Nutritionists, gut health experts weigh in on TikTok olive oil trend

As with any changes to diet, individuals should consult a health professional.

June 8, 2022, 4:06 AM

Good extra virgin olive oil has long been hailed for its associated health benefits -- and now, some social media feeds are overflowing with users encouraging others to hop on the trend of taking a sip first thing in the morning. But nutrition specialists ABC News spoke to say the true benefit is likely achieved by adding EVOO as a complement to your meals.

"Olive oil has plant compounds in it that are very beneficial for human health. I would recommend people add it to their food rather than just taking a shot of it," Liz Weinandy, lead dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told "Good Morning America."

"Many foods like tomatoes, carrots and dark leafy greens have fat soluble nutrients in them, meaning they are absorbed better with some fat," Weinandy added. "Olive oil can be that carrier to getting these nutrients into our body."

Nutrition expert and registered dietitian Maya Feller told "GMA" that she was initially "floored" by "the benefits of actually taking olive oil" when she attended a Mediterranean Diet roundtable at Yale with a focus on olive oil shortly before the onset of the pandemic.

As for what's happening on TikTok and Instagram, with people swigging a spoonful of high-quality olive oil, Feller said she personally supports the concept with some significant caveats, like looking at your overall diet and speaking to a professional.

"It's interesting because it probably is like one of one of the few social media things where I'm like, 'yeah, totally, it's great,'" the Brooklyn-based nutritionist said. "I always give the caveat that it has to be individualized. If you're going to incorporate anything into your pattern of eating or what you're doing on a regular basis, you need to talk to a dietician or a qualified health professional."

Additionally, Feller said she would not consider using a "cheap oil" without traceability for this trend. "I wouldn't take it [unless] it's really high quality extra virgin olive oil and well sourced," she said.

"There is research to show the microorganisms in our gut can break down the beneficial compounds in olive oil and improve our gut health," Weinandy said. "This is important because we know there are a lot of functions the gut microbiome plays on our overall health."

Some of the health associations with olive oil as part of a complete diet that Feller has reviewed, including from an Italian study on the Metabolic and Vascular Effect of the Mediterranean Diet, show that the healthy plant nutrients called phytochemicals could potentially play a part in helping to fight cancer and heart disease.

"What I really love about olive oil are its mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids," she said. "Those are the type of fatty acids that are associated with a decrease in inflammation."

"There are several studies showing those who consume more olive oil have a lower risk of some cancers like colon cancer, better cognition and a healthier heart. Olive oil alone won’t give us a clean bill of health but along with an overall healthy diet that includes many nutrients from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and lean proteins, it is a winning ticket," Weinandy explained. "This is one reason the Mediterranean diet has so many health benefits, because it includes olive oil as the main source of fat."

A person’s lifestyle and amount of consumption of alcohol or tobacco also influence cancer risks.

Weinandy added that, "with that in mind, I would remind people olive oil is still fat and the calories can add up fast. Too many calories can still cause weight gain so balancing that out is key."

"When people talk about gut health and the gut microbiome, it seems like there are some components in olive oil that actually are beneficial when we're thinking about [gastrointestinal] health, and that they help to actually enhance and stimulate the diversity of the bacteria that's in the gut and especially the good bugs that are in the gut," Feller said.

Another caveat Feller said to take into account with this or any trend, is that "our patterns of eating are built over time and not a standalone moment."

"Consuming a majority of added sugars, salts, and synthetic fats, a capsule of olive oil in the morning and evening, may not be used to mean elicit the response that people want," she clarified. "It has to be thought about in the whole person, whole body context."

Gut health expert Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, a gastroenterologist and author of "Fiber Fueled," told "GMA" that while there are some health benefits associated with olive oil "consumed in moderation as a part of an overall healthy dietary pattern" he thinks this particular trend misses the mark on the true hero of gut health -- fiber.

"Fiber is the fuel that empowers our gut microbes for better health," he said. "I don't understand why we would build our morning around food that is devoid of fiber when we could be opting for avocado toast."

"We should bear in mind that olive oil, like any other oil, is the most calorie dense food on the planet. For example, one pound of kale has about 100 calories. One pound of olive oil has around 4,000. Gram for gram, the kale is packing far more nutritional value. And this is most noticeably true in the fiber content," he added. "The fiber content of oil is highly predictable -- it's zero. You won't find any fiber in oil."

"As dietitians," Weinandy said, "we encourage people to eat olive oil, we mean to include this as a healthy fat in our diet. Use it to sautee foods, as salad dressing, in place of butter on vegetables or with bread. The idea is to eat it in moderation and to use it in place of less healthy fats like butter or coconut oil."

So while the TikTok trend may be on the mark as far as some benefits of olive oil, she reminded those curious about it that "ingesting a large amount at one time, like a shot glass full every morning, is really not necessary."

"Large amounts of fat -- any type of fat -- can cause some gastrointestinal discomfort in some people," Weinandy said. "Besides, who wants to drink a glass of olive oil every morning from an enjoyment perspective? Even if you like the taste of plain olive oil, it isn’t as enjoyable as eating it on foods."

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