Breast cancer survivors who adopt an olive oil enriched diet lose more weight compared to those following a traditional low-fat diet, according to study presented in the Journal of Women’s Health (2010 May 10 [Epub ahead of print]).

The study, led by Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, LDN, a research dietitian at The Miriam Hospital, included 44 overweight women (defined as a having a body mass index of at least 25) who received a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer after age 50 years  and who were within 4 years of completing treatment. The women followed one of two 1,500-calorie-per-day diets—a traditional low-fat diet or a plant-based olive oil diet that included at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day.  After 8 weeks on each diet, participants selected one diet to follow for an additional 6 months of continued weight loss or weight management.

Researchers found that 80% of women who started with the plant-based olive oil diet lost more than 5% of their baseline weight, compared to 31% who started with the conventional low-fat diet recommended by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Overall, after trying both diets, most women chose to stick with the less conventional, higher fat olive oil diet. Specifically, 19 of the 22 women eligible for the 6 months of follow-up chose to follow the plant-based olive oil diet.

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“I found this surprising, particularly since the low-fat diet is more commercial and more recognizable to women, so I thought the preference would be more evenly split,” said Dr. Flynn. “But the women who enjoyed the olive oil diet said not only were they losing weight but they weren’t as hungry. “That’s because they were advised to include fat in the form of olive oil or nuts at each meal, so they weren’t as likely to snack between meals, which can cause weight gain.”

According to background information provided by the authors, extra virgin olive oil has been associated with decreasing breast cancer risk in Greece, Spain, and Italy, where it is consumed in great quantities. Many studies have also demonstrated the cancer protective properties of carotenoids.