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. Barbara Massey Avatar
    Barbara Massey

    I like Agrumato which is olives and lemons pressed together. Wonderful flavor!

  2. Donna Avatar

    I’ve read that experts on oil for cooking in Alzheimer patients recommend evoo for adding to dishes without cookin and regular or virgin for cooking, have you heard this? If so, which brand do you recommend on the regular/virgin olive oil?

  3. Jeff Avatar

    I respectfully disagree with one aspect of this article, which is otherwise a very good article: I do not believe that olive oil is a good oil to cook with. Oxidation is not the only consideration. There are other ways in which heat can cause changes in the chemistry of an oil.

    Olive oil, when heated past a relatively low temperature, roughly 190 degrees Fahrenheit, begins to generate some toxic chemicals, including a few that have been shown to be carcinogenic. Again, this is NOT due to oxidation, but rather due to molecular changes caused directly by the heat.

    To avoid this problem I never heat olive oil. Instead, I use coconut oil, avocado oil or organic butter to do my cooking. Then if I want the olive oil for its health as an unheated oil, or for flavoring or for both, I add it to food that I am cooking, but after the food has been cooked and has begun to cool.

    In summary, it is not just oxidative stress, nor is the smoke point a reliable indicator of how stable an oil is when heated and at what temperature it is no longer stable. I suppose this view is still somewhat controversial, at least in some circles, but I have seen the lab tests. They are compelling.

    To your great health!

  4. Miriam Caprio Avatar
    Miriam Caprio

    I have found that Galilee Green olive oil is the best extra virgin olive oil I’ve ever used. It ships from the Galilee in Israel. We get two tins of it every month. It’s the best I’ve ever had. And other oils don’t even compare to it!

  5. Laurie Giesler Avatar
    Laurie Giesler

    I buy from Fresh Pressed and … WOW!! It smells intoxicatingly ‘green’ and luscious! Cooks wonderfully and imparts a fantastic flavor! So glad I took the plunge. It’s expensive but well worth the cost because less is needed compared to the fakes out there. I even give extra bottles to my daughters and they ask for more!

  6. Amy eaton Avatar
    Amy eaton

    What oil is the most cost effective to cook with? I’m always trying to balance between cost and health.

  7. Weronika Avatar

    I don’t like clear olive oil. Only green, cloudy and scratchy to the throat olive oil will be found in our pantry 🙂

  8. Alex S. Avatar

    I’ve heard great things about Kasandrinos, I’ve finally run out of my old olive oil and am ready to purchase Kasandrinos, do you by chance have a discount code?

    Thank you!

  9. Ingrid Avatar

    Hey Katie, I love your posts! IMO, I would have lead with the “Fake” Olive Oil, before I explained all the health benefits. Have you given any thought to using muscle testing (Applied Kinesiology) to test the quality of the food you buy? AK can be very revealing even for beginners. It’s just a way to determine whether your body likes or dislikes something. WHENEVER there is a negative influence on the body, the Blood Pressure spikes momentarily, which manifests in weakness. The use of AK is just a way to learn how to listen to your bodies cues. After AK testing 100s of EVO Oils for 30+ years, I’ve found only a few that AK test to be REAL, healthful, fresh and not rancid.
    AK really does save SO much $, speculation, time, and ill health to me and my family.

    Thank for all you do.
    God Bless!

  10. Megan Avatar

    I found a good one I think! 🙂 Iliasandsons, Extra-virgin, cold pressed, organic, small-batch/family produced in Greece with high-quality olives only. Also available on amazon.ca for Canadian folks like me!

  11. John Avatar

    I use an olive oil that I have “faith” in but I don’t have any test results on it; perhaps you do?

    It is Safeway house brand “O” (Organic line of products) Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Do you have any information as to whether this is a good product?

  12. Phyllis J Brockman Avatar
    Phyllis J Brockman

    I’ve been using Partanna from Sicily for some years now and so far it meets all the criteria in your article. I used to buy what I believe is a safe brand from the grocery but the size of the bottle makes it inefficient and too expensive. I would find myself running out at inconvenient times. The Partanna EVOO is cloudy at first while the regular store-bought brands are crystal clear. I assume that the cloudy feature is olive particulate that eventually settles to the bottom. I use the Partanna when baking bread, baking fish and chicken as well as for salads and dipping. Great flavor and totally enjoyable. Of course I’ve been duped before so if anybody out there knows of a negative for sure, please let me know. Thanks and good karma.

  13. Ken Curtis Avatar
    Ken Curtis

    My Olive oil comes from the olives I harvest from my trees and take to the local press in a small village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea on the south coast of Turkey. I know it’s great oil because I practically drink it. Cheers

  14. Heather Avatar

    I buy from Fresh Pressed Olive Oil every three months and get a variety of three each time. I have to disagree with the taste test thing…even the smell, much less the taste of true olive oil is soooooo different!

  15. Patrick McNeil Avatar
    Patrick McNeil

    What is the ” PGI ” rating you speak of for olive oil ? And where do I find it on the bottle ? Is there a numeric scale for a PGI rating ? What is good and what is bad ?

  16. Katie Avatar

    I once tried the Safeway brand of extra virgin olive oil. I had crazy digestive upset and panic attacks for 2 days. When I realized it was the olive oil, I looked it up on the internet and found there were lawsuits against this oil for being unpure and improperly processed… stay away from Safeway brand!

  17. Joseph Avatar

    I have being using this olive oil & grape seed oil (Grape has A higher smoke point approx 425 degrees) for years- It’s under a year old & it comes in a green glass bottle to protect it from any light source. The brand is Napa Valley Naturals from San Leandro, California. Please let me know what you think of this product as I am in the Food Industry. I love reading your articles. Best, Joe

  18. Jolene Avatar

    Hello Katie,

    Thank you for your article on Fake Olive Oil. After I read your newsletter, I went to my cabinet and tasted my Pompeian Extra-Virgin USDA Organic Olive Oil and it actually burned my throat and it tasted more like a chemical than anything.

    I’m going to bring it back to wal-mart for a full refund. I signed up for the free bottle of olive oil and hope to compare it to previous brands.

    It would have been helpful if you would have provided us with a list of what US retailers sell true Italian olive oil instead of just the one.

    Thank you,
    Jolene L.

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      I haven’t yet found a source that lists all of them, but am continuing to research it and will update this post when I do.

      1. Krista Avatar

        Hi Katie-
        Thank you for sharing the opportunity to try a bottle of the fresh-pressed olive oil club oil with your readers last month! I signed up, and it is definitely some of the most delicious olive oil I have ever tasted. I wanted to find out more about the farm practices of the sources that oil is coming from (as far as organic methods, etc) so I called their customer service and was told that they don’t have info about whether their sources are using organic practices or not (which raised a bit of a red flag in my mind)- and that fresh is their main focus. Have you been able to gather more info about this? I am definitely seeking fresh AND pure olive oil, but also of course (as, I’m sure, are you, and many of your readers) wanting a product free of pesticides, etc. It’s such a deceptive industry. Also, are you familiar with, and do you have an opinion on Bariani olive oil?

      2. Michele M Avatar
        Michele M

        Hi Katie, I don’t know how you have time to present such an informative website & take such good care of your family, but it is well appreciated! Thank you, thank you thank you!!!

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