Multivitamins, fish oil pills and apple cider vinegar are common supplements that some people take every day in their quest for health. Olive oil isn't typically thought of as a health supplement in the way that vitamins are. Most people use it for cooking or adding flavor to dishes, but eating olive oil every day can improve your health.
Drinking a few tablespoons of olive oil every day can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Don't Fear the Fat
It sounds weird to think of olive oil as a supplement since it's pure fat. The types you find in many fast-food restaurants are typically unhealthy — not to mention that fat has nine calories per gram, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That's almost twice the amount of carbohydrates and protein, which each have four. However, not all fats are created equal.
Types of Fat
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat are chemically different, reports the Dietitians Association of Australia. Foods like fish and nuts are examples of polyunsaturated fats, and they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which improve heart health.
Olive oil, and other oils like canola, safflower, peanut and sesame, are examples of monounsaturated fat. Try to use these sources of monounsaturated fat to replace some of the saturated fat in your diet, which can help decrease your risk for heart disease.
Learning From the Mediterranean Diet
Olive oil consumption is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet. One goal of this diet is to reduce saturated fats and increase unsaturated fats. The diet includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, grains, potatoes and nuts. Olive oil is a staple in the diet and one of the main sources of monounsaturated fat.
A 2017 article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine argues that heart disease is caused mostly by inflammation. In the study, the subjects switched to either a Mediterranean diet or comparable health diet. Those eating a Mediterranean diet consumed either 4 tablespoons of olive oil per day or a handful of nuts.
Throughout the course of the study, the 7,500 high-risk participants had a 30 percent lower risk of developing heart problems than would normally have been expected, whether they ate a handful of nuts or drank olive oil. Interestingly, the researchers didn't see a significant drop in their LDL cholesterol levels, which would indicate a reduced risk for heart disease overall.
The researchers concluded that it must be the alpha linoleic acid, polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids present in olive oil and nuts that lower the risk for heart disease by reducing inflammation in blood vessels.
In 2016, a case-control study published in Public Health Nutrition showed that olive oil was responsible for reducing the risk of coronary artery disease in people who followed the Mediterranean diet. In fact, the participants in the study who used only olive oil and no other oils in their diet reduced their risk of coronary artery disease by 37 percent.
Olive Oil Health Benefits
Drinking olive oil as part of your diet can actually help you lose weight, as long as you're not going over your calorie goal for the day. A 2018 study published in the European Journal of Nutrition showed that having 25 milliliters of extra virgin olive oil with breakfast helped subjects lose weight and lower blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for heart disease, while following a reduced-calorie diet.
Since inflammation of the arteries can contribute to heart disease, it's important to keep inflammation under control. A 2018 study published in Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders showed that olive oil reduced inflammation and acted as an antioxidant. The researchers concluded that less inflammation reduces atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
Olive Oil for Cancer Prevention
There are different types of cancer and each may be caused by different problems. According to the National Cancer Institute, free radicals might be one cause of cancer.
An atom or molecule that gains or loses an electron is known as a free radical. Losing or gaining an electron makes the molecule unbalanced and reactive. Free radicals can change your DNA by reacting with it and donating or stealing an electron. The damage may cause a mutation in your DNA that could lead to cancer.
According to a 2016 study published in BioFactors, the antioxidants in olive oil neutralize these free radicals, thereby protecting your DNA. The study looked at unstable oxygen molecules in particular, because they are some of the most reactive and dangerous free radicals.
The paper explains that the main antioxidant in olive oil, hydroxytyrosol, can help reduce the spread of certain forms of cancers by slowing down tumor cell growth. The types of cancer shown to benefit from the antioxidant included leukemia, colon cancer, prostate cancer and breast cancer. It's important to note that the treatment was with an isolated form of hydroxytyrosol, not olive oil itself. Whether drinking olive oil can have the same effect is unknown.
Polyphenols From Olive Oil
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that olive oil has might be due to the polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols are antioxidants found in plants. A study published in 2018 in Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders found that supplementing the polyphenols found in olive oil, not olive oil itself, reduced inflammation.
Vitamin E in Olive Oil
Fat-soluble vitamins can only be stored in fat. Since olive oil is made of fat, it contains a particularly potent fat-soluble vitamin: vitamin E. Known for its role as an antioxidant, the type of vitamin E in olive oil is called alpha tocopherol, and it's the same type of vitamin E found in human tissue.
Alpha tocopherol is a particularly potent antioxidant, making it the most effective form of vitamin E. You can meet your daily requirements with 22 to 26 grams of olive oil per day, which is a little under two tablespoons, according to a study from BioFactors.
Types of Olive Oil
Drinking olive oil daily improves your heart health. Before you rush to the store to buy a bottle, make sure you're selecting the right kind, however.
There are different types of olive oil. Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality because it's minimally processed. It's made from pressed olives, without any additional heating or refining to extract the oil. To ensure that there hasn't been any artificial processing, extra virgin olive oil is tested for chemicals.
Regular olive oil and light olive oil are refined versions of olive oil, meaning manufacturers use heat and chemicals to extract impurities. Most companies add some extra virgin olive oil back for added taste and color.
If you're going to drink olive oil, stick to extra virgin. It'll have more taste and nutritional value because it hasn't been processed.
How Much Should You Drink?
If you're trying to lose or maintain your weight, adding fat to your diet might not be a good idea because it's so high in calories. Thankfully, you don't need to drink too much olive oil to reap the health benefits. Or, instead of drinking olive oil, add some to your salad or use the oil for cooking.
Many studies that investigate the health benefits of olive oil use a small amount, such as a few tablespoons per day. For example, a 2015 study published in Nutrition and Metabolism had subjects ingest 25 milliliters per day of raw olive oil. That's roughly equivalent to 1.7 tablespoons or about 5 teaspoons. That amount adds about 200 calories to your diet per day, since one tablespoon of olive oil is 120 calories.
In the study, participants who had olive oil every day showed signs of improved heart health and immune function, but such a practice could result in weight gain, so just be sure to balance olive oil consumption with other foods to avoid consuming too many calories.
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Cardio-Metabolic and Immunological Impacts of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Consumption in Overweight and Obese Older Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Olive Oil Lovers: Calories in Olive Oil & Nutrition Facts
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: Saturated Fat Does Not Clog The Arteries: Coronary Heart Disease Is a Chronic Inflammatory Condition, the Risk of Which Can Be Effectively Reduced From Healthy Lifestyle Interventions
- Cambridge: Exclusive Olive Oil Consumption Has a Protective Effect on Coronary Artery Disease; Overview of the THISEAS Study
- American Heart Association: Mediterranean Diet
- The Kitchn: What’s the Difference Between Regular Olive Oil and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil?
- European Journal of Nutrition: Consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Improves Body Composition and Blood Pressure in Women With Excess Body Fat: A Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial
- Endocrine, Metabolic and Immune Disorders: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Diseases: Benefits for Human Health
- Endocrine, Metabolic and Immune Disorders: The Protective Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Responses
- United States Department of Agriculture: How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Types of Fat
- DAA: The Ins and Outs of Unsaturated Fats
- California Olive Ranch: Olive Oil 101 | How We Make Our Extra Virgin Plive Oil
- The Takeout: What Is Non-Extra Virgin Olive Oil and When Should I Use It?
- MedlinePlus: Facts About Monounsaturated Fats
- Nutritionix: Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- BioFactors: Nutrigenomics of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: A Review
- National Cancer Institute: Antioxidants and Cancer Prevention
- Intechopen: Role of Oxygen Free Radicals in Cancer Development and Treatment