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

Katie Wells Avatar

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This post contains affiliate links.

Read my affiliate policy.

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. Brenda Seward Avatar
    Brenda Seward

    There is a brand of EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) that is produced
    by Seagate Products, that the owner Richard Lentz produces in his
    own orchards that is 100% Pure.
    So many of the others have a “sharp taste” from
    something added to the oil. Pure olive oil is a more recent addition to
    his products list, which includes the best Olive Leaf caps.
    I have ordered from him for years and his products are EXCELLENT
    Please check it out for yourself.

    1. Dana Avatar

      Clear bottles are bad for olive oils though. Wonder why they don’t know this. Hmm.

  2. Karaina Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    I always appreciate the knowledge you so generously share with your readers and often consult your articles for health and recipe information. My garden is overflowing with kale, so I am planning to make kale chips soon. Your kale chip recipe https://wellnessmama.com/2534/kale-chips/
    calls for olive oil. Based on this info on the deleterious effects of high heat cooking with olive oil, what would you suggest as a substitution?

    Thank you in advance for your response!


  3. Lisa Avatar

    Is there no such thing as quality olive oil from the regular grocery stores like Kroger? Do we have to order ‘everything’ online now??? I do like Trader Joe’s so I was glad to see the thumbs up for their olive oil. However lately I’ve been buying the 365 Whole Foods brand because I like the taste and it’s at a good price. Any thoughts?

    1. Laurette Avatar

      Aldi is Trader Joes ‘ sister store” owned by the same brothers. They’re German owned. Aldiis carries Carlini which is suppose to be the real deal.

      1. Lisa Avatar

        I’ve used Carlini from Aldi several times and I like it a lot. That’s good to know!

  4. Karolyn K Avatar
    Karolyn K

    We get our olive oil from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Arizona.
    It is a great olive oil. You can tour their facility and learn about how they make the olive oil. It is fascinating. Plus, no pesticides are used since the heat kill off the bugs.

    1. Sandra Margot-Escott Avatar
      Sandra Margot-Escott

      I too, live near the Olive Mill… Love their products! Been shopping there since long before the ‘ remodel,’ where they expanded and added the restaurant, etc. Miss the old days where you could sample to your heart’s content! A close friend, Tammy, worked there for a few years…

  5. Dana Avatar

    I’ve known about the Olive Oil fraud (along with the fish fraud) from Dr. Oz back when I used to watch his show (love Dr. Oz, but I think he drops the ball too much on important matters. Nonetheless, I believe he truly IS out to help/inform the people and DOES bring valuable info to the public).

    But, I had NO idea that it was olive oils specifically from Italy that were most suspect. Here I thought I was doing a ‘good’ thing by choosing an olive oil (from Whole Foods) that was from Italy—thinking I was safe. Montebello Organic EVOO. Label even states 100% olive oil and has a bottle # stamped on it. The label is not only beautiful, but it seems extremely genuine and authentic. But, how does one really know especially if purchasing an oil from Europe? Hmm. Well, no more Montebello for us (blast!). I guess I’ll peruse the comments to see suggestions and also check out our local farmers’ market as I know there is an olive oil seller there (we live in SoCal). Thanks Katie, for the great post!

    1. Joel Avatar

      If I were pushing adulterated OO I would put the most beautiful label on it I could get.
      re: “The label is not only beautiful, but it seems extremely genuine and authentic”
      You’re not going to eat the label!

  6. Sylvia Avatar

    I also really appreciate your articles, and love reading them. Does anyone know of a quality, clean olive oil in the UK?

  7. Elisa Avatar

    I have Napa Valley Naturals. Says organic olive oil from the Mediterranean. (Extra virgin) anyone know anything about napa valley naturals?
    Thank you for the info!!

  8. Isabel Avatar

    For anyone living in France, you can buy a fantastic olive oil produced by monks, totally organic, virgin, etc. They have a website.
    I recently visited their “moulin” and had the whole process of how they produce it explained. Absolutely fascinating!

  9. Carol Avatar

    A small correction. Olive oil does not contain any vitamin A. It has beta carotene, which can be converted into vitamin A by most healthy young humans. But that conversion is done poorly by many people for many reasons, so it’s best not to count on beta carotene for your vitamin A unless you know you’re someone who makes that conversion well.

  10. Tricia Avatar

    I believe that if you have the California seal on your oil – it is from a reliable source. Plus clear bottles are not good for EVOO.

  11. Traci Avatar

    sepayoliveoil.com has great olive oils. They even ship. They also have a variety of vinegars. We really like the peach balsamic.

  12. Kathy Morelli, LPC Avatar
    Kathy Morelli, LPC

    Thanks for this article! I recently returned from a trip to Tuscany. I stayed at a villa with ancient olive groves. The owners told us about the adulteration of olive oil and how Italy allows imported oil into their country then reprocesses the oil and resells it as EVOO from Italy. This oil loses its properties in the reprocessing process. So what we’ve been using for salads, etc does not have the properties we thought it had.

  13. Barrie Avatar

    I doubt the olive oils I purchase are high quality as I purchase them in local grocery stores. I used to cook with canola oil till I went to the doctor years ago and was told I had high cholesterol. I switched to olive oil and have kept my cholesterol levels where they should be!

  14. Karen Avatar

    Great article and was particularly interested to hear olive oil is anti-inflammatory. I wondered what you thought of the Omega 6 issue…I’ve recently been diagnosed with MS so have been trying to eat anti-inflammatory foods and increase my Omega 3, so I actually cut out Olive oil along with other Omega 6 oils…now I see Olive oil is anti-inflammatory I’m in a quandary! X

  15. Elizabeth Schultz Avatar
    Elizabeth Schultz

    Bragg’s organic unrefined, unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil First Cold Pressed (imported from Greece) Bragg is the originator of health stores. Sold in health food stores and other stores, as well as Bragg.com.

  16. Cindy Robinson Avatar
    Cindy Robinson

    I’m looking forward to your findings. I have been cooking with Avocado oil lately and love it. I ordered it from Chosen Foods, I will help research Olive oil with you.. Thanks for all your great information. I enjoy reading your articles.

  17. Allyson Avatar

    When I lived in Greece with my husband, we got our olive oil from the olives that grew on his grandmother’s land. This genuinely fresh pressed oil would have an extremely green hue, not the yellow that we usually see. Greeks also use olive oil for everything, including high heat cooking (and have for centuries). This is why I think the hesitation to cook with olive oil is a bit overblown. Since good quality olive oil is expensive in the US, I also save it for cold recipes, but will cook with it on occasion without concerns over safety.

  18. Karen Avatar

    I’ve bought only Greek olive oil for the last 15 years or so because it is illegal in Greece to mix olive oil with any other oil. The government has wanted to change that lately for reasons relating to increasing export capacity as a way to increase income and reduce austerity. There has been rather a revolt among producers who argue that allowing blending hurt their income rather than help it.

    I’ve recently been using Trader Joe’s brand 100% Kalamata Greek evoo but haven’t been able to find any independent info on origin and purity. I’ve also recently purchased the California Olive Ranch brand at Target but I don’t like the taste of that quite as well. I use it salad dressing instead of poured straight onto cooked food.

    Looking forward to your evaluation of olive oils..

    1. Karen Avatar

      Regarding the TJ’s Greek evoo, apparently my google-fu was weak last time I searched it.

      I just searched again and Truth in Olive Oil (that’s Tom Mueller) gives it a thumbs up.

    2. Shana Avatar

      I recently put my tj’s greek kalamata in the refrigerator overnight . It did not solidify . I’m not an expert but I think that’s a bad sign. It’s been my go to for years .

  19. Sofia Avatar

    Hi, I’ve been a long time reader and find your tips and advice really helpful and encouraging. Being from Greece we’ve almost always used evoo for everything even frying at times(because most vegetables oils are gmo), since it is much cheaper here.For example, 1litre of evoo varies between 4.5-6 euros widely available in every supermarket or for less and even for free if you have a relative or know a producer, whereas the same amount of ev coconut oil costs approximately 20-25 euros and is available at healthfood stores in bigger towns. Only the last years due to sister’s health problems we’ve stopped using fats when cooking and only drizzle our plates with lots of evoo.

  20. Belinda Avatar

    So anyone know if Costco’s first cold pressed organic EVOO is legit? Guessing not since it’s from Italy.

    1. Amanda Avatar

      An article I read where different brands had been tested said that the Kirkland’s brand was trusted. Hopefully it hasn’t changed, since that is what I use!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *