What is in your Olive Oil?

Olive oil content - Omega-9 oleic acid
Everyone agrees olive oil is good for you. But can you use it if you’re trying to lower your Omega-6 intake?

 

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.

A survey of nearly 800 members of the American Dietetic Association (dietitians) showed that 95% of them chose olive oil as their #1 oil pick. **

Potential issues with Olive Oil

Despite universal acceptance, there are some minor issues with using olive oil:

  1. Olive oil, especially extra virgin, has a strong flavor that overpowers other subtle flavors.
  2. 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?

Olive oil is rich in Omega-9 oleic acid.
Olive oils marketed as ‘Light’ or ‘Extra Light’ have a less bold flavor but the same amount of calories.

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.

Omega-6 level of olive oil
Primary ingredients of my Extra Light olive oil. It is mostly Omega-9 oleic acid. It also has about 6 to 7% Omega-6. This makes olive oil a good choice for replacing Omega-6-rich seed oils.

 

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%.

Gaskets intact.

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.

Your turn…

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.


Disclaimer

This website is for your education and general health information only. The ideas, opinions and suggestions contained on this website are not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment from your doctor for any health condition or problem. Users of this website should not rely on information provided on this website for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician. Please do not start or stop any medications without consulting with your doctor. We neither encourage you to do so, nor can we be held responsible for the fall out of failing to seek the counsel of a medical health practitioner.

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Vin Kutty
Vin Kutty, MS, is co-founder of Innovix Pharma. He is a nutritionist, author, and Omega-3 expert with 20 years of experience.

Comments

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  1. Hi Vin yes we use pretty high quality olive oil (villa capelli) and with the taste and standards feel it is a good way to go when we feel like going with olive oil. That said, I am with you… lard, butter etc are def the way to go with most cooking.

    Quick tangent question- what multivitamin brand are you comfortable recommending? Kinda split on Garden of Life vs. Nutrigold. Also, I loved the article you wrote a while back on kids and omega 3- can you suggest a kids multivitamin company to look in to?

    Thanks again for all of your “off fish oil” posts as your blog is really hitting on all cylinders.

    Cheers,

    Chris

    • Hi Chris – Villa Capelli looks interesting.

      I’m not a fan of multivitamins. They give you wrong amounts and the wrong forms of many nutrients. And most don’t have key nutrients like K2. But if you’re going to get one, the two you mentioned are better than most. It gets even harder for kid’s multis.

      Here’s a trick for kids: I get grass-fed beef liver and mix it with ground beef and ground bacon and some spices and make hamburgers with that. Liver is nature’s multivitamin and it doesn’t get any better. (My kids will eat liver without my burying it in something tastier but then again, being MY kids, they have no chance at being normal. 😉 )

    • I have used a multivitamin from VitaCost called “CardioLift” for many years. It has some K2, along with other interesting contents and is an adult vitamin if you want to look it up. It is NOT for kids and seems a bit low on Vit C.

      • Hi Mike – Vitacost CardioLife isn’t bad. I’d change the form of Vitamin A. Beta-carotene is NOT Vit A. Vit E tocopherols looks like from soy – soy does not have the right balance of alpha, beta, delta and gamma tocopherols. K2 should be higher. Folic Acid is not a good idea at all – should be Folate…it’s a different molecule. Iodine is low. Magnesium is in the wrong form. Choline is missing. Yet, this formula is better than most multis out there. This is why I don’t like multis. A multi by definition says we all need the same things in the same quantities, which is not right.

  2. Hey Vin:

    I’m suffering through by second bout with kidney stones in about 4 years. I always try to drink a good amount of water and I eat very healthy (fruits and veggies). I did not cut out eating brewer’s yeast, which is high in purines, but I will now. Interestingly, at the hospital, they gave me two liters of saline and I did not pee, which makes me think I was severely dehydrated. Why, I don’t know. I’m actually wondering whether I metabolize water wrong. I have not caught the stone yet and I’m hopeful that will give me some useful information. Although I’ve read a lot on the web, you always seem to offer a fresh perspective. Any thoughts? Thanks.

    • Hi Brian – sorry to hear it.

      Besides what your doctors are doing for you, there are a few other dietary things you can do at home.

      First is to realize that a lot of the stone is calcium oxalate. Magnesium, Vitamin A and K2 deficiencies cause inappropriate deposition of calcium – kidney stones being one of them. Go easy on spinach, beets and other high-oxalate foods. See list here: http://www.ohf.org/docs/OxalateContent092003.pdf We (humans) used to have a type of bacteria called Oxalobacter in our guts – this bug degrades oxalates. Modern life (excessive cleanliness) and constant antibiotic use has pretty much wiped this bug away from our collective guts.

      Are you getting mid-day sun exposure? You should. But only if you’re getting enough A ad K2. Lot of sunlight without A and K2 will give you kidney stones. There is a study that showed Israeli lifeguards got kidney stones at rates 20X higher than the rest of the population…not because they got a lot of D from the sun but likely because they got unbalanced levels of D…from not eating enough animal fats, which are sources of A and K2. More here: http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/update-on-vitamins-a-and-d/

      If you’re taking Vitamin D supplements without A and K2. Stop. Or start eating foods with A and K2.

      Go on a whole-foods (no processed foods, fructose, grains) moderate-carb paleo diet. This will also balance your sodium/potassium ratios, which can also help.

  3. Vin,

    You have blown me away with your in depth and insightful analysis of Omega FAs. It has caused me to change my supplement strategy.

    Having said that, I just now read in this posting your comments of vitamins and sources. I have wondered about the different forms of certain vitamins and minerals and you have confirmed that form is important.

    Do you have a post on recommended (by you, not FDA) amounts and proper forms for vitamins and minerals?

    Also, we are are trying to get most of our nutrition from food, including ferments but may have to supplement in addition to that.

    • Hi computer-girl – thanks for the kind words!

      Yes, the forms of vitamins and minerals are important. May be less important for someone who eats a Paleo-ish type diet that’s already nutrient dense…but people who eat a standard american diet and who reach for a Take-1 Multi and nothing else, it’s important that the form and quantity of nutrients meet their needs. Perfect example is beta-carotene – it’s a precursor…it is NOT Vitamin A. It may or may not be converted to Vitamin A by some segment of the population. If you want real Vitamin A, you need to get cozy with animal fats, liver, REAL cod liver oil and the like. Sadly there is no such thing as REAL cod liver oil anymore.

      I may (someday) write a blog about the ideal/better forms of minerals and vits, but giving recommended amounts doesn’t make sense to me because your/my current nutrient status and diet are probably drastically different. Example: if I’m stressed from, say, answering too many blog comments 🙂 I may increase my Magnesium intake to 600 or 800 mg per day instead of the usual 300 to 400 mg. Stress causes rapid Mag loss and this is why ER Docs regularly have to pump people full of Mag. Another example is Vit A. If liver is on the menu this week, I’ll skip it. But when I take A, it’s 25,000 IU from fish liver oil. http://www.amazon.com/Now-Foods-Vitamin-25000-Soft-gels/dp/B001B4P0I6/ Most people freak out at 25K, but I also eat a lot of fat-solubles – D, K2 and E complex, so no freaking necessary. D from the sun in summer and pill in spring and winter. E should be a complex of the 4 tocopherols and 4 tocotrieneols. You’ll never ever see a multi with all 8 Vit E forms, but real foods do!

      • Vin I for one put a vocal vote in for a future blog post on “ideal/better forms of minerals and vits” as some of your posts and comments really have me thinking in all kinds of fun directions and I want to learn more about what is ideal and corrective actions….

        Chris

      • Hello Vin,
        This is my first time reading your blog..
        I was really respecting your posts till I just read that your guiding people to
        “NOW Foods vitamin A..!!
        If you read the bottle it says this has Soybean oil, and allot of other junk in it.
        It also says, it does Not pass Prop 65 , and can cause Birth defects, and health problems etc…

        I find allot of there vitamins have Magnesium Stearate..I don’t buy vitamins with Stearate..

        I’m going to look at your blog on K2 Mk-4 and K2 MK-7..

        Thank you,
        Annie.

  4. hi vin. wrt olive oil, do you feel it is safe to use for cooking? i’ve always been under the impression that harmful compounds are formed in heated vegetable oils, and that it would be better to use butter or coconut oil?
    thx much,
    jamie

    • Hi Jamie – it is safe to use olive oil for light cooking like sauteing. The small amount of Omega-6 (linoleic acid) and Omega-3 (Alpha-linolenic) could get damaged by excessive heat, but I assume you are not deep frying. What I would not do with olive oil is repeated deep frying…basically what goes on in all restaurants and fast food joints, where they repeatedly heat seed oils rich in Omega-6 up to the smoke points. When you do this, you create cyclic monomers. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16806629

      If you eat at fast food chains or even reputable restaurants, you cannot escape this. At best, they replace the oil on a daily basis (this gets very expensive for the restaurants)…and even in those cases, your guess is as good as mine about how long and how many times the deep fryer has super-cooked the oil. The worst case scenario is if you eat at independent highway burger joints where they fish out fried crisps and burnt food particles and simply top up on a weekly basis. You might as well cook your food in motor oil. I cannot imagine doing this to my body.

      But light cooking at home? Yes, absolutely, you can do this. I even deep fry green plantains in the extra light olive oil discussed above. But butter and coconut oil are better, assuming you are not one of the rare ones whose lipids get out of whack with saturated fats.

  5. Vin, another great article, I really enjoy reading your blogs on diet. I have learned more from your blogs than any other source online. I have a question, Im trying to follow a “anti-inflammatory” diet to reduce inflammation as much as possible after a recent asthma flare up. Some sources claim saturated fats from meat can contribute to inflammation, is there any truth to this? Or is this outdated information?

    • Hi Gabe – thank you. By ‘some sources,’ I will guess that you’re referring to Zone/Sears diet. There are several types of saturated fats. Saturated-fat-phobia is outdated and not all saturated fats affect inflammation. Some saturated fats can increase adipose tissue inflammation a little and this evidence is not conclusive. Avoiding all saturated fats because SOME saturated fats MAY increase inflammation is being fearful. I do not avoid saturated fats from animal sources because they are simply the best sources for preformed Vitamin A and Vitamin K2. If I were you, I wouldn’t go out of my way to avoid butter or eggs. I reduced my CRP from above 3 to under 1 using a moderate to high saturated fat diet. What I’d REALLY avoid are Omega-6-rich seed oils, sugar and grains. Instead of using butter or coconut oil for cooking, use olive oil generously.

  6. I currently use grass fed butter, lard, coconut oil, and EVOO. But what about grape seed oil? I used to use it because of it’s high heat tolerance but learned that seed oils aren’t so great….but from grapes??

    • Hi Gloria – DO NOT USE GRAPE SEED OIL. It has almost 70% Omega-6. This is exactly what you are trying to avoid! I don’t care what fancy benefits people concoct up for seed oils – don’t buy it.

  7. Hi Vin,
    I stumbled upon your blog recently looking for info on omega’s and now absolutely love it. A lot of great information, I can’t stop reading! I wanted to ask you about vegetarian sources of omega’3 and what’s your thought on Udo’s oil 3-6-9 blend? Being vegetarian, how do I balance the healthy fats? Thanks.

    • Hi Mini – pass on any vegetarian 3-6-9 formulas. Bad idea. Two reasons why: 1) they usually contain the short chain ALA Omega-3. Your body will not absorb it well…and 2) they will contain large amounts of Linoleic Omega-6. Your Udo 3-6-9 has 3000 mg of Omega-6 as linoleic acid. That is EXACTLY what I’m trying to avoid! Why on earth would I want to supplement with something I’m trying to reduce?! More here: http://www.omegavia.com/flaxseed-oil-vs-fish-oil/ and if you want vegetarian friendly Omega-3, see this: http://www.omegavia.com/omega-3-options-for-vegans/ Your best bet is Ovega 3.

        • Hi Mini – check with the manufacturer on the specs. They may have some new way of purifying or extracting.

          Another option for you is to find echium oil. Echium has SDA Omega-3 that does convert nicely to EPA…but not to DHA. Ultimately you will need to supplement with algae DHA. Can’t get around that if you don’t eat fish.

  8. Is canola oil better than soy? I was looking for mayonnaise without soy. Unfortunately most of the commercially available olive oil mayos all have soybean oil as well. Even the omega-3 flax based mayo had soybean oil in it. There is a super expensive avocado oil mayo that you buy from primal kitchen, but it’s beyond my budget. Spectrum, however, makes a canola mayonnaise.

    I did find a soy free mayonnaise dressing, but it was vegan. The only time I really use mayo is to make tuna or tuna and sardine salad sandwiches.

    • Hi EastCoaster – do I HAVE to pick one of those oils? 🙂 It’s hard to find decent prepared mayo. If it’s made by a big food company, it will have some seed oil in it. If it is an occasional thing, then go ahead and use what you find tasty. If you’re eating it every day, may be think about making your own…

    • EastCoaster,

      I buy :
      Follow your Heart, Soy Free Vegenaise for Tuna etc..
      We love it..
      My regular market carry’s it in the health section.
      After reading all the junk in Mayo I won’t buy the regular store mayo..(I’m not a vegetarian) With Vegenaise I can’t find anything bad with it.

      Btw I would not touch Canola oil , corn oil, etc, with a 10 foot poll..

      Vin, do you know more about Soy free Vegenaise?

  9. I love olive oil, but recently I read Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride’s book on her GAPS diet. She claims once heated, olive oil is converted into trans fat. Can you confirm this? Cause I’ve been avoiding cooking with olive oil ever since i read this.

    • Hi Mike – Dr. Campbell-McBride is usually reliable. She should have clarified that normal cooking temps will not harm olive oil. Not even close. Put this fear aside.

  10. Vin- I have stopped using olive oil for all the reasons you’ve mentioned…strong taste, presence of olive oil greatly limited, high quality EVOO VERY expensive. I’m presently using Avolio avocado oil, purchased at Costco. From reading I’ve done I understand it has all the same benefits as EVOO, does not cause oxidation at high heat, omega 3:6 ratio is as good as olive oil. Have I made a good switch? I prefer the taste. Are there issues with alterations in avocado oil. I don’t want to be putting any more Omega6 in my system since CRP is presently 4.8. Would appreciate your comments on use of avocado oil. Thanks so much. Dianne

    • Hi Dianne – good question. Avocado oil isn’t much different from olive oil, at least on paper and from an Omega-6 perspective. You are not lowering your Omega-6 intake by using Avocado oil. For that, you will have to use coconut oil or butter, which are both MUCH lower in Omega-6. I have been using Bertolli Extra Light Olive oil – it is not EVOO and won’t meet with taste standards of olive oil fans, but it is not expensive and it has a very neutral taste without extra high Omega-6 levels.

      Just a note about your CRP of 4.8…you need to check in with an integrative MD who knows how to address inflammation. There are many nutrients that lower CRP, including Omega-7, Magnesium, Vitamin C, Curcumin etc. But deficiency in these nutrients are not necessarily what may be causing it. Poor gut health from inappropriate diet, gut dysbiosis (imbalance of good vs bad probiotic bacteria), leaky gut etc., can all cause this. There could also be several other causes like infections. Bottom line is that your inflammation is very high. Don’t try to wing this on your own. Work with an integrative MD to get to the root cause.

      I formulated these other products that you may want to look into. They all reduce CRP a little.
      http://www.amazon.com/MAGNESIUM-InnovixLabs-Bioavailable-Bisglycinate-Vegetarian/dp/B00QSR9D9I/
      http://www.amazon.com/Absorption-InnovixLabs-Award-Winning-BioPerine-extracts/dp/B00L775W3U/
      http://www.amazon.com/Purified-InnovixLabs-Macadamia-Palmitoleic-Capsules/dp/B00GRAAMLY/

  11. Why is Canola Oil , Corn Oil bad for me? Just stumbled upon this site today and saw this was in one of posts.
    Also, is it better to use butter than margarine?
    Thank you for explanation.

    • Hi Gloria – canola has a high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids. Most seed oils do. This type of fat can increase inflammation. Butter, olive, and coconut oils are low in Omega-6 fats.

      Stay away from margarine!

  12. Vin, I have really enjoyed your web site!

    I have seen recommendations by some to take Evening Primrose Oil for GLA. However, a top-rated one on Amazon is almost entirely Omega 6 (1,100 mg) with 960 mg LA and 130 mg GLA. It also has 65 mg of Omega 9 from Oleic Acid. Do you see any benefit in taking Evening Primrose Oil?

    • Hi Nancy – I would pass on any product that had 960 mg of Omega-6 linoleic acid. That’s a lot of LA for 130 mg of GLA. The technology exists to isolate GLA from the other Omega-6s. But no one has found it commercially lucrative to do this. I’ve thought about marketing a pure GLA, but other shinier objects catch my eye. To answer your question, I see benefit in GLA in the presence of a low-sugar, low-refined grain, anti-inflammatory diet. With a standard american diet, GLA can just as easily be converted to something pro-inflammatory. So what you eat while taking GLA matters a lot.

  13. Hello,

    Thank you, I found this article extremely helpful.

    I am now trying to buy some Extra Light Olive Oil but I can only find Light Taste, even the Bertolli brand is named Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil, not just Extra Light Olive Oil. Is this the same thing? What exactly is the oil light in, flavour or calories or both?

    Thanks,
    Hannah

    • Hi Hannah – yes, the ‘Extra light tasting olive oil’ looks like the same thing. I can see steam come out of olive oil purists’ ears! I appreciate their passion, but I just want a cooking oil with very low Omega-6 and high Omega-9. And this product fits that bill perfectly.

      The oil is ‘light’ in some of the polyphenols and other healthy stuff that gives virgin, fresh pressed olive oil its unique aroma. That’s good stuff! But I want my oil to remain in the background without influencing or overpowering other delicate flavors.

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