NEWS

Can Olive Oil Help You Live Longer?

A small glass dish being filled with olive oil; there are fresh green olives next to the dish.

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Key Takeaways

  • Olive oil is packed with healthy fats, antioxidants, and other important compounds that support your overall health.
  • A new study suggests that people who eat more olive oil may have a reduced risk of early death.
  • Olive oil can be part of a nutritious eating plan but it's key to remember that all the food you eat works 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 key nutrients. According to new research, it might also help you live longer.

The results from of study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggest 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 Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Olive oil is exactly what it sounds like—the oil from pressed olive fruit (yes, olives are a fruit!). While all oils contain fat, some are better sources than others.

Unlike lard and butter, olive oil does not contain fats that are solid at room temperature. These are called saturated fats and they're less healthy than other fats.

Instead, olive oil is mostly made up of healthier monounsaturated fatty acids. The oil also has phenolic compounds, antioxidants, and fat-derived beneficial molecules like tocopherols. 

The main fatty acid in olive oil is called oleic acid. It's a key player in the positive health effects that make olive oil the darling of the wellness world.

Research has found that including olive oil in your diet is linked to some specific health benefits, including:

Olive oil may help reduce your risk of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

The Study

We know that olive oil is full of compounds that support our overall health, but researchers wanted to know if there were some specific benefits of including the oil in our diets.

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 when the study started.

Over 28 years, the participants recorded information about their diets. The researchers also had information about the health outcomes of the participants, including whether they had died.

What Did the Study Show?

The researchers found that people who reported the highest intake of olive oil—more than 0.5 tablespoons (7 grams) per day—had a 19% lower risk of dying early from any cause compared to people who didn't consume as much olive oil or consumed no olive oil.

The people who had a higher intake of olive oil also had:

  • 19% lower risk of early death due to cardiovascular disease 
  • 17% lower risk of early death due to cancer 
  • 29% lower risk of early death due to neurodegenerative disease 
  • 18 % lower risk of early death due to respiratory disease

Replacing Fats With Olive Oil

The study also showed that people who replaced 10 grams of other sources of fat (like margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat) with an equal amount of olive oil also had a reduced risk of early death due to all causes.

Study Limitations

Melissa Azzaro, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian and podcast host at Hormonally Yours, told Verywell that the people in the study who ate more olive oil also had other habits that supported their heart health—like not smoking and eating fruits and veggies.

Azzaro, who was not involved in the study, said that while olive oil can be part of a balanced eating plan, the study's results "should be taken with a grain of salt" because 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.” 

Another limitation of the study, according to Azzaro, is that all the data was reported by the participants. When people self-report information about their diet, they might get some details wrong or leave things out. Therefore, the data the researchers had to analyze might have been incomplete.

However, Azzaro does agree that even with the study's limitations, including olive oil in an overall nutritious diet comes with little (if any) risk. People who do so may experience health benefits like less chronic inflammation and improved heart health.

Adding Olive Oil to Your Diet

Sharon Puello, RD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and the 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 olive oil-based salad dressings, drizzling olive oil on hummus for a snack with crackers or veggies, or dipping bread in olive oil and dried herb mixes such as Za’atar for a tasty side for any meal.

Elysia Cartlidge, RD, a registered dietitian and the owner of Haute & Healthy Living, told Verywell that while it's common wisdom that olive oil isn't great for cooking because it has a lower smoke point than other oils, that doesn't mean you can't cook with it.

Elysia Cartlidge

To reap the full benefits of this nutritious oil, it’s recommended that olive oil be used frequently in cooking and meal preparation.

— Elysia Cartlidge

"The truth is that when you're cooking food in olive oil, your oil will rarely—if ever—reach the smoke point," says Cartlidge. What's more, research has shown that extra virgin olive oil is the most stable cooking oil when heated.

According to Cartlidge, the "phenols and antioxidants from extra virgin olive oil are transferred to vegetables when they’re cooked in it, thereby increasing the nutrient content of the vegetables.”

Given the evidence, Cartlidge concluded that “to reap the full benefits of this nutritious oil, it’s recommended that olive oil be used frequently in cooking and meal preparation.”

Olive oil is a tasty, versatile, and research-backed addition to your diet. That said, no one food is a "magic bullet" for health and wellness. Think about all the foods you eat working 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 an early death. That said, no one food is a "magic bullet" for preventing disease. All the foods you eat work together to support your health.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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