Quantcast

What's the Verdict on Olive Oil: Is it Good or Bad for You?

Insights + Opinion

There's been a lot of controversy lately over whether you should or should not be cooking with olive oil. So, what’s the story? What should we cook with and why?

For generations, household and professional cooks have used olive oil and even extra-virgin olive oil. Culinary history coupled with a solid track record can’t be wrong, so let’s look at the science behind this wondrous oil and determine fact from fiction.

Many of my readers want to know: Is olive oil good or bad for you?
Photo credit: Shutterstock

All oils are made up of different types of fat: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats.  We used to believe saturated fats were harmful to our health, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated were the optimal choices, but recent studies have shown saturated fat can actually be healthy.

Saturated fats are known as fats that solidify at room temperature. They have zero double bonds and are completely “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. This makes them a sturdy fat that lends nicely to higher melting points than less-saturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

There are several subtypes of saturated fats: Short, medium and long. Our body has uses for each subtype. While we once thought butter and coconut oils were bad for us, we now understand that these fats can belong in a healthy diet.

For example, butter contains short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, which help provide energy for the gut as well as protect us from digestive issues.  Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides that serve as direct fuel for our cells. Medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil help us burn fat, not store it.

It turns out sugar, not fat, is the culprit for belly fat and love handles. Don’t fear saturated fat; enjoy it in moderation.

Unlike saturated kinds, polyunsaturated fats have several double bonds, which means they have given up their hydrogen molecules and have become less sturdy. These fats are more fluid and liquid at room temperature, which makes them great for our arteries and health.

Because they have several double bonds, they are much more fragile than saturated fats. When exposed to heat or light, they become more fragile and tend to break down and oxidize. Oxidized fats are dangerous for your health and your waistline.

Read page 1

The most important polyunsaturated fats are alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Alpha-linolenic acid is the famous omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils. These are highly anti-inflammatory, and I want you to eat plenty of them daily.

Olive oil has been tested vigorously. From this testing, researchers have determined why it can maintain integrity under heat and exposure to harsh cooking conditions such as high heat baking, sautéing and even frying.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Linoleic acid is the omega-6 fatty acid ubiquitously found in plant foods like nuts and seeds (hemp, borage, safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, etc.) and even some animal fats.

Monounsaturated fats, like polyunsaturated fats, also contain a double bond—but just one, hence the “mono.” With just a single double bond, these fats are the best of both worlds.

Monounsaturated fats are fluid and readily available to every cell in the body, yet they are not as fragile as polyunsaturated fats, making them a sturdy fat that can stand up to heat better than polyunsaturated fats. Remember, polyunsaturated fats have more kinks in their chain, making them less sturdy.

Monounsaturated fats get their claim to fame from their oleic fatty acids. Many of you have probably read in my articles or books that high-oleic fatty acids are ideal for our health.  My favorite source of this happens to be olive oil, especially the extra-virgin kind.

So if olive oil is only somewhat sturdy (yet able to withstand heat better than polyunsaturated fats), perhaps cooking with olive oil isn’t the safest thing in the culinary world?

Well, theoretically that would make logical sense and we would only be cooking with sturdy saturated fats. However, there is more to olive oil than just being a monounsaturated fat.

Read page 1

Olive oil has been tested vigorously. From this testing, researchers have determined why it can maintain integrity under heat and exposure to harsh cooking conditions such as high heat baking, sautéing and even frying.

Between its molecular structure and antioxidant status, olive oil is a great option to use for cooking, baking and, of course, on its own drizzled onto salads or veggies.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

It turns out that olive oil contains a plethora of phenols (antioxidants) such as polyphenols. Polyphenols have been extensively researched. They are one of the reasons why olive oil does not oxidize, as you would expect it to under high heat conditions.

Here is the most surprising part: it turns out that extra virgin olive oil may actually even be the better option to cook with. Because the olives are cold-pressed and barely processed (hence the “extra virgin” name), the oil contains a higher amount of those protective antioxidants than the additionally processed stuff—the olive oil.

All that cloudy stuff you see in your extra virgin olive oil is actually a sign of its strength and ability to protect you. Whenever possible, choose extra-virgin olive oil for salads and even for cooking.

A recent article in the New York Times based on author Tom Mueller’s book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil concluded that unfortunately, not all olive oils are what they seem, nor are they created equally. So, make sure you select oil you can count on as being true olive oil (not a mixture of olive with canola or soybean as some manufacturers are doing these days to cut costs).

I like to treat myself to oils from boutiques that are almost always 100 percent pure olive. But you can find a good olive oil in grocery stores across the country or even order online from markets such as Thrive. Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and even Costco offer good quality olive oils such as Lucini. For a list of oils, you can check out Mueller’s helpful list.

Bottom Line: Between its molecular structure and antioxidant status, olive oil is a great option to use for cooking, baking and, of course, on its own drizzled onto salads or veggies. Enjoy this tasty oil traditionally used for generations knowing you are healing (and turning on your fat burning genes) with each delicious bite. And if you want to experiment with other oils, my favorites to cook with are coconut oil (and coconut butter), avocado oil, and even the fat from grass-fed butter (as long as you tolerate dairy).

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

9 Ways to Support Your Local Food Community

12 Must-See Food Films That Will Inspire You to Take Action

10 Superfoods That Will Boost Your Energy

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sesame, three months old, at Seal Rescue Irleand. Screenshot / Seal Rescue Ireland Instagram

On Friday, Seal Rescue Ireland released Sesame the seal into the ocean after five months of rehabilitation at the Seal Rescue Ireland facility. Watch the release on EcoWatch's Facebook.

Read More Show Less
Beer packs of Guinness will now come in a cardboard box. Diageo

By Jordan Davidson

Guinness is joining the fight against single use plastic. The brewer has seen enough hapless turtles and marine life suffering from the scourge of plastic.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
fstop123 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

At EcoWatch, our team knows that changing personal habits and taking actions that contribute to a better planet is an ongoing journey. Earth Day, happening on April 22, is a great reminder for all of us to learn more about the environmental costs of our behaviors like food waste or fast fashion.

To offer readers some inspiration this Earth Day, our team rounded up their top picks for films to watch. So, sit back and take in one of these documentary films this Earth Day. Maybe it will spark a small change you can make in your own life.

Read More Show Less
Maskot / Getty Images

People of all ages are spending more of their day looking at their phones, computers and television screens, but parents now have another reason for limiting how much screen time their children get — it could lead to behavioral problems.

Read More Show Less

Rapper and comedian Lil Dicky released a 7-minute climate change awareness song and video today, ahead of Earth Day on Monday, with proceeds going to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Eoin Higgins

The New York City Council passed the world's "largest single carbon reduction effort that any city, anywhere, has ever put forward" on Thursday afternoon, marking a major milestone in the fight against the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Jason Momoa speaking at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Aquaman" on July 21, 2018. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

From Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones to Aquaman, some of actor Jason Momoa's most iconic roles have been linked to the beard he has worn since 2012.

But on Wednesday he decided it was "time to make a change," for himself and for the planet. A video posted on Instagram showed him beginning to shave his beard in a bid to raise awareness about plastic pollution, the Huffington Post reported.

Read More Show Less
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde (L) and broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough take part in a discussion on nature and the economy in Washington, DC, April 11. MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

Beloved nature broadcaster Sir David Attenborough narrated a BBC documentary on climate change Thursday that Guardian reviewer Rebecca Nicholson said aimed to encourage action around climate the way that Attenborough's Blue Planet II galvanized the world against single-use plastic.

Read More Show Less