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Amazing Benefits from Half a Tablespoon of Olive Oil

The evidence keeps accumulating that as little as half a tablespoon of olive oil a day can have huge health benefits. Are you getting enough?

We have been writing about the health benefits of olive oil for decades, although at one time doctors thought it was too high in saturated fat to be healthy. Data from long-running cohort studies continues to bolster our enthusiasm. They suggest that as little as half a tablespoon of olive oil might reduce mortality from heart disease, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and respiratory illness. People who consume olive oil are also less likely to die from dementia.

Reduced Risk of Death from Dementia:

Several years ago a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine recruited people at high risk for heart disease. The PREDIMED study lasted nearly five years and included more than 7,400 people at high risk for heart problems. Those who consumed 4 tablespoons daily of extra virgin olive oil were less likely to to have heart attacks or strokes than people in the control group following a low-fat diet.

Now, a new study suggests that including olive oil in the diet may reduce a person’s risk of dying from dementia (presented at the American Society for Nutrition, July 22-25, 2023). The researchers tracked data from more than 90,000 Americans over 30 years. Participants included more than 60,000 female nurses in the Nurses’ Health Study and nearly 32,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. According to the investigators, people consuming at least half a tablespoon of olive oil a day reduce their likelihood of death from dementia by 28% compared to those who don’t regularly use olive oil. We hope the scientists will publish this research so we can see more of the data.

How Much Olive Oil Is Enough?

A study in the January 18, 2022 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) suggested that adding a bit of olive oil to your daily salad could help you live a longer, healthier life. That’s the inference from data published in JACC.

Harvard scientists tracked more than 60,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and more than 30,000 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. (Those names should sound familiar. These are the same volunteers whose data was analyzed for the dementia study.)

The volunteers filled out detailed dietary questionnaires every few years for nearly three decades. During the study, 36,850 of the participants died.

In analyzing the data, the researchers determined that those who consumed at least half a tablespoon of olive oil a day achieved some pretty impressive health benefits.

Here is what they found, in their own words:

“Compared with those who never or rarely consume olive oil, those in the highest category of olive oil consumption (>7 g/d) had 19% lower risk of total and CVD mortality, 17% lower risk of cancer mortality, 29% lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, and 18% lower risk of respiratory mortality.”

That was over the 28 years of the study.

7 Grams = Half a Tablespoon of Olive Oil:

When most Americans read 7 grams of olive oil a day they probably wonder how much that is in something they can relate to. A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil is equal to about 13.7 grams. So just about half a tablespoon of olive oil daily is what it would take to reap the health benefits of this staple of the Mediterranean diet.

If you dip your bread in olive oil instead of spreading butter on it, you can easily achieve the goal. Or if you use olive oil in your salad dressing you are home free. We like to cook with olive oil, so that’s another way to get more than a half a tablespoon of olive oil daily.

OK, I can hear your doubts about cooking with olive oil. Many people have heard that if you cook with olive oil you will ruin its health benefits at best and convert the oil to something dangerous at worst. Wrong! Here is a link to the answer to this question.

How Does Half a Tablespoon of Olive Oil Help?

The authors of the article in the JACC suggest that the monounsaturated fatty acids and phenols in olive oil:

Have anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic activity
Help promote a healthy gut microbiome
Improve the flexibility of blood vessels
Improve blood lipids
Enhance insulin sensitivity
Improve blood sugar control
Reduce blood pressure

Not the First Time Olive Oil Wins:

The authors of the JACC study note that:

“An inverse association between olive oil consumption and risk of CVD [cardiovascular disease] has been well established in large prospective cohort studies and large clinical trials, especially in Mediterranean and European countries.”

In addition, the authors note:

“We also observed a lower risk of neurodegenerative and respiratory disease mortality. Few prior studies have reported on these associations; however, some evidence suggests that olive oil consumption may reduce cognitive decline. In the Three-City Study, participants who consumed more olive oil had a lower risk of cognitive deficit for verbal fluency and visual memory.”

The investigators calculate that substituting half a tablespoon of olive oil for mayonnaise, margarine, butter or other dairy fat would significantly lower mortality.

An Editorial Confirms the Benefits of Half a Tablespoon of Olive Oil Daily:

An accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Jan. 18, 2022) reminds cardiologists that:

“Olive oil is the cornerstone in the Mediterranean diet…”

This eating pattern with its emphasis on vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish and whole grains has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. The PREDIMED study randomized more than 7,000 Spanish adults at high risk for heart disease.

One group consumed a Mediterranean diet enriched with at least 4 tablespoons a day of extra virgin olive oil daily. Another group followed a similar diet but added an ounce of nuts a day instead of olive oil. The control group was supposed to follow a low-fat diet. Those consuming olive oil or nuts were significantly less likely to have cardiovascular problems or die during the study.

You can learn more about the PREDIMED study and How to Stay Healthy with a Mediterranean Diet at this link.

Olive Oil and Cancer Prevention:

Another article has reviewed the benefits of olive oil against cancer (PLoS One, Jan. 11, 2022).

The authors concluded:

“The present systematic review and meta-analysis comprising data from 45 individual studies reveals that, overall, highest versus lowest olive oil consumption was associated with 31% lower cancer risk. Significant protection was noted for breast, overall gastrointestinal, upper aerodigestive and urinary tract cancer.

“Increasing evidence supports that olive oil constituents convey protection against the development of several types of cancer.”

“In conclusion, the results of this meta-analysis represent valuable evidence of the protective effects of olive oil against cancer development.”

Learn More:

If you would like guidance on how to follow a Mediterranean-style diet, you might enjoy our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. It includes details on the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and a low-carb diet. You will find it in our bookstore at this link.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Estruch R et al, "Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts." New England Journal of Medicine, June 21, 2018. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1800389
  • Guasch-Ferré M et al, "Consumption of olive oil and risk of total and cause-specific mortality among U.S. adults." Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Jan. 18, 2022. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2021.10.041
  • Markellos C et al, "Olive oil intake and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis." PLoS One, Jan. 11, 2022. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0261649
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