The Health Benefits of Olive Oil and a Mediterranean Diet
Silky, golden olive oil is THE principle fat in the world’s healthiest diet—and also our favorite ingredient at Najeau. We believe what’s going on inside your body shows up in your scalp and follicles. Because everything is connected, we take a whole body approach to hair health over here. So let’s dive into the health benefits of this nourishing Mediterranean staple in your diet.
What’s the Mediterranean diet exactly?
It’s hard to talk about the benefits of olive oil without referencing its important role in the Mediterranean diet. This way of eating consistently ranks as the #1 diet on the planet for your health according to nutritionists, researchers, and doctors. Mediterranean cuisine tops health charts for longevity and healthspan (boasting several “Blue Zone” locations), cognitive and emotional wellbeing, healthy weight management, gut health, inflammation, and more.
So what’s the diet? Trick question. There is no one strict Mediterranean diet. It’s less a diet plan in the sense of numbers to crunch and more a reference to the culinary traditions of a number of countries including Greece, Lebanon, Italy, France, and others located around the Mediterranean Sea.
Across these cuisines, you find a focus on the following:
- Healthy foundational fats like extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO for short)
- Seasonal, local whole foods
- Plentiful fresh produce, beans and legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices
- Moderate amounts of seafood, poultry, whole/ancient grains, eggs, dairy rich in probiotics like Greek yogurt and kefir, coffee, tea, dark chocolate, and red wine if you drink
- Very limited flour products, sweets, and red meat (like a few times a month)
Think about a mezze platter or salade Niçoise. A Mediterranean meal celebrates bountiful fresh vegetables, proteins like chickpeas or fish, lemon, herbs, garlic, and a generous drizzle of olive oil to top it all off.
Accompanying the Mediterranean approach to food are also certain lifestyle habits like walking to and from dinner (or maybe dancing after dinner if you’re like my family), group cooking, taking time to enjoy your food, and eating as a social activity.
The health benefits of olive oil
Olive oil is the staple ingredient running through all Mediterranean cuisine. Not the cheap, bland refined oil, but beautiful extra virgin olive oil in its least processed form; first cold pressed. What makes it so nutritious to consume?
For one thing, olive oil provides your body with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which can help lower what’s known as bad or LDL cholesterol levels while raising good, HDL levels. Olive oil is high in oleic acid, anti-inflammatory omega-9 fatty acids that could help with insulin sensitivity.
It also offers bountiful polyphenols, or plant compounds that are rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Antioxidants are integral to your health because they neutralize free radicals (unstable molecules in your body that can lead to oxidative stress, cancer, accelerated aging, etc.).
Here are some of the potential health benefits that have been associated with olive oil:
- Heart health: Olive oil could help lower your risk for heart disease by way of improving your blood lipid levels, lowering blood pressure, and helping control insulin levels. A large-scale 2013 study of over 7,000 participants who were at high risk for cardiovascular disease found that for the group who followed a Mediterranean diet and added an extra liter of olive, their rate for all cardiac events and stroke dropped by 30 percent.
- Weight management: EVOO can be helpful for weight control because of its ability to help with blood sugar levels and satiety.
- Cancer benefits: In some observational studies, the consumption of olive oil has been linked to a lower risk of breast, prostate, colorectal, and other cancers, as well as fewer cancer deaths.
- Diabetes benefits: Olive oil consumption may help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes given its positive effects on blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Cognition: The “Three City” study in France focused on olive oil consumption and cognition in the elderly. It found that more than 1,400 adults over 65 who adhered to an olive-oil-rich Mediterranean diet showed less cognitive decline over time.
- Bacterial benefits: Research shows that EVOO helps fight off eight straights of a harmful bacterium called Helicobacter pylor that can cause ulcers and other stomach problems.
- Liver health: When you drink olive oil, this signals to your liver to open the bile ducts. As a result, anything that was previously stuck to your bile ducts is better able to flow out.
Olive oil is so beneficial, in fact, that some people swear by a spoonful of olive oil first thing in the morning on an empty stomach to improve digestive health, promote nutrient absolution, stimulate your metabolism, lower gastric acidity and inflammation, and cleanse the liver.
What to look for in an olive oil
When you’re choosing an olive oil, quality matters—a lot. Where it comes from, the soil that nourished it, and the methods used to produce it all impact the nutritional benefits and taste of the oil you use on your salad or pasta.
The region it comes from.
Mediterranean olive oil in particular has 60+% more polyphenols than any other oil. Najeau olive oil is cultivated at a 900-year-old monastery in the Qdozya valley in Lebanon. The olive tree is native to Lebanon and has been cultivated there 7,000 or 8,000 years. Its Mediterranean climate and rich soil are ideal for producing nutrient-dense olives.
If the specific origin isn’t listed on your olive oil, that means it’s probably from many mass-produced olives from different parts of the world, versus being “single origin” or “single estate.” Not only will its supply chain be murkier, but you won’t know anything about its terroir because it doesn’t really have one.
The soil it’s grown in.
The healthier the soil, the healthier the oil. Ground that’s been depleted from overproduction lacks the nutrients and microbial structures needed to cultivate a truly beneficial olive oil. But when there’s an emphasis on encouraging and protecting the microbial ecosystems within a soil, this harmony underground yields a more nutrient-dense crop.
The soil at the monastery where our olive oil is grown is farmed using regenerative practices, without mechanical soil disturbance and reliance on synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Instead, there’s a balance with the environment. The olives are grown and harvested only once a year, in accordance with nature.
The way it’s made.
Extra virgin olive oil contains more flavor and more polyphenols and nutrients than oil that’s been refined and extracted using heat. Quality EVOO should also have an acidity level below 0.8%.
Najeau’s olive oil is extra virgin, unrefined, and “first cold pressed,” meaning you’re consuming the least processed form of oil. It’s extracted below a certain temperature and crushed using the entire fruit. The end product is an olive oil that retains more flavor and more of those nutritional benefits.
We’re so proud to offer single origin, extra virgin olive oil from the ancestral home of the olive tree. Every bottle is the result of collaborating with friends and fellow artists, going home to Lebanon and reconnecting with the traditions of my family, and learning from the lineage of farmers and artisans. I feel I’ve been given an incredible gift that I yearn to share, and I hope you feel that connection when you use our oil.
National Library of Medicine, In vitro activity of olive oil polyphenols against Helicobacter pylori
National Library of Medicine, Olive oil and cognition: results from the three-city study
National Library of Medicine, Liver Protective Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Interaction between Its Chemical Composition and the Cell-signaling Pathways Involved in Protection
The New England Journal of Medicine, Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet
Healthline, 11 Proven Benefits of Olive Oil