If you have diabetes, you’ve probably been told to reduce your fat intake to help you to improve your health. But does that mean you have to avoid all sources of fats? And what about the so-called “healthy fats” like olive oil?
This article will dive into the science of the nutrition and health impacts of olive oil, and whether or not you should be including olive oil in your diabetes meal plan.
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What is olive oil?
Olive oil is exactly what it sounds like: the oil extracted from olives.
Olives are pressed or crushed to separate the flesh from the oil, then the oil is collected and sometimes further processed.
You can find three main types of olive oil: refined, virgin, and extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil is subjected to the least amount of processing and earns its grade based on its level of purity. This grade of olive oil also tastes and smells the best out of the three.
Olive oil nutrition
One tablespoon of olive oil provides:
- 120 calories
- 14 g fat
- 2.2 g saturated fat
- 0 mg cholesterol
- 0 g carbs
- 0 g protein
- 10% daily value of vitamin E
- 10% daily value of vitamin K
As you can see, olive oil is 100% fat. It also is a good source of fat soluble vitamins E and K.
You may have heard people refer to olive oil as a “healthy” fat. This is because of its overall fat composition.
Olive oil is made up of multiple different types of fats: 73% monounsaturated fat (oleic acid), 14% saturated fat, 11% polyunsaturated fat (omega-3s and omega-6s).
Saturated fats are generally considered to be unhealthy fats. The American Heart Association recommendation is to restrict saturated fat intake to no more than 5-6% of your total daily calories (about 13 grams).
The good news is that this type of fat composes a very small portion of the fats in olive oil. The main component of olive oil, oleic acid, is considered to be a healthy fat with many health benefits.
Potential health benefits
Boosts brain function
The oleic acid content of olive oil has been connected to reduced levels of inflammation within the body.
While low levels of inflammation are beneficial and help us heal from infection and injury, chronic inflammation is believed to be a “silent killer” that contributes to the development of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s.
Olive oil may help reduce inflammation and improve joint pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis, especially when combined with omega-3-rich fish oil.
Reduces risk of chronic disease
Olive oil is rich in with antioxidants including vitamin E and phytonutrients. Antioxidants are compounds that protect against the cellular oxidative damage that contributes to the development of many diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Additionally, the antioxidants in olive oil have been tied to lower levels of LDL cholesterol oxidation – the process that contributes to the development of cardiovascular disease. Olive oil has also been shown to reduce blood pressure. Even further, olive oil consumption has been related to a reduced risk of stroke.
Aids in weight management
Another benefit of olive oil is that its consumption has been associated with improved weight control. Olive oil is 100% fat, and fat is a nutrient that helps with overall satiation after meals due to the fact that it is digested more slowly than carbs and fat.
Potential downsides of olive oil
One of the biggest downsides of olive oil is that it is 100% fat and high in calories. It is commonly known that high levels of calorie intake can lead to weight gain. Any eating pattern that leads to more calories consumed than are burned will lead to an increase in body weight.
While olive oil consumption has been associated with a lower risk of weight gain, if someone is eating more calories than they burn they will gain weight. Eating large amounts of olive oil, which is calorie dense at 120 calories per tablespoon, will ultimately lead to weight gain if you don’t pay attention to your overall intake.
Another possible disadvantage is that some people can be allergic to olives, which would cause a reaction to olive oil as well. If you think you are having an allergic reaction, make sure to seek medical attention immediately.
Olive oil and diabetes
Olive oil has been said to be beneficial for diabetes. It is 100% fat and contains no carbs, which means that it will not lead to rises in blood sugar after eating.
Even better, healthy diets rich in olive oil are actually associated with reduced levels of blood glucose compared to low-fat diets. Further, olive oil has been connected to reductions in fasting blood sugar levels and A1C (your 3-month average blood glucose marker).
Long term studies have also shown that people who consumed olive oil over a period of 4 years were less likely to develop diabetes than people who followed a low fat diet.
These results suggest that consuming olive oil is actually protective against diabetes and may help you better regulate your blood sugar if you already have the condition.
The cardiovascular protection mentioned above is also great news for people with diabetes since being diagnosed with the condition can significantly increase your risk of condition developing heart disease. As a heart healthy food, olive oil can be a great addition to your daily meal plan.
How to add olive oil to a diabetes meal plan
If you have diabetes, you can absolutely add olive oil into your meal plan. And after learning about all of the benefits, you are probably thinking that you should.
Try choosing extra virgin olive oil when possible (this one is my favorite choice to have on hand), as it has been minimally processed, retains the highest level of beneficial nutrients from the olive, and tastes the best.
Do keep in mind that adding oil to your meal plan will also provide a significant source of calories. To prevent these additional calories leading to weight gain, try replacing other sources of added fats with olive oil instead.
For instance, if you use butter, a source of saturated fat, swap it with olive oil instead. You can also replace other oils with olive oil to reap the health benefits.
You can drizzle olive oil on top of vegetables, salads, and lean meats after cooking, or even use it as your fat during cooking.
Olive oil is quite resistant to damage from heat at moderate temperatures (up to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit). This means that you can safely use olive oil using many cooking methods, from sauteeing to baking. However, if you will be cooking at high temperatures, you will want to choose an oil with a higher smoke point.
The bottom line
Olive oil is considered a healthy fat. It is low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fat called oleic acid.
Consuming olive oil has been connected to many health benefits, including boosting brain function, reducing inflammation and chronic disease risk, and supporting weight management.
Olive oil even has anti-diabetic properties, making it a great fat choice for people with diabetes.
You can use olive oil in a variety of ways. Swapping olive oil for other fat sources in your favorite dishes is a simple way to reap the benefits of this food.