We all know that what we eat impacts our overall health and wellness. A daily diet filled with nutritious foods and the proper level of macros—fat, protein, and carbohydrates—has an insane amount of benefits. Every part of your body—from the hair on your head all the way down to your toenails—benefits from a proper diet.
Cooking with olive oil is part of many nutritious eating plans because it’s considered a superfood. According to VeryWell Health, olive oil is a rich source of antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, and other key nutrients. And according to new research, this pantry staple just might help you live longer.
Olive Oil = Positive Health Outcomes
In a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers found that people with a higher intake of olive oil are “more likely to experience positive health outcomes, including a reduced risk of early death.”
The new study included data collected between 1990 and 2018 from the Nurses Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study. It included more than 60,000 women and nearly 32,000 men, none of which had any form of cancer or cardiovascular disease when the study began.
Over that 28 year period, participants kept track of what they ate and recorded info about their daily diets. And the results suggested that the more olive oil in the diet, the better the health outcomes.
Those with the highest daily intake of olive oil—more than half a tablespoon, or seven grams—had a 19 percent lower risk of dying early from any cause compared to people who didn’t consume it much or at all.
Study participants who used olive oil the most also had:
- 19 percent lower risk of early death due to cardiovascular disease
- 17 percent lower risk of early death due to cancer
- 29 percent lower risk of early death due to neurodegenerative disease
- 18 percent lower risk of early death due to respiratory disease
The study also showed that those who replaced 10 grams of other fat sources like butter, margarine, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil, also had a reduced risk of early death due to all causes.
What Makes Olive Oil So Healthy?
Olive oil is exactly what you think it is–oil from pressed olive fruit. But there is a difference between regular olive oil and extra-virgin olive oil. As The Tasting Table explained, “extra-virgin olive oil is made from pure, cold-pressed olives, whereas regular olive oil is a blend, including both cold-pressed and processed oils.”
Just like other oils, olive oil does contain fat. But unlike lard and butter, olive oil doesn’t have fats that are solid at room temperature. That’s what’s known as saturated fats, which are less healthy than other fats.
What makes olive oil a healthy cooking option is that it’s made up of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are much healthier fats. Other benefits of olive oil include its “phenolic compounds, antioxidants, and fat-derived beneficial molecules like tocopherols.”
That’s a complicated way of saying that olive oil has a lot of health benefits. And the star of the show is the main fatty acid in olive oil–oleic acid. Which is a “key player in the positive health effects that make olive oil the darling of the wellness world.”
In addition to living longer, the research also suggests that including olive oil in your daily diet could have health benefits like:
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Healthy gut microbiota
- Reducing oxidative stress
- Anti-inflammatory effects
Correlation Does Not Imply Causation
According to Melissa Azzaro, a registered dietitian and the host of the Hormonally Yours podcast, the study results shouldn’t be taken quite so seriously.
She told VeryWell Health that it’s “hard to assess whether the positive outcomes are a result of the olive oil or if people experienced these results because of their overall lifestyle choices.”
Azzaro wasn’t part of the study. But it’s true that the participants who ate the most olive oil also had good health habits like eating lots of fruits and veggies and being a non-smoker.
She also pointed out that all of the information was self-reported by the participants. So, there’s a greater chance for missing or wrong details in the data that researchers analyzed, and the info could be incomplete.
Despite these study limitations, Azzaro does agree that making olive oil part of a nutritious diet isn’t risky. And benefits like improved heart health and reduced inflammation are possible.
The Magic Number
Registered dietician Sharon Puello also told VeryWell Health that when it comes to getting the most benefits from olive oil in your daily diet, the “magic number” is between two and four tablespoons.
That can be from olive oil-based salad dressings or using olive oil as a drizzle or dip. You can also cook with olive oil, even though it has a lower smoke point than other oils.
“The truth is that when you’re cooking food in olive oil, your oil will rarely—if ever—reach the smoke point,” said dietician Elysia Cartlidge, owner of Haute & Healthy Living. “To reap the full benefits of this nutritious oil, it’s recommended that olive oil be used frequently in cooking and meal preparation.”