What Is Olive Oil?

You probably cook with olive oil all of the time, but what exactly is it? Olive oil is the oil obtained from olives and people have been consuming it for thousands of years, especially in the Mediterranean region. Olive oil comes in many variations and is more popular than ever due to its many uses and benefits.

How Is Olive Oil Produced?

Olives grow on olive trees and once they are picked, they are washed, crushed, and ground into a paste. The paste is then stirred slowly to release the oil from the crushed olives. After the slow stir, the olive paste is spun and pressed in a centrifuge to extract the oil.

Though this process seems relatively simple, olive oil manufacturers have come up with different ways of producing olive oil to meet the world's high demand for it. You've probably seen different variations of olive oil while at the grocery store, ranging from "refined olive oil" to "extra-virgin olive oil." The different olive oils are actually an indication of the process in which the oil was extracted and produce and the oil's overall quality. Here are the olive oils you should be aware of the next time you go shopping for it.

green olives

Refined Olive Oil

Refined olive oil is not produced in the way we previously described. Instead of pressing the olives to extract oil, refined olive oil is processed by using chemicals and high heat. This process takes away the flaws and bitterness that you would get from unrefined olive oil. However, the chemical processing also takes away the beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that make unrefined olive oil so valuable.

Light Olive Oil

Light olive oil has nothing to do with calorie or fat content and everything to do with marketing. The name "light" refers to the color of the oil and its very light flavor. Light olive oil is also a refined oil, so it is processed through chemical extraction as well. This type of olive oil is good for cooking and baking because it has a higher smoking point than other olive oils and is practically flavorless so it won't alter the flavor of the dish you are making.

Virgin Olive Oil

Virgin olive oil, as defined by the International Olive Council, is "the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which have not undergone other washing, decantation, centrifugation, and filtration." Basically this means that no chemicals are used to produce virgin olive oil.

Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil available. It is typically a darker green than lesser quality olive oils. It is made the same way as virgin olive oil, however, it contains the lowest amount of oleic acid than another type of olive oil. It also contains the most amount of antioxidants and heart-healthy fats compared to other olive oils. Another thing to note about extra-virgin olive oil is that it burns at a lower temperature than refined olive oil; This means that even though it heats up the quickest, it can also become rancid if cooked on high heat.

Pure Olive Oil

Pure olive oil is often what you would see labeled as "olive oil" at the store. Its name, however, is a bit misleading. Pure olive oil is actually a blend of virgin olive oil and refined olive oil. Pure olive oil is lesser quality than virgin or extra-virgin olive oil. It is lighter in color and has a neutral flavor.

extra virgin olive oil pours onto a wooden spoon full of green olives

The Benefits of Olive Oil

If you use other cooking oils, like canola or vegetable, instead of extra-virgin olive oil - perhaps these scientifically researched health benefits will convince you to make the switch to olive oil.

Rich In Healthy Fats

Though 14% of olive oil is made up of saturated fat and 11% is polyunsaturated, 73% of olive oil is made up of monounsaturated fats, which are considered the heart-healthy fats. Many studies have shown that monounsaturated fat intake can help with weight loss, insulin sensitivity, and reduce the risks of cancer and heart disease.

Loaded With Antioxidants And Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Extra-virgin olive oil is packed with antioxidants that can benefit your health in many ways, including: lowering the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and type 2 diabetes. These antioxidants, called oleocanthal, help reduce inflammation similar to the way ibuprofen reduces inflammation.

Helps Lower Risk Of Heart Disease

Many studies have shown that a Mediterranean diet that is high in extra-virgin olive oil can help prevent heart disease. Olive oil prevents inflammation, protects LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidizing, lowers blood pressure, strengthens blood vessels, and helps prevent excessive blood clotting.

Helps Lower Risk Of Alzheimer's Disease

Polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant, found in extra-virgin olive oil have been shown to prevent or delay the appearance of Alzheimer's disease, according to a research study from the University of Florence. The research suggests that polyphenols help improve neurological damage reverse oxidative damage that

May Help Fight Against Type 2 Diabetes

It used to be believed that diets high in fat increase the risk of diabetes. However, we now know that claim is dependent on what kinds of fat one is consuming. For instance, if you are consuming nothing but saturated fat, you probably will experience negative health problems. But, if you are consuming a lot of monounsaturated fats, like the kind found in olive oil, you are actually decreasing your chance of getting a chronic disease, like type 2 diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, those who consume a Mediterranean diet, rich with olive oil, are 50% less likely to get diabetes.


The antioxidants found in olive oil have the ability to reduce oxidation damage from free radicals, one of the main drivers of cancer. Many studies have shown that olive oil compounds can fight cancer cells, however, there is still more research that needs to be done.

Antibacterial Properties

Extra-virgin olive oil contains many properties that can kill bad bacteria, including Heliobacter pylori, which is a bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.

Great For Hair And Skin

Olive oil isn't just great for your internal health; it can also benefit your hair and skin. Olive oil is a popular ingredient for hair and face masks because of it's anti-aging antioxidants and hydrating properties.

Can You Drink Olive Oil?

Though most people tend to use olive oil as a cooking oil or dipping oil, some folks take go the extra mile and drink it straight. Some people believe the best way to reap olive oil's many health benefits, is to drink 1/4 cup every morning. There are claims that drinking olive oil can detoxify the body, soothe the stomach, and promote weight loss. Keep in mind, these claims have no substantial evidence backing them up.

While olive oil has been proven to benefit one's health in many ways, consuming it in excess, especially by drinking it, can cause one to gain weight because the oil's high calorie content.

Mediterranean salad with olive oil dressing

How Can Olive Oil Be Bad For You?

Using extra-virgin olive oil for cooking is perfectly fine and can offer several health benefits. However, there can be some downsides if you are consuming olive oil in excess. As we mentioned earlier, olive oil has a lot of calories, containing 120 calories in just one tablespoon. If you're drinking it or consuming it in large quantities, that number adds up and can make you gain weight. Even though olive oil is a good source of healthy fat, it still should not be replacing other foods.

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