Is Olive Oil Really BETTER Than Vegetable Oil?

Olive oil is the major distinguishing feature of the famous Mediterranean diet, one of the few world diets recognized scientifically to ward off disease, prevent weight gain, and promote longevity. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, has a bad rep and is considered to be a classic feature of the infamous western diet, with most fast-food chains using vegetable oil to fry food.
But is olive oil really that much better for you than regular old vegetable oil? As it turns out, the answer to this question is more nuanced than you’d expect. We compare and break down the major nutrition and health benefits of both olive and vegetable oil below.

How Do the Two Oils Compare in Terms of Use? 

Olive vs. Vegetable Oil a bottle of vegetable oil
The main difference between vegetable oil and olive oil is that the latter is made of a single source - olives - whereas the former is a blend of a variety of plants, such as corn, canola, sunflower seeds, soy, and safflower. Compared to olives, the plants used in vegetable oil are much cheaper to cultivate and grow, hence a stark difference in the price.
Another key difference between these two types of oil is the production and processing. While olive oil is traditionally cold-pressed and not highly processed to retain more of its flavor and nutrients, vegetable oil is completely refined, which makes it virtually tasteless but also less nutritious. This is because more processing equals less flavor and fewer nutrients.
But we'll get to the nutrition comparison later, for now, let's focus on the flavor and how it corresponds to the use of certain oils. The smoke points of the two oils are highly comparable: 390°F (200°C) for olive oil and 390°F (200°C) for vegetable oil. The smoke point helps you identify what an oil is suitable for - dipping, flavoring, frying, or baking (for more information, see our article How to Choose the Best Cooking Oils for Every Task).
Olive vs. Vegetable Oil olive oil in a little bowl

In spite of having very comparable smoke points, however, olive and vegetable oil are used in very different ways. Olive oil shines as a flavoring and dipping oil. On the other hand, since vegetable oil is very neutral in taste, it's perfect for frying and baking, while olive oil will not be suitable for these preparations because it will impart an often undesirable olive oil taste to baked goods and other foods.
Thus, both of these two oils definitely have their own place in a kitchen, as they're used in different ways. That said, should you favor one over the other when it comes to nutrition and health? Nutrition experts say there is a stark difference between the two.

Which Oil Is Healthier: Olive Oil or Vegetable Oil?

To put things simply, the nutritional value of an oil boils down to its degree of refinement. Because vegetable oil is made of a variety of different plants, it requires more refinement and chemical processing to get a neutral flavor and relatively high smoke point, enough to be able to use it in frying. However, there is a serious drawback to refinement, too, as most of the nutrients naturally present in the corn, canola, and sunflower seeds are being lost during the processing.
Olive vs. Vegetable Oil pouring oil into a frying pan
Olive oil, on the other hand, is less refined on average. Extra virgin olive oil specifically, which is the least processed form of olive oil, for example, has a rich olive taste and often even a vibrant green color, too. But taste isn't the only thing preserved in extra virgin olive oil, as it's rich in beneficial plant nutrients, such as Vitamin E and K, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory carotenoids and polyphenols, too. With these nutrients come a variety of health benefits, such as cancer prevention and improved cardiovascular health, to name a few.
Do keep in mind, however, that extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil has the highest levels of these beneficial nutrients, whereas virgin olive oil or regular olive oil will generally lose those nutrients due to a higher degree of refinement. Unfortunately, producing refined olive oil is generally cheaper than cold-pressed extra virgin varieties, so the latter may also come with a higher price tag.
Another important element to consider is the quality of the fatty acids in olive oil and vegetable oil. While both oils contain the safe type of fats - unsaturated fatty acids - olive oil has a much higher concentration of monounsaturated fats, which have added anti-inflammatory properties. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, mainly consists of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, which could be harmful to the heart if consumed in excess.
In conclusion, both vegetable oil and olive oil have their uses in the kitchen. That said, extra virgin olive oil contains more vitamins, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, so it's best to use this kind of olive oil whenever possible. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, consists mostly of empty calories and isn't associated with any known health benefits, but it can safely be used in moderation in baking, for example.
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