Adapted from an article in Duke Medicine Health News, September 2020, Vol. 6, No. 9
Go ahead. Dip that crusty Italian bread in a saucer of seasoned olive oil and take a big, guilt-free bite. Research shows that consuming more olive oil is associated with less risk of heart attack among Americans, especially when it replaces butter, mayonnaise, or margarine. A study performed at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston, showed that replacing 1 teaspoon of butter, margarine, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the same amount of olive oil lowered the risk of any cardiovascular disease (CVD) by 5 percent and lowered the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 7 percent. People who consumed even higher amounts of olive oil—half a tablespoon daily—had a 15 percent lower risk of any kind of CVD and a 21 percent lower risk of CHD.
This study took place between 1990 and 2014 and included 63,867 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 35,512 men from the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study. All participants were free of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases at the start of the study. Every four years for about three decades, study participants answered questionnaires about their diet and lifestyle. Participants were asked how often, on average, they had consumed specific foods, as well as types of fats, oils, and brand or type of oils used for cooking and added at the table in the preceding year. Total olive oil intake was calculated from the sum of three questionnaire questions related to olive oil intake: olive oil salad dressing, olive oil added to food or bread, and olive oil used for baking and frying at home.
Among the researchers’ noteworthy observations were: Olive oil can have favorable effects on endothelial dysfunction, hypertension, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, and diabetes. Previous studies have shown that olive oil—especially the virgin grade—that is richer in polyphenolic compounds is associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers and a better lipid profile; and despite olive oil being a high-fat food, it has not been associated with weight gain.
The researchers stress the importance of substituting olive oil for other fats. The main thing is to replace unhealthy fats with olive oil, and that can improve cholesterol, reduce inflammatory biomarkers, and improve cardiovascular health. The results echo a 2013 study that found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil for five years had a 30 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke. They also showed a slower rate of cognitive decline and were better able to control their weight.
Reference: Guasch-Ferré M, Liu G, Li Y, et al. Olive oil consumption and cardiovascular risk in US adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020;75(15):1729-1739.