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During my Masters in Nutrition several years ago I had to do one project on my choice of chronic condition and a dietary factor that can help improve that condition.
Like most of my projects I chose type 2 diabetes to focus on. Previously I’d learned about oleocanthal, an ingredient in olive oil that is highly anti-inflammatory. And since diabetes is an inflammatory condition I was curious to investigate if using olive oil in a diabetes diet would be beneficial.
And I was surprised at what I learned, the benefits were even greater than I expected. Olive oil is a superfood for diabetes!
Olive Oil Helps Diabetes In 3 Ways
- Reduces Glucose and A1c
- Improves cholesterol
- Reduces inflammation
Let’s explore how…
Components of Olive Oil
Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat. The best type of olive oil is extra virgin olive oil and like all fats, olive oil is made up of fatty acids, mostly containing oleic acid at a rate of 55-83%. It also contains 36 known phenolic compounds; these are various compounds that have beneficial effects to our health.
As I also mentioned above, it contains one particular compound called oleocanthal that helps reduce inflammation. Researchers have found that oleocanthal has the same anti-inflammatory response in the body as the commonly consumed anti-inflammatory tablet ibuprofen. It’s not as potent but it doesn’t have any side effects like NSAIDs either, so that’s a great thing.
So all in all, it’s got some great components that help improve our health and have great benefits for diabetes.
Benefits of Olive Oil for Blood Glucose
1. Oleic acid in olive oil promotes glucose transport into cells – this is one of the mechanisms that has been proposed to help with better blood glucose regulation. Insulin resistance is also an issue in diabetes, so this mechanism is very beneficial, because it’s the cells that are insulin resistant and olive oil may help improve their response.
2. Compared to a high carb diet (60% carbs – often recommended on sites like American Diabetes Association and Diabetes Australia), having around 40-50% of your diet from monounsaturated fat (predominantly olive oil), with 35-45% of the right carbs, shows decreases in fasting glucose and overall glucose levels of 24.66 mg/dl (1.37 mmol/l) compared to 9.72 mg/dl (0.54 mmol/l). And a reduction in A1c of 2.4% compared to 0.2% in higher carb groups.
These are fairly big differences, wouldn’t you agree?
Lots of research shows that reducing carbohydrate intake is one of the fastest ways to reduce blood glucose because carbohydrate foods have the greatest impact on blood glucose and insulin response.
Benefits of Olive Oil for Cholesterol
- Helps reduce oxidation of LDL cholesterol – oxidized LDL is the type that causes more heart disease. The phenolic compounds in olive oil bind to LDL and decrease oxidation and reduce uptake of LDL by macrophage immune cells. These are the immune cells that often trigger LDL accumulation and plaques in the arteries, meaning olive oil has the potential to reduce cardiovascular risk.
- Decreases fat synthesis in the liver – which helps keep cholesterol levels under control.
- Reduces total triglycerides and increases HDL – meaning it helps reduce overall cholesterol levels and at the same time improve good cholesterol (HDL).
Research on Olive Oil and Diabetes
As mentioned earlier, olive oil is a great tool to help you optimize your blood sugar, inflammation, and cholesterol levels. And there is a lot of solid research to back up these claims!
Olive Oil, Statins & Medications
For example, a 2017 randomized controlled trial showed off the power of extra virgin olive oil by comparing it against a common lipid-lowering drug called atorvastatin. A group of 60 people with diabetes were split into two groups and given either atorvastatin (40mg/day) or extra virgin olive oil (2 tbsp/day) for a total of 6 weeks.
By the end of 6 weeks the group taking atorvastatin had a 20-40% reduction in lipids as well as a 9-16% increase in HDL (good cholesterol). Meanwhile, the group taking olive oil showed 14-25% reduction in blood lipids and had a 8-12% increase in HDL cholesterol.
Yes, the group taking atorvastatin had more dramatic results in some ways, but the fact that they were able to significantly lower blood lipids and increase good cholesterol simply taking 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day is nothing short of amazing!
Olive oil can have some pretty powerful health effects and the best part is it is all natural and comes with no side effects. On the other hand, statins like atorvastatin are known for causing a myriad of unwanted health complications. If there is a natural option to achieve the same health results, why not take advantage of it?
A 2019 review found that people with diabetes following a Mediterranean diet plan that included extra virgin olive oil were able to delay the need for blood sugar-lowering medications when compared to control groups.
Next, let’s discuss the issues that are at the center of type 2 diabetes: insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and high A1c.
Olive Oil for Blood Sugar and A1c
A 2017 review (covering 29 separate trials) found that olive oil intake was associated with a decreased risk of developing diabetes (-16% risk). They also found that olive oil supplementation produced significant reductions in HbA1c (-0.27%) and fasting glucose levels (-0.44 mmol/ 7.9 mg/dl) among people with diabetes compared to control groups.
Olive oil can also have a positive impact on postprandial (post-meal) glucose levels as found in a 2017 trial. In this study, patients with impaired fasting glucose were given a meal with or without 10g of extra virgin olive oil, and bloodwork was taken 60 and 120 minutes after the meal.
They found that the meal continuing olive oil was associated with reduced blood glucose after the meal when compared to the meal without olive oil. This shows the glucose modulating effect that takes place when you include a healthy, anti-inflammatory fat like olive oil into your meal.
Olive Oil for Inflammation & Cardiovascular Health
If you have diabetes, lowering inflammation and preventing cardiovascular disease can be just as important and managing your blood sugar. And because olive oil is so anti-inflammatory, it can improve these areas as well!
Oleocanthal, the anti-inflammatory component of olive oil, has similar effects to the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen so it works well for dampening low-grade systemic inflammation without the potential side effects.
Olive oil has been shown to reduce inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 and TNF-alpha that are linked to chronic conditions like metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.
A massive 2016 study that included more than 2,500 participants found that, even after adjusting for factors such as an overall healthy diet, olive oil consumption was associated with a 37% decreased risk for developing coronary artery disease. Wow!
Finally, a 2017 review found that those following a Mediterranean-style diet (a diet rich in olive oil) had a 28-30% reduced risk for cardiovascular events as well as reduced HbA1c levels (-0.30-0.47%).
How Much Olive Oil?
Aim for at least 1 tablespoon a day, which is around 25-30 ml. If you have a salad every day (which you should), then this is fairly easy to achieve.
Most research shows higher olive oil consumption of around 50 ml is even better but it might be difficult to achieve.
Overall, what the research also shows is that the benefits of consuming olive oil are based on consistent intake.
For example: If I only have 20 mls once it is unlikely to have any benefit at all. But if I have 20 mls every day or even every second day then it will generate cumulative benefits over time, particularly if you include virgin olive oil in a diet that also contains lots of other anti-inflammatory foods, like the ones listed over here.
If you can aim for 1 tablespoon a day, you’d be doing great. 🙂
How To Use More Olive Oil?
- Make your own salad dressings with olive oil – to tell you the truth, I’m often lazy and just pour the olive oil and vinegar straight over the salad. I use either apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar.
- Drizzle some olive oil over your stir-fry, veggie omelet, or steamed veggies.
- Make a basil pesto – one of my favorites and filled with olive oil.
- Make your own mayonnaise with olive oil – super, super easy to do and makes mayonnaise a guilt free option.
Choosing A Good Olive Oil
Not all oils are created equal, so here are a few tips to choosing a good virgin olive oil.
What do you think?
Olive oil and diabetes? A big YES 🙂
When I began researching olive oil several years ago, I was surprised at just how many benefits it does provide. And ongoing research just continues to confirm this is the case!