The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Dr. Lisa Radinovsky

Communication manager for the Department of Horticultural Genetics and Biotechnology, Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania

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In the past few years, the increase in the price of olive oil and the cost of its production (due to inputs such as fertilizers), packaging, and logistics have created a great challenge for both producers and consumers. However, this liquid gold still seems worth every penny thanks to its superior characteristics and health benefits.

While many cooks are substituting less expensive oils for olive oil at home and in restaurants, olive farmers and others working in the sector have a good reason and solid justification for pointing out that olive oil is not only more flavorful than many alternatives of vegetable oils but considerably more nutritious.

Decades of in-depth scientific studies have confirmed many ancient and traditional beliefs about olive oil’s health benefits and introduced new information about them and the science behind them. Research continues, but already there is ample evidence that olive oil—especially extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)—is likely to contribute to human health and well-being in numerous ways.

As a central part of the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is widely considered one of the healthiest diets overall, regular consumption of olive oil has been associated with healthy aging and longevity, as well as a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and various diseases. Both the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allow specific, limited health claims for olive oil, although they refer to just a small fraction of the potential benefits of olive oil for which recent research provides evidence.

The Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Referring to an earlier emphasis on the healthy type of fat in olive oil, which can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, the FDA endorsed this qualified health claim: using “olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil.” In 2012, the EFSA inspired a new wave of research by approving a claim for olive oils that contain a specified amount of some of the natural healthy compounds called polyphenols, including oleacein and oleocanthal: “olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress.” That leads to protection from heart attack and stroke. 

Since 2012, a great deal of research on olive oil and health has focused on the beneficial effects of the phenolic compounds that occur in varying levels in olive oil, with the largest quantity of polyphenols generally found in early harvest extra virgin olive oil. Many factors affect polyphenol levels, including olive variety, grove location, climatic conditions, harvest time, the production process, transportation and storage methods and conditions, and time since production.

Scientists have found evidence that the polyphenols in olive oil (including the best-known oleocanthal) have antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-clotting, and anti-inflammatory effects, suggesting that they can help prevent such illnesses as cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, atherosclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. Scientists have also discovered that certain polyphenols can lower the risk of contracting COVID-19, kill cancer cells and help stop cancer from spreading, improve outcomes for people with diabetes, reduce blood pressure, and help prevent strokes and Alzheimer’s.


Extra virgin olive oil is also rich in squalene, an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and possibly anti-carcinogenic compound believed to have many benefits for the skin. Moreover, squalene is being studied for its potential to help fight off several diseases.

To fully enjoy the health benefits olive oil can offer, daily consumption of two to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil is recommended, preferably raw—although olive oil has also been identified as the healthiest oil to cook with, and studies have shown that cooking vegetables in olive oil increases their nutritional benefits. Olive oil has even proven to be useful in a weight loss or weight management program since it can help people eat more vegetables and feel full longer. 

Given the long list of health benefits associated with olive oil (on top of its unique flavors), numerous olive oil companies are highlighting their products’ health value and the methods they use to optimize it (such as reduced or no irrigation, an early harvest, prompt milling under particular conditions, and specific storage and packaging procedures). A few companies/producers are even packaging EVOO and other olive oil products in medicine bottles to be sold in pharmacies as supplements.

Some producers send their olive oil to laboratories that measure and certify the level of specific healthy compounds in a given oil sample, and impressive results are often shared on websites, social media, and newsletters. Several international olive oil competitions now award EVOOs with particularly high levels of various healthy elements, providing companies with another way to emphasize their products’ health benefits.

The widespread concern with health and wellness since the COVID-19 pandemic may offer olive oil professionals a way to overcome consumers’ hesitation about paying the price the “liquid gold” of olive oil deserves.

Reviewed by Dr. Panagiotis Kalaitzis, Director of Research and Studies, Department of Horticultural Genetics and Biotechnology, Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania, Crete, Greece

Further reading

Best Containers for Storing/Selling Olive Oil

Tunisia’s olive oil export potential to the United Kingdom

Olive Oil Production Stages

Factors Affecting the Quality of Olive Oil

Food Fraud in Olive Oil

6 mistakes that decrease Olive Oil’s Quality

Quality Traits of Olive Oil

Olive Harvesting in Greece


What are the health benefits of olive oil?

Olive Oil Health Benefits

Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil the Critical Ingredient Driving the Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet? A Narrative Review

Olive oil intake and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis

The health benefits of olive oil in cardiovascular disease prevention: An update

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Comprehensive Review of Cellular, Animal, and Clinical Studies

Biological Effects of Olive Oil Polyphenols

ARISTOIL Guide for Producers


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