Any chef will tell you that fat is one of the four basic elements of good cooking. Fat gives food important flavor, moisture, and mouthfeel. It can withstand high temperatures and keeps other ingredients from sticking to the pan or baking dish. It also helps make meals more satiating.
For some people, butter is their go-to cooking fat. There's no denying that cooking with butter makes food delicious. And while healthy eating experts say there's nothing wrong with cooking with it from time to time, you may want to reconsider it being your primary fat source when cooking, subbing it out for olive oil instead.
A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that trading butter for olive oil can add years to your life. The study's researchers found that people who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil a day were less likely to die from heart disease (the number one cause of death in the U.S.), cancer, and lung disease or to experience cognitive diseases like Alzheimer's than people who used butter or margarine instead.
The main reason for this is that olive oil contains several nutrients linked to longevity that butter doesn't have. "Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, which are well-known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, supporting heart health and healthy cholesterol levels, lowering cancer risk, and more," says Jessica Titchenal, DCN, MS, CNS, CN. "Monounsaturated fatty acids have also been shown to prevent DNA damage and activate SIRT1, which is a type of enzyme that plays an essential role in cellular function, metabolism, and has been shown to improve lifespan in animal studies."
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of olive oil:
While the health benefits of olive oil shouldn't be underestimated, Dr. Titchenal points out that there are some benefits to still consuming at least a little butter. "Moderate amounts of saturated fat, like you find in butter, can be part of a healthy diet as well, and butter contains nutrients like fat-soluble vitamins," she says. She also points out that butter and olive oil are completely different fats, so sometimes it just wouldn't work in a dish to sub one out for the other. "Both butter and olive oil can be included in a healthy diet," Dr. Titchenal says.
Registered dietitian Melissa Rifkin, RD, agrees. "Balance is everything," she says. Her recommendation is to save cooking with butter for when it's really going to add to the dish. If either one can be used, go for olive oil. "When able to, cut back on butter and replace it with olive oil as you gain the nutrient-dense benefits highlighted in the study," she says.
The study's researchers also say that it's important to have an overall diet full of nutrient-rich foods; trading your butter for olive oil alone isn't enough to add years to your life. "If you're eating for longevity, focus on a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Include an abundance of colorful fruits and vegetables rich in phytonutrients, healthy fats, and proteins," Dr. Titchenal says. Rifkin adds that there are factors tied to longevity that are not food-related too. She says that it's just as important to manage stress, stay active, and get enough sleep.
"Studies like this are important for helping us gain a deeper understanding of why certain foods are beneficial, but using them to make blanket recommendations is a reductionist approach that leads to foods or nutrients being demonized," Dr. Titchenal says, adding that she herself cooks with both butter and olive oil. It's an important point to remember: No food is "good" or "bad" and, unless something is going to make you sick due to an intolerance or sensitivity, there's room in everyone's life for all foods. But it's absolutely worth knowing what cooking staples you can use regularly to help live your longest, healthiest life—and olive oil definitely has that base covered.
Stock up on olive oil with the options below:
This certified non-GMO olive oil is made in California, ensuring you’re getting the real deal (and that the olives are of the highest quality). Rich, and slightly floral and fruity, this Everyday Extra Virgin Olive oil is our favorite for cooking.
Made in Corfu, Greece, this extra virgin olive oil brings delicious robust flavor with herbaceous, peppery notes to the table—not to mention major polyphenols, like oleocanthal and oleacein, which are key antioxidants that offer anti-inflammatory benefits for longevity. Use it for cooking, baking, drizzling, dipping, and savoring.
To get the maximum benefits from your olive oil, go for one that’s cold-pressed, like this one from Colavita.
Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.
Loading More Posts...