Olive Oil: Frequently Asked Questions

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Olive Oil: Frequently Asked Questions

Olive oil is a popular oil that’s frequently touted as supporting heart health (plus, it’s delicious!). But is it as good as health experts say it is? And how do you choose an olive oil that’s right for you? Learn more about this Mediterranean delicacy that has taken the food and nutrition world by storm.

How is olive oil made?

Olive oil is made by harvesting fresh olives, crushing the olives (minus the pits) into a thick paste, and adding water. The mixture is then churned slowly, and pressed in a mechanical oil press or spun in a centrifuge to separate the olive oil from the water and pulp. Some types of olive oil may then be refined using chemicals or heat. The last step is the bottling process (bottles or packages) that protect the oil from heat, light, and oxygen.

What are the different types of olive oil?

Most olive oils in the U.S. are Italian and Spanish, according to The Spruce Eats. There are several grades of olive oil — these include:

Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)

This is the highest grade of oil from mechanically-pressed olives (without heat or chemicals). It has a superior taste and contains more of the vitamins and minerals found in olives. It’s best used for salad dressings, dips, dipping bread, and cold dishes.

Virgin olive oil

This oil is made in a similar manner as EVOO, but has a slightly higher level of oleic acid and a less intense flavor.

Pure olive oil

Also known as “regular” olive oil, this oil is made with heat and/or chemicals. It’s a lower-quality oil with a more neutral flavor. And, it’s best used as a cooking oil.

How do you choose a high-quality olive oil?

Tips for buying a quality olive oil include:

  • Sticking with an extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Looking for a harvest date or a “best before” date on the bottle.
  • Choosing an oil in a dark glass bottle or a tin.
  • Checking the back label for the country or origin (IT for Italy, ES for Spain, GR for Greece, PT for Portugal). Higher-quality oils usually come from a single region, says

Expect to pay more for a quality extra-virgin olive oil, too.

Is olive oil healthy?

Olive oil is high in a healthy type of fat called monounsaturated fat. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated fat can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The use of olive oil is linked with a lower risk of heart disease, some cancers, and even dementia. The Mediterranean diet, a popular eating plan, includes a generous amount of olive oil, which may explain, in part, why there are so many health benefits to this way of eating.

How many calories are in olive oil?

One tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories, as well as 14 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat. There is no carbohydrate or protein in olive oil.

Is light olive oil lower in calories than EVOO?

No — the “light” refers to the color of the oil. Unfortunately, there is no lower-calorie or lower-fat olive oil.

Can you cook with olive oil?

Yes, as long as you are sautéing over medium heat or baking something in the oven, you can cook with olive oil. If you’re cooking at high temperatures, say, above 400°F, the olive oil may begin to break down and smoke (called the smoke point). This can cause an unpleasant, bitter flavor and may break down the beneficial compounds in the oil. Olive oil probably doesn’t lend itself well to deep-frying, but it’s fine to use for sautéing, baking, and roasting.

Can using olive oil help diabetes?

Yes! Olive oil can help diabetes in several ways:

Does olive oil help with weight loss?

On its own, olive oil won’t lead to weight loss. After all, it’s an oil and therefore pretty high in calories. However, olive oil (as with other types of fat) can help you to feel full, which means that you may end up eating less. And eating less can help you lose weight.

When you can, substitute olive oil for other types of fat in your diet, especially fat foods high in saturated fat, such as butter, stick margarine, and shortening.

Want to learn more about eating well with diabetes? Read “Strategies for Healthy Eating,” “Improving Your Recipes: One Step at a Time,” and “What Is the Best Diet for Diabetes.”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter,, and

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