While the exact amount of olive oil that’s right for you will depend on factors like what other fat sources you consume, your size, and your activity level, you may start to reap some of the benefits at just 1 tablespoon per day.
Olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, is seriously good for you and absolutely loaded with health benefits, thanks to its beneficial monounsaturated fatty acids and high levels of anti-inflammatory polyphenols and antioxidants.
This Mediterranean diet staple has been linked to numerous cardiovascular benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, improved cholesterol levels (by lowering bad LDL and raising good HDL), and lower blood pressure. And beyond the heart, EVOO has been associated with weight loss, cognitive health, lower blood sugar, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, and more.
But how much olive oil do you actually need to be consuming per day to reap these impressive benefits? While legend has it that Cretan fisherman used to down an entire cup of olive oil every morning before hitting the high seas, that’s probably a bit overkill. Below, we dive into what the research says is the ideal amount of olive oil for you.
What research says about the optimal amount of EVOO
To be clear, no studies have revealed the “ideal” amount of olive oil to consume per day for every individual—as with any food or macronutrient, that can depend on your body size, activity level, what else you’re eating, what type of diet you’re on (like keto, for example), and more. But research can give us a general idea of the quantities that have elicited various types of health benefits. Keep in mind, most research has been done on extra virgin olive oil, which is regarded as the healthiest type of oil. Here’s what we know:
- For weight loss: Women with excess body fat who supplemented their breakfast with approximately 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil experienced significantly greater weight loss and reduction in blood pressure than women consuming an equal amount of soybean oil, per one study.
- For mental health: Researchers have found that young adults with depression who followed a Mediterranean-style diet (containing vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fish, lean meats, tofu, beans, and about 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day) reduced depression symptoms to a “normal” range after 3 weeks, along with stress and anxiety.
- For gut health: Daily consumption of about 1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil has been found to increase populations of bifidobacteria (a type of healthy gut bacteria) as well microbial metabolites responsible for antioxidant activity.
- For immune health: One study compared the effect of consuming 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day vs 3 tablespoons of butter, soybean oil, or corn oil. Researchers found that immune T cells in people in the EVOO group increased their ability to become activated by about 53%, while the other group’s remained unchanged.
- For heart health: In the landmark PREDIMED study, participants consuming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with 4+ tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day had a 31% lower risk of experiencing a major cardiovascular event (stroke and heart attack) and dying from heart disease compared to those eating a low-fat control diet. However, you may not need quite that much. The FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) says there’s good evidence to support the claim that consuming 1.5 tablespoons of oleic acid-rich oils (like olive oil) per day in place of saturated fats may reduce risk of coronary heart disease.
- For type 2 diabetes: Studies have shown that those who consume more than 1 tablespoon of olive oil per day are less likely to have type 2 diabetes; and, substituting olive oil for other fat sources such as margarine, butter, and mayonnaise is associated with a 5%, 8%, and 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, respectively.
The studies above aren’t meant to suggest that these health benefits can only occur when those specific amounts of olive oil are consumed, but they do demonstrate that benefits can occur across a spectrum of different olive oil intakes, from about 1-4 tablespoons of olive oil per day.
Type of olive oil matters, too
All olive oil is pretty great for you compared to other types of fats and oils. But within the olive oil category, some options pack more health benefits than others. If you want to maximize the health benefits, choose extra virgin olive oil.
High quality extra virgin olive oils are being produced all over the world—Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Morocco, Chile, Turkey, California, and beyond. And if you really like the taste, you can lean into the more robust flavor profile oils. Bitterness and pepperiness are signs of higher polyphenols, a healthful class of plant compounds with antioxidant properties that are associated with many of EVOO’s health benefits, including its ability to reduce inflammation and neutralize harmful free radicals.
How to eat the right amount of olive oil for you
A good strategy is to simply use olive oil in place of other added fat sources such as margarine, butter, vegetable oil, or canola oil. That way, you’re not necessarily adding to your total daily fat intake—you’re simply replacing lower quality fats for higher quality EVOO. You’re also less likely to experience any sort of stomach upset associated with piling on too much fat.
If you’re curious about the current recommendations for fat consumption in general: According to the Institute of Medicine Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges and the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, your total daily fat intake shouldn’t exceed 20-35% of your daily calories. That means, on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, you should cap your intake at 700 calories from fat from all food sources. One tablespoon of olive oil is virtually all monounsaturated fat and contains about 120 calories.
Some other sources of fat such as omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat, are extremely beneficial for overall health as well. So leave some room in your diet for healthful omega-3 fatty acid food sources such as salmon, anchovies, sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
Simple ways to incorporate olive oil into your daily diet
If olive oil isn’t yet a staple in your diet, here are a few ways to up your olive oil intake. Keep in mind, olive oil has a synergistic effect with other healthy foods like colorful vegetables and fruits (it helps you absorb their beneficial micronutrients more easily), so eating EVOO in the context of a minimally processed Mediterranean-style diet is always a great idea.
- Use it to make delicious homemade vinaigrettes
- Use it as a finishing oil for grain dishes or soups
- Toss veggies like sweet potatoes, broccoli, and cauliflower in olive oil, season, and then roast to perfection
- Use in tuna and chicken salads instead of mayo
- Use on toast and English muffins instead of butter
- Use for sautéing veggies and meat instead of vegetable oil
- Use in cakes and cookies instead of vegetable oil or butter
- Use to grease the pan for baked goods instead of butter or shortening
- Use for frying eggs instead of butter
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