Is Olive Oil Healthy?

There is good reason for all the confusion about whether olive oil (or any oil), is healthy or not.

Some experts consider olive oil to be a “healthy fat.” If we’re supposed to get 20–35% of our calories from healthy fats, we should be able to consume olive oil to meet that requirement. Right?

But maybe the question should be, “What are the healthiest sources of fat?” Let me explain.

A certain type of olive oil, specifically early harvested cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, has been shown to be high in polyphenols, beneficial bioactive compounds referred to as phytochemicals (“plant” chemicals). 

However, the riper the olives get, the more of these beneficial phytochemicals are lost through oxidation. There’s no objective way for consumers to know the levels of polyphenols in most commercially available olive oil.

Olive oil may not be a healthy choice

Furthermore, one small study showed that olive oil adversely reduced arterial blood flow over 30%. 

These things are confusing, but what may be most relevant is the fact that oil is calorically dense, about 120 calories for one tablespoon.  Excessive consumption of calorically dense foods can cause weight gain. And more than two-thirds of adults in the United States have excessive weight or obesity.  Chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers are associated with excessive body fat. 

So if you're struggling with weight loss, finding ways to reduce consumption of oil may be worthwhile.

Instead of oil, consider eating healthy fats in their most natural state. Eat the olive instead of olive oil. Enjoy the avocado instead of avocado oil. Eat the sesame seeds instead of sesame seed oil. You still get the beneficial phytochemicals, but you also get the fiber and other nutrients that get lost when these whole foods are processed into oil.

Omit the oil and sauté your food using a tablespoon of water. Enjoy salad dressings using tahini or avocado with garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and water. Portion control whole food sources of healthy fats since they too are high in calories.

If you're not trying to lose weight. . .

If you are not trying to lose weight (or keep the weight off), then consider finding a good quality extra virgin olive oil that has not been exposed to light or sitting on the shelf for a long time. That way you can ensure you’re getting the most out of this processed food.

Additional information

Pro-Olive Oil: Stunning Secrets of Olive Oil (and Cherries) by Dr. David Katz.

Anti-Olive Oil (and all oils): Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.

So-So with Olive Oil: What About Extra Virgin Olive Oil? by Dr. Michael Greger.

Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability.

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