In recent months, drinking olive oil has become trendy. The internet is full of videos of celebrities and regular people touting the health benefits of olive oil shots. But is it safe to drink olive oil?
Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of olive oil — and the best way to consume it.
Can You Drink Olive Oil?
The short answer is yes, you can drink olive oil. Fans say that downing a tablespoon of olive oil in the morning clears your skin and helps you lose weight. Some people drink it with breakfast.
Consuming small amounts of olive oil won’t hurt you. However, the health benefits of drinking a tablespoon at a time — as opposed to adding it to food — are doubtful at best.
No scientific evidence backs up claims of weight loss or clearer skin from olive oil shots. And there’s no research that shows drinking straight olive oil is any healthier than adding it to food.
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Olive Oil Health Benefits
There’s no doubt that olive oil is good for you. The American Heart Association says consuming olive oil daily leads to lower rates of premature death from heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Including olive oil in your diet may reduce your risk of cancer and stroke, lower blood pressure, and reduce inflammation.
Here’s why: Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids. Those fatty acids can reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein — LDL or the “bad cholesterol” — in your blood.
When LDL builds up on the inner walls of your blood vessels, it can form deposits that clog major arteries. The fatty acids in olive oil may help fight off such damage.
Olive oil also contains polyphenols, which are antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants can help protect your cells from damage by free radicals, or harmful molecules. A diet rich in antioxidants can help stave off conditions like cancer and heart disease.
Should Some People Avoid Olive Oil?
Few people need to avoid olive oil. It’s possible to be allergic to olive oil, but such allergies are extremely rare.
The major downside to olive oil is that while it contains “good fat,” it is still high in fat — and calories. One tablespoon contains about 120 calories. If you’re drinking shots of olive oil, you can easily take in more calories and fat than you need.
Moderation is key to healthy olive oil intake. The Food and Drug Administration recommends daily consumption of just 1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil to reduce the risk of heart disease.
If you are already eating a balanced diet that includes olive oil, drinking it straight won’t provide any health benefits. It will only add excess fat and calories to your daily intake.
Types of Olive Oil
Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet. This heart-healthy way of eating is high in fish, nuts, whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s low in red meat.
People in the Mediterranean region (Greece, Italy, Spain) tend to use olive oil instead of butter in their cooking. Olive oil comes from the fruit of the olive tree. The flavor can range from robust to mild and buttery to nutty.
Countries that produce olive oil today include Spain, Italy, Greece, and the United States. But what kind of olive oil you buy is more important than where it comes from.
There are many different grades of olive oil. Some grades have more health benefits than others. In general, the less processed the olive oil, the healthier.
The main types of olive oil are:
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) gets pressed mechanically from ripe olives. It’s the fatty part of olive juice that’s extracted.
Sometimes EVOO is also called “cold-pressed” or “first-pressed”. That means it gets processed without high heat and chemicals. The less processed the olive oil, the more it retains its healthy polyphenols, or antioxidant compounds.
EVOO tends to have more robust flavor than more processed olive oil. It is also more expensive. “EVOO adds a bright, peppery flavor to breads, salads, soups, eggs, meats and even desserts. Keeping a cruet of EVOO out in the kitchen makes it easy to incorporate into your usual dishes.” says Cara Stewart, RDN, CSOWM, LDN.
Regular olive oil
Regular olive oil is more processed. It gets refined, bleached, and deodorized. Then it gets blended with 5% to 15% EVOO.
Marketing terms such as “pure” or “light” describe this more processed olive oil. It has a lighter taste, smell, and color than EVOO.
It tends to be less expensive than EVOO, but it also contains less antioxidants too.
You may want to experiment with different olive oils to find one that suits your taste and budget. Even processed olive oil has some health benefits.
Best Ways to Consume Olive Oil
For quick, healthy changes to your diet, replace saturated fats with olive oil where possible. Saturated fats include butter, mayonnaise, margarine, and dairy fat.
Here are some simple ways to add olive oil to your diet.
- Replace saturated fats (butter, coconut oil) with olive oil in your cooking. You can use olive oil for frying, roasting, or sauteing.
- Instead of creamy dressing, mix olive oil with herbs and spices to drizzle over salad.
- Use olive oil as a dipping sauce for bread instead of slathering it with butter.
- Add a splash of olive oil to finished dishes — creamy soups, roasted potatoes, steamed vegetables, or eggs.
- Substitute olive oil for butter or other vegetable oil in baking, or in place of butter to grease baking pans.
- Use olive oil instead of mayonnaise in chicken or tuna salads.
- Try olive oil on baked potatoes instead of butter and sour cream.
Remember that no one single food or type of oil is a magic pill for your health. Olive oil can be part of a heart-healthy diet, but you should still aim for an overall healthy way of eating. The Mediterranean diet is a great place to start.
New York Times, Can Olive Oil Do All That? Link
National Library of Medicine, Olive oil intake and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Link
American Heart Association, The benefits of adding a drizzle of olive oil to your diet, Link
Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Consumption of Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality Among U.S. Adults, Link
Harvard Health, Is extra-virgin olive oil extra healthy? Link
National Library of Medicine, Occupational allergic contact dermatitis from olive oil in a masseur, Link
FDA, FDA Completes Review of Qualified Health Claim Petition for Oleic Acid and the Risk of Coronary Heart Disease, Link
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