The essential cooking ingredient that might extend your life

More than a half tablespoon a day can reduce risk of many diseases by 19% or more

The Mediterranean diet has topped U.S. News & World Report’s list of best diets for five years straight because of its health benefits, which include weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes prevention and control.

A key ingredient to a Mediterranean diet is olive oil, which comes with its own benefits — healthy fats, nutrients and antioxidants.

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New research now suggests adding olive oil to your diet could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied the health and diet of 60,582 women and 31,801 men in the U.S. from 1990 to 2018. Their study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

During the 28 years of follow-up, participants who said they consumed more than a half tablespoon of olive oil daily had a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality; 17% lower risk of cancer mortality; 29% lower risk of neurodegenerative disease death; and 18% lower risk of death from respiratory disease, compared to those who rarely or never had olive oil.

In addition, replacing margarine, butter, mayonnaise and dairy fat with an equivalent amount of olive oil was associated with an 8%-34% lower risk of total and cause-specific mortality.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Susanna Larsson, an epidemiologist at Uppsala University in Sweden, called the association with lower risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s “a novel finding.”

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“Considering the lack of preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s disease and the high morbidity and mortality related to this disease, this finding, if confirmed, is of great public health importance,” Larsson said.

Study author Marta Guasch-Ferré, a research scientist in the nutrition department at Harvard, told USA Today that a good target for daily olive oil consumption is 3-4 tablespoons daily. That will help you reduce the amount of butter, mayonnaise and other animal fats used in cooking.

“At home, we almost always use olive oil for everything,” she said. “We use it for baking, to dress vegetables and salads and it is even a good option for frying.”

In the meantime, she told the news organization, those seeking to improve their lifestyle can include olive oil but should consider it in context.

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“We need to pay attention to have an overall healthy dietary pattern that is full of plant-based food, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats such as olive oil or nuts, healthy moderate protein intake (eggs, fish, poultry),” Guasch-Ferré said.

Concurrently, you can decrease the risk of disease by cutting consumption of processed meat, other processed foods, sugary drinks and desserts. “Also, other lifestyle factors such as not smoking (and) physical activity, play an important role,” she said.