The health effects of dietary fat are controversial.
However, experts agree that olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, is good for you.
Here are 11 health benefits of olive oil that are backed by scientific research.
1. Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats
Olive oil is the natural oil extracted from olives, the fruit of the olive tree.
About 14% of the oil is saturated fat, while 11% is polyunsaturated, such as omega-6 and omega-3 (1).
But the predominant fatty acid in olive oil is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which makes up 73% of the total oil content.
Studies suggest that oleic acid reduces inflammation and may even have beneficial effects on genes related to cancer (2, 3, 4, 5).
Monounsaturated fats are also quite heat resistant, so extra virgin olive oil is a healthy choice for cooking.
Summary Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated oleic acid. It is believed that this fatty acid has many beneficial effects and is a healthy choice for cooking.
2. Olive oil contains large amounts of antioxidants
Extra virgin olive oil is quite nutritious.
Apart from its beneficial fatty acids, it contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K.
But olive oil is also loaded with powerful antioxidants.
These antioxidants are biologically active and can reduce your risk of chronic diseases (6, 7).
They also fight inflammation and help protect your blood cholesterol from oxidation, two benefits that can reduce your risk of heart disease (8, 9).
Summary Extra virgin olive oil is loaded with antioxidants, some of which have powerful biological effects.
3. Olive oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties
It is believed that chronic inflammation is one of the main drivers of diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, arthritis and even obesity.
Extra virgin olive oil can reduce inflammation, which can be one of the main reasons for its health benefits.
The main anti-inflammatory effects are mediated by antioxidants. The key among them is oleocanthal, which has been shown to work in a similar way to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug (10).
Some scientists estimate that oleocanthal in 3.4 tablespoons (50 ml) of extra virgin olive oil has an effect similar to 10% of the adult dose of ibuprofen (11).
The research also suggests that oleic acid, the main fatty acid in olive oil, can reduce the levels of important inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP) (2, 3).
One study also showed that the antioxidants in olive oil can inhibit some genes and proteins that drive inflammation (12).
Summary Olive oil contains nutrients that fight inflammation. These include oleic acid, as well as the oleocanthal antioxidant.
4. Olive oil can help prevent strokes
The stroke is caused by an alteration of the blood flow to your brain, either due to a blood clot or bleeding.
In developed countries, stroke is the second most common cause of death, just behind heart disease (13).
The relationship between olive oil and the risk of stroke has been studied extensively.
An extensive review of studies in 841,000 people found that olive oil was the sole source of monounsaturated fat associated with a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease (14).
In another review of 140,000 participants, those who consumed olive oil had a much lower risk of stroke than those who did not (15).
Summary Several important studies show that people who consume olive oil have a much lower risk of suffering a stroke, the second leading cause of death in developed countries.
5. Olive oil is protective against heart disease
Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the world (16).
Observational studies conducted a few decades ago showed that heart disease is less common in Mediterranean countries.
This led to extensive research on the Mediterranean diet, which has now been shown to significantly reduce the risk of heart disease (17, 18).
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the key ingredients of this diet, as it protects against heart disease in several ways (19).
It decreases inflammation, protects "bad" LDL cholesterol from oxidation, improves the lining of blood vessels and can help prevent excessive blood clotting (20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25).
Interestingly, it has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, which is one of the strongest risk factors for heart disease and premature death. In one study, olive oil reduced the need for medications for blood pressure by 48% (26, 27, 28).
Dozens, if not hundreds, of studies indicate that extra virgin olive oil has powerful benefits for your heart.
If you have heart disease, a family history of heart disease or any other major risk factor, you can include a lot of extra virgin olive oil in your diet.
Summary Extra virgin olive oil has numerous benefits for the health of the heart. It lowers blood pressure, protects the "bad" LDL cholesterol particles from oxidation and improves the function of the blood vessels.
6. Olive oil is not associated with weight gain and obesity
Eating excessive amounts of fat causes weight gain.
However, numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, with favorable effects on body weight (29, 30, 31).
In a 30-month study of more than 7,000 Spanish university students, the consumption of a large amount of olive oil was not related to weight gain (32).
In addition, a three-year study of 187 participants found that a diet rich in olive oil was linked to increased levels of antioxidants in the blood, as well as weight loss (33).
Summary The consumption of olive oil does not seem to increase the likelihood of weight gain. Moderate intake can even help you lose weight.
7. Olive oil could fight Alzheimer's disease
Alzheimer's disease is the most common neurodegenerative condition in the world.
One of its key features is the accumulation of so-called beta-amyloid plaques inside brain cells.
A study in mice showed that a substance in olive oil can help eliminate these plaques (34).
In addition, a study in humans indicated that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil benefited brain function (35).
Keep in mind that more research is needed on the impact of olive oil on Alzheimer's.
Summary Some studies suggest that olive oil can fight Alzheimer's disease, but more research is needed.
8. Olive oil can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes
Olive oil seems to be highly protective against type 2 diabetes.
Several studies have linked olive oil to beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity (36, 37).
A randomized clinical trial in 418 healthy people recently confirmed the protective effects of olive oil (38).
In this study, a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by more than 40%.
Summary Both observational studies and clinical trials suggest that olive oil, combined with a Mediterranean diet, can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
9. Antioxidants in olive oil have anticancer properties
Cancer is one of the most common causes of death in the world.
People in Mediterranean countries have a lower risk of contracting some types of cancer, and many researchers believe that the reason may be olive oil (39).
Antioxidants in olive oil can reduce oxidative damage due to free radicals, which is thought to be a major cancer factor (40, 41).
Many test tube studies show that compounds in olive oil can fight cancer cells (42, 43).
More research is needed to determine if olive oil, in fact, reduces the risk of cancer.
Summary Preliminary evidence suggests that olive oil may reduce the risk of cancer, but more studies are needed.
10. Olive oil can help treat rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by deformed and painful joints.
Although the exact cause is not well understood, it implies that your immune system attacks normal cells by mistake.
Olive oil supplements appear to improve inflammatory markers and reduce oxidative stress in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (44, 45).
Olive oil seems to be particularly beneficial when combined with fish oil, a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
In one study, olive and fish oil significantly improved grip strength, joint pain and morning stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis (46).
Summary Olive oil can help reduce joint pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis. The beneficial effects increase considerably when combined with fish oil.
11. Olive oil has antibacterial properties
Olive oil contains many nutrients that can inhibit or kill harmful bacteria (47).
One of these is Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that lives in your stomach and can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Test tube studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil combats eight strains of this bacterium, three of which are resistant to antibiotics (48).
A study in humans suggested that 30 grams of extra virgin olive oil, taken daily, can be eliminated Helicobacter pylori infection in 10 to 40% of people in just two weeks (49).
Summary Extra virgin olive oil has antibacterial properties and has been found to be particularly effective against Helicobacter pylori, a type of bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
Make sure you get the right type
Buying the right kind of olive oil is extremely important.
Extra virgin olive oil preserves some of the antioxidants and bioactive compounds of olives. For this reason, it is considered healthier than the most refined variety of olive oil.
Even so, there is a lot of fraud in the olive oil market, since many oils that say "extra virgin" on the label have been diluted with other refined oils.
Therefore, examine the labels carefully to make sure you are getting real extra virgin olive oil. It is always a good idea to read the ingredient lists and verify the quality certification.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, the quality of the extra virgin olive oil is incredibly healthy. Due to its powerful antioxidants, it benefits your heart, brain, joints and more.
In fact, it may be the healthiest fat on the planet.