Is This Kitchen Staple the Secret to a Longer Life?

Don’t believe the hype! This versatile ingredient is the real superstar of the Mediterranean diet.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

Sure, red wine often gets all the glory for its high antioxidant content. But, new research from the University of Minnesota Medical School found that olive oil may be the unsung hero in the Mediterranean diet that helps you live longer. The fat in olive oil is what activates a cell pathway known to extend lifespan in humans and reduce the risk of age-related diseases, according to the research published in Molecular Cell.

“This fat is known to be protective against heart disease and many other aging-related diseases, so by identifying this pathway, it provides a new way of thinking about how consuming olive oil and the Mediterranean diet is actually linked to positive health benefits,” said researcher Doug Mashek, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics, in a news release.

But just drenching your meals in olive oil may not be enough to reap these health benefits. Exercising and eating well in general are also important, per the studies—doing these things in addition to incorporating olive oil into your diet results in the greatest effects of the healthy fat, per the research.

"We found that the way this fat works is it first has to get stored in microscopic things called lipid droplets, which is how our cells store fat. And then, when the fat is broken down during exercising or fasting, for example, is when the signaling and beneficial effects are realized," Dr. Mashek said.

Mediterranean Diet 101

The Mediterranean diet is one of the plant-based eating plans the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends for optimal health and disease prevention. The key tenets of this diet include the following, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Eat veggies, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats (hello, olive oil!) daily.

  • Eat fish, poultry, eggs, and beans weekly.

  • Eat dairy products in moderate portions.

  • Limit your intake of red meat.

Want to start adding more olive oil to your diet or get the benefits of these healthy fats? Try swapping it in for butter in your cooking, the Mayo Clinic suggests. You can even use olive oil as a dip for bread instead of spreading your slice with butter or margarine.

As for how much olive oil to eat daily, it can vary based on your age, sex, and individual health needs. But according the government website ChooseMyPlate, guidelines for daily allowance range from 3-4 tablespoons for younger children, 5-6 tablespoons for adolescents, 5-6 tablespoons for adult women, and 6-7 tablespoons for adult men.

Lara DeSanto
Meet Our Writer
Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.