-in-baking/ 
[8] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cold-pressed-olive-oil

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.