by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
Plant oils are a pantry and kitchen staple used for cooking practices like sautéing, frying vegetables, making sauces, drizzling onto pizzas, and preventing pasta from sticking together. Olive oil and seed oil are popular plant oils, each with unique characteristics. But which is actually better for you?
In this article, we will dive deeper into the differences between olive oil and seed oil, including their best uses, taste, nutrition, and potential health benefits.
Disclaimer: It is recommended that you speak with your doctor or dietician before making any changes to your nutrition plan.
What is Olive Oil?
Olive oil is derived from pressing olives and has a rich history dating back 6,000 years. Its origins can be traced to regions that are now known as Iran, Syria, and Palestine before spreading to the Mediterranean, where olive groves are renowned.
Throughout history, olive oil has served various purposes, including its use in religious ceremonies, medicinal applications, and as a crucial ingredient in culinary traditions across diverse cultures.
In the United States, there are three main types of olive oil available: extra-virgin olive oil, olive oil, and light-tasting olive oil.
- Extra-virgin olive oil, accounting for 60 percent of all olive oil sales in North America, is suitable for both cold preparations and cooking.
- Olive oil, on the other hand, is versatile and can be used for various cooking styles.
- Light-tasting olive oil offers a neutral flavor, making it a preferred choice for cooking and baking when the distinct peppery taste of olive oil is not desired.
What is Seed Oil?
Seed oils are a specific category of vegetable oils, which is a broad term encompassing edible oils derived from plants. In the United States, there are several commonly used vegetable and seed oils, including soybean, canola, palm, peanut, safflower, sunflower, and corn oil.
During the manufacturing process, these oils may undergo refining, bleaching, and deodorizing. Additionally, certain seed oils can be extracted from the seeds using chemicals like hexane. It is worth noting that some of these manufacturing processes may reduce the overall healthfulness of seed oils.
For individuals seeking healthier options within the realm of seed oils, it is advisable to consider cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils. These extraction methods generally yield seed oils that are considered healthier alternatives.
Similarities Between Olive Oil and Seed Oil
Olive oil, commonly available as extra-virgin olive oil, is classified as a vegetable oil but not specifically as a seed oil since it is not extracted from the seed of the olive. While all seed oils fall under the category of vegetable oils, it’s important to note that not all vegetable oils are derived from seeds.
Interestingly, some oils referred to as vegetable oils do not always originate from vegetables in the botanical sense. For example, oils from olives, avocados, and coconuts, which are technically classified as fruits, are often included in the category of vegetable oils.
Is Seed Oil Good for You?
Seed oils are not inherently bad, as they may have some benefits. The problem lies in the process, storage, and cooking process. The overconsumption of seed oils and the underconsumption of fatty fish and other omega-3 sources can be a problem. Omega-6 fatty acids, such as linoleic acid, can be found in seed oils, contributing to inflammation if they are not balanced with adequate omega-3s.
In contrast, omega-3s may have anti-inflammatory effects, which can benefit you, from your immune system and brain health to your blood pressure. The importance of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio cannot be overstated. Consuming oxidized oils or excess polyunsaturated omega-6 without enough omega-3 to balance it out can lead to inflammation.
Which Oil is Healthier?
Olive oil, particularly extra virgin, is known for being minimally processed compared to other cooking oils. As a result, it retains a higher concentration of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The presence of antioxidant and polyphenolic compounds in olive oil has been extensively studied for their potential benefits to heart health.
In contrast, vegetable oil undergoes significant processing to remove flavor and combine different types of plant oils. This processing diminishes the beneficial nutrients, leaving behind mostly empty calories.
Switching from vegetable to olive oil may also have advantages for brain health. A study found that replacing vegetable oil with extra virgin olive oil led to improved cognitive function in older adults.
When considering oil consumption, extra virgin olive oil is generally considered a healthier choice than many vegetable oils and blends.