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Extra Virgin Olive Oil's Many Health Benefits (if you use the right brands)

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Extra Virgin Olive Oil's Many Health Benefits

(Blood pressure, Breast Cancer, Alzheimer's, Heart Disease, Weight Control)

©2016, David Leonard, M.Ag., Nutrition Educator (retired), University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

(7/7/16 update: I added another recommended EVO brand: 365 Everyday Value by Whole Foods & produced in California)

EVO's health benefits are broader and more research-proven than coconut oil's. There's room for both in a healthy diet, but use more EVO for overall wellness. Sure, it's more pricey than most other oils (about 10-40 cents a tablespoon) but it's a bargain considering its medicinal value.

EVO is 77% healthy monounsaturated fat, and good quality brands are especially rich in beneficial antioxidants called polyphenols derived from the fruits pulp.

Coconut oil is 6% mono fat and 90% saturated fat, although its type of sat. fat is considered relatively benign.

Note that light or extra light olive oil refers to color and flavor, not calories. They have been refined and are much lower in healthy antioxidants and taste, but their higher smoke point (4680F vs. 380-4100F for extra virgin). Still, experts say that EVO is fine for sautéing and frying.

EVO varies from pale yellow to emerald green, but the color has no bearing on quality.

EVO's Many Benefits

Anti-inflammatory & anti-Alzheimer's effects: EVO contains oleocanthal, a antioxidant that helps reduce platelet clumping and inflammation as well as the risk of certain cancers (Nature, 8/31/05).
Oleocanthal may also lower Alzheimer's risk by reducing the potency of brain-toxic proteins (beta-amyloid and tau) linked to the disease (J Alzheimers Dis 2015 Jan1;45(3):679-88) and helping clear beta-amyloid deposits from the brain (ACS Chem Neurosci, epub 2/15/13). Olive oils that are rich in oleocanthal cause a stinging sensation in the back of the throat when swallowed.

Breast cancer prevention & treatment: Oleuropein, an antioxidant that contributes to EVO's bitter taste, strongly inhibits cancer cell growth (esp. on ER negative cells) and also improves the effectiveness of the breast cancer drug Herceptin (trastuzumab) [BMC Cancer 2007 May 9;7:80; Mol. Nutr. Food Res. 2013March 5893):478-89].

Researchers also looked at 4274 women aged 60-80 who were part of a study comparing two different Mediterranean-style diets versus advice to eat less fat. At 5 years, the group assigned to the EVO-rich Med diet (4 tablespoon a day) had a 68% reduced risk of breast cancer compared to the reduced-fat group. The protective effect began at just under 3 tablespoons per day. The researchers note that it's not clear whether the benefits are due solely to EVO or to EVO in combination with a Med-style diet as a whole

In the group assigned to a nut-rich Med diet, there was a 41% lower risk, but it was not statistically significant since there were too few overall cases of breast cancer in the 3 diet groups to make meaningful comparisons. (JAMA Internal Med, e-pub 9/14/15, free-full text at http://goo.gl/xD5KWT). For Med diet info, see http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid

Lower blood pressure: EVO appears to reduce blood pressure and improve blood vessel elasticity which lowers risk of heart disease & stroke. In a study of some 20,000 Greeks ages 20-80 who were followed for 10 years, a Mediterranean-type diet (high in EVO, whole grains, fruit, veggies, beans, nuts, and fish but low in meat and dairy) was significantly linked with lower blood pressure. (Am J Clin Nutr, 10/04).

Another study found that adding EVO (3 tablespoons/day for women, 4 for men) and slightly reducing saturated fat lowered the need for hypertension medications by 48% (Arch Intern Med. 2000 Mar 27;160(6):837-42). Other research shows that benefits begin at around 2 Tbsp. (30 ml) daily of good quality EVO (http://c1.oliveoiltim.es/library/ucd-blood-pressure.pdf ).

Improved blood cholesterol: In a study of 200 young and middle-aged men, EVO raised good HDL cholesterol more than light (refined) olive oil. It also was superior in reducing damaging oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles which increases their ability to embed in artery walls leading to plaque buildup (Annals of Internal Med., 9/5/06).

Reduced heart-disease risk: A study of 29,689 Italian women followed for an average of 8 years found that those in the highest quintile (20%) of EVO intake had a 44% lower risk of a major coronary event (heart attack or bypass surgery) than those in the lowest quintile (Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:275-83).

Reduced atrial fibrillation risk: A randomized trial (PREDIMED) with 6705 adults followed for an average of 4.7 years found that those assigned a Mediterranean-style diet that included EVO had a 42% lower risk of A fib compared to no benefit for those assigned the Med diet with nuts (Circulation, e-pub 4/14/14). The Physicians Health Study found no A fib benefit for nuts (Nutr J. 2012 March 21; 11:17).

Reduced stroke risk: A 5-year study of some 7600 French adults age 65 & over found that those in the highest third of EVO use had a 41% lower risk of stroke compared to the lowest third after adjusting for the most likely confounders such as lifestyle, diet, blood lipids, and BMI (Neurology, e-pub 6/15/11).

Weight control: A study of overweight women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer after age 50 found that 80% of the group on an EVO-enriched healthy diet (at least 3 tablespoons a day + nuts) lost over 5% of their body weight in 6 months compared to 31% of those on a low-fat healthy diet. Both diets provided 1500 daily calories.

The EVO group also had greater improvement in triglycerides and good HDL cholesterol. Plus they rated their diet more tasty and felt less hungry (J. of Womens Health, 2010June;19(6):1155-61). The saturated fat in coconut oil and other food sources like meats and high-fat dairy isnt burned as completely as mono fat. This has been confirmed by several other published studies showing the weight control benefits of olive oil.

Consumer Reports EVO Ratings (2012)

(By Taste & Freshness, Ranked by descending quality within & between categories)

Excellent: McEvoy Ranch (pricey), Trader Joes California Estate
Very Good: Olive & Co., B.R. Crohn California (pricey), Lucina Premium, Kirkland Signature, 365 Everyday Value, California Olive Ranch (available at Walmart)
Good: Newmans Own Organics, Colavita, Filippo Berio Organic, Star, Archer Farms 100% Italian (Target)
Fair (few positive attributes, at least somewhat stale): Pompeian, Crisco, Great Value (Walmart), Goya, Filippo Berio. Bertolli, Mazola
Poor (old tasting, other flaws): Botticelli Pompeian Organic, Capatriti

365 Everyday Value EVO (Whole Foods; California produced) was mentioned as a top quality choice on the 7/6/16 Diane Rehm Show (NPR) discussing the new book Real Food, Fake Food (https://thedianerehmshow.org/)

NOTE: Most of the top quality brands in the Consumer Reports analysis come from California which has instituted quality standards via the Olive Oil Commission of California (http://www.oliveoilcommission.org/). Also, an independent lab (www.Consumerlab.com ) will begin testing olive oil brands for quality and adulteration with results hopefully by the end of 2016.

Storing EVO: Its unopened shelf life is about 18-24 months after bottling if protected from light and high temps (deterioration starts increasing above about 700F). But significant loss of quality and antioxidants shouldn't be a problem if you use an opened bottle within 30-60 days and keep it tightly capped and away from bright light. You can also store EVO in the fridge, and any resulting cloudiness and minor solidification will resolve once it warms to room temps.

1. The info presented in this post should not replace professional medical or dietary advice, diagnosis or treatment.
2. Always consult your registered dietitian or physician before making any significant dietary or exercise changes.
3. Don't ignore professional medical advice due to the info presented here.

David Leonard, M.Ag.

Educational Program Coordinator (retired)

Nutrition Connections Program

University of NH Cooperative Extension

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Very best, Olive Mill is Queen Creek, AZ. Pressed at the mill, they have a great deli, and their Vanilla Bean Olive Oil (EVO) makes pancakes and waffles so good! Also love their other infusions like Blood Orange, Lime, Lemon, Chocolate, etc.



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EVO is theoretically excellent, if you can find the real thing but that may be harder to get than one would think.


CBS 60 minutes (if you trust them) just ran a story on the Agro-Mafia. They counterfeit food products. One of the items that they focused on was Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO) knockoffs. Over 60% of the popular EVOs were found to be substandard (yes, there really is an international standard for Extra Virgin Olive Oil).


Although some of the oils were substandard due to a combination of rancidity, fusty and just poor handling from tree to shelf, the majority were found to contain seed oils (up to 100%) with coloring and flavoring additives to mask them.


This has been a problem for more than 40 years. In 2012, University of California, Davis, did a complete analysis of EVOs sold in California. A course view of their results:



The full UC Davis report from 2012.


If you are serious about using Extra Virgin Olive oil, there is a lot of research out there that may help separate the real thing from the placebos. Here is one place to start: Extra Virgin Olive Oil search


Other references:

PUREGREEKOLIVE January 4, 2016 3:3PM



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Costco (if you or a friend are members) is a good option, they carefully track both their standard and premium oils to be sure they are selling what they think they are.

First rule of computer consulting:

Sell a customer a Linux computer and you'll eat for a day.

Sell a customer a Windows computer and you'll eat for a lifetime.

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Good information, Budd! An independent testing lab (www.Consumerlab.com ) will soon begin testing olive oil brands for quality and adulteration to provide up-to-date results. See https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/How+can+I+find+the+best+quality+extra+virgin+olive+oil/best_quality_%20olive_oil_/


Note that most of the top quality brands in the Consumer Reports analysis in my original post come from California which has instituted olive oil standards through the Olive Oil Commission of California (http://www.oliveoilcommission.org/).

David Leonard, M.Ag.

Educational Program Coordinator (retired)

Nutrition Connections Program

University of NH Cooperative Extension

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