All olive oils are healthy: True or False? The correct answer is “False.”
Join Our Newsletter
Get our best recipes and health tips delivered right to your inbox!
Don’t blame the olives. Nature endows olives with very healthy, good-for-you fats. However, some of the processes food manufacturers use to extract, press, and refine olive oil can greatly reduce these natural health benefits.
For starters, the oil from olives harvested from the same tree doesn’t always end up in the same bottle. Olives from the same tree may be processed and bottled using different techniques. It’s the process – not the tree – that makes some oils less healthy.
The best type of olive oil is hardly processed at all. That makes it the healthiest olive oil.
But there is another type of olive oil that has become a popular choice on grocery store shelves. It’s much cheaper because it’s highly processed using chemical technology. As a result, this oil has almost no nutritional value. The low price tag appeals to shoppers who believe all olive oils are healthy. They are not. Don’t buy this olive oil.
The Healthiest Olive Oil
The healthiest olive oil is extra virgin olive oil. It is made with olives that are unrefined and minimally processed. In their “extra virgin” state, olives infuse your body with a healthy dose of the protective fats needed to fight diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
Traditional oil processing, developed over thousands of years on olive farms along the Mediterranean, preserves the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats naturally occurring in olive oil. These healthy fats are medically shown to lower cholesterol levels, stabilize blood sugar levels, and even improve learning and reduce memory loss.
Extra virgin olive oil is a key ingredient in Mediterranean diet recipes. The extensive use of olive oil in almost every recipe is one reason this is ranked as one of the best diets in the world.
Hands down, the healthiest olive oil is 100% extra-virgin olive oil. Extra virgin comes from the first cold press of the olives. “Cold Press” is a natural technique traditionally used to extract the oil from olives without using chemicals or heat. The best and most expensive olive oils are “first pressed” and “cold pressed.” When you see these phrases on the bottle, it means a chemical-free extraction ensures the healthiest olive oil.
“First Pressed” and “Cold Pressed” extra virgin olive oil retain the highest percentage of antioxidants, natural molecules that protect the body against cancer and heart disease. Extra Virgin is also the best olive oil to fuel your body with polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acids, natural plant compounds that are good for your heart and brain function. It also has the strongest flavor, a delicious aroma, and the lowest acidity. All of that goodness comes with the highest price tag for olive oil.
How to use EVOO – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive oil is popularly known as EVOO. It is the most flavorful olive oil to use for no-cook recipes such as homemade dips and salads. Use this oil in place of butter for dipping crusty bread. You can use extra virgin instead of butter in many recipes that call for butter.
Extra Virgin oil will enhance the flavor of these popular party dips:
How to use EVOO in salad dressings like these:
Use EVOO in pasta dishes, hot or cold, like these:
Is EVVO the best olive oil for cooking?
Now that you know Extra Virgin is the tastiest and healthiest olive oil, you also need to know that it is not necessarily the best olive oil for cooking, especially at high temperatures.
Many home cooks use extra virgin olive oil to make healthy grilled chicken or to roast vegetables or meat. If you are grilling or roasting at a low temperature – say at 325 degrees – it’s good to use extra virgin oil. But at higher temperatures, you are better off using pure olive oil.
Be careful choosing olive oil for cooking
When you choose an olive oil for cooking, reach for “Pure Olive Oil.” It’s a better choice for high heat such as frying oil at 375 degrees. Plus, pure olive oil is more economical.
Pure Olive Oil is chemically refined with a splash of extra virgin. Because of the chemical processing, it’s less healthy and has fewer antioxidants than extra virgin olive oil. It can take the high heat of searing or sauteing.
Use pure olive oil to sear salmon in this recipe
The extracting and pressing process makes pure olive oil less healthy but much better suited for cooking at high temperatures.
If your kitchen fills with smoke when you are cooking with olive oil, it is a sign you should cook with a more highly processed oil. Save the extra virgin for foods that you don’t cook, or, pour it over foods you want to warm up at a low temperature.
Should you use Light Olive Oil?
Finally, don’t be swayed by olive oils labeled “light.” Light olive oil does not mean it has fewer calories or less fat compared to extra virgin or pure olive oil. It simply has a lighter color and a milder taste.
There is no such product as a low-fat, low-calorie olive oil. All olive oil – extra virgin olive oil, pure olive oil, and light olive oil – each contains 14 grams of fat per tablespoon.
It’s the nutrients that count when you select an olive oil, and light olive oil contains very few nutrients. Light olive oil is made by extracting the last drop of oil from olives and then highly processing it using chemicals. This excessive processing destroys almost all of the antioxidants and health benefits. Don’t use this olive olive because extra virgin or pure olive oil is so much better for you.
How to choose olive oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
- Pros: Rich flavor. Healthiest olive oil because it’s high in antioxidants.
- Cons: Lower smoke point for cooking. It’s expensive.
Pure Olive Oil:
- Pros: Good flavor. Versatile uses. Use it as a salad oil or a frying oil because it has a high smoke point.
- Cons: Less healthy because it has fewer antioxidants.
Light Olive Oil:
- Pros: Neutral flavor. High smoke point. Inexpensive
- Cons: Fewer health benefits and nutrients because it is highly processed.
FAQ's for Cooking with Olive Oil
Have more questions about cooking with olive oil? Read on for answers to some frequently
What is the best way to store olive oil to maintain its freshness?
Heat and light – even kitchen lights – can affect olive oil's stability and shelf life, so how you store oil is worth considering.
Exposure to heat or light can degrade the oil's quality and lead to oxidation. Start by buying olive oil that is sold in a dark bottle or a dark container such as an opaque tin. Store the oil in a dark pantry or closet. Don’t keep it next to a hot stove.
How can I tell if my olive oil has gone bad?
Taste it! When the unsaturated fats in olive oil become rancid, the oil tastes bitter. Or, it may even smell like rotting fruit.
Most extra virgin olive oil lasts between 18 and 24 months because it has a high acid content. But once you open the container, you should try to use it up within six months because it starts to degrade as soon as it’s exposed to air and light.
How do I choose the best olive oil for a recipe?
If you are making a recipe that you don’t plan to cook, such as a dip, a salad, or pasta, you want to choose extra virgin olive oil.
Can I substitute olive oil for other cooking oils in recipes?
Yes, you can substitute olive oil in most recipes that call for vegetable oil.
Does olive oil lose its healthy nutrients when heated?
The healthy antioxidants in olive oil are very stable, so heat from cooking should not affect the olive oil nutrients.
Is Olive Oil a Seed Oil?
No, olive oil is not a seed oil. Olive oil is obtained from the fruit of the olive tree. The olive fruit contains a pit or stone, and the oil is extracted from the flesh of the fruit through a process known as pressing. It's a fruit oil, not a seed oil.
Can I use olive oil for frying?
Yes, you can fry with olive oil. Use a more processed oil such as pure olive oil for flying instead of extra virgin which has a lower smoke point.
What is the Mediterranean diet and why is olive oil important?
Year after year, dietitians and nutrition researchers rank the Mediterranean diet as the healthiest eating plan for longevity. Olive oil is a key ingredient in nearly every course in a Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean recipes for everything from vegetable dips to salad, pasta, and roasted chicken call for olive oil. Even desserts such as this Mediterranean olive oil cake require a generous portion of olive oil.
Are you ready to try using olive oil in your recipes? These are our favorite Mediterranean Diet Olive Oil Recipes:
When it comes to choosing olive oil, remember that not all are created equal. Choose olive oil wisely! Opt for minimally processed varieties to retain natural benefits. Don't be fooled by cheap, highly processed options.