Olive oil: Types, Health Benefits, and nutrients

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Olive oil: Types, Health Benefits, and nutrients

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What is Olive oil?

Olive fruits on olive tree
Olive tree

Olive oil comes from the fruit of the Olive tree (Olea europaea L.) grown heavily in the Mediterranean region. 

Olive oil is obtained by pressing the olive fruit and extracting the oil. We can call Olive oil, the juice of olive fruit.

More than 70% of Olive oil production comes from the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Greece, Italy, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia. 

But Olive oil is being produced by other countries such as the USA, France, and Australia. 

This gives diverse variety and quality depending on the production of the olives and techniques used to extract the Olive oil (1). 

Olive oil is consumed as the main fat in the Mediterranean region thus, it is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet

Due to the health benefits of Olive oil consumption, Olive oil is gaining popularity as food fat and it is not restricted to the Mediterranean region.

Types of Olive oils

There are three types of Olive oil (2).

  1. Virgin Olive oil
  2. Refined Olive oil
  3. Pomace Olive oil
  1. Virgin Olive Oil 

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO), is the purest Olive oil in the market. It contains approximately 550mg of polyphenols/bioactive compounds per liter (550mg/L)

EVOO is obtained by the first pressing of the olive fruit after 24 hours of harvest. Although, olives can be stored for a longer period in water.

The pressing is non-chemical. The temperature is maintained below 28°C (82.4 °F) and the acidity is maintained below 0.8%. 

This is why often EVOO is labeled as cold press EVOO.

The processing of EVOO also gives a neutral taste and light aroma. 

The Virgin Olive Oil (VOO) processing is similar but the acidity is maintained below 2%. The polyphenolic content is approximately 200mg per liter which is lower than EVOO polyphenols. 

For this reason, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the best option to consume. 

  1. Refined Olive oil

As the name suggests, the refined Olive oil comes from the refinement of the EVOO. Some types and varieties of olives are not fit for human consumption because they are high in acidity or impurities. 

The refining process is done using acids, alkali, or heat. 

The refining process removes, the good polyphenols thus, anti-oxidant qualities are not attributed to refined Olive oils. Only up to 5mg per liter of polyphenolic content is expected to be obtained from refined Olive oil.

  1. Pomace Olive oil

Pomace is the leftover skin, seed, and pulp after the first press that gave us EVOO. 

The pomace is further heated and the remaining Olive oil is extracted by use of chemicals such as Hexanel. 

Chemical and heat destroyed most of the good polyphenols. It is estimated to have 10-30mg per liter of polyphenolic content. 

In summary, Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has the highest amount of bioactive ingredients shown to have health benefits. Therefore, EVOO consumption is recommended by many studies.

Composition and Nutrition value of Olive oil

Olive fruit
olive fruit

According to the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA).the nutrition value in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) is given below (3) FDC ID: 589060

Total fats14g
MonoUnsaturated fats11g

Fatty acids in Olive oil

Olive oil fats are primarily triglycerides which make up 97–99%. The remaining 1-3% are minor compounds or micronutrients which are responsible for the health benefits.

65-83% of triglycerides are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) such as oleic acid. 

The rest are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is known to reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol i.e. LDL. Olive oil has a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. 

Type of TriglycerideAmount (%)
Omega-6 (PUFA)6–15
Omega-3 (PUFA)0.2–1.5

Micronutrients of Olive oil

The bioactive components are polyphenols and vitamins (4).

α-tocopherol (a Vitamin E type) is the major vitamin in Olive oil. Our bodies readily absorb this form of tocopherol. 

Olive oil contains approximately 150 to 200 mg/kg of α-tocopherol. 

Other vitamins in Olive oil are β-carotene and lutein, which are great for health. 

The polyphenol compounds are of particular interest because of their tremendous health benefits. 

Hydroxytyrosol and oleuropein are the main polyphenols. Minor quantities of caffeic acid, vanillic acid, and ferulic acid are also present in Olive oil.

Other compounds are lignans such as 1-acetoxypinoresinol and pinoresinol which have strong anti-inflammatory properties.

Health Benefits of Olive oil

There are various benefits of Olive oil. The important point to note is that most of the benefits of Olive oil come from the presence of antioxidant activity of the polyphenolic content in Olive oil. For this reason, Olive oil is considered by many as a superfood

Extra Virgin Olive Oil contains the highest amount of polyphenolic contents. Therefore, the health benefits will be obtained by using extra virgin olive oil as a part of our daily diet.

Research has shown that taking Olive oil increases antioxidation and reduces LDL concentration. As Olive oil consumption increases, the oxidative stress decreases (5,6).

Here are some of the benefits of Olive oil reported either by laboratory or population studies.

Olive oil is beneficial for heart health

The beneficial nature of Olive oil came to prominence by the population studies. 

A famous study called Seven Country study showed that people who followed the Mediterranean diet have few cases of heart diseases (7). This observation led to several population-based studies later on.

The Mediterranean diet is mostly composed of cereals, fruits, vegetables, and Olive oil.  Olive oil is the staple of the Mediterranean diet. 

PREDIMED (PREvencion con DIeta MEDiterranea) was a large scale study. This study made several observations in the Mediterranean region. 

People who consumed Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) had 30% fewer heart-related problems such as stroke or myocardial infarction compared to people who consumed a low-fat diet (8).

Studies who that 10g per day of EVOO is associated with approx. 10% decrease in cardiovascular disease risk (9).

Meta-analysis of several studies shows that Olive oil consumption is associated with a reduced risk of both stroke and coronary heart disease (10).

As mentioned earlier, Olive oil is high in polyphenolic content which diminishes the cardiovascular disease markers. 

These markers were malondialdehyde, total cholesterol, oxidized LDL, HDL (11).

Thus, Olive oils higher in polyphenolic contents have efficient antioxidant activity. The olive oil with the highest amount of polyphenolic contents is a cold-pressed Extra-Virgin Olive oil. 

Olive oil can mitigate Inflammation

Olive oil is shown to reduce inflammation

Animal studies show anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic effects of Olive oil in mice (12).

In humans, regular EVOO intake is associated with reduced inflammatory markers/indicators such as  IL-6 and TNF-α. The most benefits can be seen in individuals with Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease (13). Also, the polyphenols in Olive oil negatively impact the pro-inflammatory molecules which leads to a reduction in inflammation (14).

EVOO use can also reduce the postprandial inflammatory response in patients with metabolic syndrome (15).

Thus, regular intake of Olive oil has benefits against inflammation by polyphenol in EVOO.

Olive oil lowers the risk of cancer

Polyphenolic compounds in Olive oil have strong anti-tumor activity against breast cancer cells. 

These compounds are 1-acetoxypinoresinol and pinoresinol, coumaric acid, hydroxytyrosol, and caffeic acid (16, 17).

Studies with Pinoresinol have shown that it efficiently kills tumor cells of breast, colon, and prostate origin (18).

Human population research shows that consumption of Olive oil is associated with a lower risk of developing any type of cancer with or without following the Mediterranean diet.

The risk of breast cancer and stomach-related cancers is also reduced with the consumption of Olive oil (19).

Women who consumed EVOO had a reduced risk of breast cancer compared to women who were on a low-fat diet (20).

Research shows a positive correlation between Olive oil consumption and lower risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer, gastric cancer, liver cancer, head, and neck cancer, and prostate cancer (21).

In summary, there is population study evidence that olive oil consumption is associated with a low risk of cancer development. The polyphenolic compounds may be largely responsible for that. 

Olive oil is good for stomach & digestive health

There is a mutually symbiotic relationship that exists between microbes in the large intestine and polyphenols of Olive oil.

Polyphenols pass through the small intestine into the colon. Microbes in the colon break down the polyphenols into metabolites that are absorbed in the body. Thus, these microbes help make polyphenol available to our bodies. Microbes benefit from the activity of polyphenols that kill harmful bacteria and allow these good bacteria to flourish (22). 

Thus, this symbiotic relationship is beneficial to our health. 

Olive oil is beneficial against colorectal cancer so, it has an overall positive effect on our digestive health. The gut microbes which include beneficial bacteria also help fight against colorectal cancer (23).

Olive oil consumption is also associated with a reduced risk of stomach inflammation. Olive oil polyphenols help with inflammation of the colon. They may also help in reducing the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (24).

Other health benefits 

Olive oil and Diabetes: Some studies have suggested that Olive oil can reduce the risk of diabetes and even help in the management of diabetes. 

Research shows that people who consume Olive oil have a significantly reduced risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D) compared to people who do not consume Olive oil (25).

In women, consuming Olive oil is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes (26). 

Olive oil and brain health: Olive oil intake can also help in protecting the brain from oxidative stress and damage (27).

Others have suggested that Olive oil consumption can improve memory as well (28).

These studies have implications for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease which are major brain pathologies. 

Olive oil has anti-microbial properties: Olive oil polyphenol, Pinoresinol has anti-fungal properties. Pinoresinol can kill pathogens such as Candida albicans and Fusarium verticillioides (29).

Hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol of Olive oil has antibacterial activity as well (30).

Using Olive oil in the diet 

Olive oil salad dressing
Olive oil salad dressing

Olive oil is used in cooking. It is also used as a salad dressing. Many people use Olive oil for frying food.

The cooking process reduces the total amount of polyphenolic content. However, foods and water take up these micronutrients and anti-oxidants from Olive oil (31).

For this reason, it is important to measure ingredients including the water so that all the Olive oil contents are consumed.

Long frying hours degrades vitamin E and beta-carotene and polyphenols. But the presence of monounsaturated fats and micronutrients increases resistance to degradation in household frying conditions of low heat and short cooking time (32). Thus, cooking with Olive oil in a household setting will not adversely affect the quality of the Olive oil

The Gist

Olive oil is a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet. Population and experimental studies show that there is evidence of health benefits with olive oil consumption. Due to this olive oil use is getting popular. 

The most important benefit of Olive oil is cardiovascular health. Olive oil has healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as well vitamins and polyphenol which as antioxidant activity.

Adding Extra-Viring Olive Oli to your diet can provide long-term health benefits.