Olive oil ‘reduces risk of fatal heart disease by nearly a fifth’
Eating more than half a tablespoon of olive oil daily is linked to a lower risk of dying from illnesses including heart disease and cancer, a study has found.
After looking at the diets of about 90,000 health workers over almost 30 years, researchers from Harvard University found that the group consuming the most olive oil – in salad dressings, added to food like bread, or in cooking and frying – were less likely to die from a number of causes.
Dr Marta Guasch-Ferre, the senior research scientist who led the study, said: “Clinicians should be counselling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health.”
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet and has been linked to better heart and brain health, as well as longevity. The Mediterranean diet is also high in fruit and vegetables, as well as nuts, legumes, beans, grains and fish, with lower intakes of meat and dairy products.
The new study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, is based on records of 60,582 women and 31,801 men working in US healthcare. They had no heart disease or cancer when the study began in 1990, and completed questionnaires every four years for 28 years of follow-up.
Researchers calculated their olive oil consumption based on how much they reported eating in salad dressings, added to food or bread and used in baking or frying at home. One tablespoon is the equivalent of 13.5g of olive oil.
Compared with people who never or rarely ate olive oil, those eating the most had a 19 per cent lower chance of dying from cardiovascular causes such as heart disease or stroke.
Their risk of dying from cancer was 17 per cent lower, from neurodegenerative causes such as Alzheimer’s disease 29 per cent lower, and from respiratory causes 18 per cent lower.
While the study is observational and cannot prove that the levels of olive oil consumed led to lower death figures, the researchers said it had “anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties” that might have played a role.
The study also found that substituting 10g per day of other fats – such as margarine, butter and mayonnaise – with olive oil was linked to a between 8 and 34 per cent lower risk depending on the cause of death. Substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils was not linked to any significant health benefits.
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