Consuming a small amount of olive oil each day — equivalent to about one-and-a-half teaspoons — may reduce the risk of death from several causes, including heart disease and cancer, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Olive oil has long been known or suspected to offer a range of health benefits. It’s a staple of the Mediterranean diet — consistently rated as one of the best diets for general health, and for people with diabetes. When it comes to benefits for people with diabetes, olive oil consumption has been linked to lower bloods glucose levels after eating, including in people with type 1 diabetes. Studies have also shown that frying certain foods in extra-virgin olive oil (oil that is pressed out of olives without further processing) results in higher levels of phenols, a type of antioxidant that may help protect against damage to cells in the body.
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For the latest study, researchers compared how much olive oil people consumed with death from various causes in two large groups of participants. One group was 60,582 women who took part in a general health study called the Nurses’ Health Study between 1990 and 2018, and the other group was 31,801 men who took part in a similar study over the same period called the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease or cancer at the beginning of the study period. Participants’ intake of olive oil was recorded every four years, based on their answers to a detailed food-frequency questionnaire.
Increased olive oil intake linked to lower death risk
Over 28 years of follow-up, 36,856 out of the 92,383 participants died. After adjusting for as many factors as possible that could affect the risk of death from various causes, the researchers found that participants who reported the highest intake of olive oil — more than 7 grams per day, equivalent to about one-and-a-half teaspoons — were 19% less likely to die from any cause than participants who reported never or rarely consuming olive oil. This higher level of olive oil consumption was also linked to a 19% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, a 17% lower risk of dying from cancer-related causes, a 29% lower risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease), and an 18% lower risk of dying from respiratory diseases.
When the researchers performed what’s known as a substitution analysis — comparing equivalent amounts of two different inputs — they found that replacing certain other fats with olive oil may reduce the risk of death, both overall and from specific causes. Compared with participants who consumed 10 grams per day of butter, other dairy fat, margarine, or mayonnaise, those who consumed an equivalent amount of olive oil were between 8% and 34% less likely to die of various causes. But when the same kind of analysis was performed for olive oil and other liquid vegetable oils, no extra benefit was seen for olive oil — suggesting that other liquid oils (like canola oil, sunflower oil, or soybean oil) may be just as beneficial as olive oil.
The researchers concluded that a higher intake of olive oil is linked to a lower risk of death — both overall and from specific causes — especially when olive oil replaces butter, other dairy fat, margarine, or mayonnaise, but not when it replaces other liquid vegetable oils in a person’s diet.
Looking to learn about more foods that may help with diabetes? Read Bitter Melon, Diabetes,” “Leaves and Fruits for Diabetes,” “Turmeric and Diabetes: 10 Ways Turmeric Can Help” and “Apple Cider Vinegar and Diabetes.”