Olive oil, this staple of the Mediterranean diet, is on the rise. Olive oil is a popular topping for salads, but today some choose a more generous and direct drizzle in a glass. In fact, they use it for its purported health benefits by drinking it neat. But despite the buzz, the origins of olive oil consumption are hard to trace. Some evidence suggests that it is an ancestral practice in the Mediterranean regions. It is said that a glass of olive oil served as breakfast for the Greeks on the island of Crete, who had a long life. Are the benefits worth it (literally) or is this a passing fad?
What are the potential health benefits of consuming olive oil?
Olive oil is a powerful ingredient: It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to an article published in Cells in 2020. But scientific data doesn’t suggest you should drink olive oil like a shooter. There is no solid research to suggest that any of the potential benefits could not be achieved by incorporating olive oil into recipes rather than drinking it directly.
Hundreds of studies have looked at the potential benefits of olive oil used in cooking. Yet few of them have studied the effects of consuming this “liquid gold,” the nickname that the Greek poet Homer would have given to this larder. The only hint of this practice is a brief reference in an article published in Scientific Reports in 2021, which notes that drinking extra virgin olive oil “is uncommon among consumers,” perhaps because of its sharp and bitter aftertaste.
If you already have a balanced diet, it is unlikely that you need to add more oil to get health benefits. If you already use high-quality olive oil in your cooking, and use it in the right preparations, you will reap the benefits.
Blessings with far-reaching consequences, to be precise. Including olive oil in the diet has been linked to improving heart health and reducing the risk of certain types of cancer, as well as promoting satiety and health. In a 2018 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, participants had fewer cardiovascular events when they ate a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruits, lean meats, whole grains and, yes, lots of oil.
Consuming olive oil in moderate amounts as part of a Mediterranean diet may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to a review published January 2022 in Molecules.
Finally, this oil benefits the gut, where it helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K) found in other foods. When you e.g. adding olive oil to your salad helps your body absorb these fat-soluble vitamins more efficiently. It can also contribute to a healthy gut microbiome. According to an article published in Nutrition Reviews in 2021, consuming 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil daily can boost beneficial microorganisms in the gut microbiome.
A word of caution: While olive oil has gut health benefits, claims that it can help reduce bloating are anecdotal. It might work for some people, but not for everyone. This is because we do not all have the same eating habits or the same factors that also affect digestion, such as stress, hormonal fluctuations, medications, food intolerances and physical activity habits.
What are the potential side effects of consuming olive oil?
Drinking small amounts of olive oil should not cause harm or induce negative side effects for most people. Some may experience gastrointestinal discomfort, as too much of an unfamiliar food can cause stomach upset. If you have a medical condition or are taking medication that alters the absorption of dietary fat (such as a lipase inhibitor), talk to your doctor before changing your diet.
Calorie density is another potential problem. Fat sources such as olive oil contain about 40 calories in a teaspoon. So if total calorie intake is something you’re concerned about, then high-fat foods can be a higher source of calories.
Although dietitians generally do not recommend drinking pure olive oil, there are some cases where it may be appropriate. Olive oil shots can be helpful for those who struggle to get enough calories each day. In this case, a shot can serve as a concentrated source of calories and healthy fats even when appetite is low.
How to add olive oil to your diet
The recommended daily consumption of olive oil is one and a half tablespoons.
To increase your olive oil intake, try replacing saturated fat (like butter) with olive oil. Making this swap is a heart-healthy choice, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study suggests that replacing 5 grams of saturated fat (such as margarine, butter, mayonnaise or dairy fat) with the same amount of olive oil (about a teaspoon) each day was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.
From there, the cooking possibilities are endless. Salads, stir-fries, roasted vegetables, chicken skewers and fish dishes are some of the easy ways to enjoy olive oil. It is ideal for raw cooking as well as frying and pan-frying, but would not be ideal for frying or cooking at very high temperatures. »
Yes, olive oil is excellent for health. No, you don’t have to drink it neat. Although there is anecdotal evidence for the benefits of olive oil shots, no formal studies have shown whether drinking olive oil is more beneficial than eating it with meals or using it in cooking. In general, health experts recommend using olive oil instead of saturated fat sources, but remember that it is high in calories. Consult a doctor or dietitian to find out how much olive oil is right for you so you don’t accidentally derail your weight loss or weight maintenance efforts. The suggested consumption for each person will be different depending on their goals.
Protein suppresses both bitterness and oleocanthal-induced pungency of extra virgin olive oil
Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts
Extra virgin olive oil and the gut-brain axis: influence on gut microbiota, mucosal immunity and cardiometabolic and cognitive health
Olive oil consumption and cardiovascular risk in US adults