Olive oil is made by grinding olives and extracting the oil, which many people enjoy cooking with, drizzling on pizza, pasta, and salad, or using as a dip for bread.
Some of the most well-known benefits of consuming olive oil include its ability to reduce inflammation, support heart health, and lower blood pressure. It may even have potential anticancer effects and protect brain health.
This article reviews whether olive oil can be used to promote weight loss.
Many of olive oil’s benefits have been observed in the context of following a Mediterranean diet.
This eating pattern is characterized by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, legumes, nuts, and seeds. While the diet often incorporates fish, the main fat source is olive oil, and it also limits red meat and sweets.
Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which have one unsaturated carbon bond in their chemical composition. MUFAs are typically liquid at room temperature.
One older 4-week study found men with overweight or obesity who replaced saturated fat with monounsaturated fats in their diets experienced small but significant weight loss, compared with a saturated-fat-rich diet, despite no major change in total fat or calorie intake.
More recent research agrees that unsaturated fatty acids are likely more beneficial than saturated fats when it comes to healthy weight maintenance.
Diets rich in monounsaturated fats have also been shown to prevent weight gain and the accumulation of fat in animal studies.
Furthermore, olive oil is a rich source of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which have been long studied for their ability to play a role in healthy weight loss and maintenance.
MCTs are triglycerides that contain fatty acids comprising 6–12 carbon atoms. They’re broken down quickly and absorbed by your liver, where they can be used for energy.
While some studies have found a positive effect of MCTs on weight loss, others have found no effect.
Still, one study compared MCTs with long-chain triglycerides, finding that MCTs resulted in greater production of certain appetite-regulating hormones like peptide YY, which promotes feelings of fullness.
Other research indicates that MCTs may encourage weight loss by increasing calorie- and fat-burning in the body.
Olive oil may be useful for weight loss, but it appears to be most beneficial when used in certain ways and amounts.
While some people claim that olive oil massages could help promote weight loss, there’s no research to support this idea. That said, studies have found that such massages can help preterm babies gain weight.
Another popular claim is that a mixture of olive oil and lemon juice can promote rapid weight loss. However, this is likely because it’s often used as a cleanse that usually results in very low calorie intake and consequently both fat and muscle loss.
Still, olive oil incorporated into an overall healthy diet is a different story.
There are 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of olive oil. This can quickly add up on a calorie-restricted diet, so it’s best to incorporate olive oil in limited quantities as not to promote weight gain.
One systematic review of 11 randomized controlled studies found that following an olive-oil-enriched diet for at least 12 weeks reduced weight more than following a control diet.
Olive oil can be used as a salad dressing, mixed into pasta or soups, drizzled onto pizza or vegetables, or incorporated into baked goods.
Olive oil is a healthy source of monounsaturated fats and medium-chain triglycerides, both of which have been shown to offer potential benefits for weight loss.
While there are claims that olive oil can be used as a massage oil or for a detox, the most effective way to use olive oil for weight loss is to incorporate it into your overall healthy diet as a primary fat source.
Keep in mind that a small serving of olive oil can contribute a significant number of calories and amount of fat to your diet. As such, it should be used in limited quantities. Olive oil used as part of a plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet may offer the greatest benefit long term.