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Even relatively low consumption of olive oil improves cardiovascular risk in US adults.


Europeans who consume more olive oil have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD*), but is that also true for adults in the US who typically consume much less olive oil? Scientists from Harvard designed the current study as an analysis of data from the Nurses’ Health Study II and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study to answer that question.

Nearly 93,000 U.S. health professionals who were free of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke reported their olive oil intake on food-frequency questionnaires every 4 years beginning in 1990. The investigators categorized olive oil intake in 4 groups: never or less than once a month, 0-4.5 grams per day (1 teaspoon = 4.4 grams), 4.5-7 grams, and more than 7 grams per day.

During the 24 years' of follow-up, 10.5% of participants experienced major CVD events (stroke, myocardial infarction, CVD death). After taking into account other factors such as diet, smoking status, family history, and presence of diseases such as hypertension, results indicated those consuming more than half a tablespoon of olive oil daily (more than 7 grams per day) had 14% lower risk of CVD and 18% lower risk of CHD* (coronary heart disease). Olive oil intake was not associated with lower risk of stroke.

In fact, just using 5 grams of olive oil as a replacement for 5 grams of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat was associated with a reduced risk of CVD. The study also showed that participants with a higher intake of olive oil tended to have a greater intake of nuts, fruits, and vegetables and had lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers.

An expert in the field commented on these results, “The findings of the present study also suggest that the replacement of more saturated fats, such as butter, margarine, mayonnaise, and dairy fat, with olive oil entails a lower CVD risk. This is a further argument for promoting the use of olive oil in place of less healthy fats in the U.S. population”.


Consider this: average olive oil intake in the US study was ~1/4 of the amount consumed by Spaniards in the PREDIMED study (4 tablespoons, 50 grams) which found that the incidence of CVD in the Mediterranean diet groups was lowered by approximately 30% when compared to the control diet. So these results are encouraging, but better still is the room we have to grow to consume more heart-healthy olive oil!

This study, “Olive Oil Consumption and Cardiovascular Risk in U.S. Adults,” was published online in Journal of the American College of Cardiology https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2020.02.036.

*Cardiovascular disease includes all the heart conditions, but also covers high blood pressure and narrowing of arteries supplying blood to other body parts and organ. Coronary heart disease is more specific and refers only to diseases of the heart, such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, heart valve abnormalities, and abnormal heart rhythms.

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