Unless you’re still getting your nutrition advice from the best selling fad diet books of the ’80s and ’90s, you’re probably clued in on the fact that fats play an important role in a healthy diet. (Especially monounsaturated fatty acids.)
It’s a major reason why olive oil is so beloved by healthy eating experts. Not only is olive oil full of monounsaturated fatty acids, it’s also a good source of antioxidants and is linked to lowering inflammation. It’s also good for your heart, and research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that it truly doesn’t take much to benefit from it.
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of olive oil:
The study looked at health and dietary data from over 90,000 adults over the course of 24 years, with checkins every four years. During the study period, there were almost 10,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease (including strokes and coronary heart disease). After adjusting for diet and lifestyle variables, the researchers found that people who consumed more olive oil had a 14 percent lower risk for heart disease compared with people who used no olive oil. Additionally, people who consumed at least five grams of olive oil per day (which Harvard Health equates to a half tablespoon) instead of butter, margarine, or mayonnaise had a 5 to 7 percent lower risk of total cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease.
While you may already use olive oil to top off a salad or roasted veggies, it has many more potential uses in your kitchen, especially as an easy swap (in many cases) for butter. Butter isn’t inherently unhealthy, but it is high in saturated fats and low in the unsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil, which means it’s best used in moderation.
“Not all fats are created equally,” says registered dietitian Marissa Meshulam, RD. “Research has shown that replacing unhealthy saturated or trans fats with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids can lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, which brings down your risk for heart disease.”
While sometimes you just want to slather your slice of banana nut bread with butter and nothing else will do, there are times when switching it out for olive oil will not only be just as tasty but more nutritious. Here, Meshulam and registered dietitian May Zhu, RD share some uses for olive oil and when to use it instead of butter than you might not have thought of.
4 uses for olive oil instead of butter for a heart healthy swap:
1. Cooking veggies
You know that belief that olive oil can’t withstand a high heat? Zhu says it’s a total myth. “The key is to choose the pure or light olive oils,” she says. “These have higher smoke points since they’ve gone through additional refining over the extra virgin or virgin for roasting or everyday cooking.” This means you can use olive oil for way more than just a finishing oil.
2. Baked goods
“Olive oil can be a healthy sub for canola oil or butter in virtually any baked good,” Meshulam says, adding that she especially loves to use it when making pancakes. “It gives a nice fruity flavor that can add a layer of sweetness.” (Just note that it can somewhat change the texture of the final product—so if you’re looking for a super flaky pie crust, for example, you might want to stick with butter.) Zhu says she likes to use olive oil in baked goods too, but reiterates her advice on going for a pure or light olive oil so it will be able to withstand the heat in the oven.
3. Adding extra flavor to grilled fruit
Even though it’s common to use olive oil on top of veggies, for some reason many don’t think to add it on top of fruit. “I love drizzling olive oil on grilled fruit in the summer,” Meshulam says. “Grilled peaches drizzled with olive oil and some ricotta cheese and fresh basil is a summer go-to for me.”
4. Infuse it with your favorite herbs
Meshulam likes to infuse her own olive oil with healthy herbs, which she can then keep on hand to use as needed, like as dipping oil for warm, crusty bread. (A time when she says most people tend to go for butter at home.) She likes to infuse hers with garlic, but it works with really any herb you love. Here’s how to infuse your olive oil with turmeric, for example. (It also makes an incredible salad dressing.)
Again, it doesn’t take much olive oil to benefit from its heart-healthy powers, so small swaps like these really go a long way. And as these RD-approved tips show, it’s more versatile than you may think!