Why is olive oil so healthy? Oleic acid and beyond

Oleic acid

Olive oil is considered one of the healthiest oils we consume. The reason might be due to its high oleic acid and squalene content

In this post, I would like to describe a few characteristics that make olive oil one of the best condiments you can use in your everyday cooking practice. Oleic acid is the most abundant nutrient in olive oil which is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid and one of the most digestible fatty acids thanks to its organoleptic characteristics and because it stimulates reflexes within the gastrointestinal system that promote pancreatic secretion. Oleic acid passes easily through the intestinal mucosa and is rapidly absorbed; it is also able to stimulate biliary secretion, which is indispensable for fat absorption.

Extra-virgin and virgin olive oils are the healthiest olive oils on the market: 85% of the fatty acids they contain are unsaturated, whereas about 15% are saturated fats. The presence of a higher percentage of oleic acid compared to polyunsaturated fats makes olive oil more resistant to heat, and more suitable for preparations that require cooking or frying than other oils and foods (such as fish) rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Heat, however, greatly reduces the beneficial properties of the oil, such as vitamins and bioactive compounds.

Olive oil also contains squalene, another fatty acid that could be responsible for its health properties. This type of fat is indeed found in much higher concentrations in olive oil compared to other oils (see Table 1) and appears to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Oil: Squalene content

(mg/100 g)

Olive 136-708
Corn 19-36
Peanut 13-49
Soy 7-17
Sunflower 8-19
Rapeseed 28

Table 1: Squalene content in olive oil and some seed oils.

Olive oil is also rich in many natural substances: chlorophyll, carotenoids, tocopherols, polyphenols, and others. The presence of antioxidant compounds, such as vitamin E, increases olive oil’s shelf life (which is usually one calendar year), as these compounds protect the oil from rancidity. The presence of polyphenols further inhibits oxidative processes and can improve the oil’s organoleptic characteristics.

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon

Gianluca Tognon is an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. He started his career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden. He has been involved in several EU research projects and has extensively worked and published on the association between diet, longevity and cardiovascular risk across the lifespan, also studying potential interactions between diet and genes. His work about the Mediterranean diet in Sweden has been cited by many newspapers worldwide including the Washington Post and The Telegraph among others. As a speaker, he has been invited by Harvard University and the Italian multi-national food company Barilla.

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About Me

I’m an Italian nutrition coach, speaker, entrepreneur and associate professor at the University of Gothenburg. I started MY career as a biologist and spent 15 years working both in Italy and then in Sweden.

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