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Does olive oil make you live longer?

The position of the European Food Information Council

A series of recent articles reported a study that consuming more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. "Although olive oil is at the heart of the Mediterranean Diet, long recognized as a source of nutrients associated with good health, there are various aspects to consider when reading the headlines on the subject", explains Eufic (European Information Council on nutrition) analyzed in detail the study in question.

The analysis reported in the media uses data from two previous surveys that began in the seventies and eighties, following the diet, lifestyle and health parameters of more than 90,000 participants (approximately 60,000 women and 30,000 men) for nearly 30 years. The researchers analyzed the data looking at the link between olive oil consumption and deaths. Consumption of fats and oils changed over time between participants: the amount of olive oil increased, while that of margarine decreased.

The scholars found that the increase in olive oil correlated with a lower risk of death. Specifically, participants with the highest consumption of olive oil (over 7 grams per day or half a tablespoon) had a 19% lower risk of death from any cause. The same group also had a 19% lower chance of dying from cardiovascular disease, and 17% from cancer. Other causes of risk of death with substantial decreases were those from degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and respiratory diseases.

The researchers conclude that replacing margarine, butter, mayonnaise and other dairy fats with olive oil could reduce the risk of mortality. At the same time, there is no evidence that olive oil is preferable to other vegetable oils. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends ingesting less than 30% of calories from fat sources, noting that unsaturated fats contained in vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, canola and soybean oil) are preferable to saturated fats of animal origin such as butter, cream, cheese and lard. Nutritional guidelines for the consumption of oils and fats vary between European countries. In Italy, the recommendation underlines the importance of using unsaturated fats mainly raw, and of choosing cooking methods without excessive temperatures or for too long. A typical portion is represented by a tablespoon of olive oil (10g), or alternatively the same amount of butter or margarine.

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EFA News - European Food Agency