Is Olive Oil Good for You?

Medically Reviewed By Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN
Was this helpful?
323

Olive oil is considered one of the healthiest fats and a rich source of antioxidants. When consumed in moderation along with a well-balanced diet, olive oil may reduce the risk of certain chronic conditions. As the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil has powerful antioxidant properties that may help reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals.

Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy fats that may promote optimal brain and joint function.

This article explains the benefits of olive oil and how it compares with other oils.

What is olive oil?

a person is reading the label of an olive oil bottle in a store
d3sign/Getty Images

Olive oil is a type of oil obtained from pressed olives. 

Since olives are primarily found in the Mediterranean region, olive oil is often associated with a Mediterranean diet. However, it is used in a variety of recipes for its nutritional value. It is rich in antioxidants and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

There are four main types of olive oil in the market. These are: 

  • extra virgin olive oil, which is known for its excellent taste and fragrance and is made from the first pressings of the olives
  • virgin olive oil, which is distinguished for its good taste and is also obtained from the first pressings of the olives 
  • refined olive oil, which is mainly for commercial use and can be a combination of various oils
  • pure olive oil, which is generally a mix of refined and virgin oil

For the production of virgin and extra virgin olive oil, the extraction happens using cold-pressing techniques. 

Although the Mediterranean region is the largest producer of olive oil, South America, Australia, and California also produce high quality olive crops. 

Nutritional content of olive oil

The United States Department of Agriculture provides the following nutritional information for 1 tablespoon, or 14 grams (g), of olive oil.                             

NameAmountUnit
energy124calories
protein0g
total lipid (fat)14g
monounsaturated fatty acids10.2g
polyunsaturated fatty acids1.47g
carbohydrate0g
fiber 0g
fatty acids, total saturated1.93g
sugars0g
calcium0.14milligrams (mg)
iron0.078mg
potassium0.14mg
sodium0.28mg
vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)2.02mg
vitamin K (phylloquinone)8.43micrograms

Olive oil also provides antioxidants, including polyphenols, tocopherols, phytosterols, squalene, and terpenic acids.

You can include olive oil in your diet by:

  • adding it to your salads
  • using it to saute vegetables
  • drizzling it over bread with balsamic vinegar
  • replacing butter with it when baking

What are the health benefits of olive oil?

Olive oil may help reduce cellular damage caused by free radicals due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. As one of the healthiest fats, olive oil can benefit your joints, heart, and brain. 

Olive oil may also have the following health benefits.

Cardiovascular benefits

Some researchers believe that the anti-atherogenic effects linked to the consumption of olive oil may explain the low rates of cardiovascular mortality in Mediterranean countries. 

Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, has diverse benefits for a healthy heart. For example, it can lower blood pressure, protect against low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol, and improve the overall function of the blood vessels. 

Anti-inflammatory benefits

Chronic inflammation is a major contributor to the development and progression of various conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, obesity, and heart disease.   

Olive oil nutrients, including oleic acid and oleocanthal, can protect against inflammation in the body. A 2014 study suggested that oleocanthal exhibits anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen, thereby reducing the risk of joint-degenerative diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. 

Anticancer benefits

Olive oil contains squalene and terpenoids, which are compounds with antioxidant properties. Although further research is needed, these antioxidants may help reduce oxidative damage. In turn, this may reduce the risk of developing cancer cells. 

Benefits against Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a common neurodegenerative condition that affects brain functions and memory. This is due, in part, to excessive beta-amyloid plaques inside the brain cells.

Research has shown the positive effects of a Mediterranean diet in reducing the formation of these plaques.

Olive oil vs. other oils

With a variety of oils to choose from, it is important to consider the different properties and nutritional benefits of each one, and how they can benefit your diet. 

  • Extra virgin olive oil: This type of olive oil is the least processed variety. It can also be considered the healthiest type because of its natural extraction method, which preserves vitamins, minerals, and monounsaturated fatty acids that protect against inflammation. It has a strong flavor that makes it great for dressings and dips, but it is not ideal for high heat cooking due to its lower smoke point.
  • Vegetable oil: This type of oil tends to be a blend of various plant oils. It is highly processed to ensure a neutral taste. Vegetable oil can be high in certain fatty acids, which — if eaten in large amounts — may contribute to inflammation.
  • Grapeseed oil: This type of oil provides higher amounts of polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E. Although it contains the same number of calories as olive oil, there is not sufficient research on the benefits of grapeseed oil.
  • Canola oil: This type of oil is highly refined, which drastically reduces its antioxidant properties, fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Nutritionists do not recommend it for regular use.
  • Avocado oil: This type of oil has a similar oleic acid content to olive oil. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Since avocado oil has a higher smoke point, it is recommended for high heat cooking methods. 
  • Coconut oil: This type of oil contains high levels of saturated fat, and it may increase LDL cholesterol. Further research is needed on the long-term effects of coconut oil.

Frequently asked questions

Recent claims mention olive oil as a beneficial food. It is important to always follow dietary guidelines and use olive oil as part of an overall balanced nutritional plan.  

Some common questions about olive oil include the following.

What are the disadvantages of olive oil? 

Some people may have acute allergic reactions to olive oil, which may cause eczema, acne breakouts, or respiratory problems. 

Social media trends have popularized the health benefits of drinking olive oil, but there is no scientific research to confirm these benefits. 

Is a spoonful of olive oil per day good for you? 

Olive oil is considered one of the highest plant sources of monounsaturated fatty acids. 

When consumed alongside the recommended serving of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, a spoonful of olive oil per day may provide health benefits. 

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that 20–35% of your daily calories come from total fat. Consume olive oil in moderation.

Does olive oil clog your arteries? 

One study suggested that a traditional Mediterranean diet, which included olive oil as the main ingredient, may actually be tied to a lower risk of heart disease. It is thought that olive oil may help maintain a healthy blood flow and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries.

Is it OK to take olive oil every day?

Due to its rich antioxidant properties and monounsaturated fat content, consuming a moderate amount of olive oil as part of a balanced diet may provide several health benefits. 

However, olive oil is a fat, which means that it is calorically dense. For this reason, those who are trying to fit their intake within certain calorie goals may still need to control how much olive oil they use daily.

Summary

Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are considered healthy.

The antioxidant properties of extra virgin olive oil can help reduce damage caused by free radicals, thereby lowering the risk of chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

To leverage its possible health benefits, consume olive oil in moderation and as part of a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

Was this helpful?
323
Medical Reviewer: Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 27
View All Food, Nutrition and Diet Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.