Olive oil is good fat, and good for you. Douse your salads with it. Cook your vegetables in it. And take comfort in the knowledge that you're doing the right thing for your health, especially your heart health.
Not so fast.
While it's true the high content of monounsaturated fats in olive oil is better for your body than saturated fats from animal-derived products like butter, olive oil is not necessarily heart-healthy. Why? The clue is right there in the name: oil.
Oil, even the kind that's pressed from olives, is still fat. Fourteen grams of fat per tablespoon, in fact. And fat is rarely, if ever, good for your arteries [source: Novick]. Like other oils, olive oil has 120 calories per tablespoon, so calorie for calorie, it isn't even an ideal source of its other chief attribute: heart-healthy polyphenols. For example, crunching 55 calories worth of lettuce will net 150 milligrams of polyphenols. You'd need to eat 600 calories (or 5 tablespoons) worth of olive oil to gain the same effect. And olive oil doesn't offer additional vitamins and minerals the way lettuce does [source: Fuhrman].
Plus, if olive oil is heated to more than 400 degrees F or 205 degrees C (the temperature at which would you roast olive oil-coated vegetables) some of its fat molecules can transform into trans fats, and those are definitely not good for your heart [source: Katz].
Bottom line: It's better to use olive oil instead of (not in addition to) other oils, but it should always be in moderation [source: Mayo Clinic].
Author's Note: 10 Complete Falsehoods about Food
Before researching this article, I was one of the many who believed a number of food falsehoods -- eight glasses of water a day, no eating at midnight -- were reality. In fact, some of them have been part of my daily ritual for years. I'm not entirely sure I'll stop counting how many ounces of water I sip each day or that I'll stop relying on olive oil to be the better cooking choice, but the research I've uncovered has definitely changed my perspective. And every time I add pale-colored vegetables to my plate, I'll probably give myself a little nod, knowing they're just as good (sometimes better) for me than their brightly colored cousins.
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- Fuhrman, Talia. "It's About Time The Olive Oil Myth Was Laid to Rest." Jan. 30, 2012. (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.diseaseproof.com/archives/hurtful-food-its-about-time-the-olive-oil-myth-was-laid-to-rest.html
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- Katz, David. "Can Olive Oil Stand the Heat?" September 2009. (Nov. 1, 2012) Oprah. http://www.oprah.com/health/Nutrition-Facts-About-Olive-Oil-Health-Advice-from-Dr-Katz
- Leong, Kristie. "Why a Short Workout is More Effective." Nov. 6, 2008. (Nov. 6, 2012) Health Mad. http://healthmad.com/fitness/why-a-short-workout-is-more-effective/
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "Coca-Cola Dissolves Teeth." May 21, 2011. (Nov. 1, 2012) Snopes. http://www.snopes.com/cokelore/tooth.asp
- Mikkelson, Barbara. "Eight Glasses of Water a Day." Dec. 31, 2005. (Nov. 1, 2012) Snopes. http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/8glasses.asp
- Novick, Jeff. "Dispelling the Myths About Olive Oil." (Nov. 1, 2012) Eat Right America. http://www.eatrightamerica.com/articles/dispelling-myths-olive-oil/
- Nutrition and You. "Vegetable Nutrition Facts." http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/vegetable-nutrition.html
- O'Connor, Anahad. "Myth Busting: Are Six Small Meals Better Than Three Big Ones?" March 24, 2010. (Nov. 6, 2012) Sun Sentinel. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2010-03-24/news/sfl-meals-myth-032310_1_meals-metabolism-calories
- Oprah. "How Oprah Does it All." September 2001. (Nov. 2, 2012) http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-Oprah-Does-It-All-Women-with-Drive
- Pittman, Genevra. "Organic Food No More Nutritious Than Non-Organic." NBC. Sept. 4, 2012. (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48888214/ns/health-diet_and_nutrition/t/organic-food-no-more-nutritious-non-organic-study-finds/
- Produce for Better Health Foundation. "Phytochemical Info Center." (Nov. 6, 2012) http://www.pbhfoundation.org/about/res/pic/faqs/#faq2
- Stefanov, Sebastian. "The Truth About Eggs." (Nov. 1, 2012) Ask Men. http://www.askmen.com/sports/foodcourt_60/66b_eating_well.html
- University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. "Does Eating Late at Night Make You Fat?" (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.uamshealth.com/?id=10937&sid=1
- Warner, Jennifer. "The Sugar-Hyperactivity Myth." Web MD. Jan. 31, 2005. (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52516
- Wurtman, Judith. "Chocolate, Depression and PMS." Huffington Post. Aug. 27, 2010. (Nov. 1, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-j-wurtman-phd/chocolate-depression-and-_b_672556.html
Salt is something we use without thinking about it. But with so many options available, how do we know what's best? HowStuffWorks has the details.