MacronutrientsOther Foods

Olive Oil can Tap Dance!

Time to set the record straight on olive oil, or it won’t be long before we see the title of this thread as the next Daily Mail article!

Here is the Daily Mail article from 19 April 2010. Olive oil can now apparently switch off genes and previous articles have told us that olive oil cures depression, saves lives and makes people live to over 100 and dance around tables in adverts for margarine.

Now for some common sense – olive oil is oil squeezed out of mashed olives (we do the same with avocados and make avocado oil – avocados must have a different PR Agency). Olive oil with acid levels below 1% can be called “extra virgin” and 1-3% acid levels can be called “virgin” (I have no idea what virginity has to do with any of this!) Non virgin olive oil is more acidic than this. And that is it!

In terms of composition, olive oil is pure fat (water and fat can’t mix so oil is always 100% fat). In 100g of olive oil there are 75g of mono unsaturated fat, 14g of saturated fat and 11g of polyunsaturated fat. In 100g of pork chop (the USDA example called “Pork chop boneless, raw, lean AND FAT” – I deliberately chose a piece of meat with no bone and still with fat on), there are 75g of water, 21g of protein and 4g of fat (slightly under 4g actually). Of this fat – 1.5g is saturated, 1.8g is mono unsaturated and 0.5g is poly unsaturated. So 60% of our ‘lethal/red meat pork chop” is the unsaturated fat, which apparently is going to save the world! (And remember how low the fat is in the first place).

This is how I can say olive oil has 6 times the saturated fat of pork – in this example it actually has 9 times (14g per 100g vs 1.5g per 100g). In another super extra fatty pork example, olive oil still has 6 times the saturated fat – I try to be fair!

So let’s look at the nutritional content of olive oil. There are 2 very useful measures of nutrition and the US Department of Agriculture has some really useful analysis of food products against these:
1) is the amino acid score. Anything over 100 indicates a “complete” food from an amino acid perspective i.e. it delivers all the 22 standard amino acids used by a human;
2) is an overall nutrition score weighing up vitamins, minerals etc delivered in the product. This one is measured out of 100 – where 100 is the ‘perfect’ nutritious food – can’t find any with 100!

Sugar scores zero on both measures – no protein, so no amino acids and no nutrients, so no score.

Our Pork chop with 4g of fat above scores 151 on the amino acid score. I keep a database of real food and I have nothing higher than this on my list of 50 standard products. The same pork chop scores 39 on the nutrition scale. The maximum is 100 and the highest I have on my list is broccoli at 92 (there will be a nutrient density thing in the calculation, so broccoli has huge nutritional value to energy/calorie level).

Olive oil (get ready) scores 0 on the amino acid score – it has no protein so it cannot score anything other than zero. It then scores 5 on the nutrient scale (5 out of 100). Olives themselves score 25 on the nutrient scale – so we’re better off eating olives (of course we are – we are always better off eating food in nature’s most natural form).

A whole egg, by the way, scores 136 on amino acids and 50 on nutrition. Egg yolk on its own scores 146 on amino acids and 50 on nutrition – so that’s where the nutrition is in the egg – the bit that Californians throw away!

Please use any of this as ammunition the next time you see a claim made about olive oil. It’s a useful food – good for salad dressing; butter and lard are better for cooking (saturated fats are chemically more stable) – but that’s it. Unless we can run power stations on olive oil, it’s not going to save the planet!

19 thoughts on “Olive Oil can Tap Dance!

  • There doesn’t seem to be any clarity here about avocado oil for phase 2? Is it allowed? If so only for a fat meal and in small amounts?

    Whats the deal?

    • Hi Leah
      Avocado oil is pure fat – no carb or protein – so it’s the same composition as olive oil (the types of fat differ within the 2 oils, but at the top fat level, they’re the same). It can be used for cooking therefore, as olive oil can be.
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi, Zoë.
    Firsty, I’d like to point out that, actually, the diference between virgin oil and not virgin olive oil is not its acidity, but it’s the way how it’s extracted- not virgin ones are obtained using chemical solvents to extract just the triglycerides, whereas virgin oil is just made by waiting to decant it.
    Secondly, in virgin olive oil, the healthiest compounds are its polyphenols such as oleocanthal, hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein…, which have very important benefits for health.
    On the other hand, I strongly agree with you in that whole olives are a lot healthier than olive oil (in fact, olive oil’s polyphenols are just traces if compared with whole olives’ ones).
    And, despite the doctors’ conception of mediterranean diet (they say it’s low in meat and diary products), that’s totally fake. At least in Spain, traditional diet is full of meat, eggs , fatty gat milk products and lard (in fact, this one used to be, with olive oil, one of the most basic products); nowadays carbohidrtes have gained importace in diet, and everyone used to be healthier than nowadays.

    • *In fact, goat cheese plays a very important role in Spanish traditional diet. We also include in our diet lots of seafood and fish (especially sardines, mackerrel, and anchovies). When it comes to carbohidrates consumption, it is not very high, and the main carb sources are legumes (lentils, ckickpeas, fresh green beans, kidney beans…), fruits, other vegetables, and also some bread ( but not too much). Refined sugar consumption used to be very low but is rapidly increasing. Kind regards from Alicante, Spain.

  • Hello Zoe, firstly can I say that I love listening to you on TRE in Spain. You speak so much sense. My question related to this article is does this mean that olive oil is actually bad for you or is it just as simple as it has a very low nutritional value? I like many others seem to have fallen for the info that it is great for your heart and so I have been using it quite a lot in salads and smoothies, is this something I should stop doing? Thank you. Les.

    • Hi Leslie
      Many thanks for your kind words! It’s not bad for you – I just get fed up with people eulogising about olive oil as if it’s an elixir! It’s just an oil – 100% fat, no protein, no minerals, a couple of (fat soluble) vitamins. It’s lovely on salad as a dressing and it’s good for stir fries. Studies like PREDIMED want you to believe it will help you to avoid heart disease. Such claims should not be allowed (
      Hope this helps!
      I’m next on on the 16th Aug – Bill and I pick the topic nearer the time!
      Best wishes – Zoe

  • I enjoyed both a pork chop and olive oil tonight for my dinner!

    Zoe, thank you so much for your blog. It has educated me and eased my mind tremendously especially since my doctor recently said my cholesterol is “terrible” and I would have to be on a statin for the rest of my life. He said, “You don’t want to clog your arteries, do you?” Here are these “terrible” numbers:

    Total — 238
    HDL — 81
    LDL — 145
    Triglycerides — 59
    VLDL — 12

    I’m a 44 year old female. The irony of this is that my ratios are in ideal ranges across the board and are even better than when my LDL was 106 about 18 months ago. My LDL was decent to the medical establishment then, but my health was anything but decent as I was obese and eating refined carbs and more refined carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since then I’ve lost over 80 pounds on a low-carb lifestyle and have removed all risk factors except for family history of CAD (in the men only–the women live to unreal old ages even with “high” cholesterol) and now the LDL, which I’ve learned is not even a risk factor. What bilge the doctors push on us.

    Back to Dr. Wonderful — he didn’t mention once any side effects during his lecture. Fortunately for me I have been reading your blog, so I was contradicting him in my mind as he spoke. I am angry at myself, however, for not challenging him on his “words of wisdom.” If I should be in a deja vu moment with him in the future regarding all this, I will do so and have documents for his reading enjoyment.

    I am amazed at the peer pressure to be on a statin. The office called in my prescription and sent me a coupon to save my money for the very thing that will hasten my body’s undoing. Since then the drug store has hounded me with phone call reminders that my prescription is ready. Pressure, pressure, pressure! No thank you!

    Thank you for all that you do.

  • Hi Zoe,

    Very interesting article.

    I am on prednisone and find the ‘fresh ultra premium extra virgin Olive Oils’ help my stomach like medicine.
    they also have a high phenol content of >100.
    I had frequent vomiting (prednisone and diabetic meds) until I started to use these oils.

    I heard you on the morning talk show in London, Ontario this morning — I agree agree agree.
    I should send your link to some of our politicians.



  • Hi Zoe. Thanks for a good article.

    Actually, I think avocado oil might have got the same PR Agency. With a much higher smoking point it seems like a better choice than olive oil for stir frying. Many websites though are going on about it having amino acids, various minerals and water soluble vitamin C and B vitamins. Do you think it might have small amounts of these that are being over-emphasized or are they just listing what’s in avocados and expecting them to automatically be in an extracted oil?


  • Hi Zoe,

    It’s not about Olive Oil this time.

    I have just started the diet again and I was looking in your recipe book and saw Monk Fish in Hoisin Sauce for phase 1 which sounded good.

    However, when I went to Waitrose the 1st ingredient on the back of their Hoisin Sauce was sugar.

    I didn’t think this would be allowed and didn’t have it but if I hadn’t looked at the ingredients I may have!

    Just checking if I can have this or not (doubbtful) but if not I could have ruined my diet.

    Please advise


  • Hi Tom – you’re doing really well! Great choice on cutting out the processed food – wheat and sugar especially. Weight loss following that doesn’t surprise me at all.
    The secret to weight loss? As you’re discovering, it is carbs.

    Gary Taubes is right – weight is not a facile matter of calories in and out – human fat tissue is something called triglyceride (three fats with a ‘backbone’ of glycerol). The glycerol needs glucose for its formation and we get glucose from carbs. No carbs = no glucose = no means of storing fat. Similarly – the way to break down human fat tissue (that triglyceride) is to have the brain send a signal that it needs the glycerol part or for the body to send a signal that it needs the three fats for energy. This only happens when there is no other glucose/energy available i.e. when you are not continually eating carbs. (Glucagon is the substance that is released from the pancreas to break down the triglyceride – that’s when fat is lost).

    Top tips? Only eat real food (grass fed meat, fish, eggs from grass fed animals, vegetables, salads) and limit even your intake of ‘good’ carbs: dairy, fruit, wholegrains. Enjoy dairy more liberally than fruit and whole grains, as it has far more nutrition for the carb content. Some cheese is really low in carb anyway.

    Stay off the Atkins kind of processed low carb processed food. Processed food is horrible – whether low cal or low carb – we have had no time to evolve to adapt to it.

    Be naturally active rather than doing any unnatural exercise. The phrase I use is “walk, talk, sing, dance, cook, clean and tend the land” – that’s what humans have evolved to do, so do what you’re designed to do!

    Very best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi! from Miami…
    One (1) month ago I decided to give up most of my sugar intake (with coffee, deserts, cake, etc) and all bread-morning croissants, I didnt feel I was dieting, just deleted certain frequent-for-me intake…conclusion today, 1 month later: 20Lbs weight loss which I find hard to believe, but 100% true. I did invest in a good scale and weigh myself every day(never did before, just at the Publix supermarket scale once in a while)..this helps my awareness of the weight issue daily.Was 240Lbs, now 218 in middle of November.The clue was to “study” the contents of my most frequent food intake and correct it.Still eat everything but smaller portions and, most inportant, less frequently; all this with no special diet, no cravings , no expensive 3rd party diets, no strange pre-prepared food etc.. Thanks for your book, there is always a fresh approach to unsolved issues, such as obesity.How will I keep on losing weight? keep on the same track, concentration until my habits have changed,normal or little exercise but walk a lot during work. Thanks,Tom

  • Dear Zoe,

    this is very interesting but what intrigues me is your suggestion that olives may be nutritionally better than olive oil because “we are always better off eating food in nature’s most natural form”. While for most foods I don’t doubt that you are right, olives cannot be eaten in nature’s most natural form, directly from the tree. They *must* be processed to be eaten – pickled or preserved in some form – or they are inedible.

    There are other foods for which this is also true – some prehistoric peoples ate acorns, for example, which must be processed to make them digestible, and some roots are poisonous if not processed. Of course, these are the exceptions, and for most of the meat/fruit/vegetables that we eat on a regular basis, no processing is required.

    I think too that the emphasis on the health benefits of olive oil assumes that it will be taken in moderation, so perhaps a gram for gram comparison with the nutritional values of pork is not exactly what was intended: I imagine that most health experts would not recommend consuming 100g of olive oil in one go, although they might recommend 100g of pork. A comparison with other types of oil would be more useful. But I take your point that what is reported in the media is not always easily and directly translatable into the kitchen!


    • Hi Helen – this has been quite a misunderstood blog which is my fault! Only the writer can cause confusion! I think we’re in heated agreement anyway. All I want is for people to eat real food – as nature delivers it and for people to be more questioning about messages that we are ‘fed’ by people who invariably have a vested interest. Olives are a good food (they are intolerably bitter straight from the tree) and olive oil is a good food but you actually rarely, if ever, hear people saying meat/pork chops are a good food. I’m just trying to redress the balance and point out that – weight for weight – olive oil has more saturated fat than pork.

      Coconut oil is the highest source of saturated fat on the planet – at about 92% – but another point is that I don’t think nature is trying to kill us! Sri Lankans eat about 1,000 coconuts per person p.a. and suffer one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. I don’t think nature is putting stuff in food to kill us (the odd mushroom aside and nature did not provide those for us!) Nature puts fat, protein and carbs and all the different fats: saturated, mono and poly and all the vitamins and minerals in the ‘right’ way for our health. We just need to eat the stuff that nature provides and shun the stuff that man makes.

      I’m just fed up everyone saying how great olive oil is and then demonising butter, lard and meat at every other opportunity. Meat and eggs (from naturally reared animals) are substantially more nutritious than olive oil and no one is speaking up for Mother Nature’s natural treasures. Sounds like you and I are – I like your style!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • Hello,

    I am Italian. I read an interview you gave on a magazine and I have a question. If fats can’t be eaten together with carbs, why can olive oil be eaten with pasta or rice?

    • Hi there
      The book explains fully – you can only get headlines over in a short article. Cooking vegetables in olive oil to go with brown rice or whole meal (brown) pasta is fine but you don’t want to be mixing olive oil with carbs any more than this. So, stir frying vegetables in olive oil is fine, but no adding olive oil to the rice or pasta. Our tomato sauce in the recipe book uses olive oil (to go with pasta), but again – it’s not a huge amount.
      Hope this helps
      Your English is so good – you should join our club! – you don’t have to wait for a question to be moderated – it appears straight away and there are hundreds of people to answer questions and give you support
      Hope to see you there
      Very best wishes – Zoe

  • Hi Zoe,

    I have read your most of the diet book and I got the impression that you thought Olive Oil should be eaten and used for cooking but here you are saying it has no nutritional value?

    Also, I have found your diet very expensive to follow buying fresh vegetables and meat etc for 3 meals a day every day – could you suggest a way to stick to the diet on a budget?

    Thanks for your help.


    • Hi there – sorry if I confused you – I’m not saying that olive oil isn’t healthy – I’m just saying some of the claims we are making for olive oil and the mediterranean diet are starting to get ridiculous. And also pointing out that pork/red meat, which we attack as much as we praise olive oil, is actually even healthier than olive oil. Just trying to restore some balance and common sense, that’s all!

      For the other question – please check out our forum and there will be loads of people to help with suggestions. I have porridge oats for breakfast (value bag has nothing added). Pork is cheaper than most processed meat. I find not buying processed food should compensate for buying real food, as the brands are massively marked up to pay for advertising. Rice pasta and tomato sauce, baked potato with unbranded natural live yoghurt – etc.
      The club members will have loads of specific ideas!
      Very best wishes – Zoe

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