The Fat Truth About Olive Oil

Pun intended.

Now, let me start off by saying that I absolutely love olive oil and have for as long as I can remember. With that being said, you can imagine my devastation when I discovered that olive oil is very often misused, by both amateur cooks and celebrity chefs alike. My friend, Shanna, who is very into health food, introduced me to grape seed oil a while back. She explained that similar to olive oil being rich in omega-3s, grape seed oil is rich in omega-6s. Intrigued by it, I sought out to purchase some. However, before my purchase, I wanted to do a little more research. It was through this research that I discovered the truth about olive oil.

As it turns out, olive oil is as healthy as most people understand it to be. Its misuse lies in the fact that it is far too often used as a cooking oil when it’s anything but that. Compared to other cooking oils, olive oil has a low smoke point of roughly 325 to 375 °F. This means that when heated to a temperature beyond that point, olive oil becomes unstable, essentially depleting the oil of its nutritional benefits while allowing for the production of toxic chemicals. Because of this, olive oil should be used in recipes for items like salad dressings, slow cooker meals, and even baked goods. Meanwhile, if a recipe calls for olive oil for food that is to be grilled, sautéed, or fried, you’ll want to substitute another cooking oil.

In researching grape seed oil, I think it might be a contender for olive oil after all. With a smoke point of approximately 420 °F, it is much more appropriate for grilling and sautéing. Even better, its nutritional benefits are quite similar to those of my beloved olive oil. Let’s compare the two on a per-tablespoon basis:

OLIVE OIL:

  • 120 calories
  • cholesterol-free
  • 1.9 g saturated fat
  • 1.4 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 10 g monounsaturated fat
  • 1.9 mg vitamin E

GRAPE SEED OIL:

  • 120 calories
  • cholesterol-free
  • 1.3 g saturated fat
  • 10 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 2.2 g monounsaturated fat
  • 3.9 mg vitamin E

As you can see, the only significant difference between the two is the discrepancy between polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat. For those who are unfamiliar with all of this “fat” terminology, I’ll try to explain it as simply as possible: saturated fat is to “bad” fat as unsaturated fat is to “good” fat. Furthermore, polyunsaturated fat is to omega-6 fatty acids (think: grape seed oil) as monounsaturated fat is to omega-3 fatty acids (think: olive oil). Both polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat fall under the unsaturated fat, or “good” fat, umbrella.

Still, it is important to note that, ideally, the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s should be 1:1. In today’s society, however, the balance between the two is often largely out of whack, with the consumption of omega-6s being much higher than that of omega-3s. Luckily for healthy eaters, the reason for this imbalance is largely due to an increase in processed foods containing refined vegetable oils – namely, cookies, crackers, chips, sweets, and of course, fast food.

As with most other things in life, moderation is key. Because I prefer both the aroma and taste of olive oil when compared to grape seed oil, I still incorporate it into my food whenever appropriate. However, due to my recent findings, I most definitely opt for grape seed oil when preparing food at high temperatures. There is no such thing as a perfect food (at least, in a nutritional sense), so if the pros outweigh the cons relative to your lifestyle, I say go for it.

16 thoughts on “The Fat Truth About Olive Oil

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