It’s estimated that olive oil has been manufactured by humans for nearly 6,000 years. When it was first produced, olive oil was a staple consumer good and used for cooking, cleaning, and even as perfume. The ancient Greeks considered olive oil to be “liquid gold,” a prized good given by the gods themselves. Even Hippocrates, the famed Greek physician, revered olive oil as a powerful healing product.
But is there any truth to these views on olive oil, particularly for our health? The answer is yes. For example, a fair amount of research exists that shows following a Mediterranean diet (which includes olive oil) can help lower the risk of stroke and heart disease significantly. That’s because olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats (the good fats), which can help with overall cardiovascular disease (CVD) by lowering cholesterol. An increasingly common condition, CVD refers to a range of different health problems, including stroke, heart failure, and atherosclerosis (a buildup of plaque in blood vessels). According to the CDC, someone dies of CVD in the U.S. every 36 seconds.
New research is expanding our understanding of olive oil’s health impacts, showing that increasing intake of olive oil could improve cardiovascular health and more.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined how intake of olive oil affected overall health when compared to other oils. Researchers included 90,000 participants derived from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, both of which started around 1990. No participant in either study had cancer or cardiovascular disease when the study started. Questionnaires were used every few years to assess changes in diets. A key dietary change researchers noted was an increase in olive oil consumption among participants and a decrease in margarine usage–usage of other fats and oils stayed about the same.
Overall, researchers found that participants who reported the highest intake of olive oil had significantly improved health outcomes compared to those who consumed no olive oil, with an almost 20% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality. Higher intake of olive oil also seemed to hint at a decreased risk of cancer and neurocognitive decline. Researchers say their conclusions support existing guidelines that advocate for higher levels of olive oil or other unsaturated oils in people’s diets.
The study authors also noted the demographics of the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study were largely white and southern European or Mediterranean, suggesting that the study findings may not be conclusively generalizable to other populations.