Regular vs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Which Is Healthier?

When it comes to olive oil, is it better to be extra?

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Olive oil, virgin olive oil, extra virgin olive oil—oy! When it comes to olive oil options, there are plenty. So when you’re looking to add this Mediterranean diet-approved staple to your pantry, how do you know which kind of olive oil to choose?

For starters, the fact that you’re weighing your olive oil options is a step in the right direction for your health, regardless of which variety wins your love. (Bravo, btw.) Olive oil is one of the healthiest fats, rich in polyphenols, which are naturally occurring compounds bursting with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial power. These polyphenols have been noted for protective potential against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

OK, so olive oil is heart-healthy, but which type of olive oil gives you the most health bang for your buck? First, here’s a little lesson in what differentiates these three types of olive oil.

Virgin and extra virgin means the olive oil is untouched by chemicals and has been extracted from olives by a machine. These types of olive oil are tested by eight to 12 International Olive Council panelists for taste and aroma, and rated against industry standards.

Extra virgin olive oil is the gold standard. To be dubbed “extra virgin” means it’s been tested and approved to have genuine olive aroma and flavor, has no defects, and has an acidity less than 0.8.

Virgin olive oil is almost perfect. It goes through the same rigorous testing process, but may have a few taste defects and be a little more acidic.  

Both extra virgin and virgin olive oils also retain all those free-radical fighting antioxidants, making them the clear winner, health-wise. The only drawback? Price. All this olive oil TLC comes at a cost, which is often passed down to you as the consumer.

Regular olive oil is processed and blended, and much of the time contains less than 10 percent virgin olive oil. It’s also stripped of much of its antioxidants and olive-y taste and smell. Regular olive oil is still heart healthy, but not as much as EVOO. The price of regular olive oil however, is often less, which may be a dealbreaker for some.

If you’re undecided, buy a bottle of both. Use the regular olive oil for cooking (when you may not notice less-than-olive taste as much) and the extra virgin for bread dipping, salad dressings, or special occasions.

If price isn’t a bother, be extra … and choose extra virgin olive oil for all your eats.