photoIf you cook with more olive oil and less vegetable oil, you may be less likely to suffer a stroke. That's the conclusion of new researched published this week in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. 

“Our research suggests that a new set of dietary recommendations should be issued to prevent stroke in people 65 and older,” said study author Cécilia Samieri, PhD, with the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Bordeaux, France. “Stroke is so common in older people and olive oil would be an inexpensive and easy way to help prevent it. 

For the study, researchers looked at the medical records of 7,625 people ages 65 and older from three cities in France. They categorized them by the amount of olive oil they used. After a little over five years, there were 148 strokes.

More olive oil, less stroke

Drilling down through the numbers, and accounting for diet, physical activity, body mass index and other risk factors for stroke, the study found that the more you consumed olive oil, the less likely you were to suffer a stroke. Those who regularly used olive oil for both cooking and as dressing had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who never used olive oil in their diet.

Why would olive oil be healthier than other non-animal oils? In fact, it might not be. It could be that people who use a lot of olive oil just tend to eat healthier foods in the first place.

In an accompanying editorial, Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of Columbia University, say the linkage could be indirect. Olive oil makes other healthy food taste better, so those who use olive oil tend to eat healthier foods.

Potential health benefits

On the other hand, there may be something about olive oil that makes it intrinsically healthy. Donald Hensrud, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, says the main type of fat found in all kinds of olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which are actually considered a healthy dietary fat. If your diet emphasizes unsaturated fats, such as MUFAs and polyunsaturated fats, instead of saturated fats and trans fats, you may gain certain health benefits, he says.

But like other fats, olive oil is high in calories, so should be used in moderation. Also, Hensrud says consumers should be aware that heat, light and air can affect the taste of olive oil and possibly its health-promoting nutrients. Store olive oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard, or even in the refrigerator.