Olive oil is a plant-based form of liquid fat. While the sound of adding more fat to your diet may horrify you, don’t be too quick to judge. The fat in olive oil is predominantly monounsaturated, with a touch of polyunsaturated fats thrown in the mix as well -- you may know them as MUFAs and PUFAs. These good fats are actually beneficial for your health, especially your heart.
Better Cholesterol Ratios
Nearly 75 percent of the 13.5 grams of fat in a tablespoon of olive oil are monounsaturated. This healthy fat lowers your low-density lipoprotein, or harmful LDL cholesterol. It even goes beyond that task and helps maintain -- and possibly increase -- your high-density lipoprotein, or healthy HDL cholesterol, explains Katherine Zeratsky, a registered dietitian with the Mayo Clinic. That's a win-win for your cholesterol levels, plus you’ll have a lower risk of developing heart disease later on in life.
Lower Blood Sugar
Researchers in Spain conducted a study to determine if monounsaturated fats can improve blood glucose levels. Published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition,” the study found that by the end of the 28-day period, participants had improved insulin response. Insulin is the hormone that pulls glucose, or sugar, into cells. But if you are pre-diabetic or have Type 2 diabetes, you may not have enough insulin in your body or your body may have trouble using it. Including more monounsaturated fat-rich foods in your diet, such as olive oil, can lower your blood glucose and help it stay at a healthy level between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter.
Decreased Blood Pressure
A study published in 2006 in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” looked into fat's relation to blood pressure. The participants were assigned to diet plans high in good fats or diet plans high in bad fats, like saturated fats. Those on a MUFA-rich diet plan had 23 percent of their calories from MUFAs and 6 percent from PUFAs. By the end of the three-month study, MUFA-diet followers dropped an average of two points off their systolic blood pressure -- the number on top. Their diastolic blood pressure -- the number on the bottom -- dropped by nearly four points. Researchers also discovered that good fats had no benefit when they made up more than 37 percent of calories. Don’t worry about getting too much MUFAs and PUFAs from a tablespoon of olive oil. These good fats account for 101 of the calories in a spoonful and take up just 6 percent of your caloric intake if you follow a 1,600-calorie daily diet.
MUFAs and PUFAs don’t have a specific recommendation, but the majority of your fat allowance should come from them. Twenty to 35 percent of your calories can come from fat. If you follow a 1,600-calorie daily diet, you need 320 to 560 calories from fat or 35 to 62 grams -- fat has 9 calories per gram. While having some olive oil each day is surely beneficial for your health, too much can quickly up your caloric intake. One tablespoon of olive oil has a total of 120 calories, all of which come from various types of fat. If you free-pour and drizzle olive oil straight from the bottle, you could add more calories to your dish than you may realize. You don’t have to limit yourself to just 1 tablespoon per day though. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, women can have up to 5 to 6 teaspoons of oil every day, which is about 2 tablespoons.
- Journal of the American College of Nutrition: A MUFA-Rich Diet Improves Posprandial Glucose, Lipid and GLP-1 Responses in Insulin-Resistant Subjects
- MayoClinic.com: What are MUFAs, and Should I Include Them in My Diet?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
- MayoClinic.com: Know Your Blood Glucose Target Range
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Oil, Olive, Salad or Cooking
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Much is My Allowance for Oils?
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images