Episode 155 – Regular Olive Oil vs Extra Virgin Olive Oil From a Health Perspective

Key Topics Covered

Olive oil and extra virgin olive oil in glass bottles on a table.

Olive oil is well known as an option that is consistently linked with health benefits. 

Given the price disparity and differences in taste, it’s natural to wonder whether there are significant health differences between extra virgin olive oil and other varieties of olive oil.

Definitions

  • Virgin olive oil is simply olive oil that has been obtained directly from olives without any chemical treatments or heat. 
  • The difference between virgin and “extra” virgin is that they have different 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 differences in taste, smell and quality, but it is largely just due to different standards for categorization.
  • All other forms of olive oil undergo some form of processing with heat or chemicals, which varies depending on the specific product.

Polyphenols and Antioxidants

  • 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 often considered to be one of the factors leading to the health benefits it’s linked with.
  • It is a case-by-case basis in terms of how much the refining process reduces the polyphenol content of the oil. However, the refining process does reduce these health-promoting components.

Cooking

Olive oil being used to cook with on a pan.

  • 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 the 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.
    • Secondly, The polyphenols in EVOO also are noticeably protective against the oxidation that could occur with cooking. So that is something to consider as well.
      • 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.

Summary

  • 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.
  • There are some other caveats: 1) It’s more expensive 2) It has a stronger taste/smell than other forms. For the sake of this podcast though we have just focused on nutrition.

Relevant Blogs / Resources

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