Less than a tablespoon of olive oil a day slows death risk, study says

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Increasing consumption of olive oil can lower a person’s risk for death from a variety of diseases, according to a new study. File photo by Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Adding less than a tablespoon of olive oil to their diet lowers a person’s risk for death from heart or lung disease, as well as brain disorders and cancer, a study published Monday by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found.

Compared to participants who rarely or never consumed olive oil, those who added one-half tablespoon or more to their diet daily had a 19% lower risk for death from heart disease, the data showed.

They also were 17% less likely to die from cancer and 18% less likely to die from lung disease, the researchers said.

This level of olive oil consumption was also associated with a 29% lower risk for death from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to the researchers.

In addition, substituting 10 grams, or just under one tablespoon per day of olive for the same amount of margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy lowered a person’s risk for early death from all causes by up to 34%, they said.

However. this was not the case when substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils, the researchers said.

“Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils,” study co-author Marta Guasch-Ferré said in a press release.

“Our study helps make more specific recommendations that will be easier for patients to understand and hopefully implement into their diets,” said Guasch-Ferré, a senior research scientist in nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Recent studies have found that consumption of dietary fats from plant-based sources, such as olive oil, can lower a person’s risk for stroke, while others have found that the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil, can help stave off dementia.

Using participants from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, two ongoing assessments of adults in the United States, Guasch-Ferré and her colleagues analyzed data for 60,582 women and 31,801 over a 28-year period.

Participants’ diets were assessed by a questionnaire every four years, and they were asked how often, on average, they consumed specific foods and types of fats and oils, as well as what brand or type of oils they used for cooking and eating, the researchers said.

Consumption was calculated from the total of olive oil used for salad dressings, that added to food or bread and that used for baking and frying at home, according to the researchers.

Consumption of other vegetable oils was calculated based on the participants’ reported oil brand and type of fat used for cooking at home. The intake of dairy and other fats and nutrients also was measured, they said.

Olive oil consumption increased from an average of 1.6 grams per day at the start of the study period, in 1990 to about 4 grams per day, or about one-third of a tablespoon, in 2010, the data showed.

Over the same period, margarine consumption dropped to about 4 grams per day from about 12 grams per day, or nearly 1 tablespoon, while the intake of other fats remained stable, the researchers said.

Among the study participants, 36,856 died during the study period, according to the researchers.

Those with higher olive oil consumption tended to be more physically active, were less likely to smoke and had greater consumption of fruits and vegetables compared to those with lower intake, the data showed.

About 5% of the study participants consumed an average of 9 grams of olive oil per day, or about three-fourths of a tablespoon, the researchers said.

“It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet,” Guasch-Ferré said.


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