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The Mediterranean-style diet may lower the risk of several different chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. It also seems to help people live longer. Along with whole grains, plenty of fish, beans, and fresh vegetables, the Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil.
The health benefits of olive oil—including decreased inflammation, improved blood sugar control, blood pressure–lowering activity, and protection from hardening of the arteries—seem to come from the monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and vitamin E that olive oil is famous for. But whether it’s olive oil itself, other components of the diet, or some combination of these that is responsible for the mortality-reducing effects of the Mediterranean diet isn’t completely understood.
To see what effect olive oil had on mortality, 40,622 healthy people from five different regions in Spain gave information about their dietary habits as part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. For 14 years, researchers kept track of deaths among the participants.
“Our findings provide further evidence on the effects that one of the key components of the Mediterranean diet has on mortality, and support the need to preserve the habitual use of olive oil within this healthy dietary pattern,” said lead study author, Genevieve Buckland of the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona. “This is especially important in light of the progressive loss of the Mediterranean diet and the increased intake of [unhealthy fats] across many Mediterranean countries.”
Getting more olive oil into your diet is easy. Try these tips to get your 2 tablespoons:
Cook with it, but watch the heat. Since olive oil has a low smoke point (the temperature at which the oil begins to break down), it’s best to use it for lower-temperature applications, like sautéing.
(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.024216)