I’m recently back from Puglia, a region famous for its beauty and outstanding olive oils. So this is an ideal time for me to share with you some of the major health benefits of olive oil.
This potent anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy oil has been used to prevent disease and treat ailments since antiquity. When fresh, it’s also a delicious component of any diet. Drizzle it on fish, make a flavored oil for your steak, or drizzle it over fruit for a light, flavorful and peppery note.
Unfortunately, fresh olive oil is extremely difficult to come by here in the United States. You won’t find it on supermarket shelves – we’ll delve into that later.
Let’s break down the 10 biggest, evidence-based health benefits of olive oil. I’ll also tell you what to look for when buying olive oil, where to find nutritious, fresh-pressed olive oil, and read on for a special offer just for Hormones Balance readers.
10 Proven Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Olive oil’s health impacts can be traced back to antiquity. Hippocrates, dubbed the father of medicine, called olive oil “the great therapeutic.”
Olive oil is packed with health benefits: It’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, heart-healthy, skin-healthy, and more. Many clinical studies have confirmed olive oil’s role in chronic disease prevention. The largest study is the PREDIMED trials, which demonstrated the cardiovascular benefits of a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil.
Let’s break down some of the biggest, science-backed health benefits of olive oil, and how you can reap the most benefits from your olive oil.
1. Olive oil can reduce the risk of heart disease
Two tablespoons of EVOO per day can reduce the risk of heart disease by improving blood cholesterol levels. It lowers LDL (sometimes considered “bad”) cholesterol and increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Heart disease can affect people of all ages, although the risk increases with age. Rising obesity levels in the US and around the world have lowered the average age of onset of heart disease risk factors such as atherosclerosis. These risk factors begin now even in childhood for some. A diet rich with heart-healthy EVOO may help.
2. Olive oil may help prevent type 2 diabetes
Several studies have shown that EVOO, a major component of the Mediterranean diet, can help prevent type 2 diabetes. In a PREDIMED study, those who ate an olive oil–rich Mediterranean diet reported 40 percent fewer cases of diabetes than the control group (who did not consume olive oil).
In another study, which evaluated people at risk for diabetes, two tablespoons per day of EVOO paired with fiber, reduced fasting blood sugar and 2-hour blood sugar to normal, nondiabetic levels.
3. Olive oil may protect against breast cancer
A long-term PREDIMED study suggests that a Mediterranean diet enriched with EVOO (1 liter a week for participants and their families) helps protect against breast cancer.
Olive oil consumption is also inversely related to breast density: women who consume greater amounts of olive oil are less likely to have high breast density, a risk factor for breast cancer.
4. Olive oil may help with weight loss
In a study of breast cancer survivors, women who ate a plant-based, olive oil-enriched diet (including 3 tablespoons of EVOO per day) lost more weight than women on a low-fat diet. Women in the study also largely chose to continue with the olive oil diet for 6 months of follow-up after the initial 8-week study.
5. Olive oil can reduce high blood pressure
In a yearlong study of people with high blood pressure, people who consumed olive oil lowered their blood pressure significantly when compared with those who consumed sunflower oil.
What’s more, a third of the people in the olive oil group experienced enough of a reduction in blood pressure that they were able to discontinue antihypertensive medication altogether.
6. Olive oil can reduce the risk of blood clots
The monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) in EVOO have been shown to reduce blood vessel inflammation and other factors that can lead to blood clots.
7. Olive oil reduces inflammation
You’ve likely heard that olive oil is a potent anti-inflammatory. That’s because multiple compounds in EVOO, including MUFAs (monounsaturated fats) and phenols, have anti-inflammatory properties.
Many medical conditions can be traced to chronic inflammation, in particular autoimmune diseases, where the immune system attacks and damages the body’s own tissues.
8. Olive oil may help relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain
The anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO have been shown to alleviate the pain of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease affecting the joints. A diet high in EVOO may even lower the risk of developing RA.
9. Olive oil may help protect your cognitive abilities
A PREDIMED study found that older people who ate a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO experienced better brain power compared with participants on a low-fat diet. Participants in the study were given about 1 liter of olive oil a week.
10. Olive oil benefits maternal and infant health
EVOO in a breastfeeding mother’s diet helps maintain high levels of vitamin E in breast milk. This vitamin is vital to an infant’s brain and nerve development.
To help nursing mothers relieve nipple soreness, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends applying EVOO to the affected area. In contrast to ointments such as lanolin, EVOO does not need to be wiped off before nursing.
How and Where to Buy Fresh Olive Oil
There are two things you should look for in a bottle of olive oil to get the most of its health benefits.
Look for Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the only olive oil that retains all natural phenols (a type of antioxidant), and other healthful compounds. It’s the least processed option, as virgin, pure, or light olive oil has been industrially refined and largely stripped of its healthful phenols.
This however does not mean that the olive oil is fresh – it may be old and mislabeling is a common problem.
Make Sure it’s Fresh and Has the Stamps to Prove It
To get the biggest nutritional benefit and best flavor, you need to consume your EVOO as fresh as possible. Olives are fruits, and you can think of olive oil as akin to fruit juice. It’s at its best when fresh-squeezed.
Fresh-pressed olive oil contains over 30 phenols, which help deliver its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. Within months, these precious nutrients degrade within the bottle and eventually disappear altogether. That’s why you want to enjoy your olive oil within six months of its pressing date.
Unfortunately, it’s rare that you’d find a high-quality bottle of extra virgin olive oil with its harvest or pressing date on the bottle at any kind of market. With most bottles, you just can’t be sure of their origins. That’s why I order from The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club and get the freshest oil every quarter.
The Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club delivers freshly-pressed oils every quarter, rotating suppliers from the latest harvests at award-winning boutique farms around the world.
For example, an Italian EVOO would be at its prime, harvest-fresh quality when the club delivers it to you in December. But, in other calendar quarters, when there are no olive harvests in the Northern Hemisphere, the freshest oils will come directly to your door from award-winning artisanal farms in Chile or Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. There, harvest seasons arrive during different months of the year.
T.J. Robinson, the founder of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, is a former food editor at an award-winning food newsletter. I like to joke that he has the best job ever – he travels the world to pick the best and freshest oils from each new harvest. His selections change each quarter depending on many variables that determine quality and flavor—weather, temperature, rainfall, soil, etc.
His club delivers three bottles each quarter, which works out to one bottle per month.
Are his olive oils good? Yes, incredibly good. I’ve never tasted anything like it.
On one of my European vacations, I visited one of the club’s favorite suppliers in Sicily. I wanted to see for myself how these small-estate, boutique farmers produce such high-quality EVOO.
These farmers show extraordinary care in every step of the process, from how they water their trees to the gentle way they pick the olives. They’re careful not to let them hit the ground and get bruised, which greatly affects flavor.
They race the freshly picked fruit to the mill so that the olives are pressed at the zenith of their flavor.
How to Get a Bottle of Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil for Just $1
Fresh-pressed olive oil from T.J.’s club is high-quality and packed with nutrition, and we have an exclusive offer that lets you try it for free.
U.S. members of the Hormones Balance Community can receive a free bottle of fresh, artisanal olive oil. Just pay $1 in shipping. There’s no commitment or obligation, so you can decide whether this club is really for you.Your free bottle is normally a $39 retail value, so this is quite a generous offer. Taste the difference with fresh-pressed olive oil and discover for yourself how delicious EVOO tastes fresh from the tree. It might just be the first time you’ve ever tasted olive oil this good.
Think about it: You wouldn’t eat fruit that’s been sitting on shelves for months, or eat grass-fed steak that’s sat in the fridge for the same. Olive oil is no different. Olives are a fruit, after all.
Baiano A, Gambacorta G, Terracone C, Previtali MA, Lamacchia C, La Notte E. Changes in phenolic content and antioxidant activity of Italian extra-virgin olive oils during storage. J Food Sci. 2007;74(2):177–183.
Barros CR, Cezaretto A, Curti MLR, et al. Realistic changes in monounsaturated fatty acids and soluble fibers are able to improve glucose metabolism. Diab Metab Syndr. 2014;6(136):1–8.
Covas MI, Nyyssönen K, Poulsen HE, et al. The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145:333–341.
Ferrara LA, Raimondi AS, d’Episcopo L, Guida L, Dello Russo A, Marotta, T. Olive oil and reduced need for antihypertensive medications. Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:837–842.
Flynn M, Reinert SE. Comparing an olive oil–enriched diet to a standard lower-fat diet in breast cancer survivors: a pilot study. J Womens Health. 2010. 19(6):1155–1161.
Flynn M, Wang S. Olive oil as medicine: the effect on blood lipids and lipoproteins. UC Davis Olive Center Report. March 2015.
Larsen LF, Jespersen J, Marckmann P. Are olive oil diets antithrombotic? Am J Clin Nutr. 1999. 70:976–982.
Linos A, Kaklamani VG, Kaklamani E, et al. Dietary factors in relation to rheumatoid arthritis: a role for olive oil and cooked vegetables. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999;70(6):1077–1082.
Lovgren S. Olive oil fights heart disease, breast cancer, studies say. National Geographic News. March 21, 2005.
National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia. Overcoming breastfeeding problems. August 30, 2014. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002452.htm.
Owen RW, Haubner R, Würtele G, Hull WE, Spiegelhalder B, Bartsch H. Olives and olive oil in cancer prevention. Eur J
Cancer Prev. 2004;13(4):319–326.
Parkinson L, Keast R. Oleocanthal, a phenolic derived from virgin olive oil: a review of the beneficial effects on inflammatory disease. In J Mol Sci. 2014;15:12323–12334.
Salas-Salvado J, Bulio M, Babio N, et al. PREDIMED Study Investigators. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with the Mediterranean diet. Diabetes Care. 2011;34(1):14–19.
Steinberger J, Daniels SR. Obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cardiovascular resistance in children. Circulation. 2003;107:1448–1453.
Toledo E, Salas-Salvado J, Donat-Vargas C, et al. Mediterranean diet and invasive breast cancer risk among women at high cardiovascular risk in the PREDIMED trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;14:1–9.
Valls-Pedret C, Ros E, Sala-Vila A, et al. PREDIMED Study Investigators. Mediterranean diet and age-related cognitive decline: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094–1103.
Waterman E, Lockwood B. Active components and clinical applications of olive oil. Alt Med Rev. 2007;12(4)331–342.
Photos by Roberta Sorge and Jonathan Ocampo.