Olive oil has been one of those fats that I have been eating on a DAILY basis for the past year. It’s one of my main calorie sources on keto. But, up until this point I haven’t done any of my own research on it. I always listened to the popular advice that olive oil is GOOD for keto AND that it is a HEALTHY fat. BUT, does it actually live up to ALL the hype? Are there better fat sources out there? And, how does olive oil stack up to coconut oil? Let’s dig into olive oil and keto!
The Research Backs up this Food
Let me tell you, I’ve done quite a bit of research on different health topics, but I’ve never had such an easy time finding quality studies about a FOOD. There is a TON of research out there from the last 50 years that demonstrates the health benefits of olive oil. Now, more than ever I am convinced that olive oil is one of the healthiest fats out there.
I’m sure you’ve heard about the Mediterranean diet. Olives and olive oil happen to be one of the 3 staple foods of the Mediterranean. The two other foods include wheat and grapes. The Mediterranean diet is surprisingly high in fat (largely from olive oil). They don’t eat much meat, but they DO tend to eat a lot of fish. [*]
The majority of the world’s olive oil supply comes from Spain, Italy, and Greece. Greece is the largest consumer per capita. [*] However, not all of that exported oil is actually healthy. Food manufacturers refine the oils with hydrogenation and other processes. The BEST stuff is extra virgin olive oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and keto go great together. The oil has MANY different health benefits. These studies stretch back MANY MANY years. While coconut oil is the “new kid on the block” olive oil, has a LONGGGG history of being a key food in several of the world’s “blue zones”. People live extraordinarily long lives in these zones.
Olive Oil and Keto – The Big Picture.
Here are my big takeaways from this post.
The Type of Olive Oil Matters
The type of olive oil you buy for keto matters. Make sure you are getting “Extra Virgin Olive Oil”. The bottle should have a harvest date (or lot number) as well as an expiration date on it. Both the oil and bottle should have a dark color. The bottle’s dark color helps preserve the oil and keep it from going rancid.
One study on the packaging of the olive oil explains why it should be bottled this way.
“Exposure of olive oil samples to light, high storage temperatures (35 °C) and large headspace volumes caused a substantial deterioration in product quality parameters.” [*]
– 2009 Study by the University of Ioannina in Greece.
Why You Should Care About Olive Oil
There are countless benefits to olive oil… Okay maybe not COUNTLESS but there’s enough of them to make your head spin once or twice. It’s a superfood when it comes to what it can do for your body.
I’ve found a number of interesting scientific articles that stand behind the health benefits of olive oil. Most of them have been cited hundreds of times by other literature. This tells me that the research is quality.
And, here is what the research says…
The Many Benefits of Consuming Olive Oil
- Reduces LDL Cholesterol
- Reduces Blood Pressure
- Improves Overall Heart Health
- Reduces of Coronary Heart Disease.
- Reduces Inflammation (Even though is higher in Omega–6)
- Managing Pain (Similar to Ibuprophen)
- Reduces all-cause mortality (Basically Sudden Death)
- Balances Blood Sugar Levels
- Reduces Cancer (Particularly Breast Cancer)
- Reduces Cognitive Decline During Aging
Many of these benefits can be traced back to the numerous polyphenols that olive oil contains. “Polyphenol” is basically a fancy word for antioxidants (or phytonutrients) that have powerful abilities to scavenge free radicals in the body.
“Olive oil is more than a monounsaturated fat. Its phenolic content can also provide benefits for plasma lipid levels and oxidative damage.” [*] – 2006 EUROLIVE study group
While some may argue that fats and oils are congestive to our arteries, the studies really show the OPPOSITE is true for olive oil. It is actually associated with PREVENTING Coronary Heart Disease and reducing all-cause mortality (any cause of death). And, olive oil is believed to also reduce blood pressure. This is due to the high amount of oleic acid it contains. [*]
And there are other benefits tied to monosaturated fats. Guess what type of fat olive oil is? Monounsaturated (70%)! This type of fat has been attributed with protecting against age-related mental decline. [*]
Results of Two Review Studies on Olive Oil
Two studies I came across really stood out to me… Mostly because they pooled so much data together.
A large 2014 review study covered the results of various olive oil studies. It included a total of 800,000 people. They found some really cool trends! Between the top 3rd and bottom 3rd of olive oil consumers, researchers found a 10% reduced mortality rate, and 17% reduced chance of stroke for the highest olive oil consumers. [*]
Another cumulative review examined some 11,000 men ages 40–59. Researchers found that not only all-cause mortality was reduced but also coronary artery disease by the consumption of olive oil. [*]
Olive Oil is Great for Keto
In my opinion, olive oil is perfect for keto. It has great stability and shelf life. Not to mention, our bodies actually prefer burning it over other types of fat. It’s great on salads and adding a bit of flavor to pretty much any dish. I don’t always cook with it, but I do tend to drizzle olive oil on a lot of food in order to meet my daily fat intake.
Dr. Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek have put a lot of great information out there on the ketogenic diet. In their book, “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living”, they are big promoters of using olive oil and have many recipes using it.
Phinney and Volek also discuss the priority of fats that should be consumed. Olive oil is at the forefront. We should prioritize Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, followed by saturated fats, and lastly polyunsaturated fats ( Omega–3s are very important though). 
There are reasons for this priority. After we’re fat adapted, the body prefers to burn monounsaturated and saturated fats. 
(Be sure to check out our article on fat adaption. Ketosis is only a pre-requisite to adaptation.)
What’s Better Olive Oil or Coconut Oil?
Where I found numerous studies supporting olive oil’s health benefits, I DID NOT find as many for coconut oil. But, what I WILL SAY though is that there is definitely evidence out there supporting coconut oil as a healthy fat.
Olive oil and Coconut oil are two different fat types. Olive oil is a liquid monounsaturated based fat, and coconut oil is a solid saturated fat. They both have different health benefits. Olive oil is more heart and anti-cancer centric. Coconut oil shines on digestive health. This isn’t a matter of choosing one over the other though. For myself, I include both of them in my diet.
I find that I am often cooking with coconut oil due to its stability. While they are both suitable for cooking, coconut oil is one of the most stable oils out there. The concern here is that some oils can form carcinogens when exposed to high heat. However, both olive oil and coconut oil are much more resistant to forming harmful compounds than vegetable oil or canola oil. [*]
Let’s look at these oils when we heat them slightly above boiling. As you can see, coconut oil really stands out here. It is very stable.
[Visualization originally in the ACNEM Journal]
Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil Benefits
Let’s compare the health benefits of olive oil and coconut oil.
In the research that I have done up to this point, Olive oil has more PROVEN health benefits associated with it… At least in terms of the number of scientific journals I’ve dug up. Of course, Many new studies are being done on Coconut oil all the time. BUT, scientists have studied olive oil for a lot longer. Give coconut oil a few years to catch up though, and I’ll have to revisit what I just said…
Olive oil has a strong connection to the heart, pain management, blood sugar, and cancer prevention.
Coconut oil does have a few benefits that olive oil does not. One of these benefits is that it can kill off the H. Pylori bacteria strain in our gut. This is due to Coconut oil’s high levels of lauric acid. [*]This bacteria can cause inflammation in the body as well as stomach ulcers.
Some research has shown that coconut oil can be protective against blood clots. That research also points out that coconut oil stimulates the immune system and can kill off unwanted bacteria. [*]
Another benefit with coconut oil is that the body quickly digests it and metabolizes the MCT fats. It’s VERY easy on the digestive system. The MCTs in coconut oil are known to assist in weight loss. Coconut oil is a satiating fat leaving us feeling more full. [*]
Olive Oil and Keto Takeaways
Olive oil is a fantastic option for keto! It’s high levels of monounsaturated fats and polyphenols make for an incredibly healthy fat. It has many benefits ranging from heart health and pain management to cancer prevention. There is a lot to support this food in the scientific literature.
The research of Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek demonstrates that our bodies prefer fats like olive oil when we are fat adapted. That preference is monounsaturated and saturated fats. The body quickly converts them into energy when it needs them.
When you’re picking out your olive oil, choose a dark bottled extra virgin olive oil. The research shows that real olive oil breaks down over time with exposure to heat and light.
When it comes to comparing coconut oil and olive oil, EACH oil has their strengths in different areas. But, I don’t believe this is a matter of choosing one of the other. They BOTH can be included in a healthy ketogenic diet. Do what makes sense for you!
What does your relationship with olive oil and keto look like?
How do you use it? Are there any other oil alternatives that you prefer? Share it in the comments below!
Offline Sources The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living Chapter 2