We put a popular olive oil to test.
In the last post, How to Reduce Omega-6, I suggested using olive oil instead of other vegetable seed oils.
Coconut oil and butter are both lower in Omega-6 than olive oil, but for those still worried about saturated fats, olive oil is a great compromise.
After all, who doesn’t love olive oil.
Potential issues with Olive Oil
Despite universal acceptance, there are some minor issues with using olive oil:
- Olive oil, especially extra virgin, has a strong flavor that overpowers other subtle flavors.
- There isn’t enough olive oil to go around – so there is increasing talk of adulteration.
I buy two types of olive oils:
- Extra virgin oil for dipping and pouring over salads.
- A Light oil for high-heat cooking – something that replaces soybean or canola but with a lot less Omega-6. A working oil with a slightly higher smoke point than regular olive oil.
And in both cases, my primary reason for using olive oil is that it is low in Omega-6. Not flavor. Not price. Not smoke point.
Above all, it has to be low in Omega-6.
(Ahem – why not use coconut or butter if you’re so paranoid about Omega-6, you say. I do! We go through pounds of both. And some beef tallow, cocoa butter, and ghee too. But people are still afraid of saturated fats after decades of misinformation. Hence olive oil.)
Now back to my two issues with olive oil – overpowering taste and risk of adulteration.
Extra Light Olive Oil – What is it?
Light and Extra Light olive oils do not have intrusive flavors.
But what am I really getting with these ‘Light’ oils? Anything Light or Lite arouses suspicion.
Olive oil snobs would never be caught buying this stuff. But our family goes through quite a bit of it and I was worried about my kids eating ‘olive oil’ that was diluted with corn oil or canola.
Adulteration is a problem with olive oils. Only 10% of the oils produced strictly qualify as ‘extra virgin,’ yet 50% of all products pass themselves off as extra virgin. You can’t judge a bottle by its label. USA does not belong to International Olive Oil Council, so regulations are also, well, light.
So what was I cooking with? How much Omega-6 was I eating?
I wanted the exact fatty acid composition.
Instead of asking the manufacturer and possibly getting a coined answer, I decided to test it and find out for myself.
(I completely understand if you share similar cynicism towards peddlers of fish oil. I get it.)
University of California, Davis – Olive Center
I sent a bottle of Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil to University of California, Davis – Olive Center. They have an olive oil testing center. And for just about $200, you too can have your olive oil tested.
Here are the results.
The first thing I looked for in the result was the percent of linoleic acid. This is the key Omega-6 fat found in all seed oils. Olive oil usually contains 5 to 10% linoleic acid. Soybean/corn oils can be as high as 60% linoleic acid. So if there was any adulteration, you’d see a spike in the linoleic acid level.
Anything higher than 10% and I was going to blow a gasket.
But fortunately, the result came back at 6.74%.
Another thing I looked at was the oleic acid content. It was 77%. Again, all-kosher.
Typical Olive Oil Fatty Acid Levels (USDA limits)
Oleic acid (Omega-9: Monounsaturated or MUFA) = 55 to 83%
Linoleic acid (Omega-6: Polyunsaturated or PUFA) = 3.5 to 21%
Palmitic acid (Saturated or SA) = 7.5 to 20%
Stearic acid (Saturated or SA) = 0.5 – 5%
I think the USDA limits are wide. As a chemist, I could easily blend soybean oil with a good quality olive oil and still be within the USDA upper limit of 21% for Omega-6. I’m sure that happens. And you’d never know.
Oleic acid is the most prevalent fat in olive oil. In addition to having low Omega-6, high oleic acid is a big draw for me. Oleic acid is far more resistant to oxidation or rancidity than Omega-3 and 6.
Oleic also is neutral in its effect on blood lipids like cholesterol. For the small percent of people who respond to saturated fats with an increase in LDL cholesterol, olive oil is a great alternative.
(Never mind that after all these years of hemming and hawing, eggs, a rich source of saturated fats and cholesterol have never been proven to increase heart disease. As Tom Petty put it, you believe what you want to believe.)
I will continue to eat grass-fed butter, coconut oil, tallow, bacon, liver, and red meat. Not because I want to thumb the eye of conventional wisdom, but because science has never conclusively proven harm associated with it.
Still, based on the results of this test, I will also continue to use my Extra Light olive oil. Am I positive that it’s unadulterated? No. But it’s low in Omega-6 and that’s what I care about in a cooking oil. I’ll probably get it tested again next year. Just in case.
Do you use olive oil? Butter? Lard? Do you use olive oil for high heat cooking? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
** Of course, the dietitians shot themselves in the foot by picking Omega-6-rich Canola as #2 and lumped butter in the same category as hydrogenated fats. The American Dietetic Association is yet another organization that’s behind the curve on science and needs to take a long hard look at its own recommendations.