The Health Benefits of Olive Oil and the Best Ways to Use It!
While fatty foods often garner a bad reputation, not all fats are created equal. Fat plays many important roles in the body, such as providing energy, insulation, helping with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), taking part in chemical reactions, providing cell membrane structure, and more. The American Heart Association recommends that a heart-healthy diet include no more than 20 to 35% of total calories from fat. The guidelines don’t stop there, however. There are more specific recommendations for different types of fat, which most people simply refer to as “good” fat and “bad” fat.
What You Should Know About the Different Types of Fats
The “bad” fats included saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats tend to be found in animal products like meat, eggs, dairy, coconut oil, and palm oil. These fats are solid at room temperature. Saturated fat intake should be limited to less than 10% of total daily calories. Trans fat is the worst of the fats, and the recommendation is to keep intake as minimal as possible -- less than 2 grams per day. Eating trans fat has been shown to have such a strong effect on increased mortality, the risk of stroke and coronary artery disease, and other negative associations that the FDA began mandating its labeling on food packages in 2006 and food manufacturers have begun to move away from its use. Trans fat is found in foods such as snack foods, fried foods, and commercial baked goods.
Now, onto the “good” fats! The type of fat that you want to focus on consuming as part of a healthy diet is unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat includes both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These fats are liquid at room temperature instead of solid, unlike their “bad” fat counterparts. They are often found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, olives, and avocado. They are also found in fish like salmon and tuna. Olive oil falls into the “good” fat category, with a high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids.
Benefits of Olive Oil
Numerous studies have shown over and over again that olive oil offers outstanding health benefits. Here is just a sampling of the many ways that olive oil may boost your health:
- Lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels
- Improve your HDL (good) cholesterol levels
- Reduce the risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer
- Lower high blood pressure
- Decrease your risk for developing diabetes
- Reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke
Types of Olive Oil
Chances are that you’ve gone to the supermarket to purchase a bottle of olive oil, only to feel overwhelmed and confused by all of the different types available. All olive oils offer the benefits of monounsaturated fat, but some are better than others when it comes to taste and quality.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: This is the highest quality olive oil, which comes from the first pressing of olives. It is minimally processed and has the best flavor and aroma. High heat can damage its flavor profile, so don’t use this one for cooking.
- Virgin Olive Oil: Virgin olive oil comes from the second pressing of olives, so its quality is just slightly lower than Extra-Virgin but it still tastes good. You can use this olive oil for lightly cooking vegetables or meat.
- Pure (Regular) Olive Oil: This olive oil is typically blander in flavor and lighter in color. It works well as an all-purpose cooking oil. It is less expensive than Virgin and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.
- Light Olive Oil: Surprise! Light Olive Oil is not lower in calories and fat than other olive oils. Instead, it’s just lighter in color. This is the lowest quality olive oil, as it has been more processed and refined than other olive oils.
How Much Olive Oil Should You Consume?
While olive oil is very healthy, it still is a fat and therefore high in calories. One gram of fat contains 9 calories (versus carbohydrates and protein, which each contain 4 calories per gram), so consuming too much can lead to weight gain. Studies have generally found benefits from consuming anywhere from 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day.
How to Enjoy Olive Oil
- Drizzle on salads and atop hummus
- Use when sauteing or roasting vegetables
- Dip bread into olive oil and herbs (such as rosemary and basil) instead of using butter
- Use it in a cake. Look up a recipe for orange olive oil cake or lemon olive oil cake for a treat!
- Try olive oil on sorbet or yogurt topped with nuts and fresh berries
- There are numerous recipes for olive oil granolas
- Use in pasta and risotto recipes
- Create sauces for fish, poultry, meat, and tofu with olive oil
Olive oil is a healthy fat that provides health benefits ranging from lowering your risk of heart disease to helping to prevent diabetes. To reap the full benefits of olive oil, it is important to consume it in the optimal amounts. The American Heart Association recommends consuming 20 to 35% of total calories from fat, and studies have found that in general, two to four tablespoons of olive oil per day can improve your health. There are a variety of tasty ways to get more olive oil in your diet. Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality in terms of flavor and aroma and has undergone the least amount of processing. There are countless recipes that use olive oil available online, so you’ll never get bored!