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Although many people do not typically think of oil as healthy, some types of oil are better than others and can even produce a number of health benefits. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. This type of fat, unlike saturated oils, is capable of decreasing an individual’s risk of developing heart complications. The many health benefits of olive oil also include such factors as the ability to lower cholesterol levels, reduce heart disease risk, lower blood pressure, lessen the effects of diabetes and even inhibit the onset of certain types of cancers.
Health experts who recognize the health benefits of olive oil have advised that a daily intake of approximately two spoonfuls can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. One method of achieving this recommended consumption is to substitute olive oil for other non-healthy forms of saturated fats in one's diet. Trans fats and saturated fats, such as butter, partially hydrogenated oils and animal fats, increase the body's levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. By contrast, these LDL levels are decreased when monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, are incorporated into the diet.
The primary grades of olive oil are virgin, extra-virgin and pure. Although all three grades are considered to be healthier than saturated fats, virgin and extra virgin are the least processed and are therefore thought to be the most beneficial. These forms of olive oil contain higher levels of antioxidants called polyphenols that promote the health of the heart. Other antioxidants found in olive oil, such as vitamin E, carotenoids and chlorophyll, have also been found to lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease in individuals who incorporate adequate amounts of olive oil in their diets.
Scientists have discovered that the health benefits of olive oil stem primarily from a compound called oleuropein. This compound prevents the oxidization of LDL cholesterol. It is the oxidized cholesterol that most often forms plaque along the walls of the arteries, leading to higher blood pressure and heart complications. By replacing saturated fats with olive oil, one can greatly reduce this oxidization level and subsequent hardening of the arteries.
In addition to the health benefits of olive oil that are associated with the heart, it has also been discovered that the fatty acids found in olive oil are effective in boosting the immune system. The bolstering of an individual’s immune system can help lower the risk of a variety of diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and even cancer. This is done by allowing the body’s natural defenses to more efficiently fight against attacking bacteria, microorganisms, and viruses.