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. Kathy Avatar

    I copied this some time ago: don’t have the source but maybe you can find it:
    Maybe it was you??

    Look for Certification

    And, you should always look for 3rd party qualification on the packaging, when you buy extra virgin olive oil in the super markets. These two associations – The California Olive Oil Council and The Australian Olive Association – they both have stringent accreditation programs that make their seals trustworthy. And you should also know that when you are buying olive oil made or packaged in Italy, search for PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) or PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) seals.

    And, let me say the brand names that sell fake olive oil again: Pompeian, Whole Foods, Bertolli, Colavita, Carapelli, Star. Eat Local Grown likewise states: Filippo Berio, Mazzola, Mezzetta, Newman’s Own, Safeway, and Whole foods in this listing; the information could be from the earlier 2010 research study when a lot more brands were examined. You should buy extra virgin olive oil from these brands, because they are definitely the best ones: Lucini, Lucero (Ascolano), California Olive Ranch, Kirkland Organic, McEvoy Ranch Organic, Cobram Estate are additionally noted by Eat Local Grown. Or, as we said, your best option is to buy some olive oil from your neighborhood farmers. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share.

  2. Anna Avatar

    I’ve been searching for you follow-up post to this article and am unable to find it.I would appreciate if you could direct me to it! Thanks.

  3. Shammond Avatar

    Please give info on quality of EVOO Ottavia Unfiltered, natural cold press, purchased at Texas HEB grocery store. Thank you for your excellent, informative blog!

  4. lisa franklin Avatar
    lisa franklin

    what about extra light olive oil? i’ve heard it’s good for baking, even pie crusts. (I am looking for a simple and quick alternative for crusts so that they are quick enough to make that i will stop buying them and actually make them, not just keep it as an ideal in my mind).

    also, what’s the deal with lard? isn’t it hydrogenated or trans fat or whatever it is that’s really bad for you? if it’s not those bad things, then where do you all get it? i have heard that unrendered lard is better. source?

  5. Amanda Avatar

    I was floored when I first read about the olive oil fraud. I read many articles and found a couple that had tested and researched trusted olive oil brands. Costco’s Kirkland’s brand tested as pure olive oil, so that is what we use. I could tell a definite difference in the color, the consustency, and the smell. I cant believe I was probably using some unhealthy oil for so long. I used to use Bertoli olive oil and pasts sauces, but after reading that they were at the forefront of the scandal, I completely boycotted all of their products and never looked back. There are a few local olive oil producers in my area that I would like to try.

  6. Alicia Avatar

    I was wondering what you thought about our of you have ever used California olive ranch olive oil. They sell it almost everywhere and when i read about oils a while back this was the only one that was recommended. It’s not organic but it’s really been different than any other olive oil i have ever tried. Smells better, looks better, tastes better and its kept in the right kind of bottle with an expiration date…. let me know what you think. Thanks for blogging all these things, it’s a life saver.

  7. JENNIFER Avatar

    I received an email about the olive oil club. After reading it I felt that it seemed a little fishy. I just wanted to be sure that it is legit. Do you use this oil?

  8. Katherine Avatar

    I rarely use Extra Virgin Olive Oil because I use olive oil to cook with, that is, except for the items I use coconut oil for. I know that extra virgin olive oil has a lighter color and a delicate flavor and it is best used for salad dressing and for drizzling over food after it has been cooked. Thanks for the chance to “have my say”.

  9. Karyn Zaremba Avatar
    Karyn Zaremba

    Sam’s Club carries an USDA Certified Organic Virgin Olive Oil that tastes good. I am wondering if anyone has tried it or researched it?

  10. Katy Avatar

    I see MOST processed snack foods, even “organic” ones have safflower and/or sunflower oil in them. I try to stay away from these oils anyway, but do you know much about these oils and are they as bad as canola and soybean oils?

  11. Isabel G. Avatar
    Isabel G.

    You are always recomending coconut oil but when we tried it for my scalp ( eczema/dandruff) it gave me a headache. I took an allergy test a couple of years ago but my mom said the results were trees and pollen ect. I like using olive oil but is coconut oil better and if it is than is there a subsitute?

    1. Dana Avatar

      You also can’t just buy ANY kind of coconut oil. You need to always buy a high quality organic unrefined virgin coconut oil that is cold or expeller pressed. Bronner’s makes a good one (Whole Kernel Unrefined is the one I use), also Tropical Traditions, and Wilderness Family Naturals are other high quality coconut oils.

  12. Jenn S. Avatar

    How do you research a brand to know if it’s a legit brand? I have Terra Delyssa Tunisian brand in my cupboard. Could someone please tell me if that one is okay or not? Thanks.

    1. andreas Avatar

      I also use this one Terra Delyssa from Tunisia,anyone know if this brand is real?

  13. Breann Avatar

    I like your kale chips recipe. It uses olive oil and bakes at 370 degrees. Do you still use olive oil in that recipe now or do you have a substitute you would recommend? Thanks!

  14. marisa Avatar

    I guess I’m alil confused. In the email bout getting ur free bottle of olive oil is alil misleading I think! Ur not getting it for free ur atomatically signed up for the club which bills ur credit card in couple weeks for 3 more bottles. I thought if u were one of the 240 ppl or watever it was ud get ur bottle no strings attached to try if u fell in love u could sign up for the club.

  15. Jenifer Avatar

    Your best bet for quality for the price is California olive oil that has been certified by the COOC. An olive oil company that produces enough oil that you can find it in at least some states outside of California is California Olive Ranch https://californiaoliveranch.com/ which is harvested mechanically (not a small artisanal producer) so their price is very reasonable, and which has a process of very quick bottling after harvest. Plus they have a selection of olive oils, so you can choose from peppery, or nutty, or fruity.

  16. Becky Hadaway Avatar
    Becky Hadaway

    Oils can be so confusing! Thanks for posting this great information.

  17. Sophia Avatar

    Ariston extra virgin olive oil is first cold pressed and is the best tasting olive oil I’ve ever had. You can reuse the bottles and buy from your local grocery or package store and refills are cheaper. Great price for such a quality olive oil.

Leave a Reply

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