A Little Change Will Do You Good

The healthy benefits of the Mediterranean diet—one rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil—have long been touted. Now a recent study published by the American College of Cardiology has demonstrated that even introducing small amounts of olive oil into our diets can have significant health advantages.

This large study followed nearly 93,000 men and women for 24 years. After adjusting for major diet and lifestyle factors, the researchers report that even at relatively low levels (an average of 12 grams a day or less than a full tablespoon), there were modest health benefits attributed to olive oil. Those with higher olive oil intake (more than 1/2 tablespoon daily) had a 14 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and an 18 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to non-consumers.

The typical American diet leaves a lot to be desired. Many of us consume too many processed foods that are high in sodium and saturated fats. But this study proves that even making slight changes to our diets can have significant benefits. The researchers report that substituting as little as five grams of margarine, butter, mayonnaise or dairy fat a day with the equivalent amount of olive oil resulted in anywhere from a five to seven percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.

The good news is that incorporating olive oil into our diets has never been easier. Instead of using butter or margarine, dip your bread into a dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar; drizzle your hot vegetables with it instead of butter; sauté your onion and garlic in olive oil instead of butter or vegetable oil. Replace heavy salad dressings with lighter olive oil versions.

If this seems like introducing a lot of olive oil into your diet, just keep this in mind for context: the Mediterranean diet generally includes more than 25 grams (about two tablespoons) a day.

You might not reach 25 grams a day right away, but when it comes to olive oil, even a little bit will do you good.