A staple of the Mediterranean diet that has been celebrated for its health benefits, olive oil is rich in healthy fats that can help lower your cholesterol and ward off heart disease. As far as fats go, olive oil is about as healthy as it gets. Because there's only fat in olive oil, it's high in calories and eating too much of it can cause you to gain fat.
In moderation, olive oil will not make you fat; however, eating too much of it can.
Olive Oil for Weight Loss
Maybe you're currently at a healthy weight but worried that adding olive oil to your diet will make you fat. Or perhaps you have some extra pounds and wonder whether you should cut out olive oil. The truth is, olive oil on its own won't make you fat. There's no secret nutrient in olive oil that causes fat accumulation. Rather, it's the calories in olive oil.
All foods have calories, some more than others. You need calories for energy and to support physiological functions, brain function and the repair and maintenance of all your body's tissues. However, eating more calories than your body needs results in weight gain and specifically fat gain.
Whether it's fruit or olive oil calories, if your body can't use them, it stores them as fat for a later time at which there may be an energy shortage. Over time, the more of those excess calories it stores, the more fat you gain.
Olive Oil Calories
Olive oil is pure fat. Fat is the most caloric of the three macronutrients; it has 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein only have 4 calories per gram, reports the Cleveland Clinic. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 1 tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories.
One serving of olive oil is one tablespoon, but it's easy to use more than that when you don't measure. While one serving isn't going to break the calorie bank, two or three servings at one time can really add up the calories.
Read more: 18 Fat-Rich Foods That Are Good for You
Calorie Deficit for Weight Loss
In order to lose body fat you have to eat fewer calories than your body needs on a regular basis. This stops the body from storing fat so that you can begin to burn fat. (This is the fundamental concept of weight loss although, scientifically, it's more complex than that.)
The first way to create this deficit is through your diet. By reducing your intake of high-calorie nutrient-poor foods, such as sugar, and eating more nutrient-rich foods that are lower in calories, you can more easily create the calorie deficit you need to burn fat. You'll also improve your health and vitality, which will give you more energy to exercise, which is the second way you can create a calorie deficit.
Although olive oil is high in calories, it offers a bevy of nutritional benefits. Therefore it can and should be a part of your weight-loss diet, as long as you manage your total daily calories.
Healthy Fats in Olive Oil
The fat in in olive oil is worth the calories it adds to your diet. Of the 13.5 grams of fat in 1 tablespoon, 10 grams are monounsaturated fats. According to the American Heart Association, these fats have a beneficial effect on your health, when consumed in place of saturated and trans fats.
Monounsaturated fats offer heart-health benefits because they help reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, which is the unhealthy cholesterol that can build up in the arteries and lead to heart disease and stroke. Monounsaturated fats are also a rich source of the antioxidant nutrient vitamin E, which the AHA says many Americans should get more of.
According to the National Academy of Medicine, adults should get 20 to 35 percent of their total calories from fat. Most of those should come from monounsaturated fats or 15 to 20 percent, advises the Cleveland Clinic. Polyunsaturated fats, another type of healthy fat, should comprise 5 to 10 percent of daily fats. Adults are encouraged to keep saturated fat intake below 10 percent of calories and to avoid trans fats altogether.
Olive Oil and Glycemic Response
Among the three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrate and fat, carbs are the only type that affect blood sugar. Carbs are broken down during digestion into sugar, or glucose. When you eat simple carbs, like white bread and sweets, they are digested very quickly, leading to a surge of sugars entering your blood stream. This is called the glycemic response.
These blood sugar fluctuations can be detrimental to weight loss. After your blood sugar levels drop again, you may feel fatigue, moodiness and food cravings, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, which makes it hard to control your calorie intake. Over time, eating too many foods high in simple carbs can lead to metabolic syndrome, weight gain and other ill effects.
Although cutting out simple carbs should be the goal of any weight-loss diet, eating them with a fat, such as olive oil, can attenuate the glycemic response. A 2016 study in Diabetes Care found that olive oil was particularly effective for balancing the postprandial blood glucose response in diabetics after a high-glycemic meal when compared to butter. So if you're going to eat that piece of French bread, pass on the butter and choose olive oil instead.
The glycemic index is a measurement tool for how carbohydrates affect blood sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. High-glycemic foods have the biggest impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise sharply and then plummet.
Olive Oil in Your Diet
Olive oil features prominently in the Mediterranean diet, which involves eating primarily plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. It advises replacing butter with olive oil and other healthy diet modifications including:
- Eating less red meat
- Eating more fresh fish
- Eating dairy in small amounts
- Eating fruit for dessert instead of sweets
- Drinking plenty of water
It's no surprise why this diet works for a lot of people: It's high in fiber and protein, both of which can aid weight loss even in the absence of calorie restriction, according to a 2018 study in Nutrition. It limits sugar and refined carbs to keep blood sugar steady. And, best of all, it's a sustainable diet that you can follow for a lifetime rather than a fad diet that advises cutting out or severely limiting entire food groups.
- Cleveland Clinic: Fat and Calories
- USDA: Basic Report: 04053, Oil, Olive, Salad or Cooking
- American Heart Association: Monounsaturated Fat
- National Academy of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Cleveland Clinic: Fat: What You Need to Know
- Dr. Hyman: How to Rewire Your Brain to End Food Cravings
- Diabetes Care: Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Reduces Glycemic Response to a High-Glycemic Index Meal in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Mayo Clinic: Mediterranean Diet: A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan
- Mayo Clinic: Glycemic Index Diet: What's Behind the Claims
- Nutrition: A Nonrestrictive, Weight Loss Diet Focused on Fiber and Lean Protein Increase.
- Precision Nutrition: Calories in vs. Out? or Hormones? The Debate Is Finally Over. Here’s Who Won.
- MedlinePlus: Simple Carbohydrates