New study: Olive oil might help us live longer

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Wellness

Estimated reading time: 5mins

New study: Olive oil might help us live longer | Bulk Nutrients blog

Olive oil for a longer life?

Olive oil is a liquid fat harnessed from olives; a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin.

It's created by whole olives being pressed and the oil then extracted. We commonly use olive oil in cooking, for frying foods, or as a salad dressing.

And you likely love its taste, but haven't really given it a second thought until studies like this come out, suggesting it can help us live longer!

The study has been 28 years in the making; analysing data on more than 90,000 people from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study who were free of heart disease and cancer.

Every four years the subjects were quizzed on how often they ate certain foods, specifically, fats like margarine, butter, mayonnaise, dairy fat and of course, olive oil.

And what they found was those who have more than half a tablespoon of the oil a day are less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's or lung disease, compared to those who have less of it.

Specifically, when compared to people who didn't have oil at all, those who had more than a half a tablespoon a day had a:

  • 17 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer
  • 19 lower risk of dying from heart disease
  • 29% lower risk of dying from a neurodegenerative disease
  • 18% lower risk of dying from lung disease

Armed with this information, the scientists developed statistical models to see what would occur if one was to swap out three-quarters of a tablespoon of margarine, butter, mayonnaise or other vegetable oils with olive oil.

And they reported this would reduce the chances of dying from all causes.

They also found that substituting olive oil for vegetable oils like canola, corn, safflower and soybean didn't have the same effect, so make sure it's olive oil you switch to if you're not having enough already!

In practical terms, if you're not eating enough olive oil, try having it with your salad, or even cooking with it is a great place to start.

In certain circumstances, replacing butter with olive oil might be beneficial, like in a recipe. Butter is used a lot with cooking fish, for example, which you could replace with olive oil. Baking with it is a good idea, too.

Olive oil can replace butter in some cases.
Olive oil can replace butter in some cases.

Now keep in mind of course, that this is not a cause and effect study, or a randomised controlled trial. It is simply drawing conclusions based on data.

Now, this isn't a bad thing; it's merely a tool for developing a strong hypothesis, that may or may not be one day proven in much more direct circumstances.

The limitation of the study is that subjects had to fill in a diet questionnaire (which are notoriously unreliable).

Moreover, olive oil may just be a sign of a healthy lifestyle; people who consume it tend to be healthier. And such was the case with the subjects in this study; they exercised more frequently, ate more fruits and vegetables, and were less likely to smoke than those who didn't consume olive oil.

And it's for this reason that more questions need to be asked (and research performed) before any definitive guidelines are given around olive oil consumption.

But we shouldn't go too overboard with olive oil; it's still a high-calorie food!

Given its pure fat, it contains 9 calories per gram. And there are roughly 14 grams of fat per tablespoon which yields 119 calories.

Now, this is fine to have within your daily allowance of macronutrients, but just ensure you're not having too much!

But it's critical to remember that a healthy diet is not about just one food; it's a holistic approach.

For example, there's no point in smoking, drinking frequently, only eating junk food, and having olive oil with it all and thinking it's going to help!

It's definitely not a magic bullet.

What's in olive oil that makes it so special?

The above is not to take away from the hypothesis that olive oil, indeed, could really be responsible for this. Olive oil boasts:

  • Antioxidants
  • Polyphenols
  • Vitamins
  • Monounsaturated fats

All of which have been shown to have cardioprotective qualities.

Olive oil has cardioprotective qualities.
Olive oil has cardioprotective qualities.

The bottom line on olive oil

Olive oil does have many properties that make it a healthy food in the right dose and context. And this new study is enlightening: the data suggests that consuming olive oil does lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, and lung disease and that we might be able to live longer.

And whilst there are limitations to the study, given the antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins and monounsaturated fat, olive oil is a fat source we can consume more of.

Moreover, we can swap it out for other fat sources like butter, potentially, where applicable. More research is needed, but moderate consumption of olive oil appears to be beneficial.

References:

  1. Guasch-Ferre M, Li Y, Willett W, et al. Consumption of Total Olive Oil and Risk of Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in US Adults. Curr Dev Nutr. 2021;5(Suppl 2):1036. Published 2021 Jun 7. doi:10.1093/cdn/nzab053_029
  2. Michalska M, Gluba A, Mikhailidis DP, Nowak P, Bielecka-Dabrowa A, Rysz J, Banach M. The role of polyphenols in cardiovascular disease. Med Sci Monit. 2010 May;16(5):RA110-9. PMID: 20424562.
  3. National Research Council (US) Committee on Diet and Health. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease Risk. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218769/
  4. Waterman E, Lockwood B. Active components and clinical applications of olive oil. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Dec;12(4):331-42. PMID: 18069902.
  5. Yubero-Serrano EM, Lopez-Moreno J, Gomez-Delgado F, Lopez-Miranda J. Extra virgin olive oil: More than a healthy fat. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019 Jul;72(Suppl 1):8-17. doi: 10.1038/s41430-018-0304-x. PMID: 30487558.
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