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Forget the Hype, Olive Oil Is Not Healthy

One of the biggest LIES we’ve been fed over the last 15 or 20 years in nutrition circles is the idea that olive oil is awesome for health and that we should drizzle it all over everything.

I’m actually surprised that this myth has endured for so long, in spite of the mounting evidence to the contrary.

Watch any cooking show on TV, and you’ll see them lift that elbow faster than an alcoholic with his bottle of Jack Daniels when it comes to pouring olive oil on everything.

In fact, they don’t even calculate how much olive oil they put into things, they just poor random amounts and say:

“So we’re going to drizzle a few tablespoons of Olive oil in our pan before we start frying our organic wild-caught Atlantic salmon…”


Look at that elbow bend!

There goes about a a quarter cup of olive oil. I’m not kidding. Their “tablespoons” are magically quadrupled in amounts once they start drizzling that stuff all over.

Sometimes they’ll even mention how healthy olive oil is… “And now we’re going to pour a tablespoon or two of heart-healthy olive oil…”

I mean, does anyone think that Jamie Oliver could cook anything without his olive oil?

At least French chefs in the past knew that putting all that butter in their food was not healthy. They did it for the sake of taste, not health.

Now modern chefs are fooling the populace by replacing butter with olive oil. They’re making things only slightly healthier, but we’re pretty far from “heart-healthy” here.

Why Olive Oil Is NOT Awesome

The idea of olive oil as a healthy food comes from research that’s been done on Mediterranean countries, like France and Greece.

In the 70s and 80s, a lot of research went into trying to answer a mysterious paradox:

Why are some countries consuming a lot of fat, yet experiencing less heart disease than other countries that eat more fat?

It was the beginning of the French paradox.

So there began the Lyon Health Study, the biggest of its kind at the time, that studied over 16 countries in the Mediterranean and found that the island of Crete was the one that experienced the best health at the time (this was BEFORE major industrialization took place on that island).

What the Lyon Health Study did was to compare a “Mediterranean-type” diet, inspired from the data available, to a control study that they labelled a “Low Fat Diet”

They put people in two separate groups. One was to eat the “Mediterranean Diet,” and one the “Low Fat Diet”.

Mediterranean Group: They were instructed to eat more bread, more root vegetables, more fish, more fruit, but reduce red meat, use margarine instead of butter, and olive oil on salad. Wine in moderation.

Low Fat Diet: The so-called “low fat diet” still consumed over 34% of their calories from fat! In my book, that’s not a low fat diet. On the other-hand, the “Mediterranean” group ate 30% fat, and much less cholesterol. The Low Fat Diet was higher in fat than the Mediterranean diet!

What they found is that people in the “Mediterranean” group experienced a dramatic reduction in cardiac death following that diet (50-70% less). So they even had to stop the study, fearing for the health of the control group on their so-called “Low Fat” diet.

What’s interesting is that all of the benefits from the “Mediterranean” diet can easily be explained by the slightly better choices they made: eat more vegetables and fruit, eat less meat, avoid saturated fats.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

– The studies on the Mediterranean diet NEVER proved that olive oil is healthy food in itself
– They only proved that replacing other fats (like butter) with olive oil and margarine is slightly better
– The main message from the study is to eat more fiber, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and exercise!

Even a further study, the Nurse Health Study, shows that women eating olive oil are only marginally healthier than those who don’t.

The truth is that inhabitants of the island of Crete used to be very healthy because:

– Ate lots of fresh produce and some coarse (whole grain) bread
– They ate beans and fish instead of refined foods and fatty meats
– Yes, they added some olive oil to their diet (2 tablespoons a day), but burned it off by walking and hiking on average 9 miles a day!

For your information, I visited the island of Crete in 2010. Now 60% of the population there is overweight. They continue to consume olive oil, but have thrown all of their other health habits out the window. In fact it was pretty hard to get any food there that wasn’t absolutely dripping in olive oil!

What About the French Paradox?

Often we lump all the Mediterranean countries in one big group. But the truth is that these countries are very different.

Think about the differences from Spain to Italy to France to Greece, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. Isn’t that weird to lump them all together in one group?

The French people did not eat olive oil. They ate a moderately rich diet and drank wine frequently .

Greek people did not drink much wine, but ate some olive oil.

Now we’ve designed a diet that combines the elements we “like” from these different countries, namely red wine and olive oil. This is NOT a true pre-industrial Crete diet, which was the reference for a healthy diet in the region. The Cretens did not even drink wine, and they were quite poor and ate mostly plant foods.

Olive Oil Goes Straight For Your Lips To Your Hips

Olive oil is concentrated in calories, much more so than sugar. White sugar only contains 50 calories per tablespoon, whereas olive oil contains 120!

When I visited Greece, I found that a lot of people there were overweight. Is it a coincidence that they consume the most olive oil in the world (26 liters per person per year!) Yet, 22% of the population is obese, and it’s growing rapidly.

Olive Oil Should Be Limited

Olive oil, just like any other oil, is concentrated in calories. It’s pure 100% fat, with no fiber and almost no other nutrients.

All oils will raise your cholesterol levels, and according to Dr. Esselstyn, they promote heart disease by damaging the endothelial cells in your blood vessels.

Oils are also not very satisfying. It takes a larger volume of oil to fill you up than water rich foods. Oils are just empty calories, that can add to your body weight quite easily. It’s very easy to use more oil than you think.

Ideally, there’s no reason for most people to use olive oil on a regular basis. If you’re very active, and walk 9 miles a day like the people of Crete used to, then you could burn off one or two tablespoon of olive oil every day. But overall, it’s still better to get fat from whole food sources, like avocados or nuts and seeds. Personally I recommend chia, flax, walnuts and hemp for “heart healthy” whole foods.

Do I Eat Olive Oil?

I personally don’t eat olive oil on a regular basis. I have a bottle of olive oil at home, and I’ve had it for over two years. And it’s still almost full!

Occasionally, I might have some friends over (that aren’t into my lifestyle) and may make a gourmet recipe and use a little bit of olive oil. That rarely happens, but sometimes I do get fancy!

Whenever I go to a restaurant, I ask for food to be made without oil. I know that they won’t be able to fulfill my wish, but at least when I say “no oil” there’s a better chance they’ll use less oil than if I don’t say anything!

I also say “Please no oil garnishes” so they don’t drizzle oil on top of my salad, as is often the case if you don’t mention it.

It’s not that olive oil is the worst food you can eat. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a better fat than many others, like butter. But it’s still not optimal, and most importantly, it represents concentrated calories that you probably don’t need to have in your body. If you’re very active, you can have some. But most people can’t justify the amount of olive oil they use on a daily basis.

Don’t believe the hype… get olive oil out of your life!

Want more information on raw and vegan recipes without the oil? Check out

Mafia Wars of Olive Oil Fraud


Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.