By MARK JAMES on July 12, 2016

Extra virgin olive oil constitutes the main source of fat in the Mediterranean diet. Because it is produced without heat or industrial refining, all the antioxidants and vitamins in the fruit remain intact.

Extra virgin olive oil is one reason people following the Mediterranean diet live long and healthy lives. Here are five of the most important compounds that make extra virgin olive oil a veritable cocktail of health:

1. Antioxidants

Extra virgin olive oil is rich in some of nature’s most potent natural antioxidants, phenolic compounds, which have been shown to destroy free radicals, kill cancer cells, and reduce the risk of heart disease. They are thought to be why the Mediterranean diet is associated with great health, a reduced risk of cancer and heart disease, and remarkably increased longevity.

2. Oleocanthal

Oleocanthal is believed responsible for the burning and tingling sensation that high-quality extra virgin olive oil cause to the throat. An anti-inflammatory phenolic compound with the same properties as commercial pain-killers, oleocanthal inhibits the COX1 and COX2 enzymes responsible for triggering pain, inflammation, and fever. It can also prevent Alzheimer’s disease by helping clear beta-amyloid plaques from the brain, and in vitro, oleocanthal has been shown to effectively kill cancer cells.

3. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs)

Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in abundance in nuts, fish, and vegetable oils, particularly olive oil, which is composed of about 75 percent MUFAs. MUFAs protect against disease by increasing the fluidity and elasticity of the cell membranes. The consumption of these healthy fats has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and colon cancer.

4. Vitamin E

Olive oil is rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that protects the body against eye and skin problems, cancer, diabetes, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is widely used in skin creams and lotions because it reduces scarring and promotes healing, and is excellent for the hair as well. A recent study has shown that vitamin E also can protect the lungs against air pollution.

5. Vitamin K

Another fat-soluble vitamin found in olive oil is vitamin K, which is necessary for coagulation and for processes that involve the fixation of calcium in the body. Good levels of vitamin K have also been shown to protect against insulin resistance and several types of cancer. A tablespoon of olive oil contains about 10 percent of the daily dose of vitamin K recommended for an adult.

Extra virgin olive oil is traditionally used in the Mediterranean cuisine and is one of the reasons the diet promotes such good health and longevity. It contains high levels of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory substances, and fat soluble vitamins. Research has shown that the compounds found in extra virgin olive oil can ward off such diseases as cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s. On top of being healthy, extra virgin olive oil is delicious and will add flavor to any meal.