Key points to remember
- Olive oil is packed with healthy fats, antioxidants, and other important compounds that support your overall health.
- A new study suggests that people who consume more olive oil may have a reduced risk of premature death.
- Olive oil can be part of a nutritious diet, but it’s essential to remember that all the foods you eat work together to provide health benefits.
Olive oil is often called a superfood because it’s a rich source of antioxidants, healthy fats, vitamins, and other essential nutrients. According to new research, it could also help you live longer.
The results of a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggest that people with higher olive oil intake are more likely to have positive health outcomes, including a reduced risk of premature death.
The health benefits of olive oil
Olive oil is exactly what it sounds like – pressed olive oil (yes, olives are a fruit!). Although all oils contain fat, some are better sources than others.
Unlike lard and butter, olive oil does not contain solid fats at room temperature. They are called saturated fats and they are less healthy than other fats.
Instead, olive oil is mostly made up of healthier monounsaturated fatty acids. The oil also contains phenolic compounds, antioxidants and beneficial fat-derived molecules like tocopherols.
The main fatty acid in olive oil is called oleic acid. It is a key player in the positive health effects that make olive oil the darling of the wellness world.
Research has shown that including olive oil in your diet is linked to some specific health benefits, including:
We know olive oil is packed with compounds that support our overall health, but the researchers wanted to know if there were any specific benefits to including the oil in our diet.
Who was included?
In the recent study, researchers looked at data from the Nurses Health Study (1990-2018) and the Health Professionals Follow Up Study (1990-2018).
There were 60,582 women and 31,801 men included in the data. None of them had cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study.
Over 28 participants recorded information about their diet. The researchers also had information about the participants’ health outcomes, including whether they had died.
What did the study show?
Researchers found that people who reported the highest olive oil intake — more than 0.5 tablespoons (7 grams) per day — had a 19% lower risk of dying early from any cause by compared to people who did not consume as much olive oil or consumed no olive oil.
People who had a higher olive oil intake also had:
- 19% lower risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease
- 17% lower risk of premature death from cancer
- 29% lower risk of premature death due to neurodegenerative sickness
- 18% lower risk of premature death from respiratory disease
Replace fats with olive oil
The study also showed that people who replaced 10 grams of other sources of fat (such as margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fat) with an equal amount of olive oil were also at risk. reduced premature death from all causes.
Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell that people in the study who ate more olive oil also had other habits that supported their heart health, like do not smoke and eat fruits and vegetables.
Azzaro, who was not involved in the study, said that while olive oil can be part of a balanced diet, the study results “should be taken with a grain of salt” because it is “difficult to assess whether the positive results are a result of olive oil or whether people experienced these results due to their general lifestyle choices.
Another limitation of the study, according to Azzaro, is that all data was self-reported. When people self-report information about their diet, they may get some details wrong or leave things out. Therefore, the data that the researchers needed to analyze may have been incomplete.
However, Azzaro agrees that even with the limitations of the study, there are few (if any) risks to including olive oil in an overall nutritious diet. People who do this may experience health benefits, such as less chronic inflammation and better heart health.
Add olive oil to your diet
Sharon Puello, RD, CDCES, registered dietitian and owner of FRESH Nutrition, told Verywell that in terms of how much olive oil you need to add to your diet daily to get the benefits, “the magic number seems to be between 2 to 4 tablespoons.”
Puello recommends exploring making homemade salad dressings using olive oil, drizzling olive oil over hummus for a snack with crackers or veggies, or dipping bread in olive oil. olive oil and dried herb blends like Za’atar for a flavorful accompaniment to any meal.
Elysia Cartlidge, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Haute & Healthy Living, told Verywell that while it’s common knowledge that olive oil isn’t ideal for cooking because it has a lower smoke point than other oils, it doesn’t mean you can’t cook with it.
To take full advantage of this nutritious oil, it is recommended that you use olive oil frequently in cooking and meal preparation.
“The truth is, when you cook food in olive oil, your oil will rarely, if ever, reach the smoking point,” Cartlidge says. Additionally, research has shown that extra virgin olive oil is the most stable cooking oil when heated.
According to Cartlidge, “phenols and antioxidants from extra virgin olive oil are transferred to the vegetables when cooked in them, increasing the nutrient content of the vegetables.”
Considering the evidence, Cartlidge concluded that “to get the full benefit of this nutritious oil, frequent use of olive oil in cooking and meal preparation is recommended.”
Olive oil is a tasty, versatile, and research-backed addition to your diet. That said, no food is a “silver bullet” for health and wellness. Think of all the foods you eat together rather than focusing on a single ingredient.
What this means for you
Including olive oil in your diet, whether drizzled on salad or used for cooking, has many health benefits. It might even help reduce your risk of premature death. That said, no food is a “magic bullet” for preventing disease. All the foods you eat work together to support your health.