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Olive oil vs. vegetable oil

Differences, similarities, and recommendation

Olive oil and vegetable oil are commonly used in cooking. In this article, we will explain the differences and determine which one is healthier.

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Olive oil vs. vegetable oil: Which to pick?
Last updated on May 5, 2024, and last reviewed by an expert on February 18, 2024.

Plant oils are a kitchen essential, commonly used for cooking tasks such as frying vegetables, creating sauces, adding flavor to pizzas, and keeping pasta from sticking.

Olive oil vs. vegetable oil: Which to pick?

Among the vast variety of plant oils, olive oil and vegetable oil are favorites worldwide, each known for their distinct qualities.

This article explores the differences between olive oil and vegetable oil, including how they’re best used, their flavors, nutritional content, and their potential benefits for health.

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Differences between olive oil and vegetable oil

Olive oil and vegetable oil stand apart in their production methods, ideal culinary applications, taste profiles, and nutritional makeup.

Here are some key distinctions between olive oil and vegetable oil:

Processing and flavor

After plant oils are extracted, they usually go through chemical cleaning and heating to eliminate impurities and extend their shelf life. The more an oil is processed, the less flavor and nutrients it keeps.

This difference is clear when comparing the lightly processed extra virgin olive oil, known for its strong olive flavor, to vegetable oil, which has a more bland, universal taste.

Olive oil comes from pressing olives, with extra virgin olive oil being the least processed form.

Vegetable oil, however, is a blend of oils from various plants, including canola, cottonseed, sunflower, soybean, corn, and safflower, requiring more processing to achieve a uniform, mild flavor.

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Suggested read: Is canola oil healthy? Nutrition, downsides, and alternatives

Nutrition

The level of processing impacts not just the taste but also the nutritional value of the oil.

Both olive and vegetable oils are rich in unsaturated fats, but olive oil has more monounsaturated fats, such as oleic acid, linoleic acid, and palmitic acid, while vegetable oil is higher in omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats are beneficial for reducing inflammation and supporting heart health, whereas too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation and negatively affect heart health.

Moreover, the more an oil is refined, the fewer micronutrients and healthy compounds it contains.

Extra virgin olive oil, the least refined type, is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents like tocopherols, carotenoids, and polyphenols. It also keeps some micronutrients, such as vitamins E and K.

Conversely, the process to refine vegetable oil removes micronutrients, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds, including tocopherols, phytosterols, polyphenols, and coenzyme Q.

Summary: Vegetable oil is a highly refined blend of neutral oils high in pro-inflammatory fats, lacking micronutrients. Olive oil, pressed from olives, with extra virgin varieties being minimally processed, retains most beneficial compounds.

Similarities between olive and vegetable oil

Olive and vegetable oils share similar smoke points, around 400°F (205°C), which is the temperature at which the oil starts breaking down.

Like vegetable oil, certain olive oil types, such as pomace oil, undergo significant processing, missing out on micronutrients and the distinct flavor found in extra virgin olive oil, instead offering a neutral taste.

Suggested read: The 4 healthiest cooking oils (and 4 to avoid)

Refined olive oils, not labeled as “virgin” or “extra virgin,” indicate a higher processing level. To choose a flavorful oil that also keeps some nutrients, look for these labels.

Summary: Olive and vegetable oils have comparable smoke points. Similar to vegetable oil, highly refined olive oil lacks significant micronutrients.

Which oil is healthier?

Extra virgin olive oil stands out as one of the least processed options available, packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

It’s well-documented that the antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds in olive oil can significantly benefit heart health.

Contrastingly, vegetable oil is heavily processed to remove its natural flavor and mix different plant oils together, stripping away most of its nutritional value and leaving primarily empty calories behind.

Choosing olive oil over vegetable oil might also have a positive impact on brain health.

Research has shown that substituting vegetable oil with extra virgin olive oil can enhance cognitive function in older individuals.

When incorporating oils into your diet, extra virgin olive oil is generally a healthier choice compared to most vegetable oils and their blends.

Summary: Between olive oil and vegetable oils, extra virgin olive oil is the healthier pick due to its minimal processing and abundance of beneficial compounds.

Summary

Vegetable oil and olive oil are common choices for cooking.

Olive oil, extracted from olives, is generally less refined, whereas vegetable oil, a mix of various plant oils, undergoes extensive processing for a bland taste.

This extensive processing strips vegetable oil of many beneficial nutrients and compounds found in its original plant sources. It’s also loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which might lead to inflammation.

Extra virgin olive oil, in contrast, preserves numerous vitamins, minerals, and is packed with antioxidants and monounsaturated fats that support heart and brain health due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

For those looking to add plant oils to their meals, choosing the less processed extra virgin olive oil over vegetable oil is a healthier decision.

Suggested read: Is olive oil a good cooking oil?

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