Using olive oil reduces risk of disease and death, Harvard study finds
Using olive oil instead of margarine, butter or other saturated fats may protect you from dying from cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, dementia, and other conditions, according to a study released Monday.
The study analyzed the diets of people enrolled in two large US government-funded studies: the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Researchers then compared the diet findings to disease and death records for those people over time.
Men and women who replaced just over 2 teaspoons (10 grams) of margarine, butter, mayonnaise or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil had up to a 34% lower overall risk of dying than people who ate little to no olive oil, according to study author Marta Guasch-Ferre, a senior research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"This is the first long-term study, including more than 90,000 participants followed for up to 30 years, conducted in the American population on olive oil and mortality. Previous studies were conducted in Mediterranean and European populations where the consumption of olive oil tends to be higher," Guasch-Ferre said via email.
"Our results provide further support for recommendations to replace saturated fat and animal fat with unsaturated plant oils, such as olive oil, for the prevention of premature death," she added.
People who reported eating the highest levels of olive oil had a 19% lower risk of dying from heart conditions, a 17% lower risk of dying from cancer, a 29% lower risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease, and an 18% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease mortality compared with those who never or rarely consumed olive oil in place of saturated fats, said Susanna Larsson, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, in an accompanying editorial.
Both the study and editorial were published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Olive oil, or "laderá" in Greek, is a key staple in the award-winning Mediterranean diet, which studies have shown can reduce the risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer.
The diet, which is more of an eating style than a restricted diet, has also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and longer life.
While the Mediterranean way of eating is based on traditional foods from the 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, it revolves around a fundamental theme.
The focus is on simple, plant-based cooking, featuring fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, and a heavy emphasis on extra virgin olive oil.
But food is not the only focus of the Mediterranean approach, which recently topped the 2022 rankings for best diet for the fifth year in a row. It's actually a lifestyle which also emphasizes movement -- walking, biking, gardening -- as well as mindful eating and the social benefits of dining with friends and family.