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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 22 2011

Defending Olive Oil’s Reputation

By Mark Sisson
126 Comments

Olive oil’s reputation has been besmirched. It isn’t the magic life elixir fueling the teeming hordes of Mediterranean-dieting, crusty bread-eating, moderate wine-drinking centenarians, but it doesn’t deserve to be tossed in the trash heap with soybean, grapeseed, corn, and canola oils. I sense that it’s fast becoming a “fallen fat” among our crowd and I think it’s a darn shame. Are a few extra grams of linoleic acid, one or two unfortunate incidents of adulterated oil, and gushing praise from vegans, vegetarians, and the American Heart Association alike enough to turn us against a staple, phenolic-rich food sporting several thousand years of storied history?

Allow me to explain myself. Early this week, I got an email from a reader: “I often roast my veggies with EVOO. Would butter be a better alternative, or are the fats in EVOO just as well?” This is an extremely common, totally innocent question. I get similar questions a few times each week. Moreover, I’ve noticed a general undercurrent across the paleosphere of folks avoiding olive oil altogether, either because it isn’t necessary for health, has too much linoleic acid, or it’s too prone to oxidative damage when exposed to the elements (heat, oxygen, light). I’d like to address each of these, particularly the oxidative stability. And I’ll answer whether I think we can cook with it or not.

Do we need it?

Now, you don’t need to eat olive oil to be healthy – agreed. I would enjoy life less without good extra virgin olive oil, but I could be healthy without it and I can see why people would find it unnecessary. Besides, good olive oil can be hard to find or expensive, while a slab of good grass-fed butter is almost always more affordable.

Is there too much omega-6?

Olive oil does have a fair amount of linoleic acid, with some varieties reaching concentrations of 20%. Using such a variety for the majority of your added cooking and salad fat – especially on a high-fat Primal Blueprint eating strategy – would mean eating excessive amounts of omega-6. Note, though, that some olive oil varieties are far lower in linoleic acid, and most extra virgin olive oil runs about 10%. Two tablespoons of the average stuff gives you about 2.8 grams of linoleic acid. That’s less omega-6 than most lard and poultry fat, if you’re counting, especially if you use it sparingly as a drizzler or in salads.

Isn’t olive oil too unstable for regular eating? What about the oxidation?!?

As for the oxidative potential of olive oil, that depends on a few things. Your olive oil is only as unstable as its environment. Heat, light, and exposure to oxygen all impact the oxidative stability of olive oil, as does the presence of antioxidants and phenolics. Of course, this is all works in a dose dependent manner; the more heat, light, and oxygen exposure, the greater the oxidative potential, while the more antioxidants and phenolics present, the lower the oxidative potential. Ultimately, it’s up to you to source good quality oil and store and handle it properly. If you buy your olive oil at Costco in two-gallon clear plastic jugs, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t hold up as well as the extra virgin deep green olive oil that leaves streaks of olive sediment behind and burns your throat going down. If you store your olive oil next to the stove, often forget to secure the cap, and expose it to plenty of kitchen lighting, it’s not going to last very long.

What about heating it? Should you ever cook with olive oil?

Surely heating such a fragile plant oil will render it inedible, toxic, and liable to result in oxidized serum lipids if eaten. Right? Not so fast. While subjecting extra virgin olive oil to high heat can alter the taste, it’s actually fairly resistant to oxidative damage from cooking. Let’s take a look at some studies to make sure:

In one study, the authors heated various oils to “deep-frying conditions” and checked oxidative markers every three hours. The olive oils made it 24-27 hours of constant high heating before reaching the maximum legal value of heat damage. Not bad, and it’s not like you’re going to use your olive oil to deep fry anyway.

Despite being heated at 180 degrees C (356 degrees F) for 36 hours, two varieties of extra virgin olive oil exhibited strong resistance to oxidative damage and retained most of their “minor [phenolic] compounds.”

But then there’s this study, in which subjects were given heated olive oil meals, heated safflower oil meals, unheated olive oil meals, and unheated safflower oil meals. Both of the heated oils and the unheated safflower oil resulted in elevated postprandial oxidative markers, while eating unheated olive oil resulted in none. Note, though, that the olive oil was probably refined or light (otherwise they would have called it “virgin” or “extra virgin”) and thus devoid of significant phenolics with antioxidant properties. Also, the oils were heated at 210 degrees C (410 degrees F) for eight hours, which seems excessive. The home cook sauteeing some shrimp and onions in white wine and EVOO is unlikely to hit 210 degrees C, let alone stay there for eight hours.

You’re probably aware of the oft-cited benefits of olive oil on blood lipids. Namely, that it raises HDL and lowers LDL. You’re probably rightfully skeptical of the relevance of these changes in numbers. I am too, so let’s not talk about those. But how do you feel about oxidized LDL? Many are beginning to suspect that a causal link between oxidized LDL and atherosclerosis exists, and I think everyone agrees that reducing the oxidative potential of our lipoproteins is a good thing. The story as commonly told is, roughly, that unsaturated fat-rich LDL are inherently unstable and prone to oxidative damage, so eating a lot of unsaturated fats will mean vulnerable LDL and eating lots of saturated fats will mean stable LDL. Since the primary fat in olive oil is the unsaturated monounsaturated oleic acid, the common idea is that eating too much olive oil will make LDL vulnerable to oxidation like the other unsaturated fats.

So, what does the research show?

Most studies show that extra virgin olive oil either reduces measurable oxidized LDL or reduces measurable markers for oxidized LDL in humans. Dietary extra virgin olive oil reduced the number of oxidized LDL and increased HDL in proportion to the phenolic content of the oil; the more phenolics, the greater the effect. Tested LDL was also more resistant to oxidation after being removed from subjects and exposed to oxidative stress. Similar effects were found in a more recent study, in which men were given either EVOO with high phenolic content or refined olive oil with zero phenolics present. Men consuming high phenolic EVOO had less oxidized LDL and more phenolics present in LDL, indicating that dietary phenolics reach serum LDL and exert antioxidant effects in vivo.

A possible mechanism behind reduced oxidized LDL looks like an increase in oxidized LDL antibodies. In one randomized clinical trial, healthy men were given 25 mL of olive oil of varying phenolic content per day; a greater capacity for antibody production corresponded with higher phenolic intakes.

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Most evidence points to extra virgin olive oil being a highly nutritious, healthy addition to a diet. And for all the hand wringing about extra virgin olive oil being way too unstable to have around on a regular basis, let alone actually willingly ingest, it even appears to be protective against LDL oxidation when consumed in the pure, extra virgin, high phenolic, room temperature state (and even reasonably heated it doesn’t seem too shabby, either). From what I can tell, it does the exact opposite of what some people worry it will do to their blood lipids. For that reason, I think olive oil deserves another look. A fresh start, perhaps?

Let’s put it to rest – olive oil, especially good quality virgin olive oil with all the phenolics intact, is decently resistant to heat-incurred oxidative damage and a great addition to your diet. And if you’re worried about exposure damage, adding a bit of vitamin E to olive oil seems to reduce oxidation. (Furthermore, rats who ate the vitamin E-dosed oil exhibited fewer signs of oxidative stress in vivo than the rats who ate the unenriched olive oil, so it’s not just cosmetic; it actually has an impact on how the food is processed in the body.) Keep your intake moderate, don’t use it as a frying staple, choose the good stuff, and try to use it mostly at room temperature. I find that the culinary benefits of extra virgin olive oil (the taste, the pepperiness, the subtle depth) and the nutritional benefits (the phenolics, primarily) become heightened when added at room temperature (or at the most gently warmed) to dishes. I love butter and ghee and coconut oil as much as anyone, but the undercurrent of fear surrounding the exposure of olive oil to slightly elevated temperatures and to oxygen is unfounded and, in my opinion, misguided.

The bottom line? If you’re making a tomato-and-meat-based sauce to go over spaghetti squash and you want the traditional Italian flavor, don’t worry about a bit of extra virgin olive oil going rancid due to some heat exposure. Give it some EVOO love. You and it will survive the journey intact.

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126 thoughts on “Defending Olive Oil’s Reputation”

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  1. Agreed. I render my own lard and tallow now (Mark, what have you done to me?!) and use this for most things I cook as well as occasional butter, but almost every salad or meat sauce I make gets a couple of swirls. So do my loaded omelets along with some herbs.

    Nothing can replace that flavor, and honestly unless you know that you’re sensitive to EVOO, there’s no sensible reason to kick it aside.

  2. Mary Enig in “Eat fat loose fat” claims that excessive monounsaturated oil can lead to fat gain.

    Stephan at whole health food source claims that there is no studies showing any benefit of anti-oxidants.

    Olive oil seems ok, however I am suspicious of it and have some around though whenever I can I will substitute butter or coconut oil.

    1. Dr. Bernstein did a study on several of his patients (who had achieved weight stability on his low-carb diet), asking them to consume about 3 oz of EVOO daily in addition to their normal eating plan.

      After 6 months, the average weight gain among those who consumed the extra 3 oz of EVOO (an extra 900 CALORIES!) daily was……..

      ZERO.

      1. Were there other effects noted from the test group? It’d be interesting to hear…

        1. I did not see mention of any other effects from this study. Just the complete lack of weight gain that would have been expected from adding 900 calories per day. The “grams of fat” crowd insist that this would result in about 2 lbs/wk weight gain.

          Fortunately, real science remains true whether or not you believe in it.

      2. That’s interesting. Just another thing that goes to show calories don’t matter. I’ll have to see if Dr. Enig has a reference for weight gain on monounsaturated fat. Do you happen to have a link to the Dr. Bernstein study?

        3oz. of olive oil is more like 750 cal. Even if you assume all 3oz are pure fat, that ends up being 85g. Which is 9*85 = 760 calories.

        Mary enig was talking more about nuts though. I do see many people claiming that too many nuts on a primal/paleo diet can stall weight loss.

        1. No, I don’t have a link. And unfortunately, Dr. Bernstein has decided to erect a paywall around his site, so I will not be looking there any more. He still hosts a free Webinar, where he answers questions submitted via email at info@diabetes911.net

          From an email on the March 30th webinar:

          [start of quote]
          Ask Dr. Bernstein Your Question NOW! Join the Ask Dr. Bernstein Webcast and conference call on Wednesday March 30, 2010 at 7PM CST, 8PM EST and 5PM West Coast Time. Please Ask Dr. Bernstein Your Questions NOW! By emailing us at info@diabetes911.net or by going to http://www.diabetes911.net and click on the banner “Ask Dr. Bernstein” and register for the webcast. [note, I could not find that link on that site]
          You can listen live by phone by dialing (323) 476-3672 on Wed. March 30th (Backup # 1-520-917-7107). Enter Conference ID: 900326#, or go to the link below to listen to the webcast. For Local Numbers go to: http://cdset.c.topica.com/maaoHxjab3u49aTVIEGbaeQyvr/
          To attend, visit: http://cdset.c.topica.com/maaoHxjab3u5FaTVIEGbaeQyvr/
          [end of quote]

        2. Michal, to be fair, Howard said there was no weight gain in those who ate the extra calories. Weight loss is a slightly different goal.

    2. Actually, Stephan has changed his thinking a bit concerning polyphenols. He proposes that there are indeed benefits, though they are mediated through hormesis.

  3. I’ve always used EVOO for sauteeing my spinach and brocolli rabe and if I want some potatoes (sweet or white) I use it for coating them for roasting. I had always thought as long as you didn’t heat it to the smoking point it wouldn’t be a problem.

  4. I have been trying to find answers for familial hypercholesterolemia and have landed on the same idea that you shared in the article: “Many are beginning to suspect that a causal link between oxidized LDL and atherosclerosis exists.”

    To the best of my reading, it is not saturated fat in the diet, neither is it the actual cholesterol lipid numbers. It is what happens to the cholesterol while in the blood that is most important. Is it oxidizing? How does one protect it from doing so?

    Anybody else have thoughts on this? I know it is a bit off tangent but I am on the hunt for answers for me and my family. 🙂

    1. It is my understanding that blood cholesterol numbers do not matter so much as the oxidation of LDL. Robb Wolf states that some cultures have high levels of blood cholesterol but do not have heart disease and vice versa. The oxidation occurs from stress and excessive carb intake

      1. I’m just starting to read what Cordain says (apparently he has been more concerned about saturated fat than most Paleo-types). I think it goes like this: Sat fat does/will lead to thickening of the artery (atherosclerosis), but it is only via inflammation (i.e. sugars and grains) that causes the rupturing of the atherosclerotic cap) which is what causes heart disease)??

    2. An area that is starting to be investigated is the oxidation of lipids and effect on our body. Unfortunately, the media or other ‘celebrity’ experts do not report that all lipids can be oxidized at different levels. With olive oil, international regulations stipulate allowable levels for extra virgin and therefore any producer selling it has to have an oil analyzed for levels of peroxides … primarily the outcome of oxidation during extraction depending on the quality of the machinery, miller expertise, etc. There can be huge differences in oxidation between different ‘EVOOs’. The cleaner , less greasy/oily the oil upon sipping the lower the oxidation if you cannot see a laboratory report. However, you can start asking retailers for it and it will force them to ask their suppliers for it. Majority of retailers have no knowledge of oxidation of fats either!

  5. Why should I even buy plant oils when I have so much bacon grease left over?

    1. I concur! I just seared myself some pork chops in bacon drippings.

      What goes great with pork you ask??? More bacon grease, of course!!!

      On a side note: my most favorite thing about going Primal is… justification for my bacon fetish!

      1. Doesn’t mark say in his book that bacon should not be consumed because it is a processed meat? I am so confused. Im trying to follow this primal live but there are so many contradictions forms his book to this site. I love bacon and would love to know if it is tolerated in the primal lifestyle? So is bacon tolerable? What about Sausage?

      2. It’s probably better to eat bacon that’s nitrate free. Also, though it’s hard to find, fresh side pork (uncured bacon) is great!

        I love olive oil and don’t think I eat too much of it. I also use it in the shower to moisturize (rub a little bit onto your legs then rinse). That is one thing that the linoleic acid is great for!

        1. It’s kind of like that old saying , not black and white, but shades of grey.

          It’s in the quality of the meat. “Regular” hamburger meat is grain fed and loaded up with hormones and processed. If you buy locally grown and butchered grass-fed beef for your hamburger meat… it’s great for you.

          Same thing with the bacon. I get extra thick, uncured, nitrate-free stuff from my local market. If you poke around on here, there are a lot of bacon-lovers on MDA.

          Same thing with sausage, depends on quality. I have a hard time finding sausage near me that doesn’t have MSG and don’t use synthetic casings, so I stick to my bacon 😉 Try dripping leftover hot bacon grease on a salad with crumbled bacon, mmm.

          Hope that helps, Demetrius.

          Thumbs up for EVOO and Vinegar on BAS!!

  6. Is there a way to tell if olive oil has gone rancid? does it begin to smell funny?

    1. Yep, it gets a sort of “stale” scent (most oils do, actually). It’s not a terribly unpleasant smell, and it can be hard to pick out unless you have something fresh to compare it to. Sort of like the smell a towel gets if used several times and left damp.

      1. I always though rancid oil smelled sort-of like oil-based paint. In which the oil probably is rancid, but since you are painting with it who cares, right?

        1. That’s it! I was trying to think what rancid oil smells like. It does smell like an old can of oil based paint.

  7. Honestly, I think the only reason I tell my cooks to NOT cook with EVOO is because of the cost. The flavor is what gets destroyed with heat, so it makes sense to use a lighter olive oil for the cooking. As for whether it is healthy or not for you – seriously folks… I am really through with the nitpicking I see with oils, etc.
    Olive oil has a RICH tradition of thousands of years. In fact, it was once used to annoint those about to be sacrificed – it was THAT important to the culture.
    I have used canola oil for years now, and I for once am happy with the switch to olive oil, only because I KNOW it is healthy for me. There is history that shows me that, opposed to a group of people with STRICT rules decrying it.

      1. Yeah, I’d slather some oatmeal all over my body but I’m definitely not going to eat it.

  8. I used EVOO to roast some potatoes at Christmas years ago and forgot all about the roasting tray (my bad!). Months later, I noticed it lurking at the top of the oven and looked at it.

    The oil in the tray was still liquid and it smelled & tasted O.K. (rancid flaxseed oil tastes bitter). That suggests to me that the EVOO I use is pretty damned stable.

    The “Solesta” EVOO from Aldi I use has a pufa content of only 6.6% and it also passes the “fridge test”.

    Coconut oil is solid at my room temperature for a lot of the year.

  9. One of the newest trends that really seems to be catching on in the Olive Oil industry are single-varietal olive oils (generally from a supplier or a specialty Olive Oil Store) that feature higher polyphenol counts. The stores will highlight the varietals of oils that feature more polyphenols than others – specifically for health reasons. Some do like (and prefer) the more peppery taste that often can be associated with higher polyphenol count Olive Oils.

    For the most part, I try to purchase a good extra virgin olive oil from a reputable company, store it correctly, – and eat it within a year or so.

    So far, my best source after quite a few years of searching has been Cibaria Oils http://www.cibaria-intl.com . They bottle to order, and their product isn’t sitting on grocery store shelves for months at a time. They move a lot of stock, so they are generally carrying the most recent harvest, which helps for taste if you’re in the market for a truly flavorful olive oil.

    It is most definitely a matter of personal preference when it comes to Olive Oil. Just as some people avoid Coconut Oil at all costs, you’ll have the same people who will avoid Olive Oil as well.

  10. Anyone have thoughts about whether it is ever appropriate to use more refined types of olive oil? Even in the Primal Cookbook, Mark recommends sometimes choosing a refined olive oil over extra-virgin because of taste reasons – e.g. to make mayonnaise. I assume that refined olive oil is somewhat better in its lipid profile than typically used canola and vegetable oil.

    I also use refined olive oil for cooking for the oxidation reasons that are outlined in this post. I basically only use EVOO when I intend to consume it raw, basically in dressings. Can anyone enlighten me here? Do the enhanced heat-tolerance properties of refined olive oil make it a better choice for cooking over EVOO, or does the latter’s other health benefits make it preferable?

    1. For me is the other way around, mayonnaise does not taste good if I don’t use EVOO, but living in the south of Spain we use olive oil for everything so. . .

  11. Thanks for the article, Mark! I think it is well written. I have the Costco bottles as mentioned *blush* but I keep them in my dark pantry and don’t cook with them often. I did use it this morning for some primal hummus and it was just what was needed. Your site has been a blessing. My jeans are falling off of me after 2 weeks and I feel so much better.

  12. Olive oil is one of my staples. Living in a rural area, it is basically the only healthy fat available that doesn’t have to be ordered online or require a five to six hour round trip drive to a larger city. Our little grocery store in town carries several nice varieties. I use other fats when I can get/afford them, but for the most part I go with olive oil.

    I am still having trouble accepting that fact that I live in a rural area, but can’t buy small farm eggs, milk, or meat. I’m dead center in the middle of Arkansas corn, rice, and soybean country. This winter we watched the topsoil blowing off of the bare fields and pined for the cow covered hills we left in the Missouri Ozarks.

    1. I totally sympathize. The food in Upper Peninsula Michigan is atrocious. The fanciest restaurant in town recently served me canned corn as the vege of the day. But, if I am willing to drive 3-4 miles into Wisconsin, local food and grass fed meat abounds. My kitchen is the best place to eat paleo BY FAR! I have a lovely beef heart in the GROKpot right now.

      1. I know this is kind of old, but is the U.P. really that bad? I was thinking of moving there to get away from the farmland and over population in NW Ohio.

        1. No… not that bad, in fact, great farmer’s market network, etc. ! LOTS of wild foraging opportunities as well.

      2. Hey… where in the U.P.? I work at a health food store in the Soo… we sell grass fed bison, yak, as well as free-range eggs and chicken 🙂 The eggs ARE a bit pricey but there is another guy I get a better price from who brings them to town as well!

  13. I use it daily on by BAS (along with some red wine vinegar).
    Still, as a college student, the cost is the thing that really prevents me from using EVOO in more things. I don’t have anything against it, I’m just doing what I can to eat as primally as possible on a limited budget.

    1. Yes but would you put kerosene in your car? It’d be cheaper in the short term…

  14. I used pure olive oil in just about everything I cook! Pure olive oil (not the extra virgin type) is a very versatile, economical, un-flavor-altering fat to marinate, saute, and/or bake with. No melting required, just pour and go 🙂

    And if you are worried about it going bad, don’t buy the biggest bottle you can find! That is one of the wonderful things about the American Food Industry. We was options. Use them!

    1. Hmmm, not so sure about “pure” olive oil! It’s usually a blend of virgin and refined olive oil,meaning that the olive oil has been extracted using chemical methods.

  15. Thanks for the post, I was actually just thinking about this the other day. I use my EVOO for all of my salads and usually don’t cook with it. Butter, Bacon and Duck Fat just taste so much better for cooking 🙂

  16. Buyer beware, though. Did you know that there is more Italian EVOO sold than is produced in Italy? Sure some is real but the fake or adulterated stuff doesn’t say it on the label. My theory is that; the prettier the label and the cooler the bottle, the more likely it’s not what it says it is. The fake stuff might be flavoured and PH-altered,refined motor oil from Bulgaria. I buy Greek stuff from my local Italian deli. (Does that make it a Greek deli too?)

    1. I just started primal and using olive oil and red wine vinegar for salad dressing. But I was shocked at the calorie count in olive oil. Yet everyone above seems to think its no big deal. 700+ calories on your salad seems like it should be a big deal…

  17. When we lived in Greece in the early 90’s, my bro-in-law brought huge bottles of that lovely, cloudy, green olive oil from his village…we cooked with it, even deep-fried. (And used it on salads…and as a dip…darn near slurped it up with a spoon) I don’t know about the science behind heating oil, but this oil worked really well just as long as you don’t overheat it which seems to be the case with any oil.

  18. I feel so fortunate to be able to buy olive oil from a family farm just a few hours south of here. I’m eating a salad now with some on it. Yum. I just can’t imagine a salad without it. What would one use instead? Walnut? Avocado? Sesame? Almond? Please don’t tell me you pour bacon fat or butter on your salad! 😉

    1. um, spinach salad with a warm bacon vinegarette? In that case I put bacon fat on salad. yummmmmmmmm

  19. I use to cook with it all the time not really knowing the dangers of heating it. Now I stick to using it for my salads or to top of a finished dish for some extra calories every now and then.

  20. I’ve been using evoo and the lighter versions for years now, no more canola and vegetable oils. I also use real butter and even some lard. The nly thing making me use less oils and fats is it seems in meals I use more oil in the more oily and acne prone I am. When I cut back on the oil I ingest the less oily my skin and scalp. Of course when I am n drying conditions it helps to have the abundance of oil naturally in my skin, but does get annoying.

  21. EVOO is awesome and all, but I find I now _prefer_ animal fat, ghee, and coconut. Even on salads, I drizzle liquified versions of those. Yum.

  22. I think the key to buying good quality EVOO is to source it locally. I purchase a small bottle from the Farmer’s Market on a regular basis but the olives are pressed 10 kilometres from my home. The oil is cloudy, peppery and has the burn on the throat that Mark was talking about. I mainly use it on salads but it is stable enough to cook with if I am running short on butter/coconut oil.

  23. Good for getting in a few extra calories if you need it. Most of the time if something has too much of a vitamin/oil/mineral our body gets rid of it so it doesn’t poison us… Right?

  24. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I am so grateful to see you throw some good science thrown. When I went Primal, I switched from OG EVOO as my major fat to OG cold pressed coconut oil and animal fats, but I just wasn’t willing to kick good olive oil completely to the curb. Glad to know this is not a “cheat”.

  25. I live for danger and will use olive oil even if I am not sure it is EVOO.

    Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind, the sun or the rain … we can be like they are.

    Sometimes you have to look death in the face, laugh at it, and consume the olive oil.

  26. We buy the Cold-Pressed EVOO from Costco that comes in a clear bottle. Mark, are you saying one should NOT buy this brand?

    Is locally bought really that much better and worth the extra cost? The cost of the Cold-Pressed EVOO is 6 cents per 100 calories!

    1. Too much exposure to light can make it go rancid, from what I have heard and read. A clear bottle kept on a shelf in a grocery store under those bright lights…..? I buy mine in dark, registered bottles from Greece. Yum! Nothing like good Greek olive oil.

      1. I am going to have to find a new brand of olive oil then… I can pay more than 6 cents per 100 calories.

        May I ask you what brand yours is?

        1. I, too, buy olive oil from Costco, but the “pure”, not EV, kind. What I do is transfer some to a smaller, dark glass bottle (remnant from a more expensive OO) and keep the huge clear bottle in a cool, dark place. I use it quite rarely, anyway, and never for sauteing, just a bit brushed on for roasting veggies.

  27. thanks for that mark – we’ve started to avoid using it at high heats (hot frying) but given the data you have presented – and since were’ not cooking for 8 to 36 hours (man – the tatoes would REALLY be browned, yes?) then i’ll relax on this –
    (yea!)

  28. Strongly agree with poster above re “buyer beware.”

    It infuriates me that people have to spend good money on pricey “olive” oils at the supermarket that most likely are adulterated or refined. Given the inflammatory conditions that could be caused by high omega-6 vegetable oils, it’s no joke if you don’t get the good stuff.

    I suggest going out of your way to find a small producer (lots of them in CA that sell online) or maybe a trustworthy source for Italian or Greek oil.

    I buy olive oil from a family company in CA and it tastes wonderful and fresh; it’s like “good medicine” for me.

    It’s actually less expensive than oils at the supermarket plus a little extra for shipping. I use a little in cooking and mostly for salads. It’s really worth it.

    1. I read/heard somewhere awhile ago that Spanish olive oils were just as good as the Italian and less expensive.

      1. My landlady owns the olive grove just over the fence line; she gave me five & a half litres of unfiltered oil: as for better from one country or another: piffle! The entire process must be taken into account, along with the soil & the season. Since I can see the trees through my back door, why bother with exported stuff? Much of what I eat is gathered & processed by me, or is a local product: eggs, stone fruit, apples blackberries, rose hips, grapes,, meat, vegetables; all within an hour’s walking distance, plus the wild greens & mushrooms.

  29. Nice call Mark! I had read on PaNu about the supposed issues with olive oil and had experimented with not taking it – but found I naturally included it in my kick ass salads out of some almost primal intuition that I needed it!

    1. That’s a great way of putting it, that makes the distinction so much easier. Especially for people like me who aren’t up-to-speed with the exact science and nutrition knowledge.

  30. I read somewhere that EVOO had the closest profile of any oil to bone marrow in terms of its various types of fat. Not sure if it is true – can’t find the link. Apparently Jeanne Calment, the oldest person that ever lived smothered her food in Olive Oil. Mind you she also reputedly ate a kilo of chocolate a week and smoked a few cigarettes a day (hormesis anyone?)
    Cheers

  31. I eat a BA salad every day. I make up my own dressing (1/3 olive oil, 2/3 cider vinegar plus spices) because i want to avoit the canola and soybean oils. I probably put about 90 mL on each salad, so that is 30 mL of olive oil. Is that too much olive oil to eat every day? I am fit and muscular (165 lb male), but can’t seem to loose the last bit of fat around the middle to look ripped.

  32. Here we go again,
    yet something else I cant eat and need to worry about…. it never ends…
    cant eat this… cant eat that…
    this is good.. well at least for awhile until someone says it is not.
    i am just so OVER IT…
    salmons good but not farmed salmon, mercola says if you dont get your salmon from special waters he has found it will kill you. than i read over the weekend, chicken breast is no good for me (Nasty omega 6 again), my fish oil pills will go rancid better not swallow those any more. eat canned mackeral, sardines etc instead But oh wait, the metal in the cans!! yea better think twice about that. Well, I have my vitamins.. no UH OH they are synthetic now whole food, ok found whole food ones nope got gluten in them. that will definately put me in the hospital. well no vitamins.. go pick up local produce at the farmers market, looks lifeless and half rotten most of the time.. the conventional is nice and freh looking but well im going to get a good dose of chemicals. sometimes the worry and the constanst food adjustment isnt worth the extra supposed five to 7 years life. heck a tsunammi could wipe out florida anyway tommorow for all i know. yes.. im frustrated with the constant changing of the rules of what is healthy and what is not faced with i could die in the morning anyway!!!

    1. I think you may have missed the point. The point of the article, as I see it, was that we shouldn’t worry about olive oil in the diet. It’s a damn healthy oil, as the data shows.

      Worry not!

    2. It’s not the “rules” that are changing – its the food. You can blame Monsanto for genetically engineering food into something that’s no longer good for us. Blame the plastic manufacturers for creating packing materials that contain numerous endocrine disruptors. Local doesn’t mean produce isn’t still covered in pesticides and the conventional crap looks “pretty” because it’s DESIGNED to look that way (yes, designed, like it came from an ad agency and not from the Earth). You can bitch and moan and groan about how “unfair” it is but it doesn’t change the fact that aluminum, plastics, pesticides, GMOs, sugars, etc are all BAD for you. You can’t blame the messenger for giving you the truth, but you can blame the big corporations that are screwing with our food supply just to make a quick buck.

  33. Massively interesting write up here – I’ve certainly had my eyes opened a little. I always though Olive Oil was a flawless part of my diet, and that butter was a 100 times worse that olive oil. How wrong I was!

  34. I honestly don’t see any problem with my olive oil consumtion. I use it daily in my salad dressings and what else is there to use?

    I cook all my other food either in ghee, coconut oil, red palm oil or babassu oil and all of those are rock solid except when heated and thus unusable as salad dressing fat. Besides, i only get the best olive oil you can buy for money and therefore i tend to use it sparingly to make it last. A little goes a long way taste wise if it’s quality stuff.

  35. Olive oil, specifically California olive oil, which is where 99% of domestic oil is grown and produced, is experiencing a movement very similar to California wines in the 1970s. The flavor profiles of excellent quality EVOOs are at least as multifaceted and distinct. Most Americans don’t know what good olive oil is. Once you try it there is no going back. Seek a California oil out on line from a California producer. California Olive Ranch is your best bet to find in the market place. The prices are not different from quality imported oils and you’ll cut your chance of getting an adulterated product. Buy small quantity and keep as Mark suggests for a year. Don’t save it for special occasions, use it and use it well. You’ll be a convert too!

  36. Mark,

    Isn’t the typical advice to use the light/refined version of olive oil for any cooking/heat, and to use the EVOO for non-heat applications like salads and toppings?

    The thought being that EVOO is much less stable (lower smoke point), while the refined version has a higher smoke point. This has always been my understanding.

  37. It’s much more than one or two unfortunate incidents, several recent studies have shown over 50% of oil imported from europe is rancid or has other things wrong with it. http://www.classicalvalues.com/archives/2011/02/extending_an_ol.html It is not even that they may be putting other things in it, sometimes it’s just shipping and sitting around in bright light.

    Since those studies came out, i have switched to california olive oil to hopefully get fresher oil. But avoiding fraud is harder, there’s no real way to know without testing.

  38. Spanish olive oil is so much better than Italian olive oil. Olives are picked in Italy earlier (green) than Spain because of elevation and climate. In Spain the olives are allowed to properly ripen so we get a much more smooth and peppery flavor than the “lawn mower tea” greenness of Italian olive oil.

  39. I have nothing but love for olive oil and value its inclusion in my arsenal of fats! My primal pantry is also well stocked with tallow, coconut oil and grass-fed butter. I am rocking the Whole30 right now, so EVOO is a welcome ally as I fight butter withdrawls :). I second the praise for California oils. Here is my current favorite: http://www.chaffinfamilyorchards.com/about.php and I am excited to see US Wellness Meats now carries it too!

  40. If anyone live in the Phoenix area or anywhere in Arizona for that matter, there is a lovely olive mill in Queen Creek, AZ. It is 40 minutes SSE of Phoenix and pressed in front of your eyes. Mmmm. Talk about fresh. Just FYI.

  41. I really like my extra virgin olive oil..I would be “hard pressed” to give it up. however, I do not drink it…! it’s a terrific flavor enhancer to many things I enjoy.

  42. I’m sorry, but after just recently studying in Tuscany for a semester, I’d sooner die clutching my green bottle of liquid fat magic than give it up. I went from fat-free lard-free synthetic snack neurotic to a fat-loving olive-lover in the span of a few months… I also have troubles digesting animal fats (butter included – lactose intolerance), so it’s really this or nothing.

    I believe buying oil is like wine as well: there are a few key points to notice (a dark thick glass bottle, checking the date to make sure it’s a recent product, EVOO for any straight up eating, VOO for cooking)… and yes, you can buy bottles worth twice their weight in gold, but it’s really for unnecessary nuance and shipping costs. A Tuscan might die if they hear me say Spanish olives are of equal quality, as long as they hit the recommended standards of ‘virginity.’ The taste may be a bit less grassy and nuanced and more of a spice bite, but mi piace il olio. And for the record, unlike wine, the fresher oil is the better.

    There’s a place in Pittsburgh in the Strip District, a great little Italian shop – it has oil by the barrel, and you simply fill it up yourself. If you find some authentic Italian produce carriers, the good stuff can be very very affordable.

    Hey, to each their own.

  43. Think about this – Olive Oil was used thousands of years ago in places with very hot, sunny climate – no refrigeration really & the way to cook was over FIRE…I think it’s safe to use in our a little less primitive kitchen 😉

  44. I eat approximately 2-5 oz of EVOO on most days of the week as I make my own salad dressings and always use it as the oil portion. I cook with coconut oil as I love the smell. I weigh the same today as I did 30 years ago. My bloodwork shows very low inflammation and excellent cholesterol numbers.

  45. I vary my oils and fats, figuring each offers something different and that way I don’t overdo any one kind.

  46. Great post and very timely. I spent some time this morning tasting different EV olive oils at a market. I have to say, I liked the Spanish the best (nutty and flavorful). Sicilian the least (had a bitter aftertaste) but have been hearing rumblings about the perils of EVOO from the paleo community for awhile. Myself, I love coconut oil in lots of stuff, but for awesome Italian sauces, you need the olive oil for the right flavor. Thanks for yet another well-researched commentary on a timely topic!

  47. I’ve been taking 2 tbsp /day of a good CA EVOO when I don’t cook w/EVOO. I always buy bottles hidden 3-4 back on any shelf, except the top shelf. They’re more protected from the light by the shelf and their brother bottles. I’ve started integrating avacado oil recently. Really tasty. HDL and LDL numbers have improved substantially.

  48. I love olive oil. Living in the Mediterranean, olive oil is as close to a religion as food will get. People put a lot of importance on getting good quality traditionally pressed EVOO. We’re lucky to have our own 20 or so olive trees. Every year we pick the olives, take them to the local press and get about 2 gallons of extra virgin olive oil (that’s the good green kind, which burns the throat on the way down), which we (a family of four) consume yearly.

    I can’t reference studies, but I can reference my great grandparents, and several great uncles, who made it to over 90, and practically lived on olive oil, despite eating liberal quantities of grains and legumes (though food was properly fatty and cooked in ghee back then).
    And my mother, who lived the CW low fat diet hailed by the Times and Oprah. She used oils like grapeseed and canola, and ate everything low fat. Despite also not eating much sugar, she got colon cancer at the age of 50.
    That for me, sealed the deal on pretty much everything food related.

  49. i just know that jean louis calment, the oldest lived documented person ever, (she died a few years ago, i think) ate tons of olive oil and put it all over her skin. but then again, she also smoked and ate 2 pounds of chocolate a week. 🙂
    also, there are studies showing that MUFAs decrease abdominal fat.

  50. I only buy EVOO in small dark coloured bottles and store it in the cupboard, that I way I never approach the shelf life. I also only use EVOO on salads these days, no heating or cooking with it.

    For cooking I use coconut oil or macadamia oil which also has a high smoke point.

  51. on the primal diet, meat protein is highly recommended but what about all the toxicity of meat products, highly mucus forming leading to constipation, and I also notice when I eat meat with salad, i have a strong craving for grains or dessert–i feel this has something to do with the meat protein. In your book you have not mentioned a single thing about the above especially all the mucus thats generated by eating flesh foods. please explain tks

  52. I read in “Food Safety 1995” that Styrene migration into foods cooked in olive oil is significantly greater than into foods cooked to the same temperature (175 C) in other oils.

    My professor also told me that when olive oil is heated to 119 F or higher it becomes a polymer. He doesn’t subscribe to conventional wisdom either.

  53. Mark,

    I am guilty of buying olive oil from Costco in the 2 gallon containers. I switched to it from canola oil about 6 months ago. I use the oil all the time for sauteeing veggies, scrambloing eggs, cooking breakfast potatoes for the kids etc. My kids don’t like the taste of food cooked in coconut oil, so that’s why I have been using the olive oil. Is this too much oxidization for my family? What other oil should I use in place of it for sauteeing and such?

    Thanks!

  54. In 18th-century America (and probably Britain), olive oil was called sweet oil. It was used for everything from gun oil to lamp oil to cooking.

  55. I don’t like the way olive oil tastes, fresh and extra-virgin or not. My family can’t stand the flavor, either. I guess everyone has different tastes.

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  57. Go local extra virgin olive oil, and a nicel local pinot noir to enhance the experience.

  58. Sorry, “pure” means pretty much nothing. It’s refined in a refinery. Use it for your skin. My mother in law buys “light” olive oil. Imagine those conversations.

  59. So, everyone, what are some of the good, nationally distributed brands of extra virgin olive oil you can buy at places like Whole Foods? I’ve been buying Spectrum Organic EVOO for years, but I’m willing to try for better.

    1. Montebello Organic Olive Oil is sold at WF. It has a low acidity (you want that), a good aroma, a mild taste and a strong bite. Or look for a DOP olive oil, with the seal on it. At least you’ll know you are getting what you are suppose to be getting.

  60. Forgive me if I sound completely ignorant and niave, but I had actually been led to believe that rapeseed oil was better then olive oil. Higher flash point to cook food faster and retain more nutrients and more anti oxidants , etc. You mentioned in the first paragraph though that it should be tossed out with corn oil and all those others. Have I been misled? Perhaps it may be time for a definitive guide to fat and oils?

    1. Mark has definitive guides on this site already. There’s a search box in the top right that is very useful when you have similar questions in the future.

      1. My apologies, there is a LOT of information on this site and I’ve not been here long enough to read all of it. I did find the guide to fats but there isn’t any mention of grapeseed oil so my original question stands based on his mention in the first paragraph: Have I been misled on the benefits of grapeseed oil?

  61. Forgive me if I sound completely ignorant and naive, but I had actually been led to believe that rapeseed oil was better then olive oil. Higher flash point to cook food faster and retain more nutrients and more anti oxidants , etc. You mentioned in the first paragraph though that it should be tossed out with corn oil and all those others. Have I been misled? Perhaps it may be time for a definitive guide to fat and oils?

    1. Oops, sorry for the double post, not sure what happened there and it was supposed to be Grapeseed oil, rather then rapeseed oil. Sorry!

    1. Hm, Dr. Barnard & Dr. Esselstyn are adamant about the fact that we should not be using much or any vegetable oils in our diets at all. Get your fats from whole plant foods, I believe is what they would say. Yes they do disagree with most other tenents of the paleo diet, for example beans and whole grains are included but NOT processed empty carbs like sugar, flour, chips, alcohol and the like. And animal products are excluded. I’m sure Mark will tell you they’re a bunch of crazy vegans… do your own research. 🙂

  62. I use olive oil and vinegar salad dressing on my spinach almost every single day. I just discovered it since recently switching to a paleo diet. I’m glad to hear I’m eating the right thing! 😀

  63. Could you please share where you get the Olive oil in California.

  64. Mark, you had said eating moderate amounts of EVOO is fine, but please advise how much you think would be too much. I easily use 2+ tablespoons a day on a (larger) salad. Thanks.

  65. Here’s a tip for cooking with olive oil: heat it in your pan with a little crushed garlic just long enough for the garlic to start to slightly change color but not get brown and if the garlic does brown then you over did it and you need to throw out the garlic and oil and start over and pay more attention this time! This not only preserves the fresh garlic flavor but should also keep you from getting the oil too hot for too long. I find I’m usually sautéing the garlic for only 30-60 seconds before I’m ready to dump in the tomatoes and white wine which cool the pan down quite a bit.

    Even more importantly use a relatively small amount of oil needed to sauté the garlic, you can add a lot more fresh oil to the dish later after it’s cooked. Italians do this all the time. That way most of the oil in the dish hasn’t been cooked at all.

  66. I enjoy Italian cuisine quite a bit, but when I cook something that requires a lot of olive oil, I start the cooking process (usually sauteeing garlic, onions, meat, etc.) with a small amount of bland coconut oil, butter/ghee, or animal fat. When the dish is done, I douse it all with extra virgin olive oil. Not only is this healthier, but it tastes better. You can even use the olive oil to cook with but in the smallest possible amount, then add the bulk in the end. Problem solved!