You do your best to make smart eating choices daily. If something won’t benefit your body, then you reconsider whether it’s worth consuming. That brings us to olive oil. You know this oil provides a great taste to many a dish, but how much of it a day is healthy?
If you do consume olive oil every day, keep it to 23 grams, or roughly two tablespoons. Doing so has the possibility to lower your chances of getting coronary heart disease.
Now, that may sound fine and dandy, but you have some questions. Isn’t olive oil unhealthy? You’ve heard mixed reviews. Will eating it every day really help your heart health? In this article, we’ll explore those questions in depth, answering them so you can continue making healthy decisions.
Firstly, What Is Olive Oil?
Before we get into how much olive oil you should eat daily, let’s talk about what goes into this oil. As the name tells you, olive oil comes from the olive tree, or Olea europaea. Food manufacturers will take olives (often whole ones) and then use a machine to press them. The oil released from this process is a type of fat.
Now, not all fats are the same. There’s trans, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats.
Trans fats have almost no health value. These occur when food manufacturers hydrogenate some products. Oils will go through hydrogenation to extend their shelf life. Unfortunately, by doing this, the hardening of hydrogenation strips the oils of most of their nutritional value.
Polyunsaturated fats are the good stuff, omega 3s and 6s. You should eat more omega 3s if you can, since these reduce inflammation. Omega 6s, on the other hand, induce inflammation.
Another healthy fat, monounsaturated fats, can retain your energy. They also aide you in losing weight and safeguarding the heart.
Then there’s saturated fats. They’re healthier than trans fats but still not great. Coconut oil contains a lot of saturated fats.
What about olive oil? It’s loaded with monounsaturated fat. If you can, go for extra-virgin olive oil, as it has even more healthful fats than the regular stuff.
While we know and love olive oil for its use in cooking, it appears in many other products as well. For instance, in centuries past, people used it to light their lamps. More modernly, products like soaps, medicines, and some cosmetics all have olive oil.
Is Olive Oil Actually Good for You?
Have you ever heard of the Mediterranean diet? You’re probably at least a little familiar with it. It’s a diet that’s high in grains, beans, poultry, fish, olive oil, and plant-based foods. By combining the best of Italian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, and Greek food staples, you get the Mediterranean diet.
According to Medical News Today, those who enjoy the Mediterranean diet tend to have a lower risk of getting diabetes, stroke, and heart conditions like cardiovascular disease. That’s because this means of eating cuts down on saturated fats. You already know how bad those are.
Does that make olive oil healthy, then? Not necessarily. What you must remember is the Mediterranean diet is comprised of many foods, with olive oil just one of them. Those on this diet also enjoy whole avocados and olives to get good dietary fat. That’s not what makes the Mediterranean diet healthful, though. It could also be eating fewer sweets and red meats and getting more eggs, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans, and legumes that keeps these people free of some diseases.
In fact, there’s doubt over whether olive oil helps you heart health at all. A 2000 study from Robert Vogel, MD, a heart specialist at the University of Maryland, was published that year. Vogel and crew compared the heart health of 10 people who ate different foods. All contained good cholesterol. Some participants had salmon, others bread and olive oil, and the third group bread and canola oil. The foods all had the same amount of fat, 50 grams.
To test how blood vessels in the heart would react, Vogel and crew did artery testing several hours ahead of the participants eating. Then, three hours after they finished, the staff tested again. If the arteries in the heart constrict too much, it’s possible to cause blood vessel lining damage, says the study.
The meal that had the most arterial constriction? It wasn’t the canola oil and bread, as that had an 11-percent drop in blood flow. It wasn’t the salmon, which caused little if any constriction. Nope, instead, it was the bread and olive oil. With this meal, the participants experienced a 34-percent blood flow decrease. Vogel and crew say that’s comparable to consuming a Big Mac.
Why does this happen with olive oil but not necessarily other oils? According to Vogel, it has to do with the omega-9 fatty acids in olive oil. These acids lead to the abovementioned constriction. Other oils don’t necessarily contain as many omega-9s. Instead, they tend to have omega-3s, which cause much less constriction. Take, for instance, canola oil or fish oil.
Too much constriction of the aortic blood vessels, as the study shows, damages the inner lining. This lining, known as the endothelium, can handle several serious constrictions. If these happen often and seriously enough, though, then a person’s risk of getting coronary heart disease can increase.
Vogel also mentions that those with diabetes could make their condition more severe by consuming too much olive oil. Again, it has to do with the blood vessel constriction and the condition of the endothelium.
That doesn’t mean you should shy away from olive oil entirely. Just watch how much you consume.
After all, there are a whole host of health benefits associated with olive oil. Those include:
- Reducing the rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease, as people in Mediterranean parts of the world tend to have this disease less. There was also a study done using mice that tested whether an extra-virgin olive oil phenolic compound called oleocanthal lessened rates of Alzheimer’s. It’s possible that the oleocanthal pushed proteins that could lead to Alzheimer’s away from the mice’s brains.
- Maintaining cholesterol levels, as one Medical Science Monitor study from 2004 found. The research, done in Japan, studied almost 30 people over a six-week span. Some were on olive oil supplements for cholesterol control. Those people had lower rates of bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins.
- Potentially lessening the chances of getting breast cancer, per a 2010 Spanish study. Virgin olive oil could cut down on oncogene p21Ras movement. That could lead to the killing of tumor cells as well as less damage to DNA.
- Providing more monounsaturated fats in the diet, which could lessen rates of depression. So says more research from Spain, this time from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The study lasted for six years and included 12,000 participants. By getting dietary fat through olive oil, these people had a lower chance of getting depression.
- Cutting back on the rate of strokes, says the American Academy of Neurology. In their 2011 research, when those susceptible to stroke consumed olive oil, they lessened their likelihood of having one by 41 percent.
How Much Olive Oil Per Day Is Healthy?
Some medical sources argue that olive oil is unhealthy and others say it can benefit your body in many ways. If you want to continue eating it daily, you should limit just how much olive oil you consume, as we suggested above. Pritkin Health Resort recommends consuming no more than 23 grams or two tablespoons each day.
The resort mentions how the monounsaturated fat in olive oil could cut down on your chances of getting coronary heart disease if you eat that much of the stuff daily. That said, Pritkin warns: “to achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
Which Healthier Oils You Should Gravitate Towards Instead?
If you read the wording again from that statement from Pritkin Health Resort, you’ll notice they say “possible benefit” of a healthier heart. With such mixed feelings on olive oil, you might want to consider trying some other oils. The following have much more unanimous health benefits.
- Extra-virgin olive oil: Wait, what? Didn’t we just say to move away from olive oil? Sure, but there’s a significant difference between regular olive oil and the extra-virgin stuff. This has less processing and refinement done during the manufacturing process. That in turn gives it more polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. If you want to reap heart-healthy benefits from olive oil, it’ll be from the extra-virgin stuff.
- Walnut oil: For less inflammation, walnut oil can help. It contains omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a good balance of both. You need that balance, as we discussed earlier. Omega-3 fatty acids promote less inflammation and omega-6s more, so you want the omega-3s to balance out the effects of the omega-6s.
- Sunflower oil: If you’re not getting enough vitamin E, reach for the sunflower oil. It has a good portion of your daily intake, 28 percent. You also get plenty of omega-3s and some omega-6 fatty acids.
- Avocado oil: You’ll be hard-pressed to find more monounsaturated fat in an oil than avocado oil. This healthy food byproduct contains vitamin E and polyunsaturated fatty acid as well. It also has a creamy profile.
- Canola oil: While it’s not the healthiest oil out there, canola oil might still provide more health benefits than olive oil. It has some polyunsaturated fats and more monounsaturated fats. Just make sure you get unprocessed or cold-pressed canola oil, as this has the least processing and thus the most nutrients.
While the monounsaturated fat in olive oil does provide some health benefits, you still shouldn’t down the stuff copiously each day. Try to stick to no more than two tablespoons and you could help your heart. Remember that it goes both ways, though. Too much olive oil can lead to heart arterial constriction, which could cause health problems down the road.
To be on the safe side, you might incorporate other oils with healthier reputations into your cooking. These include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oil. Good luck!