olive oil

A growing number of people are praising the wellness benefits of olive oil.

Social media influencers are taking shots of the pantry staple in online videos and crediting it for their glowing skin, and major coffee chains now offer olive oil-infused blends.

But are these benefits backed by research?

What can adding olive oil, and other oils like peanut oil and soybean oil, do for your overall health?

Here’s what to know.

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Is Olive Oil Good For You?

Olive oil is made of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats or “good” fats considered to have heart-healthy properties.

One study found that people who adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet that included at least four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day had a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

There’s evidence that olive oil can improve cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and some believe its vitamin- and antioxidant-rich nature leads to clearer skin complexions.

Often, though, research focuses on larger Mediterranean diets that replace less healthy saturated fats like butter with olive oil.

“The benefits of eating unsaturated fats versus saturated fats is based on decades of research and supported by several scientific societies,” says Rachel Sproat, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian at UPMC Western Maryland. “Current dietary guidelines do encourage limiting saturated fats like butter more than unsaturated fats like olive oil.”

While switching to olive oil has a number of science-supported health benefits, these healthy fats are still very calorie dense, Sproat says.

Olive oil is most effective when consumed in reasonable amounts as part of a well-balanced diet.

The amount of unsaturated fat you should consume daily varies based on height, weight, age, and other factors. “In general, 20% to 35% of the average adult’s total daily calorie intake should be from fat, and less than 10% of that should be saturated fat,” Sproat says.

That’s according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to no more than 7% of total daily calories.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted consuming as little as 1 to 2 tablespoons of oleic acid-rich oils like olive oil may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease if those oils replace saturated fat and don’t increase overall daily calorie intake.

Saturated fats are most often found in animal-derived foods, but certain plant-based foods are high in saturated fats, too. For example, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are all higher sources of saturated fats than olive oil.

Are Olive Oil Shots Necessary?

Sproat says having olive oil daily supports cardiovascular health and can improve overall mood thanks to its omega-3 fatty acids, but there are more palatable ways to incorporate olive oil into your diet without taking daily shots.

“Those shots are not necessary, but I would recommend finding other ways to increase your intake of olive oil,” she says.

Ways to add more to your diet could include:

  • Drizzling olive oil over cooked fish, vegetables, or pasta.
  • Replacing butter or vegetable oil with olive oil in cooking, roasting, sautéing, or frying.
  • Using olive oil as a salad dressing base.
  • Mixing olive oil into grain bowls.
  • Blending it with coffee to make “bulletproof” coffee in place of butter or coconut oil.
  • Replacing butter or vegetable oil with olive oil in baking recipes.

Other Things To Know About Olive Oil

Storage is important when it comes to olive oil.

“The four things you want to keep in mind with oil is its enemies are heat, light, oxygen, and time,” Sproat says.

When buying, using, and storing olive oil, Sproat recommends:

  • Buying it in a dark container.
  • Storing it in a cool, dark cabinet.
  • Making sure the cap is on tight once it’s opened.
  • Buying smaller bottles and keeping an eye on shelf life. Once it’s opened, it should be used within a few months, she says, and should be used within two years of the bottling date.

“The best rule of thumb is if it smells or tastes off, then toss it,” Sproat says.

At UPMC Western Maryland Nutrition Services, registered dietitian nutritionists can offer sound, practical, easy-to-follow advice on diet trends and weight management, and help set health, nutrition, and other lifestyle-related goals.

Visit www.wmhs.com/nutrition-services for more information.

About UPMC Nutrition Services

Nutrition is vital for maintaining your overall health. UPMC Nutrition Services offers comprehensive diet and nutrition counseling on a variety of topics, including eating disorders, weight management, and heart disease. Our team provides medical nutrition therapy for chronic conditions such as celiac disease, cancer, and diabetes. UPMC’s network of registered dietitians is available to help guide all patients toward a healthier life.