The research, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found olive oil does not appear to reduce cancer deaths, there was an enormous impact on the death toll from heart disease.
British experts said the results showed that olive oil, a large part of the so-called Mediterranean diet which is rich in fish, fruit and vegetables, played an even bigger part in preventing heart disease than first thought.
The researchers stressed that they had allowed for the benefits of other ingredients in the Mediterranean diet when assessing olive oil’s powers.
“These findings are very significant. This is confirmation that olive oil is good for the heart,” the Daily Mail quoted Dr Charles Knight of the British Cardiovascular Society, as saying.
Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, compounds that can dampen inflammation in the body and possibly reduce the risk of clots.
Spanish researchers studied data on the eating habits of 40,622 men and women between 29 and 69, tracking them for just over 13 years to see what effect olive oil had on death rates.
In the study period, just under 2,000 of the recruits died, including 956 from cancer and 416 from heart disease.
The data showed that heart death victims were among the lowest consumers of olive oil. Those who got through 29 grams or more a day – just over two tablespoons – were 44 per cent less likely to die from cardiac problems.