Long a part of Mediterranean diets, olive oil has been a highly regarded commodity since ancient times. Its main use today is in cooking, where it’s gained a bit of a reputation as an ultra-healthy super-food. Claims abound that olive oil can help you lose weight, maintain a healthy heart and brain, and even fight off diseases like cancer. How many of these claims actually have the evidence to back them up? We dive in to this topic in our latest infographic below.
For more details, you can read a text-based run-down of the information beneath the infographic.
Olive Oil Composition
In terms of macro-nutrients, olive oil is, unsurprisingly, mostly composed of fats. 14% of its volume is saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature and thought to be healthy in moderation. Polyunsaturated fat makes up another 11% and includes such essential fats as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. At 73%, however, Oleic acid makes up the majority of olive oil’s volume. Also called monounsaturated fat, oleic acid reduces inflammation and may benefit genes linked to cancer.
On the micro-nutrient side, olive oil contains modest amounts of vitamiin E and vitamin K. These essential nutrients play important roles in immune system functions and the production of proteins that help create bones, tissues, and blood clotting, respectively. Additionally, a high antioxidant count means that olive oil may help protect cells from oxidative damage due to free radicals, a byproduct of cellular metabolism.
Dietary Benefits of Olive Oil
So we know what olive oil is made of and what those components do on their own. What does the science say about the actual effects of including it in your diet?
Body Weight & Brain Function
In a 30-month study of over 7,000 Spanish college students, frequent consumption of olive oil was not linked to increased body weight. Additionally, a human study indicated that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil benefited brain function.
Last but not least, olive oil has been demonstrated to decrease insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to high blood sugar and diabetes. Several studies have linked the consumption of olive oil to beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. This means that a diet with high levels of olive oil could benefit those who are prediabetic or predisposed to blood sugar-related conditions.
The health benefits of olive oil are still being studied today. Recent research has suggested that components in olive oil have promising potential when it comes to treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. More research is needed to replicate this evidence, but the potential is promising.
Potential for Alzheimer’s
In one study on mice, a diet of olive oil was found to help remove beta-amyloid plaques in the brain. The build-up of these plaques is thought to be a key feature of Alzheimer’s disease, so their removal could be beneficial for those suffering from the disease.
Potential for Cancer
Several test-tube studies have found that the antioxidants in olive oil can help reduce oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Researchers believe that this oxidative damage is among the leading drivers of cancer, making antioxidants very promising tools in preventing the disease.
Not all claims about olive oil are true or even promising, however. We’ll be continuing this topic in a future blog post covering olive oil myths, misconceptions, and more. In the meantime, you can reap some of the health benefits of olive oil by stopping by Italian Garden, a San Marcos restaurant, and enjoying some of your favorite Italian-style dishes!