Extra virgin olive oil is rich in oleic acid, a type of MUFA, and retains a high level of nutrients such as vitamin E, phytosterols, and at least 30 phenolic compounds11 (many of which function as antioxidants), thanks to its low level of processing. In terms of proven health benefits, “it’s the best researched oil we have,” says Nielsen.
Studies12 show that olive oil serves as a protective factor against cardiovascular disease by reducing LDL cholesterol and raising beneficial HDL cholesterol, curbs inflammation, and may even help bolster intestinal health by promoting optimal microbial biodiversity and balance within the gut (the polyphenol oleuropein seems to function as a prebiotic).
Olive oil has also been linked to “incredible mental health benefits13, including reduced stress, improved mood, and reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease,” says Naidoo, “largely due to its high polyphenol content, which reduces inflammation and fights the damaging effects of oxidative stress.”
EVOO’s high levels of polyphenols also help it resist degradation and oxidation when heated—and, while levels of these compounds go down a bit after cooking, there are still enough left to confer meaningful benefits, according to one study15. A good EVOO rich in polyphenols will taste fresh, a bit grassy, and pleasantly peppery.