Want to live longer and have a healthier heart? Add more olive oil to your diet

Consuming more than seven grams of olive oil per day may decrease a person's risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease or respiratory disease, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

“Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils,” lead author Marta Guasch-Ferré, PhD, a senior research scientist at the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement. “Clinicians should be counseling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health. Our study helps make more specific recommendations that will be easier for patients to understand and hopefully implement into their diets.”

Guasch-Ferré et al. analyzed data from 60,582 women and 31,801 men who had no history of CV disease or cancer. All data was from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, with baseline evaluations taking place in 1990. 

During the 28-year follow-up period, each participant's diet was evaluated via a questionnaire that was filled out every four years.

Researchers found that olive oil consumption rose from 1.6 grams per day in 1990 to nearly four grams per day in 2010, while margarine intake decreased from about 12 grams per day in 1990 to almost four grams per day in 2010. The group's intake of other fats remained largely the same. Over the course of the analysis, there were a total of 36,856 deaths. 

According to the authors, patients with higher olive oil consumption were often more physically active, tended to have Southern European or Mediterranean ancestry, were less likely to smoke and ate more fruits and vegetables.

When researchers compared those who rarely or never consumed olive oil, those in the highest consumption category had a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality, 17% lower risk of cancer mortality, 29% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality and 18% lower risk of respiratory mortality.

Substituting 10 grams per day of other fatssuch as margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fatwith olive oil was associated with a lower risk of total and cause-specific mortality. They saw no significant associations when substituting olive oil for other vegetable oils, however. 

“It’s possible that higher olive oil consumption is a marker of an overall healthier diet and higher socioeconomic status," Guasch-Ferré added. "However, even after adjusting for these and other social economic status factors, our results remained largely the same. Our study cohort was predominantly a non-Hispanic white population of health professionals, which should minimize potentially confounding socioeconomic factors, but may limit generalizability as this population may be more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Read the full study here.

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