Adding olive oil to your diet could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer, new research suggests.
The health benefits of olive oil have long been touted – olive oil is packed with healthy fats, nutrients and antioxidants – and it’s a vital ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. This new research, published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests the potential of including olive oil in your diet.
The study, led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studied the health and diet of 60,582 women and 31,801 men in the U.S. from 1990 to 2018.
During the 28 years studied, those who said they consumed more than a half tablespoon of olive oil daily had 19% lower risk of all causes of death, as well as 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to those who rarely or never had olive oil.
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Those who consumed olive oil daily also reduced their risk of death from neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, by 29%. Researchers also found olive oil use was associated with a 17% lower death risk from cancer and 18% lower risk of death from respiratory disease.
Olive oil and Alzheimer’s disease
The association with lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease is “a novel finding,” said Dr. Susanna Larsson, an epidemiologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, in an accompanying editorial entitled “Can Small Amounts of Olive Oil Keep the Death Away?”
“Considering the lack of preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and the high morbidity and mortality related to this disease, this finding, if confirmed, is of great public health importance,” Larsson said.
Researchers found that even a smaller amount of olive oil appeared to have a healthy effect. Having up to a teaspoon daily was associated with a 12% reduced risk of death from all causes, they found.
Substituting three-fourths of a tablespoon of olive oil daily for margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat was associated with 8% to 34% lower risk of of all causes of death risk of mortality, research found. However, lower risks were not found when comparing olive oil to vegetable oils such as corn oil and canola oil. “This suggests that vegetable oils may provide the same health benefits as olive oil,” Larsson said.
Study author Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research scientist in the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, told USA TODAY that a good target for daily olive oil consumption is 3-4 tablespoons daily. That will help you reduce the amount of butter, mayonnaise and other animal fats used in cooking.
“At home, we almost always use olive oil for everything,” she said. “We use it for baking, to dress vegetables and salads and it is even a good option for frying.”
There’s more to learn about olive oil
While the findings expand on the limited knowledge of olive oil health benefits, “more research is needed,” Larsson said.
That’s because there’s still more questions. A more specific study comparing those who do and don’t consume olive oil could provide a scientific explanation for olive oil’s ability to reduce risk of death. Also needed: an assessment of what kinds – extra virgin olive oil or refined olive oil, for instance – may provide health benefits.
In the meantime, those seeking to improve their lifestyle can include olive oil, but should consider it in context.
“We need to pay attention to have an overall healthy dietary pattern that is full of plant-based food including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil or nuts, healthy moderate protein intake (eggs, fish, poultry),” Guasch-Ferré said..
Concurrently, you can decrease risk of disease by cutting consumption of processed meat, other processed foods, sugary drinks and desserts. “Also, other lifestyle factors such as not smoking (and) physical activity, play an important role,” she said.
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