Which Olive Oil Has the Best Health Benefits?

Olive oil is a staple in many kitchens around the world. This is due not only to its rich flavor but also to its numerous health benefits. However, with various types of olive oil available, it can be challenging to determine which one offers the best health benefits. In this article, we will explore the different types of olive oil, their specific health benefits, and how to choose the best one for your needs.

What is Olive Oil?

Olive oil is a liquid fat obtained from olives, a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. The oil is produced by pressing whole olives and extracting the oil. It is commonly used in cooking, whether for frying or as a salad dressing, and is also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps.

Types of Olive Oil

There are several types of olive oil, each with its unique characteristics and health benefits:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): The highest quality and most flavorful olive oil. It is made from pure, cold-pressed olives.
  • Virgin Olive Oil: Also made from pure, cold-pressed olives but with a slightly higher acidity level than EVOO.
  • Refined Olive Oil: Made from virgin olive oils that have been refined to remove strong tastes and defects.
  • Pure Olive Oil: A blend of refined and virgin olive oils.
  • Light Olive Oil: Refers to the flavor and color, not the calorie content. It is highly refined and has a neutral taste.
Which Olive Oil Has the Best Health Benefits
Which Olive Oil Has the Best Health Benefits

Specific Health Benefits of Different Types of Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

  • Highest in Antioxidants and Healthy Fats: EVOO contains the highest concentration of polyphenols and antioxidants, which are crucial for reducing inflammation and protecting against heart disease.
  • Best for Heart Health: Studies have shown that EVOO can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Ideal for Raw Consumption: EVOO is best used in salads, dressings, and drizzling overcooked dishes to preserve its health benefits.

Virgin Olive Oil

  • Good Balance of Flavor and Health Benefits: While slightly lower in antioxidants compared to EVOO, virgin olive oil still offers significant health benefits.
  • Suitable for Cooking at Moderate Temperatures: Virgin olive oil can be used for sautéing and baking.

Refined and Pure Olive Oils

  • Lower in Beneficial Compounds: Due to the refining process, these oils have fewer antioxidants and polyphenols.
  • Suitable for High-Heat Cooking: These oils have a higher smoke point, making them suitable for frying and other high-heat cooking methods.

Light Olive Oil

  • Minimal Health Benefits: Light olive oil is highly refined and has the least amount of beneficial compounds.
  • Primarily Used for High-Heat Cooking: Its neutral flavor makes it suitable for baking and frying.

Which Olive Oil Has the Best Health Benefits?

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: The Healthiest Choice

When it comes to health benefits, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is widely considered the best option. Here’s why:

Packed with Antioxidants

EVOO is rich in antioxidants, particularly polyphenols, which help protect your body from oxidative stress and inflammation. These powerful compounds have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

One of the most potent antioxidants found in EVOO is oleocanthal, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties similar to ibuprofen. Additionally, EVOO contains oleuropein, a polyphenol that may help lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

Antioxidant Power of EVOO

The antioxidant content of EVOO can vary depending on factors like the olive variety, growing conditions, and processing methods. However, studies have shown that EVOO typically contains higher levels of antioxidants compared to other types of olive oil.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry analyzed the antioxidant content of various olive oils and found that EVOO had the highest levels of polyphenols, tocopherols (vitamin E), and carotenoids.

Heart-Healthy Fats

EVOO is predominantly composed of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), particularly oleic acid. MUFAs have been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels by lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol and increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.

Studies have consistently linked the consumption of EVOO with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, thanks to its ability to improve blood lipid profiles and reduce inflammation.

The Mediterranean Diet and Heart Health

The Mediterranean diet, which is rich in EVOO, has been extensively studied for its potential benefits in reducing the risk of heart disease. A landmark study, known as the PREDIMED trial, followed over 7,000 participants at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

The study found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO or nuts had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, compared to those on a low-fat diet.

Potential Cancer-Fighting Properties

Several studies have suggested that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in EVOO may help protect against certain types of cancer, including breast, colon, and prostate cancer.

For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry found that oleocanthal, a polyphenol in EVOO, can induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells without harming healthy cells.

Olive Oil and Breast Cancer Risk

A large-scale study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) investigated the relationship between olive oil consumption and breast cancer risk. The study involved over 62,000 women and found that those who consumed the highest amounts of EVOO had a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to those who consumed the least.

Cognitive Benefits

Emerging research suggests that the Mediterranean diet, rich in EVOO, may have protective effects on cognitive function and brain health. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of EVOO may help reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that participants who consumed a Mediterranean diet supplemented with EVOO showed improved cognitive function and brain connectivity compared to those on a control diet.

Olive Oil and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the accumulation of amyloid-beta proteins in the brain. Interestingly, research has shown that oleocanthal, the anti-inflammatory compound found in EVOO, may help prevent the formation of these harmful proteins.

A study published in the journal Chemical Neuroscience found that oleocanthal can alter the structure of amyloid-beta proteins, potentially preventing them from forming the plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Virgin Olive Oil: A Healthy Runner-Up

While not quite as potent as EVOO, virgin olive oil still offers significant health benefits due to its high concentration of monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. It’s a great alternative for those who prefer a milder flavor or want to save a bit of money without sacrificing too many health benefits.

Nutritional Profile of Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil shares many of the same nutritional properties as EVOO, but with slightly lower levels of antioxidants and polyphenols. Here’s a breakdown of its nutritional profile:

  • Monounsaturated Fats: Like EVOO, virgin olive oil is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, primarily oleic acid.
  • Antioxidants: While not as high as EVOO, virgin olive oil still contains antioxidants like polyphenols, tocopherols, and carotenoids.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Virgin olive oil is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin K, and various minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium.

When to Choose Virgin Olive Oil

While EVOO is the clear winner in terms of health benefits, virgin olive oil can be a more budget-friendly option for everyday cooking. It’s also a good choice for those who prefer a milder flavor or want to use olive oil for baking, where the strong taste of EVOO may be overpowering.

3. Refined Olive Oil: Suitable for Cooking, but Lacking in Benefits

Refined olive oil and olive oil (pure or regular) have undergone processing that removes most of the beneficial compounds found in EVOO and virgin olive oil. While they may be suitable for high-heat cooking due to their higher smoke points, they lack the antioxidants and polyphenols that make EVOO and virgin olive oil so beneficial for health.

The Refining Process

Refined olive oil is produced through a process that involves various chemical and physical treatments to remove impurities, undesirable flavors, and aromas. This process typically includes the following steps:

  • Degumming: The crude olive oil is treated with chemicals or heat to remove gums (phospholipids) and other impurities.
  • Neutralization: The oil is mixed with a caustic soda solution to remove free fatty acids, which can cause rancidity and off-flavors.
  • Bleaching: The oil is treated with activated clay or other absorbents to remove pigments and other compounds that contribute to color and odor.
  • Deodorization: The oil is heated to high temperatures under vacuum conditions to remove volatile compounds responsible for undesirable odors and flavors.

While this refining process improves the oil’s stability, shelf life, and smoke point, it also strips away many of the beneficial compounds found in unrefined olive oils like EVOO and virgin olive oil.

When to Use Refined Olive Oil

Refined olive oil and olive oil (pure or regular) can be suitable for high-heat cooking methods like frying, sautéing, or baking, where their higher smoke points are advantageous. However, it’s important to note that these oils lack the health benefits associated with EVOO and virgin olive oil due to the refining process.

4. Olive Pomace Oil: The Least Healthy Option

Olive pomace oil is the least desirable option when it comes to health benefits. It’s highly refined and often blended with other oils, resulting in a product that lacks the unique properties of olive oil. Unless you’re on a tight budget and have no other options, it’s best to avoid olive pomace oil.

What is Olive Pomace Oil?

Olive pomace oil is produced from the solid residue (pomace) that remains after the initial pressing of olives to extract virgin or extra virgin olive oil. This pomace still contains a small amount of oil, which is extracted through chemical solvents and further refining processes.

The resulting oil is highly refined and often blended with other oils, such as sunflower or canola oil, to improve its flavor and aroma. While olive pomace oil is technically derived from olives, it lacks the beneficial compounds found in higher-quality olive oils like EVOO and virgin olive oil.

Nutritional Profile of Olive Pomace Oil

Olive pomace oil has a similar fatty acid profile to other refined vegetable oils, with a high concentration of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. However, it lacks the antioxidants, polyphenols, and other beneficial compounds found in unrefined olive oils.

Additionally, olive pomace oil may contain trace amounts of chemical residues from the extraction and refining processes, which can be a concern for some consumers.

When to Avoid Olive Pomace Oil

Unless you’re on a tight budget and have no other options, it’s generally recommended to avoid olive pomace oil. While it may be suitable for high-heat cooking, it lacks the health benefits associated with EVOO and virgin olive oil, and its production process raises concerns about potential chemical residues.

How to Incorporate Olive Oil into Your Diet?

Now that you know which olive oil offers the best health benefits, it’s time to start incorporating it into your diet. Here are some tips:

  • Use EVOO for low-heat cooking, dressings, and dips: EVOO has a lower smoke point, making it ideal for low-heat cooking methods like sautéing or drizzling over salads and vegetables.
  • Opt for virgin olive oil for medium-heat cooking: Virgin olive oil has a slightly higher smoke point than EVOO, making it suitable for medium-heat cooking methods like baking or sautéing at higher temperatures.
  • Experiment with different flavors: EVOO and virgin olive oil come in a variety of flavors, from fruity to peppery. Try different varieties to find your favorite.
  • Store olive oil properly: Olive oil should be stored in a cool, dark place to prevent oxidation and preserve its flavor and nutrients.
  • Don’t be afraid to splurge: While EVOO and virgin olive oil may be more expensive than other cooking oils, a little goes a long way. Invest in high-quality olive oil for the best health benefits.

How to Choose the Best Olive Oil

1. Reading Labels

When choosing olive oil, it’s essential to read the labels carefully. Look for:

  • “Extra Virgin”: Indicates the highest quality and most health benefits.
  • Acidity level: EVOO should have an acidity level of less than 0.8%.
  • Certifications: Look for certifications from reputable organizations like the International Olive Council (IOC).
  • Harvest date: Fresher olive oil is generally better in quality and taste.
  • Country of origin: Some regions, like Italy, Spain, and Greece, are known for producing high-quality olive oil.

2. Storage Tips

Proper storage is crucial to maintain the health benefits of olive oil. Follow these tips:

  • Store in a cool, dark place: Light and heat can degrade the quality of olive oil.
  • Use dark glass bottles: Protect the oil from light exposure.
  • Check the expiration date: Olive oil has a shelf life of about 18-24 months.
  • Avoid plastic containers: Chemicals from plastic can leach into the oil, affecting its quality.

3. Cooking with Olive Oil

Olive oil is versatile and can be used in various cooking methods. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Use EVOO for dressings and drizzling: Retains its flavor and nutritional benefits.
  • Use pure or light olive oil for cooking: Higher smoke points make them suitable for frying and baking.
  • Avoid overheating: Overheating olive oil can destroy its beneficial compounds and produce harmful substances.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I use EVOO for high-heat cooking?

While EVOO has a relatively low smoke point (around 375°F to 405°F), it can be used for high-heat cooking methods like sautéing or stir-frying if you’re careful not to overheat it. However, for prolonged high-heat cooking, it’s better to opt for refined olive oil or another oil with a higher smoke point.

2. Is it better to buy EVOO in a dark bottle or a clear one?

Dark bottles or tins are preferable for storing EVOO, as they protect the oil from light exposure, which can cause oxidation and degradation of the beneficial compounds.

3. How can I tell if my EVOO is of high quality?

Look for EVOO that is certified by reputable organizations, such as the California Olive Oil Council or the International Olive Council. High-quality EVOO should have a distinct fruity aroma, a slightly pungent taste, and a golden green color.

4. Can I use EVOO for baking?

While EVOO can be used for baking, its strong flavor may not be suitable for all baked goods. Virgin olive oil or a mild-flavored EVOO may be a better choice for baking, as it won’t overpower the other flavors in your recipe.

5. How long does olive oil last?

The shelf life of olive oil depends on the type and storage conditions. EVOO and virgin olive oil typically have a shelf life of 12-18 months, while refined olive oil can last up to 24 months. Proper storage in a cool, dark place can help extend the shelf life of olive oil.


When it comes to olive oil and its health benefits, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) reigns supreme. Its high concentration of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and anti-inflammatory compounds make it a powerhouse for promoting overall health and potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.

While other varieties like virgin olive oil and refined olive oil have their uses in cooking, they lack the unique properties that make EVOO so beneficial. By incorporating high-quality EVOO into your diet and cooking routine, you can enjoy its rich flavor while reaping the numerous health advantages it has to offer.