Blog Post

Is Extra Virgin Olive Oil Better Than Regular Olive Oil from a Health Perspective?

Olive is well known as an option that is consistently linked with health benefits. Given the price disparity and distinct flavour profiles, it’s natural to wonder whether there are significant health differences between extra virgin olive oil and other varieties of olive oil.

In this article, the differences will be summarised, and some practical take-away points will be added too.

Definitions

Virgin olive oil is simply olive oil that has been obtained directly from olives without any chemical treatments or heat. It is the least processed form and is often considered to be high quality.

Other forms of olive oil undergo some form of processing, which varies depending on the specific product.

Both “extra” virgin olive oil (EVOO) and virgin olive oil are made without chemicals or heat. But the difference is related to standards. EVOO has the lowest acidity level, with a maximum of 0.8% oleic acid, while virgin olive oil can go as high as 2%. There are a few other small differences in taste, smell and quality, but it is largely just due to different standards for categorisation.

Polyphenols and Antioxidants

Olive oil and olives

The largest difference that separates extra virgin olive oil from other olive oils is that it is higher in polyphenols and antioxidants.

All forms of olive oil are high in monounsaturated fats, which is almost universally viewed as a “healthy fat.”

However, the polyphenol content of EVOO is something that is often considered to be a factor in the health benefits it is linked with.

It is a case-by-case basis in terms of how much the refining process reduces the polyphenol content of the oil. But the refining process does reduce these health-promoting components.

Cooking

Olive oil being used for baking/roasting

One of the most conflicting areas of advice on olive oil is whether you can cook with it.

The main argument against it is related to smoke point. Extra virgin olive oil typically has a smoke point around 180-220 degrees Celsius.

For context, common cooking methods look roughly like this:

  • Boiling – 100 º
  • Steaming – 100 º
  • Roasting – 180 º
  • Microwaving – 100 º
  • Deep frying – 170-180 º
  • Fry Pan – 200-220 º

So even just based on the smoke point you can see that the argument is only relevant for specific situations.

Beyond that, there are a few more pieces of evidence as to why it shouldn’t be an issue.

The first one is that a large percentage of the research that has found health benefits with olive oil has featured people using it in their cooking.

The polyphenols in EVOO also are noticeably protective against the oxidation that could occur with cooking.

A study comparing olive oil vs EVOO vs vegetable oils over 27 hours found that oxidation levels were higher in vegetable oil than in all forms of olive oil. The antioxidants were more protective in EVOO than regular olive oil.

Key Takeaway Points (And Caveats)

From a health perspective, choosing extra virgin olive oil over other forms seems like a simple decision. It has all the benefits of the other forms, in addition to a high number of polyphenols which are linked with health benefits.

The big caveats worth being aware of are:

  • It is significantly more expensive. Whether that price difference is worth the difference in polyphenol content is based on the individual situation.
  • There are taste and smell differences. EVOO is stronger tasting/smelling. So if looking to avoid that for certain dishes, it could make sense to choose a different option.
By Aidan Muir

Aidan is a Brisbane based dietitian who prides himself on staying up-to-date with evidence-based approaches to dietetic intervention. He has long been interested in all things nutrition, particularly the effects of different dietary approaches on body composition and sports performance. Due to this passion, he has built up an extensive knowledge base and experience in multiple areas of nutrition and is able to help clients with a variety of conditions. One of Aidan’s main strengths is his ability to adapt plans based on the client's desires. By having such a thorough understanding of optimal nutrition for different situations he is able to develop detailed meal plans and guidance for clients that can contribute to improving the clients overall quality of life and performance. He offers services both in-person and online.