Olive oil is rich in unique polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants, that have linked to many health benefits. Is olive oil the best vegetable oil? Although there are other vegetable oil richer in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil is the best choice.
Olive oil on the Mediterranean Diet
Olive oil is part of the famous Mediterranean Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet is famous for its many health benefits and longevity. In the Mediterranean Diet people consume large amounts of olive oil. So, is olive oil the reason for these health benefits?
The Mediterranean Diet is much more…
Mediterranean Diet means (1,3):
- only small amounts of animal protein,
- calorie restriction,
- physical activity,
- adequate rest,
- plant-based diet. This means high amounts of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds. This is what we call a whole food plant-based diet (wfpb diet).
What are the main differences of the Mediterranean Diet with the standard American diet?
- the main source of dietary fats come from olive oil, not animal fat and
- people following this diet consume high amounts of polyphenols, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals. These come from plants. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds contain high amounts of these valuable phytochemicals.
Therefore, olive oil isn’t the reason of the many health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. Fruits and vegetables are.
Olive oil contributes to health.
A whole food plant-based diet is much more important.
You can learn about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, here.
What are the health benefits of olive oil?
Olive oil contains compounds that can act for the prevention, management or treatment of chronic diseases (1).
What type of fat in olive oil?
According to a 2004 paper published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, olive oil contains about (5):
- 80% monounsaturated fatty acids
- 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids
- 15% saturated fatty acids
These percentages depend on olive varieties and agriculture technics.
As you can see olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, the kind of fatty acids that are actually good for our health.
But…many other foods are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids as well. What makes olive oil so special?
Is olive oil healthy due to monounsaturated fatty acids?
A 2014 study tried to find out if monounsaturated fatty acids from other foods would have the same effect as olive oil (4).
Data from over 840K people showed that only olive oil seems to be associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events, and stroke.
Other monounsaturated fatty acids rich foods didn’t have any significant risk reduction.
So…what other compounds in olive oil could promote health? Maybe there are the polyphenols in it…
Polyphenols in olive oil have great health benefits
The olive tree produces some unique types of polyphenols. These are the flavonols, lignans, and glycosides.
Moreover, olive tree polyphenols may have some important properties (1):
- antiviral and
- immunomodulator activities.
So, polyphenols found in the extra virgin olive oil are possibly helpful to (1):
- neurodegenerative diseases,
- cancer, and
- type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM).
Olive oil polyphenols are mainly responsible for the biter taste of olive oil.
You can learn more about the importance and health benefits of polyphenols, here.
Is olive oil rich in polyphenols?
According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition olive oil contains a decent amount of polyphenols.
It contains 62 mg polyphenols per 100 gr of product.
It’s by far the best source of polyphenols among vegetable oils. The second vegetable oil containing polyphenols is the rapeseed oil with only 17 mg per 100gr.
Furthermore, all parts of olive tree are rich in polyphenols.
For instance, olive leaf extract has amazing health benefits. Most noteworthy, without all the extra calories…
Why you shouldn’t consume too much?
Certainly, olive oil is rich in polyphenols. But it’s rich in calories as well.
Don’t forget… Olive oil is fat, so it’s extremely calorie-dense.
100 gr of olive oil contains 884 calories. 1 tablespoon contains 120 calories.
So, polyphenols content per calorie is much less than other vegetables and fruits.
Perhaps, the best practice is to eat many vegetables and fruits, but only one or two tablespoons of olive oil per day. You can consume a higher amount of olive oil if you’re a thin, active person.
If you want to lose weight, olive oil restriction may be a good solution.
Is olive oil rich in antioxidants?
Olive oil is a good source of antioxidants.
Green olives have 161 mg/100gr of antioxidant content, black olives have 117 mg/100gr, while extra virgin olive oil has only 55 mg/100gr.
That’s a decent amount.
If you want to boost your immune system, better consume foods rich in antioxidants.
The best sources are spices and herbs.
For instance, Ceylon cinnamon is super rich in antioxidants containing 9070 mg/100gr.
Even dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants. It contains 1860 mg/100gr.
What vitamins does the olive oil have?
Olive oil contains only 2 vitamins:
- Vitamin E, 31 mg/100gr. The recommended daily intake is 15 mg for adults. So, a tablespoon of olive oil provides about 13% DV.
- Vitamin K, 60 mcg/100gr. The recommended daily intake is 80-120 for adults.
What minerals does the olive oil have?
Olive oil practically doesn’t contain any mineral except iron.
It contains 0.56 mg of iron per 100gr. The recommended daily iron intake is 8-18 mg for adults (6).
Additionally, it contains only traces of calcium, sodium, and potassium.
Should I prefer extra virgin olive oil?
Extra virgin olive oil is made from pure, cold-pressed olives. Heat absence keeps olive oil properties intact.
Additionally, extra virgin olive oil is required to have no more than 0.8% free acidity.
Keep in mind that the content of saturated fatty acids decreases during fruit ripening (5). That’s good, as saturated fat should be avoided. Also, fruit ripening may have favorable flavor characteristics.
Italy (Coratina), Spain (Cornicabra), and Greece (Coroneiki) are the countries that traditionally produce high-quality extra virgin olive oil.
Whenever possible, prefer one of the following olive varieties, as they synthesize the highest phenolic content. Meaning increased antioxidant capabilities.
Regular olive oil is a blend, including both cold-pressed, processed oils, or even oils from other vegetables.
Give extremely attention to the labeling. It isn’t unusual extra virgin olive oil to be mixed with other low-quality oils.
Is olive oil rich in omega-3?
You may have heard that omega-3 fatty acids are important for our health. This is true…
Most important, is the ratio between omega-6 to omega-3, though.
Omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9 fatty acids are important for good health. So, what’s the problem?
We consume more omega-6 fatty acids than we should.
Scientists suggest that humans evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 (7).
The problem is that Western Diet habits have totally changed this ratio.
If you eat a standard Western diet, you probably consume much more omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is measured about 16/1.
If you consume the same amount of omega-6 and omega-3 (ratio 1/1) you could decrease the risk of (7):
- cardiovascular disease,
- inflammatory diseases and
- autoimmune diseases.
Moreover, studies have shown that (7):
- a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in the mortality of cardiovascular disease,
- a ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer,
- a ratio of 2-3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis,
- a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma. A ratio of 10/1 had a negative effect.
- a lower ratio helped women with breast cancer.
Just remember… A lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids means a reduced risk of many of the chronic diseases.
Why olive oil is the best vegetable oil?
Omega-6 and omega-3 are both polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA).
Olive oil contains only about 5% of polyunsaturated fatty acids. According to the USDA, 100 gr of olive oil contains:
- omega-6: 9.7 gr known as linoleic acid (18:2)
- omega-3: 0.7 gr known as ALA (18:3)
This means that the olive oil omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is about 14/1.
Why should I prefer olive oil than other vegetable oils?
The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 of olive oil isn’t good.
But, it’s only 5% of the total fats of olive oil. So, practically it has no effect in your daily omega-6 intake.
Contrary, other vegetable oils contain high amounts of omega-6 and no amount of omega-3.
For instance, the ratio of the popular sunflower oil of omega-6 to omega-3 is 65.7. That’s huge…
You better avoid these vegetable oils, as they may increase the risk of chronic inflammation diseases.
Other alternatives for dietary fat
Olive oil is the best vegetable oil. But…
We should eat dietary fats. Not only fats make food tasty, but also fats are essential for good health.
Try whole seeds and nuts as they are rich in minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the 4 best sources of omega-3 are flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and whole flaxseeds.
- Nutraceutical Properties of Olive Oil Polyphenols. An Itinerary from Cultured Cells through Animal Models to Humans
- A new definition of functional food by FFC: what makes a new definition unique?
- Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil, and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies
- Influence of harvest date and crop yield on the fatty acid composition of virgin olive oils from cv. Picual (pdf)
- USDA-US Department of Agriculture: Olive oil
- NCBI: The importance of the omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio in cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.