Is Too Much Olive Oil Bad for You?
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May 25, 2016
By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist
We’ve heard so much about the benefits of olive oil that it seems
impossible to believe it could be anything but a great thing. However,
experts are saying that too much olive oil could actually harm your
Did you know that olive oil is not the healthiest part of the
Mediterranean diet? That it could even release dangerous chemicals
when heated? If you think there’s nothing wrong with eating olive oil,
think again. Too much could be a bad thing.
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is a type of fat that comes from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea
europaea). It is traditionally used as an oil in the Mediterranean region
here the olive tree grows, and has long been used in cooking, medicine,
cosmetics, and soap.
The Greeks consume the most olive oil in the world – 24 liters per
person per year, on average, according to the North American Olive Oil
Association – but Americans are fast catching up. According to a report
from Research and Markets America is third on the list of the world’s
largest olive oil consumers.
Olive oil is touted as heart healthy and of benefit for many medical
conditions. What’s so great about olive oil, and is it actually as
beneficial as people describe it to be?
Olive Oil and Cardiovascular System Benefits
Olive oil is associated with a lower rate of heart disease when
consumed as part of a healthy “Mediterranean” diet.
An extensive review of literature by researchers at the Parc de Recerca
Biomèdica de Barcelona, Spain (2007) found that people who regularly
consumed olive oil were much less likely to develop cardiovascular
disease, including stroke, hypertension, and high triglyceride levels.
Researchers also discovered that olive oil helped to reduce
inflammation in the body.
In other studies, people who used olive oil for cooking and for salad
dressings had a 41 percent lower risk of stroke than people who never
consumed olive oil, according to a 2011 study from the University of
Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research
(INSERM) in Bordeaux, France.
Olive oil has a protective effect against depression, too, according to
2011 research from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in
Spain. The team looked at data on over 12,000 people and found that
people who consumed trans fats on a regular basis had a 48 percent
higher risk of developing depression as those whose primary dietary fat
was olive oil.
2010 research from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona in Spain
found olive oil, as compared to other vegetable oils, helps to protect
the body against breast cancer. And olive oil helps to keep your
cholesterol levels in check, according to 2004 research from the
Humanitarian Foundation for the Disabled, Bratislava, Slovakia - bad
LDL cholesterol was lowered in people who took olive oil supplements
every day for six weeks.
What more? Olive oil could help protect against Alzheimer's disease,
help prevent acute pancreatitis, help protect against ulcerative colitis
and offer protective effects for the liver.
So in the face of all this evidence, how can too much olive oil be a bad
Olive Oil is Still Oil
The main problem with olive oil is that it is still a fat, which is an
incredibly dense source of calories.
Olive oil contains around 120 calories per tablespoon, and you can
easily consume multiple tablespoons when you are mixing a salad
dressing or using the oil to cook with. Excess calories cause problems,
even when they come from something labeled as a “healthy” fat.
In particular, you create problems when you eat a lot of olive oil in
addition to animal-based fats and not instead of them. The American
Heart Association says that fat consumption in excess of 35 percent of
your total calorie intake increases your cardiovascular risk – even when
that fat is olive oil.
Olive Oil is Not Exactly the Heart Healthy Part of the Mediterranean Diet
In addition to the glowing studies relating how olive oil is the answer
for heart health, other studies show that the oil is not exactly a wonder-
food. When researchers from the University of Crete (2004) looked at
residents of the island who had heart disease compared with those
who were heart disease-free, they found that people with heart disease
actually consumed significantly higher intakes of mono-saturated fats
particularly from olive oil.
The problem, it seems, is that not olive oil itself is not particularly
heart healthy. Rather, the health benefits come from the Mediterranean
diet and its high proportion of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
A 2000 study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine
investigated how well people’s arteries dilated to accommodate the
increase in blood flow after a meal. Each different meal emphasized a
different aspect of the Mediterranean diet.
But with the olive oil meal, the arteries’ capacity to dilate was very
There was no such problem with the meals enriched in fruits and
“The beneficial components of the Mediterranean diet,” says lead
researcher Robert Vogel, MD, at the University of Maryland School of
Medicine, “appear to be antioxidant-rich foods, including vegetables,
fruits, and their derivatives such as vinegar, and omega–3–rich fish…
[which] appear to provide some protection against the direct
impairment … produced by high-fat foods, including olive oil.”
A 2009 study from the University of Athens showed that the beneficial
components of the Mediterranean diet were high vegetable intake, low
alcohol intake, and low meat intake. The health benefit of a high level
of mono-saturated fat to saturated fats only came in at 11 percent of
the total benefit.
So if you are eating burgers and sausages doused in an olive oil
dressing, or deep frying cheese pieces in olive oil, you are not getting
cardiovascular protection for your heart.
The advice is to feast on fruits, fish, vegetables, and whole grains ---
whether or not you add olive oil to your salad --- for a healthy
Olive Oil Actually Raises Blood Fats More Than Butter
Plus, it seems other fats could be more useful in moderation for helping
reduce your cardiovascular risk factors.
For example, here's a shocking finding. A 2010 study from Lund
University in Sweden shows that eating butter leads to a considerably
lower elevation of blood fats after a meal than olive oil.
The study looked at 19 women and 28 men. Higher blood fat levels
raise the risk of high cholesterol, atherosclerosis and heart attack.
However, that’s not to say that it’s a good idea to feast on butter --- all
things in moderation.
What’s the Smoke Point of Olive Oil?
Using olive oil to cook at high temperatures could be a bad idea.
The temperature at which the oil begins to break down is called the
"smoke point", and at this temperature you lose the health benefits of
the oil and could be ingesting chemicals that are not good for your
According to What's Cooking America, the smoke point of extra virgin
olive oil is around 320°F, while virgin is 420°F – these are relatively low
compared to other vegetable oils.
You won’t reach this smoke point if you lightly sauté your vegetables in
olive oil, but for deep frying it is best to use another type of oil or fat.
The Best Way to Store and Keep Olive Oil
You can also make olive oil healthier by choosing the right type – cold
pressed extra virgin olive oil is the oil that is extracted using minimal
heat, which helps to preserve the nutrients of the oil and prevent
Store olive oil in a dark glass bottle at room temperature or in the
fridge so you do not risk the oil becoming rancid, which destroys its
You should also use it within two months to maintain freshness and
The basic message is you can enjoy olive oil without going overboard.
If you are filling your plate with fat you won’t be as hungry for
healthier options like vegetables and fruit. You can still use olive oil for
cooking but keep the heat turned down, and reduce the amount of oil
you use for oven baking.
As with all kinds of foods, olive oil in moderation has heart benefits but
make sure your diet does not favor this oil above other, healthier,
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