Improve Your Cholesterol With Olive Oil

Embrace this versatile oil to lower your risk.

Factor in the Good Fat

Talk about a great job. Chris Ortiz Temnitzer, president of, spends most of the year in Europe, touring the olive groves in the countrysides of France, Italy, Spain, and Greece in search of the ideal olive oils for import to the United States.

He conducts about 200 tastings a year, swirling the fragrant oil in a small blue glass, sniffing, swallowing, and rating. You can bet his cholesterol levels are low.

The generous amount of olive oil consumed by people who live in Mediterranean countries forms the core of the so-called Mediterranean diet, one high in vegetables, fruits, and grains, but also fat — about 40 percent of total calories. People who follow this diet have much lower levels of heart disease than those following the typical Western diet. And the benefits come quickly. One study found that adults who consumed about 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil daily for just one week had lower LDL and higher levels of antioxidants in their blood. Numerous other studies conducted over the past 40 years attest to the oil’s heart benefits, including studies finding that olive oil not only lowers LDL but also raises HDL. An added benefit: Studies suggest that olive oil may slow stomach contractions, helping you feel full longer. And when olive oil was offered for bread-dipping in place of butter, people who dipped consumed 52 fewer calories than those who spread the butter.

Don’t let this classic oil intimidate you. Here’s what you need to know.

Buy the Best

Not all olive oils are created equal. A better oil will add better flavor to your food. The main types of olive oil are:

  • Extra virgin olive oil. Sometimes described as “cold pressed” or “first press,” extra virgin olive oil has the lowest acidity of all olive oils and meets the highest taste and aroma standards. It also has the greatest cholesterol-lowering benefits and the most antioxidants. (Choose cold-pressed extra virgin for even more.)
  • Olive oil. Sometimes described as “pure,” this is a blend of refined olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. Refining removes color, taste, and some of the nutrients.
  • Light olive oil. No, it doesn’t have fewer calories. It’s just refined oil mixed with just enough extra virgin oil to give it a light flavor and color.

It is important to keep your olive oil fresh. Look for the date of extraction or use-by date on the label. Unlike wine, olive oil is best used soon after its pressing. All oils oxidize over time and eventually become rancid. Leave a bottle of old oil open in the sun for a week or so and then smell it. You’ll never forget the scent of rancid oil. So keep your olive oil in a dark, cool cupboard in dark glass or tin; heat and light are olive oil’s enemies. Stored properly, olive oil will last for years. If the oil turns cloudy, its nutritional properties may have changed; it’s time to throw it away and buy a new bottle.

Don’t relegate olive oil to the back of the cabinet. From breakfast through dessert, it works with nearly everything.

  • Drizzle it on your morning toast or bagel, or dip hunks of bread into it instead of spreading on butter or margarine.
  • Use it to make garlic bread. Brush extra virgin olive oil on both halves of a split loaf of Italian or French bread, sprinkle the bread with chopped garlic, and then broil until lightly browned.
  • Baste turkey and chicken with extra virgin olive oil for extra flavor.
  • Use extra virgin olive oil to replace smoked meats and sausages typically used to flavor bean and pea soups.
  • Sauté nuts in a little extra virgin olive oil for added flavor.
  • For a tasty dessert, sauté bananas, apples, pears, or other fruits in light olive oil. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and serve.
  • Use the conversion chart below to make the switch from butter and margarine.
If recipe calls for this much butter/margarine
Use this much olive oil
1 teaspoon
3/4 teaspoon
1 tablespoon
2 1/4 teaspoons
2 tablespoons
1 1/2 tablespoons
1/4 cup
3 tablespoons
1/3 cup
1/4 cup
1/2 cup
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup
1/2 cup
3/4 cup
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon
1 cup
3/4 cup

At the same time you’re making that switch to olive oil in place of other fats, be careful not to go overboard on your overall fat or calorie limits. Too often we’re more likely to add rather than substitute.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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