Virgin Olive Oils: Are They All Good For You?

Not all olive oils on the market are the same. In this article, we'll explain the differences and discover which oils are the best quality.
Virgin Olive Oils: Are They All Good For You?

Last update: 10 February, 2021

Virgin olive oils are the best oils you can buy. Furthermore, numerous studies have proved that they’re really good for your health. However, not all olive oils are the same. Indeed, there are a few things you need to remember when choosing which olive oil to buy.

Below, we’ll explain the varieties of virgin olive oil you can find, and the differences between them at a nutritional level. So, next time you go to the supermarket you’ll be able to put into practice what you’ve learned!

Healthy qualities of virgin olive oils

Virgin olive oils are obtained from the fruit of the olive tree by mechanical or physical procedures. No heat or chemical processes are used and the oil remains pure and unrefined.

Olive oil’s an essential component of the Mediterranean diet. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that virgin oil, especially extra virgin, helps prevent cardiovascular disease. This is due to its omega-3 series fatty acids. Also, thanks to its nutritional composition it helps prevent:

  • Hypertension.
  • Diabetes.
  • Obesity.
  • Cancer.
  • Skin oxidation.
  • In pregnancy, it improves the health of the fetus.

Nutritional composition of virgin olive oils

The main nutritional attributes of virgin oil are due to its high oleic acid content. Also, in olive oils, the relationship between linolenic acid and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) is nutritionally more balanced than in seed oils.

The composition of olive oil varies depending upon where it comes from, as well as the variety and quality of the olives used. Virgin olive oil consists of a mixture of approximately 99 percent saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. The remaining one percent consists of secondary components.

Olives and olive oil.

Phenols

Included in this one percent are phenols. They’re the antioxidant compounds that are responsible for the healthy properties of virgin and extra virgin olive oils. They also have organoleptic properties and oxidative stability.

According to a study published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition phenols have beneficial effects on plasma lipoproteins, oxidative stress, inflammatory markers, and antimicrobial activity.

However, many factors can influence the concentration of phenols in olive oils. Consequently, not all olive oils are as healthy as each other.

Also, learn about  10 Surprising Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

How do different factors affect the quality of virgin olive oils?

The phenolic content depends on factors such as the quality of the olives, the agronomic conditions, the process by which the oil’s obtained, and the storage conditions of the final product.

The variety of olive

There are many varieties of olives. However certain types tend to produce healthier olive oils.  These varieties include Picual, Hojiblanca, Picuada, and Cornicabra.

Agronomic conditions

One of the most important factors is irrigation. Phenolic compounds are formed in the fruit in response to stress conditions. Water stress promotes the accumulation of phenols in the fruit and, ultimately, in the olive oil.

 

Extra virgin olive oil.

The production process

Monitoring is critical in the production process. This is because any mistakes before, after, or during collection can decrease phenolic content.

Special care has to be taken with:

  • Protecting the fruit on the trees against pests and diseases.
  • Collecting the fruit at the optimal time.
  • Practicing maximum hygiene.
  • Use of low temperatures in the extraction process.
  • Collecting the fruit in optimal weather conditions.

Storage

Virgin olive oil’s an evolving product. The best way to ensure its stability over the months is to avoid exposing it to light and high temperatures. In fact, even if it’s kept in good condition, the phenolic content decreases over time.

Also, learn about  10 Surprising Uses for Extra Virgin Olive Oil

What’s the difference between virgin and extra virgin olive oil?

Virgin and extra virgin olive oils are the highest quality oils. In fact, they’re 100 percent olive “juice.”

However, extra virgin olive oil’s superior because it’s obtained from olives at their optimum ripening time and only via mechanical processes. Indeed, virgin olive oil suffers a certain degree of degradation in this process.

Another difference is in the levels of acidity. Extra virgin olive oils have minimum acidity at less than 0.3 degrees. On the other hand, virgin olive oil doesn’t exceed 2 degrees.

For this reason, in terms of nutritional composition, extra virgin olive oil is better than virgin olive oil.

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  • Abdelhamid AS., Brown TJ., Brainard JS., Biswas P., et al., Omega 3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Cochrante Database Syst Rev, 2018.
  • Hung PV., Phenolic compounds of cereals and their antioxidant capacity. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2016. 56 (1): 25-35.