Olive Oyl may have been Popeye's one and only, but we doubt he could have loved her any more than we adore olive oil -- another of the odd omega monounsaturated fats. This one is mainly omega-9, and it's the secret sauce in the tasty and good-for-you Mediterranean diet. And now, a bushel of recently revealed benefits makes us want to exclaim: "Olive ya' forever!"
» It's great for your bones. In one brand-new report, guys who ate lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy products along with olive oil had higher levels of osteocalcin -- a protein that keeps bones and teeth strong -- compared with guys on a low-fat diet who didn't use olive oil.
» Protects you from silent strokes. Symptom-free mini-strokes can lead to dementia -- and bigger, more disabling brain attacks. Olive oil to the rescue: In one report, brain scans showed enjoying this good stuff (drizzled on salad greens, used to saute chicken and broccoli) lowered the odds for silent strokes by more than 35 percent.
» Way less risk of heart disease. Enjoying two tablespoons of olive oil a day could lower your odds for deadly heart disease by a whopping 44 percent. Even one tablespoon a day can slash your risk by 28 percent, says another new report.
» Controls blood-sugar levels. Polyphenols in olive oil help your body process blood sugar more efficiently -- and could even help you avoid Type 2 diabetes. If you do have diabetes, regular use of olive oil can make it easier to manage blood glucose levels and possibly reduce the amount of blood-sugar-controlling medication you need to take.
» Guards against cancer. Making the big "double O" your go-to oil could protect you against respiratory and digestive-system cancers and reduce a woman's risk for breast cancer by 38 percent.
What makes olive oil such a health-booster? For starters, 55 percent to 80 percent of the fat in olive oil is oleic acid -- an omega-9 fatty acid that lowers bad LDL cholesterol, boosts good HDLs, puts blood sugar on an even keel and helps protect against some cancers. But it's also rich in the plant chemicals that have the power to turn on beneficial genes. Here's how to use our favorite oil more often.
» Buy two grades of olive oil
Reserve intense, fruity-tasting extra-virgin olive oil for low-heat cooking and room-temperature drizzles, dunking and salad dressings. There's evidence that it contains more of the polyphenols that contribute to olive oil's big impact. But extra-virgin olive oil also burns at a lower temp -- at about 320 F -- than other types labeled "virgin olive oil," "pure olive oil," "light olive oil" or just plain "olive oil." These other, less-expensive forms can be heated to about 400 F before their goodness starts going up in smoke. And they're still great sources of oleic acid.
» Do a smart fat swap
Use olive oil instead of butter or coconut oil, both of which are rich in saturated fat. They boost inflammation and load your body with the building blocks of heart-threatening LDL cholesterol. The less of that stuff the better! (Coconut oil is a good hair tonic, though.) And olive oil also is smart to use in place of corn, sunflower, safflower and soy oils. These vegetable oils are rich in omega-6 fatty acids, which in large amounts can boost inflammation.
» Give olive oil new starring roles
Spritz it on hearty, whole-grain toast at breakfast. Buy olive-oil-based mayo and use it (sparingly SEmD lots of calories here!) in salmon or chicken salad. Love to bake? You even can make savory pastry crusts with olive oil in place of butter. Drop a dollop into the pot when cooking brown rice, whole-wheat couscous or quinoa. Hosting a party? Create healthy dips by whirling white beans, olive oil, garlic and spices; serve with veggies.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For more information, go to realage.com.