If you’ve ever taken a trip down the grocery store cooking and baking aisle, you know the overwhelming array of oils you can choose from. Between canola, vegetable, peanut, and many more, olive oil stands out as a favourite for its versatility, taste, and health benefits. 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the highest quality and least processed olive oil, prized for its superior taste, aroma, and health benefits. Several factors distinguish EVOO from other types of olive oil. EVOO is extracted through a process known as cold pressing, where mechanical means, such as a hydraulic press or centrifuge, are used to extract the oil from the olives without the use of excessive heat. This ensures that the oil retains its natural flavours and nutritional qualities. 

Oil can only be classified as “extra virgin” if extracted from the olive’s first pressing. The first extraction yields the highest quality oil; subsequent presses produce lower-quality oils. The “first press” designation emphasizes the premium quality of the oil. 

Olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet and has long been celebrated for its culinary richness and potential health benefits.

 In recent years, scientific research has increasingly unveiled the remarkable impact of EVOO on brain health and overall well-being. This article explores the evidence-based insights into the cognitive and health benefits of incorporating extra virgin olive oil into one’s diet.

Rich in Antioxidants and Anti-Inflammatory Compounds:

The healthy properties of EVOO have largely been attributed to the high content of unsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols. Polyphenols are part of a larger class of plant-based compounds that are potent antioxidants known for their ability to combat oxidative stress and reduce inflammation. 

A review article published in Nutrition Reviews in 2021 by a team of Japanese scientists highlights EVO’s positive benefits on the gut-brain axis and its role in promoting healthy cognitive aging. They found that consuming an EVOO-rich Mediterranean diet supports the health of the gut microbiota by stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria and producing short-chain fatty acids – which exert strong anti-inflammatory effects and even modify how DNA is expressed in the gut.  

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication system that links the nervous systems between the gut and the brain. 

These connections allow the gastrointestinal tract to influence mood, cognition, mental health, and vice versa. There is growing research to suggest that the microbial diversity in the gut changes as we age – with a loss of beneficial bacteria and a reduction in short-chain fatty acids that play critical roles in reducing inflammation. 

A 2012 study published in Nature by Claesson et al. found an increase in pro-inflammatory bacteria and a decrease in short-chain fatty acids amongst frail adults living in long-term care facilities. These changes correlated with clinical markers of frailty and cognition. It was hypothesized that the changes in diet composition were a main driver of the loss of healthy microbial diversity. 

Role in Cognition

Now that we know about how EVOO benefits us from an anti-inflammatory perspective and how the gut is linked to our brain – does this have any meaningful effect on cognition and healthy brain aging?  

A randomized study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry in 2013 called the PREDIMED-NAVARRA trial set out to assess the effect of a Mediterranean, EVOO-rich diet on cognition and memory. They enrolled 522 participants (the majority of which were women) who were considered to be at high risk for dementia based on their medical comorbidities. 

Participants were randomized to receive a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either EVOO or mixed nuts or a low-fat diet for nearly 7 years. Cognitive function tests were then performed after the conclusion of the study to assess differences between the two dietary interventions. Even when the authors accounted for other risk factors for dementia (such as level of education, family history, high blood pressure, smoking), they found that those who consumed the EVOO-enriched Mediterranean diet scored higher across all cognitive tests compared to the low-fat diet. 

The evidence supporting EVOO’s brain and health benefits is compelling, positioning it not just as a culinary delight but as a neuroprotective dietary change.

 Incorporating EVOO into a balanced diet, especially as part of a Mediterranean-style eating pattern, may reduce age-related inflammatory changes, contribute to overall well-being, and protect against cognitive decline. 

Check out our EVOO superfood recipes here >>