Written by Zoe Bingley-Pullin
As a nutritionist and chef, I often get asked whether extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is healthy, how to best use it, how to select one and so on. I am always surprised to see how many misconceptions there are! This is a real shame considering the beneficial nutritional properties of EVOO.
Therefore, in this blog, I will be breaking down some of the common EVOO misconceptions and clearing fact from fiction!
Extra Virgin Light Olive Oil has less calories/kilojoules
When it comes to food products, most of us associate the word “light” with lower in calories/kilojoules or fat. This means, when people see the word “light” on an EVOO bottle, they think this is a better choice for their waistlines. However, light and extra light EVOO simply means lighter in both colour and flavour. The reason to choose this type of EVOO, is if you do not like the stronger taste of EVOO or when you want to cook with oil but not overpower the flavour of the dish, such as when baking or cooking with seafood.
EVOO is unhealthy to cook with at high temperatures
It cannot be disputed that the stability of oil can affect the nutritional composition and health benefits of oil. Specifically, it has long been known that when oils are exposed to heat, such as during the cooking process, unhealthy by-products are produced. In order to quantify this, the “smoke point” of an oil has been used to categorise the stability of an oil when heated. However, more recently, research has recommended assessing oil based on the on total content of polyunsaturated fat, oxidation stability and level of by-products produced.1 Based on these, it has been found that EVOO produces the lowest level of unhealthy compounds when heated, making it a very healthy option to cook with at high temperatures.
When cooking EVOO is just used for non-stick purposes
Seeing oil only for its non-stick function, means we can be prone to selecting the cheapest oil possible. However, I recommend considering oil as part of your daily diet. This is because a fat source such as EVOO, helps us to absorb fat soluble vitamins and antioxidants such as vitamin A, E, K and beta-carotene, from the foods we eat. Not only this, but EVOO is a source of healthy monounsaturated fats (mostly oleic acid), which are beneficial for protection against heart disease and total mortality,2-4 along with antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage and therefore powerful against oxidative stress.5 Overall, this means, when using EVOO, it adds to the overall nutritional density of your diet.
EVOO is only suitable for savoury cooking
When it comes to sweet dishes, EVOO can be a great replacement for butter and refined oil. From a health perspective, this is a good swap because butter contains saturated fat, which should be limited in the diet. Additionally, using EVOO is a good dairy-free alternative for those who cannot consume dairy or who are vegan. The types of sweet dishes which EVOO works particularly well in banana bread / sweet loaves, flourless cakes, upside down cakes, biscotti, homemade custard and homemade ice-cream. Next time you’re baking, try to look for recipes which use EVOO and see what you think.
All EVOO is created equally
In Australia, we are lucky enough to have access to some of the highest quality, locally grown EVOO. It’s important to take advantage of this and opt for locally grown Australian EVOO because it has travelled less far to reach us which is not only better for the environment but it’s also fresher and will therefore taste better and will more likely have retained more antioxidants. Another key factor to look for is “cold pressed” and more specifically “first press” as these oils will also have retained more nutrients and antioxidants during the harvesting and bottling process and will overall be a better-quality oil.
Overall, as you can see, EVOO is not only an incredibly healthy but also versatile oil to cook with. Next time you are selecting an EVOO, know that a locally grown and first cold pressed EVOO will give the highest quality option and will be the best tasting!
View article references
2. Wang D, Li Y, Chiuve S, Stampfer M, Manson J, et al. Association of Specific Dietary Fats with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. JAMA Intern Med [Internet]. August 2016; 176(8):1134-45.
3. Guasch-Ferre M, Hu F, Martinez-Gonzalez M, Fito M, et al. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Medicine [Internet]. May 2014; 12(1):78.
4. Li Y, Hruby A, Bernstein AM, Ley SH, et al. Saturated Fats Compared with Unsaturated Fats and Sources of Carbohydrates in Relation to Risk of Coronary Heart Disease: A Prospective Cohort Study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology [Internet]. October 2014; 66(14): 1538-48.
5. Jimenez-Lopez C, Carpena M, Lourenco-Lopes, Gallardo-Gomez M et al. Bioactive Compounds and Quality of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Foods [Internet]. July 2020; 9(8):1014.