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Olive oil gets a lot of credit for being a healthy fat, and for good reason. There are many health benefits of olive oil, from protecting against heart disease to potentially warding off cancer cell growth. Plus, olive oil is a versatile oil to use in the kitchen, which is why you'll find it in so many of our healthy recipes. Here we'll answer all your questions about the oil—like "What to use olive oil for?" "Does olive oil go bad?" and even "Can dogs have olive oil?"—so you can see which olive oil is best for you. Spoiler: Olive oil is OK for dogs to eat, if you feel inclined to split your bruschetta with your pup.
Related: Olive Oil Buyer's Guide
Olive Oil Nutrition
One tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories, 0 grams carbohydrates, 0 g protein and 14 g fat, which includes 2 g saturated fat, 10 g monounsaturated fat and 1 gram polyunsaturated fat.
The mono- and polyunsaturated fats are the heart-healthy kind that help to keep cholesterol levels in a healthy range, which helps ward off heart disease and other chronic disease. Saturated fats typically come from animal sources, but there are small amounts naturally found in plant-based oils. While it's important to not eat too much saturated fat, keeping it to under 5 to 6% of your daily calories, as recommended by the American Heart Association, means it's OK to have up to 13 g per day (on a 2,000-calorie diet).
Related: Heart-Healthy Diet Plan for Fall
Olive Oil Health Benefits
Here are some of the ways olive oil benefits our health.
It has anti-inflammatory effects
A study published in the Lipids analyzed the effect of oleic acid, a main component of olive oil, on inflammation. Researchers found that as consumption of monounsaturated fats like olive oil went up, inflammation levels went down. The type of inflammation they studied is commonly seen as a precursor to heart disease and chronic conditions. The anti-inflammatory effects of oleuropein, a component found in olive oil, might also protect against diabetes and promote weight loss, as another study in Biochemistry reported.
Read More: The Best Foods to Eat to Fight Inflammation
Olive oil keeps our heart healthy
A newly identified compound called elenolide could be behind olive oil's heart-healthy properties. A study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found elenolide in the majority of the more than 2,000 olive oils sampled. Elenolide is characterized as an anti-hypertensive agent, which is a fancy way of saying it helps prevent high-blood pressure. The higher-quality the olive oil, the more elenolide is present. In another study, olive oil consumption was linked to up to a 17% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke compared with other types of oils, giving you all the more reason to get your fill of this healthy fat.
It supports healthy aging
A recent study analyzed the diets of adults from Greece and several Mediterranean islands to see how olive oil related to aging. The authors found that those who used olive oil exclusively as their dietary fat had significant improvements in the successful aging index, which is a measure of age-related lifestyle, social and clinical factors. These findings were especially strong for people over 70 years old. Another study, published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, had similar findings about the brain-protecting effects of olive oil. The researchers concluded that an extra-virgin olive oil-rich diet may improve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease by improving the body's ability to clear out dead or damaged cells.
Olive oil fights cancer
Phytochemicals in olive oil may also block the formation of tumors by suppressing drug-resistant malignant cells, particularly in breast cancers, according to a recent study. New research published Nutrients found that oleacein, another component in olive oil, can reduce the growth of many cancers. These exciting advancements in cancer research are ones to watch, especially when they point to food as medicine.
Pictured: Sicilian Marinated Olives
How to Buy & Store
Here is a little more on what olive oil labels actually mean:
Extra-virgin & virgin oils are processed by being pressed without heat to extract the oil from the olive plants. The main difference between the two is that extra-virgin olive oil must be pressed within 24 hours of the olives being picked. Nutritionally, the two are similar: extra-virgin has more polyphenols and fewer free fatty acids than virgin olive oil, but both are equally healthy options.
Additionally, oils can be filtered or unfiltered, meaning they still contain parts of the olive flesh. The major difference here is that unfiltered oils have a shorter shelf life.
"Light" or "extra light" are marketing terms, typically used to indicate highly refined oils. This refers to a milder flavor, but has no definition and is no reflection of calorie or fat content.
Olive oil has a shorter shelf life than many people realize, only about 18 to 24 months once bottled. This is because exposure to light and oxygen can make olive oils turn rancid and lose their flavor (and their polyphenol content). Buy olive oil in opaque containers and store it out of direct light to make it last. If you don't regularly use this type of oil, try buying small containers to prevent waste.
Pictured: Olive Oil Tea Cake
How to Use
There is a lot of controversy on when to use olive oil and how to cook with it. This mainly stems from debate about olive oil's smoke point, which is the point at which the oil literally starts to smoke (and may catch fire if it continues to be heated). Heating to this point starts to degrade the oil and breaks down its health-promoting compounds. Olive oil has a smoke point between 365 and 420°F. It makes a great oil to enjoy raw in salad dressings or to sauté vegetables up to medium heat. If you are frying or using another very high-heat cooking method, consider subbing it out for another oil, such as canola oil.
See More: Healthy Baking Recipes with Olive Oil
The short answer to the question, "Is olive oil healthy?" is yes. It's a great product with nutritional benefits and anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic potential. And when you know how to choose, store and use your olive oil for the best results (for your health and your plate), you'll get the most out of it. Now that you've got the details, lets get cooking!