Olive Oil Benefits (& How to Choose One That Isn’t Fake!)

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The problem with olive oil- it's not what you think
Wellness Mama » Blog » Health » Olive Oil Benefits (& How to Choose One That Isn’t Fake!)

If you’re anything like my husband, then olive oil may be your go-to oil for all things cooking. But if you’re not of Italian descent like me, you may wonder if olive oil is as healthy as some claim it is.

While olive oil is considered a highly nutritious and healthy oil due to its high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and vitamins A and K (unlike oils like canola, soybean, and vegetable oil, which are problematic), it also has many lesser known benefits that are worth talking about.

Let’s dive in and take a look at what the science says, and why the quality of your olive oil makes all the difference.

The Many Benefits of Olive Oil

This staple of the Mediterranean diet is commonly consumed in so-called “blue zones.” (Blue zones are places where a higher percentage of people live past 100 years old. This fascinating book analyzes the trends they have in common and how we can imitate them). True, olive oil is one of the healthiest oils available. It contains an abundance of monounsaturated fat and other beneficial properties, including:

Beneficial Antioxidants

Olive oil is naturally high in antioxidants like oleocanthal and oleuropein. In studies, these reduce dangerous LDL levels and improve cholesterol ratios. Oleocanthal reduces inflammation and seems to work much like ibuprofen without the side effects.

Quick Tip: This is the reason I often shoot a tablespoon of olive oil if I get a headache. It almost always works to reduce pain. I found this especially helpful during pregnancy when I was even less likely to take any kind of pain medication, but more likely to have headaches.

Heart-Smart Fatty Acid Profile

There is also some research that the fatty acid profile of this nutritious oil makes it beneficial to the heart and that it can help reduce C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. For this reason, consumption of quality olive oil is often recommended for helping reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

It is one of the few oils that is generally regarded as beneficial across all sources, including the American Heart Association.

Cancer Risk Reduction

New research even suggests that olive oil may be a good choice for helping the body protect itself from cancer. This stemmed from data showing that people in Mediterranean countries have a lower risk of cancer and speculation that consumption of this oil may be a reason.

The theory is that oxidative damage due to free radicals contributes to cancer risk. Since extra virgin olive oil is high in potent antioxidants, it may reduce oxidative damage and thus cancer risk. Research is still emerging, but all data seems to point to olive oil being an important part of a low-inflammation diet.

Additionally, the oleic acid makes this oil resistant to oxidation in tests. For this reason, preliminary research shows that it is beneficial to protecting genes linked to cancer.

Is It Safe to Cook With Olive Oil?

Olive oil is an excellent choice for cool uses like homemade salad dressings and mayo, but many debate whether it should be used for cooking or not.

Does Olive Oil Oxidize When Heated?

I’ve talked before about why it is never a good idea to cook with (or consume) vegetable oils, since they are largely polyunsaturated fats, they are unstable and can break down when heated.

Olive oil, on the other hand, being largely monounsaturated, does not break down as easily. It is still less stable than saturated fats like tallow or coconut oil, but Mediterranean cultures have been cooking with it for centuries.

Also, the antioxidants provide natural protection against oxidation, making it one of the safer oils to cook with. Recent research (and generations of healthy elderly populations in Mediterranean countries) can verify this.

The controversy arises in the debate about whether oil oxidizes at high heat and loses its nutritional value. Some sources even claim that it easily turns into trans fat when heated.

What does the research say? In one study, researchers heated olive oil to over 350 degrees for 36 hours and showed little signs of damage. In another study, they used it for deep frying. It took over 36 hours to oxidize and become harmful.

Smoke Point of Olive Oil

Smoke point is the other consideration for cooking, and olive oil fares well here too. The smoke point varies greatly depending on type, but for the most part, it ranges from 325 degrees to over 400 degrees. This is pretty average for an oil that could be used in cooking.

Verdict: Olive Oil Is Safe for Cooking in Most Cases

This delicious oil doesn’t deserve the bad rap it has gotten for cooking. At the same time, quality olive oil that isn’t adulterated with vegetable oils (which are dangerous for cooking) is expensive and can be hard to find. For this reason, this oil isn’t one of the most cost-effective options for regular cooking.

That said, unless you’re frying something for over 36 hours (which I wouldn’t recommend for a variety of reasons!) you’re probably fine using high-quality olive oil to cook.

So… how to tell if your olive oil is quality? Or even olive oil at all? Read on…

The Great Olive Oil Scandal: Not Virgin After All?

Extra virgin olive oil is generally considered to be the highest quality olive oil available. It is what our family uses and what research points to as the healthiest option.

Unfortunately, while a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, olive oil is sometimes not actually from olives after all!

Fake Oil

Several investigations in the last decade reveal that many of these olive oils can be adulterated with cheaper oils or are rancid.

Here’s why:

Extra virgin olive oil is produced from the first pressing of the olives and creates an extremely high quality oil with a great nutritional profile. For highest potency and lowest acidity, olives should be pressed shortly after picking.

With the growing global demand, some companies have cut corners and passed lower quality oils as extra virgin or adulterated the olive oil by adding vegetable oils.

Original reports were that the main oils affected were in Italy. More recent investigations revealed that these problems occurred in oils from around the world and that it is important to verify the quality of olive oil from any source.

Investigations, Raids, Arrests, and… Olive Oil?

In 2008 much of this research came to a head with “Operation Golden Oil” in Italy. Food Renegade reports that this

led to the arrest of 23 people and the confiscation of 85 farms. It was quickly followed up by another investigation in which more than 40 additional people were arrested for for adding chlorophyll to sunflower and soybean oil and selling it as extra virgin olive oil, both in Italy and abroad.

If you’re interested, a great book with more information and specifics on how oils have been modified and mislabeled is Extra Virginity by Tom Mueller.

Who knew a simple cold pressed oil could cause so much controversy!

How to Find Quality Olive Oil

As you might imagine, all of the fraud in this industry can make it hard to find a good source or know if you are getting a quality product. Even the best food critics couldn’t tell from a taste test which olive oils were high quality and many selected the lowest quality ones as their top choice.

There are anecdotal home tests that many people use to tell the quality of oil. Unfortunately, these home tests (like keeping it in the fridge to see if it turns solid or trying to burn it as fuel for a lantern) are unreliable at determining if the oil is of high quality or not, and taste tests can be even less reliable.

The best way is to find a company that you trust to order from and that provides lab testing of their oil. Look for a PGI certification, which identifies oils with exceptional properties because it demands that the product be produced in a specific geographical region and tested for quality.

Olive Oil: What I Use

I recently found a company called Kasandrinos that produces a high-quality Greek olive oil. They publish all of their testing and certification data and source their olives from family farms. They also have the PGI certification and make organic, non-GMO extra virgin oil. We’ve tried many great brands over the years, but this is our current favorite based on testing, price, and sourcing. Take a listen to my podcast with the founder to find out why this brand is so different (and delicious!).

And did I mention it’s delicious? Pour it over a giant salad and raise your fork to your health!

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Do you love olive oil? What brand(s) have you found to be the most pure? Please share with me below in the comments!

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


138 responses to “Olive Oil Benefits (& How to Choose One That Isn’t Fake!)”

  1. Penny Avatar

    When you say lard, do you mean ANY lard? I use to cringe when my MNL put that in our food and now I’m reading it’s a good thing.

    Thank you for your blog!

    1. Sandy Avatar

      Lard from pastured pigs, not the junk you get at the grocery store. Know your farmer!

  2. Brandy Avatar

    What are your feelings about avocado oil? We use that for frying and high heat. While olive oil is for salad dressings! In our house.

    I’d love to know your thoughts…

  3. Jill Avatar

    Try Olivos del Mar, from Santa Barbara, CA. They’re an organic olive farm on the Gaviota Coast…they have by far the best olives and olive oil I have ever tasted! And they are reasonably priced too. I have a small bakery in town and once I discovered them, I started using their olive oil in our fresh baked breads…they’re delicious!!

    1. Dana Avatar

      Too bad they use clear bottles for their olive oil. Good quality olive oils are always stored in dark bottles since this is best for the oil. Sure doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t know this (?). For this, I’d stay clear. 🙁

  4. Elizabeth Avatar

    About two years ago I read an article about olive oil companies outside of the U.S. Adding motor oil and peanut oil to their olive oils to save money. The article also had a good check list. In which the olive oil that we use serpasses. Thank goodness! I was so relived because my daughter is allergic to well, everything including peanuts. We use “California olive ranch” and sometimes we buy the neighbors olive oil that they make ” temecula olive oil company”. Both grow, press, bottle on site, print on their lables a harvest date, do not use pesticides and are certified by the California olive oil council. The California olive ranch is non gmo verified, I’m not sure if the temecula olive oil company is though.

    1. Randolph Avatar

      For your information peanuts are not a nut they are legumes they are in the bean family like pinto red, black and different kinds of beans.

  5. jake Avatar

    I’m spoiled. I have an olive oil maker — Olivina — near me. The oil is from their own olive orchards and is used at many of the high-end restaurants in the area. At their stall in the local farmers’ markets, they display an array of about 10 different olive oils, ranging from fruity to peppery to neutral to grassy.

    For the public, a 375 ml. bottle is $20–25. Entrepreneurs like me (I’m a paleo personal chef), though, get a very good price.

    Yes, I live in foodie heaven.

  6. Dorothy Avatar

    I appreciate your information, but how would I know which olive oil I’ve used is the most pure?

    Thank you.

  7. Vonnie Avatar

    One reason many brands of European olive oils, especially Italian oils, are tainted is because the market is controlled by organized crime cartels. Many government officials are on the take and people are afraid for their lives to speak up about it. You might as well buy olive oil from a drug dealer. For this reason, I buy only California olive oil (I’m pretty sure no olive oil is produced in my state).

    1. Sunny Avatar

      I’m really interested in this, could you possible provide a link of something I can read about cartels in charge of olive oil production in Italy? The whole enterprise has seemed criminal to me, marketing oils as “extra virgin olive oil” that aren’t.

  8. Claude Avatar

    Thank you so much for the info!! I always though it was better to get the “good stuff”…the italian olive oil but turns out (according to info on one of your links) that they don’t really measure up! I live in Canada but I know one of the California brands on the “good list” is sold at our local health food store. Looking forward to your recommendations!

  9. Emily Avatar

    Great article, Katie. Any reason you wouldn’t use butter or ghee for cooking? I prefer it over coconut oil, taste wise, for savory things and find it more accessible and convenient than tallow or lard. Thanks!

      1. sara Avatar

        What is wrong with butter or ghee for frying? I thought they were just as good as coconut and tallow.

  10. Brandi Avatar

    Is butter a safe alternative to EVOO for cooking?

    I’m new to your blog and love it! So much useful information!

  11. Jenifer Avatar

    California Olive Ranch EVOO. Love it in salads, for making basil pesto, and just for dipping sourdough bread. It’s great for topical use also.

    Yes, you do have to watch out for the adulterated stuff.

    1. Kolleen Hill Avatar
      Kolleen Hill

      Unfortunately their oils come from many different countries. I read an article ages ago about some “extra virgin” olive oils being “floosies” ahahah. The article said that California olive oils were the safest and least likely to be adulterated. I live in California, it shouldn’t be so hard. There are farms around me for crying out loud and I still wonder. Point is I question an oil that gives the impression it’s from California when it’s not necessarily. Beware.

  12. Bonni Avatar

    Aw! I thought you said the Jovial Olive Oil was safe a while back!? I can not wait to read your findings. Thanks SO much for all you do:))

  13. Skylar Avatar

    Does any one know if the California olive ranch extra virgin olive oil legit?

    1. Jenifer Avatar

      From my research, it is. That’s my EVOO of choice. I want to try more of their varieties.


      The brands that failed to meet the extra virgin olive oil standards, according to this study: Bertolli, Carapelli, Colavita, Star, Pompeian. Eat Grown Local also reports: Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway, and Whole Foods in this list; the data may be from the earlier 2010 study when more brands were evaluated.

      The real deal: California Olive Ranch, Cobram Estate, Lucini. Kirkland Organic, Lucero (Ascolano), McEvoy Ranch Organic are also noted by Eat Grown Local.2

      1. Honora Carroll Avatar
        Honora Carroll

        Great news, that is our ‘house’ olive oil. Now off to worry about something else. 🙂

      2. Teresa Avatar

        California Olive Ranch Olive Oil is also my go to. Easy to find and affordable

  14. Mike Avatar

    Australia (where I live) is an up and coming olive oil producing nation. And with increased production, prices are dropping.

    Previously a niche product, Australian extra virgin olive oil is now available in supermarkets here in three litre cans at the same price as four litres of imports from Spain or Italy.

    It’s guaranteed 100% pure virgin. So if you can find it where you live, go for it.


    1. Jenifer Avatar

      Great info, thanks! Will be sure to check out some of those recommended picks at TJ’s and elsewhere. The Greek Kalamata oil from TJ’s is first on my list!

      None of those floozies for this gal 😉

      1. Shana Avatar

        My Trader Joe’s Greek kalamata EVOO did not solidify in the frig. I was pretty disappointed since I’ve been using for years liberally !

    2. Dorothy Avatar

      Thank you for those links, Liz. We don’t have TJ’s nearby, so it’s nice to have a list of good oils from other stores. I don’t guess that having “Organic” on the label necessarily helps much in this case.

  15. Tom Avatar

    If I have to add anything else to the list of stuff I can’t eat I’m going to starve! Well worth the read though- I wish some recommendations are alternatives would be presented. Coconut oil is working out great but I can’t do everything in it.

      1. Anna Avatar

        Palm oil production is causing the clear cutting/burning of the majority of Indonesia’s forests and thus the near extinction of their orangutan population (and no doubt many others that are less photogenic)…

        1. Allyson Avatar

          Nutiva’s red Palm oil is grown on small family farms, and the company claims that no rainforests or orangutan habitats are harmed. They also contribute 1% of sales to sustainable agriculture.

          1. Heather Avatar

            Thanks for that info. I had also heard that harvesting of palm oil was reducing the tiger habitat. Researching where your product comes from is always best!

      2. Lidia Avatar

        Following on from Anna, I would avoid the use and consumption of palm oil wherever possible, as I believe that it is still an extremely dubious industry in which the information provided by producers/suppliers is not as transparent as it could/should be. We should seek alternatives.

        Thanks for the nice quick summary of how some ‘oils ain’t oils’ 🙂

    1. Lisa B Avatar

      And animal fats from pastured animals. Duck fat, lard, tallow, ghee or butter…
      Also various brands of Virgin coconut oil smell and taste different so some can be for cooking, others for smoothies etc. I make an oil butter by in a container simply adding Himalayan salt, it’s amazing on toast or pancakes! Try new ways!

      1. Lisa B Avatar

        Yikes. I meant, I make a coconut oil butter, in a container, by simply adding Himalayan salt. Great spread,
        Delicious on everything.

    2. Laurie Avatar

      We use avocado oil for everything we can’t use coconut oil for. It’s a healthy oil with a really high smoke point and almost no flavor. Plus, it’s affordable. I get mine at Coscto for about $10.80 for a liter.

    3. Grace Johnson Avatar
      Grace Johnson

      Ghee is amazing. It’s not to difficult to make your own grass-fed ghee using Kerrygold. It is shelf stable, works well at higher temperatures, does not have the milk solids or lactose so works well for people with lactose issues, is highly nutritious and tastes really wonderful.

    4. Donna Avatar

      Hilarious comment! I have a histamine problem , oxalate problem, have to eat low amylose… and now I find out I have the genes for a horrible disease that requires a very strict diet to prevent… just when I’m about to lose it, you made me laugh!

  16. JN Avatar

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! I’ve been wondering about this, especially since we cook and bake with it quite a bit.

  17. Karen Avatar

    What about EVOO from Mountain Rose Herbs? I’d love to know if you get a chance to verify their olive oil.

  18. Lisa b Avatar

    Parthena olive oil is wonderful. I met the owner who inherited the olive farm from her late husband. They are legit.

    1. Chloe Avatar

      I need advise. Nothing on your site was specific. I am a close follower and would the opportunity to discuss my weight and health issues over an email? Not so good at social media. Please let me know

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