Is Olive Oil Good For You? What the Experts Say About the Health Benefits

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Olive Oil-Infused Coffee? Starbucks bet you’ll drink it.

It wouldn’t be the strangest food and beverage product to have olive oil infused in it. We add it to ice cream and whip it into chocolate cake. On TikTok, fans of olive oil return shots of the liquid saying it clears their skin and helps them lose weight. You can dip grapefruit in olive oil or add it to a dirty martini, add it to granola or whisk it into lemon curd.

Nutritionists tout olive oil as a health-conscious component of your diet. Olive oil has been linked to a number of health benefits, from lowering blood pressure to reducing inflammation, said Julia Zampano, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic. Here’s what we know about what olive oil can and can’t do for your health.

A wealth of research has linked the Mediterranean staple to health outcomes: a lower risk of cancer, possible prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, even a lower risk of early death. But many of these studies have looked at the health consequences of people who eat olive oil as part of a larger Mediterranean diet, in which olive oil replaces less healthy sources of fat, such as butter, because olive oil The health effects of the oil are contested to isolate.

It’s hard to tease out how big of a role olive oil plays in those health outcomes, said Marta Guasch-Ferre, a research scientist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. But the strongest research we have focuses on the benefits of olive oil for the heart, he said.

Dr. Guasch-Ferre led a study published in 2022 that found people who consumed more than half a teaspoon of olive oil per day were nearly 19 percent less likely to die of heart disease than those who didn’t. who rarely or never consumed olive oil. And a 2022 review of 13 studies showed a strong link between high olive oil consumption and a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes.

Researchers have circled a few theories as to why olive oil might protect the heart. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids, which, according to the American Heart Association, can lower the level of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL—sometimes called “bad” cholesterol—in your blood. High amounts of LDL can get deposited in the inner walls of blood vessels, forming thick deposits called plaques that can narrow and clog major arteries; Monounsaturated fats can help prevent this damage.

Olive oil is also rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols, which may help protect your cells from damage, said Dr. Selvi Rajagopal, assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Despite olive oil’s cardiovascular benefits, it’s still a fat, Dr. Rajagopal said — which means it’s fairly high in calories. Consuming olive oil straight or mixed into drinks can add unnecessary calories to your diet.

The way olive oil is made can also alter its health benefits. Ms. Zampano said that the less processed an oil is, the higher the amount of polyphenols it contains. She said that exposing the oil to extreme heat or chemical solvents can degrade the polyphenols. So when possible, choose extra virgin olive oil (which is usually made by mechanically crushing olives) or extra virgin olive oil, which generally retains the polyphenol levels over a regular bottle of olive oil. .

No matter what type of olive oil you choose, though, it will have some health benefits, Dr. Rajagopal said: “You don’t have to get the coldest, purest, most expensive kind.”

Dr. Guasch-Ferre recommends using olive oil as a replacement for less healthy fat sources — especially butter and full-fat dairy products, which contain saturated fat that can raise your LDL levels. Try cooking with olive oil instead of butter, or mixing it with herbs and spices and using a creamy dressing from a bottle instead of sprinkling it on salads, Ms Zampano said. But aim for about three or four tablespoons of olive oil per day, Dr. Guasch-Ferre advised, as this amount is associated with the greatest benefits. And don’t expect olive oil to transform your overall health.

Dr. Rajagopal said, “You cannot isolate that one thing and say that I increase it and hope that my health improves.” “You have to look at your entire diet.”

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