7 medically-studied benefits of olive oil and why you should use it instead of butter

Carla Delgado,Samantha Cassetty
Olive oil contains cancer preventing antioxidants and is a healthy source of fat. Westend61/ Getty Images
  • Olive oil is a type of fat that contains antioxidant properties which can help prevent the onset of health issues like liver disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

  • Olive oil is a healthier fat because it mainly consists of unsaturated fats which are better for cholesterol levels.

  • Consider using olive oil as a substitute for unhealthier fats like butter, margarine, and ghee.

  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Olive oil has always been considered as a "healthy fat," and with good reason. Polyphenols, compounds found in olive oil, contain antioxidant properties that protect against the development and progression of various health conditions.

However, how healthy that bottle of olive oil is, depends on the quality and quantity of polyphenols inside it, which comes from how heavily the olives are processed. Among the different types of olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the least processed type and therefore the healthiest, says Judy Simon RDN, CD, FAND, a clinic dietitian at the University of Washington Medicine. It is also the most traded type of olive oil worldwide. 

When shopping for olive oil, look at the label to check its quality. In some studies, about four tablespoons  of olive oil was linked with health benefits like avoiding metabolic disorders and cardiovascular diseases.

Here are the health benefits of olive oil and how you can incorporate it into your diet.

Health benefits of olive oil

"What makes olive oil stand out from other types of fats and oil is that it is comprised mainly of unsaturated fatty acids," says Temitope Osinaiya DSc, RDN, Senior Registered Dietitian and Educator at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Unsaturated fatty acids are important for overall health because they reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL or sometimes referred to as "bad cholesterol") cholesterol levels. 

Saturated fats, on the other hand, like those found in butter and vegetable oil, can raise LDL cholesterol and potentially increase the risk of coronary artery disease and heart attack.

Therefore, "for optimum health, the majority of fats consumed should be unsaturated," Osinaiya says. Olive oil provides plenty of health benefits, which include:

Because of its numerous health benefits, many individuals frequently consume olive oil. 

How to add olive oil to your diet

"Olive oil can be used to grill, roast, marinate, and sauté meats, poultry, seafood, and vegetables," says Osinaiya. Easily add it to your diet by replacing ingredients that you commonly use in cooking. 

Moreover, "olive oil has a bright, fruity aroma and a nutty, woodsy flavor. It truly enhances the flavor of so many foods," says Simon. 

Here are some ingredients that you can substitute with olive oil:

  1. Butter: For most pasta dishes, especially the ones with light sauces, replacing butter with olive oil is a healthier option. One and a quarter tablespoons of butter is roughly the caloric equivalent of 1 tbsp of olive oil.

  2. Margarine: Olive oil is a suitable alternative for margarine when baking goods. A 2010 study showed that it increased batter density and cake volume while decreasing weight loss during baking. The calorie count is similar to butter.

  3. Other oil: In salad dressings, substitute olive oil for other oils with the same measurement. They are caloric equivalents, but olive oil has a distinct taste, so you might adjust the amount depending on your personal preference.

  4. Ghee: You can replace ghee with olive oil when making mashed potatoes. They are roughly caloric equivalents and you can use the equal measurements.

  5. Canola oil: When sautéing vegetables, use olive oil instead because it improves the extraction of polyphenols from food. The calorie count and measurement is similar to that of vegetable oil. 

If you're looking for more ways to add olive oil to your diet, the Mediterranean diet may be a good fit for you. It is considered by many nutritionists and dietitians to be one of the healthiest eating plans because of the health benefits of olive oil, its most characteristic component and main source of dietary fat.

Some individuals combine the Mediterranean diet with the ketogenic diet, a high-fat, moderate-protein (with an emphasis on seafood), and low-carbohydrate nutrition plan, by incorporating olive oil as the principal source of healthy fat.

Insider's takeaway 

Olive oil is one of the healthier oils because of its high content of polyphenols and unsaturated fatty acids. It provides plenty of health benefits including a reduced risk of colorectal cancer and cardiovascular diseases. You can easily incorporate it into your diet by substituting some ingredients with olive oil.

"Overall, olive oil is a good source of various health-promoting compounds. Its protective role from various diseases makes it worthwhile to include as part of a healthy nutrition plan," says Osinaiya.

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