Olive Oil Health Benefits: Myths And Truths

There’s a lot of info about olive oil out there. Which is, ultimately, a good thing! However, too much information has its drawbacks. Misinformation easily muddies the waters around even some of our favorite things, from politics, to pop culture, to…yes, even our precious foods.

And olive oil is certainly no exception. Myths are numerous about how it’s made, how to identify it, if it’s truly authentic, and (especially) about its health benefits.

To help you tell what’s fact from fiction (and myth from truth) regarding olive oil’s health benefits, let’s look at some of the most common claims (and misconceptions!) about this luxurious condiment. This can help you determine what you can believe and rely on…and what you can dismiss.

Is extra virgin olive oil the only healthy olive oil?

Though extra virgin could be called the healthiest of all olive oils, that’s not to say all other types are unhealthy or have no merits for wellness at all. That being said, if you want the maximum optimal health benefits from the olive oil you buy, purchasing a real and authentic extra virgin should be your go-to choice.

Experts will say extra virgin is best because lower grade oils (like pomace, pure, extra light, and otherwise unlabeled olive oils) are made using heat and chemical processes. These can influence the total phenol and antioxidant makeup of the final product, rendering them (yes) less healthy, in a manner of speaking.

So, if you’re after all those good olive oil antioxidants you’ve heard so much about, go for the extra virgin. But keep in mind: all olive oils are full of healthy fats, including both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are the best types for your health no matter what anyone says.

Are light or extra-light olive oils lower in fat or calories?

Despite these names, no, light (or extra-light) oils are not “light” on anything. This grade of oil has the same amounts of calories and fat as all other types, save extra virgin, which may have slightly more healthy antioxidant fatty acids.

“Light” or “Extra-Light” only describe the nature of the oil’s flavor, aroma, and taste. These oils are typically pale yellow in color and have weak or neutral flavor.

Do olive oil’s health benefits vanish when you cook with it?

Myths and rumors abound about how well olive oil stands up to heat, and the rumors are…well, not good. But the truth may be a surprise to some.

Olive oil holds up to cooking, roasting, baking, frying, and even deep frying.  And yes, it retains its health properties all the while, too, no matter the grade. Even extra virgin handles cooking and sautéing well. It’s regularly and traditionally used for cooking in its homeland, Italy, after all!

Olive oil is actually considered one of the most “heat stable” oils you can cook with in terms of retaining health benefits, according to experts. Unless you cook with the oil beyond its smoke point (around 450˚F) for hours (and then burn it to an unrecognizable crisp), any other reasonable cooking oil method won’t change its properties or its nature.

Ignore the myths about heat changing olive oil’s chemical nature from good to bad.Heat does not change the nature of the healthy fats found in your oil at all. It certainly doesn’t create toxic substances, and it doesn’t change good fats into trans fats, either! These are simply rumors, and they’re not true.

In fact, according to Prevention magazine, extra virgin has a higher smoke point even than lower grade quality oils. The fresher the oil the better it is for cooking(yes, better even than lower grade oils). And no oil is fresher than extra virgin.

On the other hand, studies do show that some antioxidant content (especially in extra virgin olive oil, which has the most antioxidants) does get damaged with heat. Still, plenty other antioxidants in the oil are notoriously heat resistant, therefore making even heated extra virgin olive oil very antioxidant-rich nevertheless.

What we recommend: cook with extra virgin olive oil if you must, though it may be your most expensive option! Lower grades are cheaper for cooking, though not necessarily better or healthier.

And yes, rest assured…extra virgin will still be healthy when you cook with it. But if you’re after the antioxidant health benefits (and amazing flavor) of extra virgin, you’ll get the greatest perks serving it raw and cold instead.

Does extra virgin taste better and get healthier with age?

When it comes to either or both, the answer is no. Unlike a fine wine, extra virgin does not get better with age, and its health benefits don’t “mature” or “ripen” in the bottle, either.

In fact, the truth is quite the opposite.The best, healthiest, and most flavorful olive oils will be extra virgin grade, bottled in dark or opaque glass and sold as soon as possible after processing. You can check for harvest dates on the label to get a sense of freshness: a maximum of two years is considered optimal. Expiration dates on labels will help indicate this, too.

Oils sold more than two years after harvest will have far less health benefits than they did at the first pressing, especially when it comes to antioxidants. Also: be wary of oils stored in clear (or plastic) bottles, or in broad daylight at stores. This is a sure sign its beneficial antioxidants may be long gone already, oxidized and broken down by light exposure.

Here’s a home tip for your own olive oil: store in a dark place (not your fridge!) away from moisture and heat to keep its health benefits for as long as possible. Make sure the lid is always screwed on tight, too.

Is most extra virgin fake (and therefore unhealthy)?

Rumors of extra virgin olive oils on the market being mostly “fake,” “fraudulent,” or “adulterated” have blown up over recent decades. But thankfully, the happenings behind these rumors have calmed down over the years…well, mostly.

Major cases of fraud have indeed happened in the past. But there have also been strong regulations, labeling requirements, and testing procedures put in place around 2010 (in the US) to prevent these types of fraud from happening again. After a major string of these fraudulent cases happened in the 90’s and 2000’s (where olive oil was cut with a completely different oil like hazelnut, soybean, sunflower, or other vegetable oils), a need for these types of regulations was stronger than ever, and since then things have greatly improved.

Regardless, sometimes olive oils labelled “extra virgin” are not quite up to snuff these days. Many countries don’t have “routine” quality control, regulation, or testing to prove what is said on the label. Still, rather than there being lots of fraudulent products (like before 2010), “subpar” products are more common. This means some olive oils don’t quite meet extra virgin standard when tested (.8% or less acidity).

But even now, olive oil organizations and companies are petitioning government bodies to regulate extra virgin olive oil more regularly and thoroughly to prevent this. That said, should you worry about your health? Not really.

Even if the olive oil you buy is not quite extra virgin grade (or lower grade still), it will still be good for you. However, if it is indeed lower grade but mislabeled “extra virgin,” you’ll miss out on the antioxidants that are special only to extra virgin grade.

If you want to get the best idea if your extra virgin is truly extra virgin, don’t just look at the label. Get acquainted directly with your olive oil seller about their harvesting, production, and pressing techniques. The more transparent they are, the better!

Is green olive oil healthier than yellow or gold oils?

Some think a green color has some bearing on quality or even health benefits. This is not true.

Most of the time, green olive oils mean one (or more) of these three things: either green olives were used to make the oil, a green oil-yielding olive variety was used, or less mature or ripened olives were used. In some cases, a green oil may be a sign that it was made in the Tuscany region of Italy.

Besides leading to oil of a different color, green oils may have a slightly different flavor than gold or yellow ones: hot, peppery, pungent, even spicy. But health benefits and antioxidant content (especially if it’s extra virgin grade) should be the exact same as similar oils of different colors.

Is cooked extra virgin olive oil unhealthy?

Extra virgin olive oil (or any grade of olive oil) has gotten a bad rap for being “uncookable.” But nothing could be further from the truth.

Very little about extra virgin olive oil gets lost or changed during cooking processes that stay around 450˚F. Only small amounts of antioxidants are lost from extra virgin grades. But on a whole, it still remains an antioxidant-rich food: full of good fats and very, very healthy.

Remember: Italian chefs use extra virgin for cooking all the time. And they would know best!

For more information about cooking olive oil, scroll up and read the answer to the question above: “Do olive oils’ health benefits vanish when you cook with it?”

Does extra virgin olive oil contain good fats or bad fats?

Olives and olive oil (including extra virgin) are rich in unsaturated fats, the type of fats that are good for you. Compared to other fats like trans fats and saturated fats, you can eat more of them, and they even have health benefits.

A diet with plenty of unsaturated fat is good for heart health, according to dietitians. Olive oils of all types are high in good fats, while extra virgin oils contains plenty of heart-healthy antioxidants, too.

But keep in mind: olive oil does contain saturated fats! Around ¾ cup gives you 100% of your recommended daily intake. As such, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, though consuming olive oil in the amounts it’s classically used should be just fine.

Is olive oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids?

In a manner of speaking, yes. But olive oil contains almost 13 times as many omega-6 fatty acids, which make it not as “healthy” in omega-3’s as fish oil, for example.

On the other hand, olive oil (especially extra virgin) contains unique antioxidants with comparable health benefits to omega-3 fatty acids, particularly for heart health.

In the small amounts that olive oil is typically used (such as in salad dressings, drizzling, dipping, or baking), a little bit of these omega-3’s and antioxidants could still go a long way. Olive oils are widely considered healthy fats and are a great culinary choice alongside other omega-3-rich foods out there.

Is drinking olive oil good for you? Does it have health benefits?

Some claim that in Mediterranean countries, people drink ¼ cup of high-quality olive oil per day. This is supposedly responsible for the famed health of the Mediterranean people and partially helped inspire the famously healthy “Mediterranean diet.”

But is drinking olive oil the best way to reap the health benefits? Some could say that drinking large amounts of it is even better for you than eating or cooking with it in classical ways. But the thing is: no one’s proved this.

Expert sources say there isn’t evidence either way that drinking olive oil is better (or worse) for you than the usual way to consume it. They do add that it’s safe to drink the same amount recommended daily for the best health— but as for it being healthier than when eaten cooked? This has yet to be proven.

Is olive oil good for your heart?

Olive oil is very good for your heart, and for a few reasons.

Olives are rich in unsaturated fats and relatively low in saturated ones. Together, this makes them quite heart healthy, especially when olive oil is tossed in salads, drizzled, or sautéed as it usually tends to be.

Even better: there’s a healthy dose of omega-3’s in olive oil too. Last but not least: extra virgin olive oil contains a fair amount of antioxidants (including oleic acid, lignans, and others) which have fantastic reputations for protecting heart health.

Long story short: yes, olive oil is good for you in many ways. But it’s probably best known for boosting heart health overall.

Is it true that the more olive oil I eat, the healthier I’ll get?

By many accounts, olive oil is a healthy condiment. But too much of a good thing can always be a bad thing (and everything is best in moderation, so they say).

Olive oil is rich in healthy antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3’s). But it also contains saturated fats, which are not so good for you the more and more you eat, especially for heart health.

If you eat more than about ¾ of a cup of olive oil, you start exceeding the daily level of saturated fats that is healthy for most people. So, no, if you eat (or drink) more olive oil than what’s normal, the health benefits don’t start to “go up.” In fact, it’s more likely the cons start to outweigh the pros.

If you stick to the amount people tend to eat every day (anywhere from 2 tbsp. to ¼ cup) then you’ll be sure to reap the most of olive oil’s health benefits. No need to go overboard!

Check out our extra virgin olive oils and flavored varieties to see which one suits your needs!

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