Even if you don’t know much about olive oil, you probably have a fairly positive impression of it. Compared to other forms of cooking oils, olive oil is often cited as the healthiest option. The fact that it plays a significant role in the Mediterranean diet, which is famous for being healthy, helps a lot as well. But what is it about olive oil that’s so healthy?

The health benefits of olive oil

Like other forms of oils, olive oil is a fat. Just it’s important to understand that not all fat is the same. Trans fat, for example, is terrible for you and has rightly been made illegal in numerous country.

Olive oil contains a different sort of fat, called monounsaturated fat. This is a major factor in why olive oil is good for you. Monounsaturated fatty acids are known to help raise levels of good cholesterol and lower levels of bad cholesterol. Polyphenols, a form of antioxidant, are also found in olive oil, further adding to the cardiovascular benefits.

Basically, olive oil is very heart healthy. When used as a substitute for unhealthy foods, like those containing polyunsaturated oils, you can enjoy the the benefits of olive oil while simultaneously avoiding the negative effects of other oils. That’s a big swing into healthy eating!

Not all olive oils are the same

Olive oil is unique among all other forms of oil, as it is the only one made directly from crushing or “pressing” the fruit itself. Other oils are made by using chemical solvents and other refinement methods to produce the oil. This is why olive oil retains many of the healthy properties of olives. It’s also why understanding the different forms of olive oil is important too.

Extra virgin olive oil is the best olive oil. In this context “virgin” simply means that it has not been made using chemical means. The difference between extra virgin and virgin is primarily a matter of acidity. Extra virgin has less acidity and generally the freshest flavor. Both virgin and extra virgin come from the first pressing of the olives and are not processed chemically.

If you’re going to buy olive oil, you should definitely buy virgin or extra virgin varieties. Anything simply labelled “olive oil” contains refined olive oil. As with most foods, the less processed it is, the healthier it is for you.

A final caveat

Olive oil is a healthy addition to your diet; that’s a fact. But if you add it to unhealthy foods, the foods won’t magically become healthy.