I've never been a health nut, but as I get older I spend more time watching my waistline and thinking about what I eat.
Olive oil has become one of my go-to ingredients through the years, because it's easy to use in almost any meal.
It turns out the oil doesn't just taste good - it's good for you as well.
How to find extra-virgin olive oil
You probably heard that many kinds of olive oil were being falsely labeled as "extra-virgin."
This label means that the olive oil in your kitchen is a top-tier product, which has been made without heat or chemical processing.
Extra-virgin oil tastes better, and is packed with more nutritional benefits. So here's how to tell it apart from the regular stuff:
- The label will always say "extra-virgin," but don't stop reading there.
- Look for a "harvest date" or "pressed on..." on your label. The name of the mill or olive variety is a good sign too.
- Check for a stamp of approval by the PDO, DOP, or COOC, which all set high standards for olive oil.
1. Olive oil helps prevent diabetes
This cooking oil is high in monounsaturated fat, a type of healthy fat that controls insulin levels in your bloodstream.
One study found regularly eating olive oil reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40%.
The fats also regulate levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol that clogs your arteries.
2. It may reduce your cancer risk
More research is being done, but adding olive oil to your diet has already proven to help lower your breast cancer risk.
Experts think the key to the oil's cancer-fighting effects are oleic acid, which may affect the genes that cause certain kinds of cancer.
Cell-protecting antioxidants in the oil may also protect your body from the deadly disease.
3. It helps you lose weight
Unlike other cooking oils that are high in saturated and trans fats, a diet full of olive oil has been proven not to cause weight gain.
In fact, the healthy supply of antioxidants in your blood stream from the oil may promote weight loss.
4. It fights inflammation
One of the most interesting ingredients in olive oil is oleocanthal, a chemical that's very similar to the drug ibuprofen.
Like ibuprofen, oleocanthal naturally reduces inflammation.
Odds are you're worried about at least one of those conditions, so a healthy dose of olive oil couldn't hurt.
5. It helps your heart
Just four tablespoons of olive oil a day has been shown to reduce your heart attack risk by 30%.
The oil's secret weapon against heart disease are polyphenols - antioxidants that protect your cells from damage.
Add in the healthy effect on your blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation, and you have an all-in-one treatment to help prevent heart attacks and strokes.
6. It protects your brain
The unsaturated fatty acids in olive oil may also protect your brain from the damage that causes Alzheimer's.
Already the "MIND diet" - which features olive oil - has lead to lower rates of Alzheimer's disease.
7. It keeps your skin healthy
You don't even need to eat olive oil to see health benefits.
The industry website Olive Oil Source says that "people living millennia ago in ancient Greece" used the oil as a beauty product.
You can rub a little oil on your skin for the cell-protecting benefits, or find a skin product with olive oil mixed in.
What's your favorite way to cook with olive oil?