It's About Time The Olive Oil Myth Was Laid To Rest

Olive oil has been hailed as the healthy oil for far too long and it’s about time science triumphed over the almighty media on this relentless myth.  Most people have been taught at some point or read somewhere that olive oil is a healthy oil to be consumed with fervor.  It’s a key component to the Mediterranean diet, which itself has been touted as a heart healthy diet. However, the evidence for these claims just do not stack up and for many people striving to lose weight, it is sabotage city.  

This is the reality: just like all other oils, olive oil is 100 percent fat, lacks a significant nutrient load, contains a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon, that’s fattening.

Olive oil. Flickr: trix0r

Some have proposed that extra virgin olive oil is heart healthy because it is rich in polyphenols.  Polyphenols have antioxidant characteristics and studies show that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.   However, all plant foods are rich in polyphenols and most deliver much more polyphenols (and far fewer calories) than olive oil.   If you rely on olive oil for your polyphenols, good luck getting enough.  You’d need to consume 5 tablespoons of olive oil, the equivalent of 600 calories, just to get 150 mg of polyphenols, the same amount in 55 calories of lettuce, not to mention hundreds of other nutrients and documented benefit in greens.  Study after study links the consumption of leafy greens with healthier, longer, disease-free lives.  Probably because they are loaded with all sorts of nutritious compounds, among them vitamins, minerals, fiber, polyphenols, and various carotenoids.  In comparison, olive oil, has little or none of these.1 In fact, phytosterols and vitamin E are a few of the slim pickings of nutrients found in olive oil that I decided to do a bit more digging on.  Compared to the amount of phytosterols and vitamin E in other foods, olive oil really doesn’t contain that much, as represented in the following chart:

Nutrients per 120 calories Olive Oil Broccoli, raw Spinach, raw Sunflower seeds, raw
Phytosterols 30 mg 174 mg 46 mg 110 mg
Vitamin E 1.94 mg 2.7 mg 10.2 mg 6.8 mg

It is also a myth that olive oil lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  Study design is key. Studies linking olive oil consumption to lower cholesterol levels are flawed.  Olive oil appears to lower bad cholesterol in most studies because the participants replace animal fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meats with olive oil.  Animal fats are composed of saturated fats, which are the most dangerous types of fat.  Consumption of saturated fats raises cholesterol levels and elevates the risk of heart disease and cancer.  Replacing animal fat with cardboard would lower anyone’s LDL cholesterol levels.  The addition of olive oil is not what lowers bad cholesterol levels; it is the removal of artery-clogging saturated fat.  This is a shame for the average consumer who is led to believe that olive oil is heart healthy and it doesn’t help that we see olive oil bottles labeled as “Heart Healthy” in grocery stores.  Yet, even the Food and Drug Administration has stated:

 “Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

We truly are victims of the media. In conclusion, get your healthy fats from whole food sources and not low nutrient oils- olive oil included.  The Mediterranean diet might be healthy when compared to other diets, but this is because of the intake of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in that diet compared to the dangerous SAD diet, rather than any supposed benefits of olive oil.  And seriously who needs oil when nuts, seeds and avocadoes taste so good!




1. Covas MI; Nyyssonen K; et al.The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145(5):333-341.


Sniffles come readily with just a dip into the SAD diet

It is truly amazing how sensitive I am to the Standard American Diet (SAD)- basically anything with sugar, salt, oil or processing will make me feel positively awful.  On a recent trip to Chicago, my ultimate weakness was spotted: a chocolate shop selling extra rich, dark hot chocolate.  It was cold outside with a wind chill that would make anyone want to hibernate and I was freezing from head to toe.  And I wanted that hot chocolate.  I wanted to hold it in my numb hands and I wanted to feel it’s rich warmth flowing down my throat. 

Within a few minutes that hot chocolate was mine- I ordered it with soymilk and topped it with a wonderful sprinkling of cinnamon- and I felt a rush of glee as I sipped the warm, sweet chocolaty bit of heaven.  I could taste the sugar as it rolled off my tongue.  I wanted more even though I knew it packed a heavy sugar punch. So I drank and I drank until I reached the solid chocolate bottom.    Add in a few pieces of white bread at a dinner outing and let’s just say my body did not thank me kindly in return.

Sneeze. Flickr: anna gutermuthNext day of trip- runny nose, check; icky congestion, check; I think I am getting sick, check.  Determination to seek out delicious, sugar-free, healthy food, check.

This is a confession of an extremely healthy eater.  I don’t feel well when I go off my nutritarian diet for even just a few meals.  I felt so much better when I found a Whole Foods Market and I was able to load my cart with a heaping pile of greens, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, beans and all of the other healthy foods that I adore.  I got some sweet potatoes and persimmons and I relished in a box of raspberries and blueberries.  And I bought a date sweetened, chocolate Lara bar, because I do love chocolate after all and healthy food will never equal denial for me. I felt alive and in the zone with my food purchases.  Goodbye sniffles and icky congestion! Hello tasty healthy food and feeling fresh and alive!

As anyone who has made the transition from the SAD diet to a plant-based, nutrient rich one will understand, our bodies simply feel better when we eat foods that nourish our cells with nutrients rather than foods that provide our cells with nothing but a nutrient devoid toxic load.  Not only does eating well help to prevent chronic diseases later on in life, but it helps us to live richly and feel most optimal in the here and now. 

The thing is, once you are eating healthfully for a big part of your life, your body is simply intolerant of junk foods.  You have to be unhealthy to build up tolerance to drugs, alcohol and junk food.  My father calls people intolerant of unhealthy choices, “black-belt nutritarians”  I must be a third degree black belt then, because I hate feeling icky if I eat SAD food.   I have learned the hard way, each time you feel physically bad, it makes you not want to eat the junk next time, so that these SAD events become more infrequent.  It may be a rare occasion for me, but then I get that wake-up call, which reminds me like a bolt-of-lightening that I can’t fool my body; it’s just too darn smart.  

Have you felt a difference in the way you feel when you eat a healthy, natural foods diet versus an unhealthy one? Do even small cheats make you feel icky?

Every time I don’t feel well after eating standard American fare I am reminded that feeling well truly is priceless and I am so fortunate to have the knowledge to make the right decisions about what to eat to feel my best now and into the future.