In the oil/fat wars, there are some clear winners and losers. First the losers–processed vegetable seed oils including corn oil, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil are extremely dangerous to our health; can cause inflammatory diseases, an increase in harmful free radicals, damage DNA and even increase the risk of certain types of cancer. High omega 6 vegetable seed oils lose BIGTIME.
The Benefits of Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
First, let’s talk about monounsaturated fatty acids—the primary type of fat in both olive oil and avocado.
Oils containing monounsaturated fats are considered some of the healthiest types of oils. Monounsaturated fats are surprisingly stable for cooking, unlike other processed vegetable oils which contain polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fatty acids or MUFA’s, protect our cells’ DNA and add energy to the mitochondria. MUFA’s are one of the best fatty acids for our cell walls, unlike polyunsaturated fatty acids which make cell walls weak, brittle, and vulnerable to pathogens.
MUFA’s support and strengthen immune function, helping us fight off pathogens, improving wound healing, as well as tempering autoimmune disease.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are known to prevent and reduce breast cancer, according to this meta-analysis. The primary type of MUFA in both olive oil and avocado oil, oleic acid, fights tumors, especially those found in treatment-resistant breast cancers. Oleic acid also enhances the effectiveness and reduces the dosage of some chemotherapy treatments as well.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are also known to raise the levels of good HDL cholesterol in our bodies and lower the more harmful LDL cholesterol. In addition, when LDL oxidizes, it sticks to our blood vessel walls, contributing to arthrosclerosis and heart disease. An interesting feature of those wonderful MUFA’s in olive oil and avocado oil, is that they help prevent oxidation in LDL. MUFA’s also help keep triglycerides low—another component of heart disease.
This study from the Medical Science Monitor, showed that elderly subjects who had just 2 tablespoons of olive oil a day, had significant drops in their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. In addition, the ratio of HDL (you want this one to be high) to LDL (you want this to be low) was greatly improved.
Monounsaturated fats also protect the endothelium in our blood vessels which helps in lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation in the blood vessels, and preventing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is thickening or hardening of the arteries caused by a buildup of plaque in the inner lining of an artery.
MUFA’s also help with diabetes. Monounsaturated fats improve blood sugar control in type 1 and 2 diabetics, while helping to prevent diabetes complications such as diabetic retinopathy. In type 2 diabetics, MUFA’s reduce insulin resistance, especially compared to diets high in vegetable seed oil which contain polyunsaturated fats. Vegetable seed oils are known to cause inflammation, and a worsening of chronic disease.
One more important benefit worth noting—olive oil and avocado oil consumption can help burn body fat. This study published showed the addition of olive oil to the diet brought about greater weight loss. Other support for these monounsaturated oils’ fat burning ability comes from another study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, which suggests that MUFA’s help break down fat in the body more efficiently.
Research suggests that the health benefits from both avocado and olive oil are due not only to their high content of monounsaturated fats, but also their collection of valuable antioxidants, including chlorophyll, carotenoids, and the polyphenols, tyrosol, hydrotyrosol and oleuropein— all of which have some pretty powerful free-radical scavenging abilities. Free radicals contribute to chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and diabetes.
The polyphenols in olive oil and avocado oil are powerful antioxidants that come from the plants. Antioxidants in the plants protect them from oxidative stress and keep away insects. Polyphenol antioxidants don’t hurt humans–of course, but the natural irritation they create in our bodies induces a positive adaptive response in our cells.
Oleic acid is one type of monounsaturated fat in both olive oil and avocados. Oleic acid is also known to inhibit the clotting process that causes platelets to adhere to blood vessel walls, thus further preventing heart disease and strokes. Oleic acid has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, as this study shows.
First Comparison: Olive Oil vs. Avocado Oil
Olives are one of the oldest known foods in the Mediterranean and have been in existence for at least 6,000 years. Most olive oil still comes from the Mediterranean area of the world, or California. Extra virgin olive oil is considered one of the healthiest of all oils. The highest quality extra virgin olive oil is made from the first pressing of olives.
Avocados are considered a fruit, native to Central America and grown in warm and subtropical climates all over the world. Avocados contain about 60% oil, depending on their size. The primary growers and producers of avocado oil in the world include New Zealand, Mexico, the United States, South Africa, and Chile.
Avocados and their oil have become very popular for nutrition and are common in grocery stores all over the world, as well as skin care products, hair care, and cosmetics.
Avocados have a similar fatty acid profile as olive oil and similar health benefits.
Both olive oil and avocado oils should be from the first-pressed, cold processed oils to possess the above health benefits. Both avocado and olive oil extracted using heat or chemical processing lose their health benefits and are not much better than standard vegetable oils at that point.
For olive oil to be labeled “extra virgin” it must be free of certain defects in flavor and contain the important attributes of fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency. Many olive oil companies will label their olive oil as “extra virgin” even when it has not met the above quality standards.
Avocado oil can also be extracted in a variety of ways including the use of hexane (chemical processing), enzymes, or microwave/heat methods. These methods are far less desirable than the first cold pressing.
Both avocado oil and olive oil have similar fatty acid profiles and calories, while olive oil contains slightly more vitamin E. Both are beneficial for skin health and eye health, while avocado holds a slight edge towards being more absorbed through the skin.
Cooking with Avocado Oil and Olive Oil
First let’s talk about cooking with olive oil. We have been conditioned to believe that olive oil is not great for cooking, but that is simply not true. Olive oil is more stable than polyunsaturated, highly inflammatory vegetable seed oils, making EVOO a great oil to cook with.
The smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it starts to degrade and release harmful free radicals. Extra virgin olive oil works best with low to medium heat, and will smoke at about 375-400 degrees F.
Good quality extra virgin olive oil does have a fruity, olive oil taste to it. This sometimes enhances cooking but may not always work for baking and other types of cooking where you don’t want the flavor of olive oil to stand out.
Avocado oil has a much milder, more buttery flavor which makes is suitable for many types of cooking, including baking. Avocado oil can also be heated to a higher temperature without smoking or altering the components of the oil. Avocado can be heated up to about 480 degrees F, making it ideal for frying, searing, and grilling.
Cooking with both olive oil and avocado helps the food being cooked to be healthier. For example, when you combine Mediterranean foods like onions, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes with either oil, it increases the antioxidants and the bioavailability of the nutrients in the vegetables.
How to Avoid Fakes
Both avocado oil and olive oil are subject to being ‘fake’, adulterated, rancid or labeled improperly. However, there are a few pointers when it comes to purchasing high quality, extra-virgin, cold-pressed oils full of antioxidants, polyphenols, and monounsaturated fats.
Tips for Choosing the Best Olive Oil
- First, always choose ‘Extra Virgin’ olive oil when purchasing olive oil. This is the first pressing of the olives, which contains the most flavor and nutrients and should be free of taste defects, and contain the olive oil attributes required for that label. The “Extra Virgin” on the olive oil label also means the olive oil is free of taste defects detected in the certification process. These include rancidity, fustiness, winey/vinegary, and mustiness. Many olive oils put “Extra Virgin” on the label despite these defects, leading to what many refer to as ‘fake olive oil’.
- A high-quality olive oil should be fresh, so always look for a harvest and use by date. Olive oil does not improve with age and is best used up quickly.
- Contrary to popular belief, high quality olive oil does not have to come from the Mediterranean. In fact, there are a lot of award winning, fresh olive oils that come from California. California has very high standards for olive oil certification.
- Look for seals of quality and certified origin, such as 100% Qualita Italiana (for Italy), or the California Olive Oil Commission (COOC) 100% Certified Extra Virgin seal. Or look for the North American Olive Oil Association’s NAOOA Certified Oil, bearing a red circular logo with a green olive branch.
- A good quality extra virgin olive oil should smell and taste green, bright, peppery, earthy, grassy, and with a slight bitterness that sticks in the throat after swallowing.
- A high-quality extra virgin olive oil will produce throat-stinging sensation. This is in direct correlation to the amount of polyphenols in the olive oil, especially oleocanthal. Although oleocanthal is present in all extra-virgin olive oil, concentrations vary depending upon a range of factors, including the quality of the olives.
- Consider the price point. Olive oil is a quality food, so the price should reflect that. Very inexpensive olive oil usually means low quality. That doesn’t mean you should spend exorbitant amounts of money on olive oil, but it’s also probably a good idea not to choose the cheapest option on the shelf.
- Purchase olive oil in a dark-colored glass bottles. This helps protect the oil from oxidation — or the degradation of quality when exposed to oxygen — before it even hits the shelves. Avoid any oils sold in clear glass container, it’s probably rancid.
- Look for a harvest date or pressing date on the label. This tells you how long ago the pressing occurred. Choose the freshest oil possible, although when properly stored olive oil generally retains its goodness for as much as 18 months after bottling.