The presence of fat in food doesn’t always mean it’s bad for you, nutritionists say. In fact, certain types of fats may actually contribute to a healthy diet for weight loss or help prevent diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Olive oil, for example, has been a staple of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern diets for centuries, and research is showing that it’s not just good for your taste buds: it’s also good for your overall health. In this article, we’ll review the olive oil diet. We’ll also take a look at the potential health benefits of olive oil, including its ability to promote weight loss.
What Is The Olive Oil Diet?
The olive oil diet has several different names, all referring to eating foods that naturally contain or are high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) like olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is probably the best-known example of a MUFA-rich eating plan; it calls for consuming whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, and other healthy fats like those found in fish and nuts. Research suggests that following a MUFA-rich diet may help prevent heart disease and cancer, causing many people to incorporate more foods with this type of fat into their diets (10).
Some versions of the olive oil diet recommend eating at least 25% of your daily calories in MUFA-rich foods like olive oil. Others call for consuming half of your daily calories (50%) in this form. Unlike other diets, the olive oil diet doesn’t exclude certain foods; but it does make recommendations about eating more or less of certain kinds of foods to promote weight loss or better overall health. Here’s how it works:
How Does The Olive Oil Diet Work?
The olive oil diet is similar to low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach because it takes aim at carbohydrates, which are blamed for causing hunger pangs and weight gain (11). Low-carb diets all work by reducing carbohydrate intake so that the body turns instead to stored fat for fuel resulting in weight loss and reduced fat tissue.
To follow the olive oil diet, you need to cut back on foods high in carbohydrates like breads, pastas, potatoes, and snack foods. That means saying goodbye to most added sugars too – sweet treats are off-limits during the diet. But don’t worry: Research suggests that low-carb diets may help people lose weight (5).
The idea behind the olive oil diet is simple: By replacing caloric, carbohydrate-rich foods with MUFA-rich ones, you can achieve a calorie deficit, leading to weight loss. The diet doesn’t call for any complicated calorie counting or tracking, and there’s no limit on portion sizes as long as you’re sticking to MUFA rich foods like olive oil.
How Much Olive Oil Can I Add To My Diet?
In general, you want to add olive oil to your diet in moderation. That means more is not always better: In fact, too much olive oil on a regular basis can lead to weight gain because it is energy dense (8).
The more active you are, the more calories you’ll need, including from healthy fats like olive oil. For example, if you’re going for a run after work, adding a tablespoon of olive oil to a salad for dinner probably won’t make a big difference in terms of calorie intake since it only adds about 120 calories. But if you’re not particularly active, those 120 calories could make a big difference.
On the other hand, some people may benefit from adding more olive oil to their diets while cutting back on carbohydrates and sugars. Doing so can help reduce blood sugar levels and promote weight loss, especially for those with diabetes or prediabetes (9). Consult your doctor before making any dietary changes, including for the olive oil diet.
Just adding olive oil to your diet isn’t enough to make you lose weight. You’ll still need to eat fewer calories than the number of calories you burn every day. Over time, this deficit results in weight loss – just as it does with low-carb diets.
What Are Some Healthy Ways To Use Olive Oil?
As with any type of fat, it’s important to choose your cooking oils wisely when following the olive oil diet. When heated over high heat, oils like corn and peanut can release harmful free radicals that promote chronic diseases like cancer; extra virgin olive oil has a higher smoke point, but it’s still best to cook with low to moderate heat if possible (2).
To follow the diet correctly, use olive oil in place of butter or canola oil whenever possible. Try these simple swaps:
- Swap out your vegetable or seed cooking oil of choice for extra virgin olive oil.
- Instead of butter, use olive oil to saute vegetables.
- Use olive oil as a base for dips instead of mayo.
- Mix with lemon juice and herbs for a tasty salad dressing.
- Try adding some lemon juice and garlic, then drizzle it over fish before baking.
- Add just one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil per day to your diet.
- Replace fatty spreads with hummus made from olive oil.
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What Can I Eat On The Olive Oil Diet?
The olive oil diet is relatively simple because there are no limits on portion sizes or specific types of foods to eat. As a result, you could technically follow the diet for a day, or a month!
In general, stick to low-carbohydrate foods like meat and veggies when following the diet. But remember: Not all carbs are created equal! Choose carbohydrates that are high in fiber instead of those that are rapidly digested; they will have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels throughout the day (1). Healthy options include vegetables, whole grains, fruits with seeds (like strawberries), and beans. Here are some sample meals you could eat on the diet:
- Whole wheat toast with jam (limit to 2 slices)
- Oatmeal made with skim milk
- Fresh fruit salad
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to any lunchtime salad.
- Stir fry veggies like broccoli in olive oil and serve over brown rice.
- Grilled salmon served over roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots
- Cauliflower mash mixed with Greek yogurt instead of butter or cream sauces
- Baked chicken seasoned with rosemary, thyme, and oregano
Remember that although there are no dietary restrictions while following the olive oil diet, it’s important to focus on fruits, veggies, and lean proteins—not processed foods.
What Can I Drink On The Olive Oil Diet?
In addition to eating a low-carb diet with extra virgin olive oil as your main source of fat, you can also drink any kind of milk that is fat-free or low in fat. Water, tea and coffee are all allowed as well. Avoid drinking fruit juices because they’re high in sugar and calories. And limit your alcohol consumption since it’s high in calories but provides no nutritional benefits at all.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Olive Oil?
So far research suggests that olive oil has the following benefits:
Rich In Healthy Monounsaturated Fats
Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which are believed to reduce your risk of heart disease (9). Olive oil contains about 73% MUFA, making it one of the best sources for this type of fat (7).
Contains Large Amounts Of Antioxidants
Using olive oil in cooking and at the table allows you to take advantage of its high concentrations of antioxidants like vitamin E and polyphenols – natural chemicals that fight free radicals. Free radicals damage cells in your body, leading to chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants may also be effective against the development of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (9).
Olive oil is rich in the antioxidant hydroxytyrosol. According to some studies, this compound has anti-inflammatory properties that may help fight inflammation associated with several diseases (9).
May Reduce Risk Of Strokes
Research suggests that olive oil, especially extra virgin, may reduce your risk of stroke. Studies have found olive oil consumption to be associated with a reduced incidence of stroke and reduced hypertension, a risk factor for stroke and other cardiovascular events (12).
Protects Against Heart Disease
A heart-healthy diet that includes lots of MUFA-rich foods like olive oil may reduce your risk for heart disease. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are linked with improved blood sugar control, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation, all of which help protect against heart disease (12).
Aids Weight Loss
Many people believe that MUFA-rich foods like olive oil can help you lose weight. You may be able to lose more pounds on this type of diet because it’s low in calories and carbs, which some studies suggest makes you feel less hungry. One study suggests that consuming MUFA-rich meals with fewer carbohydrates may actually boost metabolism and promote fat loss over time (12).
May Fight Alzheimer’s Disease
A diet high in MUFA may help reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease, according to research. Several studies have associated a Mediterranean diet or similar diet high in MUFAs with reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, better cognitive function, or slower rates of cognitive decline (6). Other animal studies suggest that monounsaturated fatty acids can slow memory decline and protect brain cells from damage by free radicals (4).
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May Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats (including MUFAs) can improve insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and reduces your risk for type 2 diabetes (3).
Has Anti-Cancer Properties
A diet rich in monounsaturated fatty acids may help you protect yourself against several different types of cancer. One report links a diet rich in MUFA to lower incidences of colon cancer, another links it to reduced risk for breast cancer among postmenopausal women. Studies have also suggested that olive oil’s antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may be effective against certain cancers by reducing oxidative damage and chronic inflammation (12).
Can Help Treat Rheumatoid Arthritis
Regular consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids like those found in olive oil may help protect you against rheumatoid arthritis, according to research. Many experts believe that inflammation and oxidative damage play a crucial role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis, and since olive oil may reduce both, it is thought that it helps prevent this disease (12).
What Are The Downsides?
Since MUFA-rich foods like olive oil are high in calories, they should only be eaten in limited amounts if you’re trying to lose weight. That means sticking within your daily caloric goal and limiting serving sizes since every tablespoon contains about 120 calories.
You should also keep an eye on how your body responds. When eaten in excess, any energy-dense foods can lead to weight gain and health problems. Plus, since they don’t have any fiber or protein, they may leave you feeling hungry shortly after you eat them if you’re used to having carbs as part of the meal.
The Bottom Line
Olive oil is one of many healthy foods that can help slim your waistline – but eating too much can lead to weight gain. Just remember, the most effective diet is one you’re likely to stick with for life. So focus on adding more nutritious foods like olive oil into your daily routine instead of trying quick-fix fad diets or weight-loss plans. If you want to trim down without sacrificing your favorite dishes, make small swaps like using a spray bottle to add your oil to your food when cooking.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar (2015, harvard.edu)
- Cooking with vegetable oil releases toxic chemicals linked to cancer (2015, smh.com.au)
- Dietary fats and prevention of type 2 diabetes (2010, nih.gov)
- Extra virgin oil improves learning and memory in SAMP8 Mice (2012, nih.gov)
- Low-carb diet: Can it help you lose weight? (n.d., mayoclinic.org)
- Mediterranean and MIND Diets Containing Olive Oil Biophenols Reduce the Prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease (2019, nih.gov)
- Oil, olive, salad or cooking Nutrition Facts & Calories (n.d., self.com)
- Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED study (2014, biomedcentral.com)
- Potential Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Plant Polyphenols (2018, nih.gov)
- Role of cis-Monounsturated Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease (2016, nih.gov)
- Starches, Sugars and Obesity (2011, nih.gov)
- Virgin Olive Oil and Health: Summary of the III International Conference on Olive Oil and Health Consensus Report JAEN, (Spain) 2018 (2019, nih.gov)