Olive oil may be the closest thing we have to liquid gold when it comes to our health. In fact, a September 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that 4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) added each day to a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables could slash breast cancer risk by an astonishing 68 percent. The antioxidants and fatty acids in olive oil are what make it such a potent cancer fighter, researchers say.
And the health benefits don't stop there. Here are five more reasons to enjoy olive oil. (But don't overdo it — it's still high in calories.)
1. Reduce Belly Fat
Switching to olive oil may be one of the better waist-whittling techniques. A 2013 study showed that when people at risk for developing metabolic syndrome — a serious health issue that has a lot to do with excess belly fat — consumed about 3 tablespoons of oil rich in monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) on a daily basis, they lowered their belly fat by 1.6 percent compared to people who ate oils low in monounsaturated fats. Researchers think the belt-shrinking benefits come from phenols in the olives, which help to reduce inflammation.
2. Boost Brainpower
July 2015 research suggests olive oil may protect your brain as you age. Older adults who followed a Mediterranean diet and ate 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily showed significantly improved cognitive function, including memory. Exactly how olive oil helps to reduce Alzheimer's disease risk isn't clear yet; however, scientists think the benefits may come from oleocanthal — a compound found in olive oil that appears to help shuttle abnormal proteins from the brain.
3. Stay Fuller Longer
Olive oil has a special one-two punch when it comes to hunger pangs: While the fatty acids increase feelings of fullness, fruity aromatics act as an appetite suppressant, according to a 2013 study. Women who ate yogurt infused with olive oil had the highest levels of serotonin — known as the satiety hormone — in their blood compared to women who ate yogurt infused with other fats. Even more profound, the smell of EVOO was enough to reduce appetite and food intake. Dieters given yogurt perfumed with olive oil aroma extracts ate 176 fewer calories per day than dieters who were given plain yogurt. Speaking of which, have you tried our Savory Greek Yogurt snack recipe yet?
4. Protect Your Heart
Need one more reason to love olive oil? A large 2011 study showed that older adults who regularly cooked or dressed salads with olive oil had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to people who never used EVOO. Many of the heart-healthy benefits can be attributed to one major antioxidant in olive oil called DHPEA-EDA, which protects red blood cells from damage, researchers say.
5. Get More Nutrients
High volume, low-calorie vegetables are a dieter's best friend; but you'll only get a fraction of the benefits unless you add a little fat, researchers say. Olive oil, as it's rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, reigns supreme. In a 2012 study, researchers served participants salads topped with saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat-based dressings and tested their blood for health-boosting carotenoids. Just 3 grams of monounsaturated fat was enough to maximize nutrient absorption, but you'd need to eat 20 grams — and more than 150 extra calories — of the dressings made with saturated and polyunsaturated fats to get the same benefit.