It’s no secret that olive oil is amazingly healthy. After all, the oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet and has long been associated with improved heart health, while also helping to lower inflammation.
But, did you know that olive oil and diabetes are connected? In particular, olive oil can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and even help treat the disease.
This is another valuable reason to add olive oil into the diet, especially as diabetes is a prevalent problem throughout modern society.
Olive Oil and Diabetes: The Research
Over the years, there have been many studies conducted on olive oil, its benefits and overall implications for health. Much of this research has focused on the healthy fatty acids that olive oil contains, particularly the monounsaturated fatty acids. There are also various other bioactive compounds that may help promote health benefits (1).
The significance of these components cannot be overstated.
For example, olive oil is a key source of omega-3 fatty acids. As a result, it helps to promote a good ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the body, which can help to fight inflammation and improve health overall (2,3). Likewise, olive oil is an antioxidant and can help to lower markers of inflammation and reduce heart disease risk (4,5,6).
For that matter, olive oil is particularly strong as an anti-inflammatory agent, with some research suggesting that 50 ml of the oil is as effective as just a fraction (10%) of the adult ibuprofen dose (7,8).
And, as many people already know, olive oil won’t make you fat either (9,10). Instead, having enough healthy fats in the diet can help promote weight loss, rather than weight gain. That pattern is also a key reason for the popularity of the ketosis diet.
But, what about olive oil and diabetes type 2?
One systematic review looked at this topic in detail. Here, the authors considered outcomes from 29 randomized controlled trials and 4 cohort studies. In total, the randomized controlled trials involved 3,698 participants, while the cohort studies had 183,370 participants.
Despite differences between the studies, this design results in a fairly large population – increasing the power of the research and the conclusions the authors could make.
The most significant outcome was in terms of diabetes risk. When comparing highest to lowest olive oil intakes, the authors found that a 10g/day increase in olive oil decreased type 2 diabetes risk by 9%.
The impact was also dose-specific. In particular, olive oil decreased risk up until around 15 or 20 grams per day. After that point, risk was still lower but it started to climb again.
Image from Schwingshack et al., 2017
As a consequence, the optimum observed dose was around 15 to 20 grams of olive oil per day. Nevertheless, even a dose of around 35 grams per day (the highest the authors considered) still lowered diabetes risk compared to no olive oil.
Overall, the evidence found strongly indicates that olive oil helps decrease type 2 diabetes risk. At the same time, the authors found that olive oil improved glycemic control, which is beneficial for diabetes management.
The research also shows an upper limit to the benefits. As such, there were no apparent advantages to going above a dose of 20 grams of olive oil per day.
Choosing the Best Olive Oil
Olive oil is powerful for health – but all olive oil is not created equal.
For one thing, there are various types. Of these, the greatest benefits come from extra virgin olive oil (often shortened to EVOO). The key advantage here is processing. Specifically, extra virgin olive oil involves minimal processing and the oil is simply produced from the first mechanical squeeze of olives.
As such, there are no chemicals involved in processing. That approach helps preserve the beneficial compounds in the olive oil, contributing to better health benefits overall.
So, if you’re looking at olive oil, diabetes and health – extra virgin olive oil will always be the best option. Indeed, research also suggests that extra virgin olive oil is more effective at preventing and treating type 2 diabetes than refined olive oils (11).
For that matter, the study discussed earlier showed key differences in virgin versus refined olive oil in terms of phenolic compounds. While the names may not be familiar, all of the compounds have the potential to provide health benefits.
Data from Schwingshack et al., 2017
While these outcomes are for virgin (not extra virgin) olive oil, they do reflect an important pattern. If extra virgin were included on the graph, it would tend to have higher phenolic concentration peaks than virgin olive oil.
All-in-all, these patterns mean that extra virgin olive oil really is worth the extra cost. But, authentic extra virgin olive oil isn’t always easy to find.
The key problem is counterfeiting. Testing shows that as much as 80% of the extra virgin olive oil sold in the United States may not be extra virgin at all (12). Instead, the products could be a different type of olive oil or may have other oils mixed in.
The site Food Renegade provides details about signs you can look for.
Nevertheless, there are still good brands out there, if you know where to look. We highlighted some of the best options in a post on the 5 Healthiest Olive Oil Brands. These are all products that have withstood scrutiny and testing, so you can be confident that they are actually extra virgin options.
Of these, the brand that we recommend is Corto Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Now, this is a fairly basic option and it comes from California olives, rather than Sicily or a similar region. However, it does have the advantage of passing various tests (13,14). At the same time, the brand is reasonably priced, making it a great entry into extra virgin olive oils.
Plus, if you’re looking for diabetes benefits from olive oil, choosing a reasonably priced brand is often the best option. After all – you may well be going through the oil fairly quickly.
If this style isn’t for you, then there are other authentic companies out there. For example, another interesting option is Partanna, which comes in a tin (unlike most other olive oils). This is olive oil from Sicily and is a popular option all around.
And finally, if you’re looking for inspiration about using olive oil, there is a wide range of Mediterranean cookbooks and olive oil cookbooks to check out. Some of these can be found in the image below.
So, what do you think? Are these benefits one more reason to include olive oil in your diet?
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