Ahhhh…our beloved and tasty olive oil. For decades we’ve been told that olive oil is a health food from which great health benefits can be derived. This idea became widespread after studying the diet of certain populations living along the Mediterranean Sea. One group of particular interest for this study was the Island of Crete (Greece), where they found that the mortality rate from coronary heart disease in this group was much lower than the other southern European groups studied. Consequently, the association between good health and olive oil was made and the Mediterranean Diet became popularized as a healthy diet and olive oil as a healthy food.
But what was really going on back in the mid-1950s early 1960s when the study was conducted? While the Cretan population did indeed use olive oil (about 2 tbsp. a day), the data demonstrated that the heart protective properties the Cretans benefited from were in fact attributed not to the olive oil per se, but to their diet rich in legumes, leafy greens, and fruit with a moderate consumption of fish and very little meat if any, and followed by a very physically active lifestyle. This data was then “distorted” and has led to a mass confusion that we should increase our consumption of olive oil because it’s “good for us”. But, is there some truth to it?
Like many people, I truly used to like the taste of olive oil and the way it enriches food. However, putting flavor and emotions aside evidence shows that olive oil is practically a refined food. What?? Yes, olive oil is a refined, and nowadays, even more processed food. Just like we have observed with refined grains (white flour, white bread etc.), olive oil is essentially extracted from its original fruit in its whole form, the olive. Once the oil has been pressed out of the olive, which contains the vitamins, phytonutrients, fibers etc., the fruit is basically discarded leaving us only with the “liquid fat”.
If you replace butter with olive oil, your LDL cholesterol level is likely to decrease, not because the olive oil lowered your cholesterol level but because it didn’t raise it as much as butter did. This very misconception has led many people to over consume olive oil in the attempt to somehow divinely lower their LDL cholesterol levels.
Just because a food appears to be “better” than another, it does not necessarily mean it is good for you.
It’s important to remember that ALL oils are essentially “empty calorie foods”, therefore if you are trying to lose weight these refined foods are not a good choice at all. Let’s examine the facts and you’ll decide for yourself if olive oil is indeed a health food:
Olive Oil per Tablespoon (14g):
Rich in Vitamin E • Only traces of Vitamin E are found Good source of Omega-3 • Only traces Omega-3 are found (0.01g) No relevant amount of Saturated Fat • 1.8g Saturated Fat equals 14% of total fat! Contains Minerals • No Minerals found It’s heart-healthy • It impairs blood flow
To put things in perspective:
Keep in mind that if we had to rely on olive oil to meet our Omega-3 needs, we would need to consume 8oz. of it which is 42g saturated fat and a whopping 1900 calories! And that is without eating anything else!
Also, consider that 2 tablespoons of olive oil contain an astounding 3 times more saturated fat of 4oz. white meat chicken. 2 tablespoons of olive oil contain approximately the same amount of saturated fat of 4oz. of lean beef!
Although we have come to love olive oil with its smooth, rich and addictive taste, we cannot deny that it is a 100% fat, refined food with “empty calories” voided of its nutrients. It does impair blood flow, and it certainly inflates our waistline.