Cooking with olive oil may reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke by a fifth, a study suggests.
Consuming half a tablespoon of the oil — a major component of the Mediterranean diet — every day was also credited with cutting the odds of dying from cancer or other conditions like Alzheimer’s.
And replacing fats such as butter, margarine and mayonnaise with olive oil may give even greater benefits, experts say.
Harvard University researchers examined data from almost 100,000 people gathered over the course of three decades.
Their study is the latest to tout the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which A-list celebrities like actress Penelope Cruz have raved about for years. A plethora of studies has linked it to better heart health.
Lead researcher Dr Marta Guasch-Ferré said: ‘Our findings support current dietary recommendations to increase the intake of olive oil and other unsaturated vegetable oils.
‘Clinicians should be counselling patients to replace certain fats, such as margarine and butter, with olive oil to improve their health.
‘Our study helps make more specific recommendations that will be easier for patients to understand and hopefully implement into their diets.’
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, used data from 60,582 women and 31,801 men.
All the participants worked in the health sector and didn’t have any cardiovascular disease or cancer when the study began in 1990.
They were quizzed every four years on their food consumption asking how often they consumed specific foods, and the type of fats and oils they used in cooking, over the previous year.
Over the course of 28 years measured in the study, there were 36,856 deaths among the participants.
Scientists then compared the data on people who ate more than 7g of olive oil per day, the equivalent of about half a tablespoon, with those who ate 4.5g or less.
They found the people who ate more olive oil had a 19 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular death such as from a heart attack or stroke.
Similar benefits were also observed for cancer and respiratory disease, with up to a 18 per cent lower risk of death. The odds of dying from a neurodegenerative disease fell by 29 per cent.
But it should be noted that participants with higher olive oil consumption were often more physically active or of Southern European or Mediterranean ancestry. And they were also less likely to smoke and eat more fruit and vegetables.