Many recent studies have pointed to the heart health benefits of following the Mediterranean diet, and one of the key ingredients involved in this food plan is olive oil.
Now, researchers from the American College of Cardiology have found that consuming more olive oil – while lowering intake of other fats like butter, mayonnaise, or margarine – may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
“Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils,” said researcher Marta Guasch-Ferré. “Clinicians should be counseling patients to replace certain fats, such margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health. Our study helps to make more specific recommendations that will be easier for patients to understand and hopefully implement into their diets.”
Olive oil is better for heart health
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 90,000 people enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The team followed the participants for nearly 30 years, evaluating questionnaires about their diets every four years. The participants recorded everything they ate, including things like salad dressings or baked goods that would contain olive oil or other fats.
The researchers learned that consuming more olive oil was linked with the greatest health benefits. The study showed that those who consumed the most olive oil had a nearly 30% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, a 19% lower risk of heart disease-related mortality, and a 17% lower risk of cancer mortality.
Choosing olive oil over other fats was linked with better overall health outcomes. Swapping out 10 grams per day of fats like butter and margarine for olive oil was linked with as high as a 34% lower risk of mortality.
“It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet and higher socioeconomic status,” Guasch-Ferré said. “However, even after adjusting for these and other social economic status factors, our results remained largely the same. Our study cohort was predominantly a non-Hispanic white population of health professionals, which should minimize potentially confounding socioeconomic factors, but may limit generalizability as this population may be more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle.”
Moving forward, the researchers believe future studies need to focus on more of the concrete details associated with this relationship between olive oil and long-term heart health.
“The current study and previous studies have found that consumption of olive oil may have health benefits,” said researcher Susanna C. Larsson Ph.D. “However, several questions remain. Are the associations causal or spurious? Is olive oil consumption protective for certain cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and atrial fibrillation, only or also for other major diseases and causes of death? What is the amount of olive oil required for a protective effect? More research is needed to address these questions.”