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Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Bad For You?

Also Known As: EVOO



Short answer

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is not bad for you when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants like polyphenols, it can support heart health, reduce inflammation, and may lower cancer risk. However, quality matters, as some EVOO products can be adulterated. Cooking with EVOO is safe up to its smoke point, around 375-410°F. Beyond this, EVOO can degrade and lose health benefits. The recommended intake is about 2 tablespoons daily within a 2,000 calorie diet.



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Long answer

Composition and Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Understanding the composition of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is vital to appreciating its health benefits. At its core, EVOO is unique among oils due to its high content of monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid, which is known for its positive impact on heart health. Additionally, EVOO is rich in polyphenols, potent antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the body and contribute to various protective effects against chronic diseases. Let's delve into the specifics of its composition and correlated health advantages.

First and foremost, it's important to emphasize that the health benefits associated with EVOO come from its highest-quality form—extra virgin—which signifies that the oil is mechanically extracted without the use of high heat or chemical solvents. This maintains the oil's natural antioxidants and vitamins, which could be depleted in more processed forms.

  • Oleic Acid: EVOO has a high percentage of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been linked to reduced inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease. Research, such as a study published in the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition," indicates that monounsaturated fats can positively influence cholesterol levels, potentially reducing "bad" LDL cholesterol and maintaining or raising "good" HDL cholesterol.
  • Polyphenols: These are natural compounds found in EVOO that have antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that polyphenols can reduce oxidative stress, lower blood pressure, and exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. One particular polyphenol, hydroxytyrosol, has been noted for its cardiovascular protective qualities, as reported in the "Journal of Nutrition."
  • Vitamin E: EVOO contains vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that supports skin health and immune function. A single tablespoon of EVOO can provide 13% of the daily value for vitamin E, according to the USDA FoodData Central.
  • Vitamin K: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for blood clotting and bone health. EVOO can be a significant source of vitamin K, delivering about 10% of the daily value in a tablespoon.

Beyond these components, EVOO also contains modest amounts of vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, and potassium, which further contribute to its nutritional profile.

Due to its beneficial fatty acid composition and additional bioactive compounds, there's a strong body of evidence linking EVOO consumption to various health outcomes:

  • Supports heart health by reducing cardiovascular risk factors.
  • May protect against certain types of cancer due to its antioxidants that help combat oxidative damage.
  • Potential to moderate blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, being a helpful component in the dietary management of diabetes, as observed in the "Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism."
  • Contributes to anti-inflammatory effects which can alleviate symptoms of conditions like arthritis and may potentially play a role in reducing the onset of inflammation-related diseases.

It's also worth noting that the Mediterranean diet, which includes EVOO as a staple fat source, is frequently praised by nutritionists and health professionals for being one of the healthiest dietary patterns. Multiple studies, such as those incorporated in the PREDIMED trial, have provided evidence of its effectiveness in promoting heart health and longevity.

While EVOO is incredibly nutritious, it is important to consume it as part of a balanced diet. Moderation is key since it is a calorie-dense food, and excessive intake could lead to weight gain and related health issues. It is also crucial to store EVOO properly, in a cool, dark place to sustain its nutritional qualities over time.

The Importance of Authenticity: Spotting Fake Olive Oil

Authenticity in extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is not just a matter of taste or a culinary preference—it has significant implications for your health. Genuine EVOO is praised for its health benefits, including its high content of monounsaturated fats, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. However, the market has seen an influx of counterfeit or adulterated olive oils, which not only lack these health benefits but can also contain harmful substances. To safeguard your health and get the most out of EVOO, here's how to spot fake olive oil:

  • Label Scrutiny: Real EVOO should have a label with a certification of authenticity, such as the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Labels should also reveal the oil's origin, production date, and a harvest date. A lack of this information is a red flag.
  • Price Point: If the price seems too good to be true, it might be. Producing authentic EVOO is an expensive process, reflected in its cost. Extremely low prices could indicate lower quality or adulteration.
  • Sensory Testing: Genuine EVOO has a fresh, fruity aroma and a taste profile that includes peppery notes and a slight bitterness. Stale or flat flavors could suggest the oil is fake or of low quality.
  • Packaging: Authentic olive oil is typically stored in dark glass bottles or containers that protect it from light, which can degrade quality. Clear bottles, especially plastic ones, are more likely to contain adulterated oil.
  • Refrigeration Test: While not foolproof, genuine EVOO will solidify when refrigerated due to its high monounsaturated fat content. Oils that do not solidify could potentially be mixed with other oils.

It's important to note that while these tips can help identify fake olive oil, laboratory tests are the most reliable method for determining authenticity. Tests such as those measuring fatty acid composition, sterols, and polyphenol levels provide definitive proof of purity. Consumers can often find reports or certifications on the brand's website or by contacting the manufacturer directly.

Research conducted by the UC Davis Olive Center has found that many oils labeled as EVOO on store shelves do not meet the sensory standards set by international guidelines. In their study, 69% of imported EVOO samples and 10% of California EVOO samples were found to be fraudulent. This underscores the importance of consumer diligence in selecting olive oil.

The health benefits associated with authentic EVOO are well-documented. A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology showed a link between high consumption of EVOO and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases—benefits you do not want to miss because of a counterfeit product.

Smoke Point Concerns: Cooking with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is widely celebrated for its flavor and health benefits, particularly its high levels of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. However, cooking at high temperatures can give rise to concerns about its smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature at which an oil begins to break down and produce visible smoke, which can impart a burnt flavor and diminish its nutritional profile.

EVOO typically has a smoke point around 375-410°F (190-210°C), although the exact temperature can vary based on its fidelity and degree of processing. When an oil surpasses its smoke point, not only are its flavor and nutritional value compromised, but harmful compounds may also form, such as free radicals and trans fats.

Scientific studies have given mixed results regarding heating EVOO. One study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that when EVOO was heated to 356°F (180°C) for 36 hours, it remained stable and did not form significant amounts of harmful compounds. Another research article in Food Chemistry reported that EVOO had a relatively stable profile even when reused for frying up to three times.

Despite these findings, it's generally best to avoid using EVOO for deep frying or cooking at temperatures approaching its smoke point. Not all EVOO is created equal, and lower quality versions may have lower smoke points due to impurities and a higher level of free fatty acids.

Here are some guidelines for cooking with EVOO safely and maintaining its health benefits:

  • Sautéing and Low-Heat Cooking: EVOO can be ideal for sautéing and other low- to medium-heat applications, keeping the temperature well below its smoke point.
  • Oven Roasting: Oven roasting with EVOO can be suitable if temperatures are kept around or below 375°F.
  • Adding at the End: To preserve EVOO's flavor and antioxidants, consider drizzling it over cooked dishes or incorporating it into dressings and sauces after the cooking process.
  • Choosing High-Quality Oil: Select high-quality, certified EVOO to ensure a higher smoke point and purity, making it more resilient to heat.
  • Storage: Store your EVOO in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidative damage that can lower the smoke point over time.

It’s also worth noting that culinary experts sometimes recommend using "light" or refined olive oils for higher temperature cooking due to their higher smoke points. However, these oils lack the beneficial compounds found in EVOO.

In conclusion, while EVOO can be used for cooking, it’s crucial to consider its smoke point and the nature of your cooking method. By understanding and respecting the thermal limitations of EVOO, it's possible to enjoy both its health advantages and its culinary contribution without introducing health risks.

Olive Oil Adulteration and Industry Secrets

The purity of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is a significant concern for consumers seeking health benefits and authenticity in their food choices. Olive oil is often celebrated for its health-promoting properties, including a high content of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. However, the industry has faced several issues related to adulteration, which casts a shadow over the integrity of the product found on store shelves.

Adulteration is the process of adding inferior oils to EVOO, thereby diluting its quality and flavor. This malpractice is driven by the motivation to cut costs and increase profits, as genuine EVOO is costly to produce. The most common oils used for adulterating olive oil are often those that are less expensive and readily available, such as soybean oil, hazelnut oil, and even refined olive oils. These oils not only alter the taste but also affect the nutritional profile, stripping the olive oil of its renowned health benefits.

Studies have indicated that a significant portion of olive oils labeled as "extra virgin" on the market may not meet the rigorous standards set for this category. According to a University of California at Davis Olive Center report, their testing found that about 69% of imported EVOO samples failed to meet the sensory standards of extra virgin olive oils. These findings expose a troubling lack of regulation and transparency within the industry, leading to consumer mistrust.

Additionally, labeling practices have contributed to the confusion surrounding olive oil. Terms such as "pure" or "light" olive oil may suggest a healthful product, but in actuality, these are often lower quality oils that have undergone extensive processing, significantly diminishing their nutritional value.

  • Common adulterants in olive oil:
    • Soybean oil
    • Hazelnut oil
    • Refined olive oils
    • Canola oil
  • Factors contributing to adulteration:
    • Economic incentives
    • Loose industry regulations
    • Ambiguities in labeling standards

To safeguard against adulterated products, it is crucial for consumers to be well-informed. The North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) conducts regular quality control testing to ensure olive oils meet the international standards. Consumers looking for genuine EVOO should look for certification seals from reputable organizations, such as the NAOOA or the International Olive Council. Additionally, purchasing from trustworthy brands or local farmers can also help ensure the authenticity of the oil.

Industry efforts to improve traceability and quality standards are ongoing. Initiatives like the implementation of more advanced chemical testing and the adoption of more stringent certification protocols may help in combatting adulteration and restoring consumer confidence in extra virgin olive oil.

Balance and Moderation: Optimal Consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Understanding the optimal consumption of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is crucial to incorporating this healthy fat into a balanced diet. EVOO is rich in monounsaturated fats, particularly oleic acid, which can help reduce inflammation and have positive effects on genes linked to cancer. Additionally, it's packed with antioxidants known as polyphenols, which support heart health and may protect against various diseases.

However, it's essential to practice moderation, as EVOO is still a calorie-dense food. Overindulgence can lead to excess calorie intake and potential weight gain. The American Heart Association recommends the consumption of about 2 tablespoons (around 28 grams) of healthy oils, such as EVOO, per day within a 2,000 calorie diet. This is not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, though, as individual calorie needs vary based on age, sex, weight, and activity level.

Here are key considerations for balancing EVOO in your diet:

  • Portion Size: Measure out servings rather than pouring freely to avoid excess calories.
  • Cooking Use: EVOO is ideal for dressings and low-to-medium heat cooking, but its beneficial properties can be degraded at high temperatures, so moderation is key.
  • Dietary Fat Balance: Substitute saturated fats and trans fats found in processed foods with EVOO to maintain a healthy balance of dietary fats.
  • Variety: While EVOO is healthy, it's still important to consume a variety of fat sources, including nuts, seeds, and other oils like avocado and flaxseed, to ensure a diverse intake of fatty acids.

An analysis published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that Mediterranean populations, who consume EVOO liberally, do not have a higher incidence of obesity compared to other developed countries, underlining the value of EVOO in a balanced, portion-controlled diet.

Below is a recommended daily intake guide for various demographic groups, based on a 2,000 calorie diet:

Demographic Group Daily EVOO Intake
Adults 2 tablespoons (28 grams)
Seniors 1-2 tablespoons (14-28 grams)
Children 1 tablespoon (14 grams)
Athletes/Very Active Individuals 2-3 tablespoons (28-42 grams)

Note that this is a general guide and it's advisable to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for personalized advice, especially for those with specific health conditions or dietary needs.

In conclusion, EVOO can be a valuable and healthful part of a nutritious diet when consumed in moderation. Balancing your intake can contribute to the numerous health benefits associated with this celebrated oil without the risk of overconsumption of calories.

Frequently asked questions

Yes, consuming EVOO may help alleviate arthritis symptoms due to its anti-inflammatory properties. The oleocanthal content in EVOO has been shown to act similarly to ibuprofen, a common nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The high levels of antioxidants in EVOO also contribute to reducing inflammation across the body. Incorporating EVOO into one's diet could potentially moderate joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.

Yes, EVOO can help reduce the risk of stroke. Its rich content of monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid, and antioxidative polyphenols, like hydroxytyrosol, contribute to improving heart health and circulation. Thus, regularly incorporating EVOO into a balanced diet may lower the incidence of stroke, as supported by studies like those mentioned in the 'Journal of Nutrition' and others examining the Mediterranean diet's benefits on cardiovascular health.

To ensure the best quality EVOO, look for labels with certifications of authenticity, such as PDO or PGI, which also list the oil's origin, production, and harvest dates. Opt for oils in dark glass bottles and those sold at a price reflective of EVOO's production costs. Additionally, seek out sensory characteristics of real EVOO, like a fresh, fruity aroma with peppery notes and slight bitterness, or check if the producer provides chemical testing reports or certifications indicating purity.

While EVOO can be used for cooking, it is not ideal for high-temperature applications like deep frying due to its smoke point between 375-410°F (190-210°C). It's best to use EVOO for low- to medium-heat cooking to maintain its beneficial properties. Higher quality EVOO with higher purity can tolerate higher temperatures better, but its beneficial compounds are still best preserved when not subjected to high heat.

Ask a question about Extra Virgin Olive Oil and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible long-term side effects

  • excess calorie intake
  • weight gain
  • potential nutrient reduction at high heat

Ingredients to be aware of

  • adulterants such as soybean oil, hazelnut oil, refined olive oils, canola oil


  • reduces inflammation
  • supports heart health
  • may lower risk of cancer
  • improves insulin sensitivity
  • offers anti-inflammatory effects
  • provides antioxidants
  • contains healthy fats
  • supports immune function
  • supplies vitamins e and k

Healthier alternatives

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil

  • High in antioxidants
  • Cold-pressed quality
  • Organic certified
  • Spanish Picual olives
  • Non-GMO
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-24-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 12-24-2023

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