All Olive Oil Grades Have Benefits

Opinion & Commentary

By Massimo Occhinegro, on October 9, 2012

The following is a reader-submitted opinion. Do you have an opinion you’d like to share? See our submission form and guidelines here.

There is a strange “fashion” in olive oil followers which is affected by “hypocrite purists.” These purists wrongly “believe” that the oil coming by olives is only one grade: extra virgin.

For a deep ignorance or a peculiar interest, the “purists” are wrong.

For hundreds of years, people living in the production countries, including Italy, used lampante which nowadays is not considered an edible oil, in the preparation of their food.

The E.U. first, and the International Olive Oil Council later, created 4 olive oil grades: Extra Virgin, Virgin, Olive Oil and Olive Pomace Oil which is obtained by the extraction of oil from the olive residues including the olive seeds.

This last grade is obtained using exactly the same extraction method used for any seed oil, through solvents after the refinement process, mixed with extra virgin olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet, including the general “oil coming from olives,” — i.e. all the grades — became famous in the world thanks to the American scientist Ancel Keys.

USA is still the first Country leader in olive oil import, outside European Union.

All the international scientific studies conducted for establishing that olive oil is the best fat, referred to all olive oil grade, called as the general category “olive oil.”

In 2011 EFSA (the European Food Safety Agency) decided that some claims could be added to labels — among them was one which referred to extra virgin olive oil for the presence of some polyphenols.

But in November 1st, 2004 the US Food and Drug Administration announced as follows:

FDA Allows Qualified Health Claim to Decrease Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today allows a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

There is limited but not conclusive evidence that suggests that consumers may reduce their risk of CHD if they consume monounsaturated fat from olive oil and olive oil-containing foods in place of foods high in saturated fat, while at the same time not increasing the total number of calories consumed daily.

“With this claim, consumers can make more informed decisions about maintaining healthy dietary practices,” said Dr. Lester M. Crawford, Acting FDA Commissioner. “Since CHD is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S., it is a public health priority to make sure that consumers have accurate and useful information on reducing their risk.”

A qualified health claim on a conventional food must be supported by credible scientific evidence. Based on a systematic evaluation of the available scientific data, as outlined in FDA’s “Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements,” FDA is announcing the availability of this claim on food labels and the labeling of olive oil and certain foods that contain olive oil.

Although this research is not conclusive, the FDA intends to exercise its enforcement discretion with respect to the following qualified health claim:

“Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day. One serving of this product [Name of food] contains [x] grams of olive oil.”

The FDA admitted claim mentioned “monounsaturated fat from olive oil” (MUFA). MUFA are contained in all olive oil categories including:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Olive Oil (often called Pure)
  • Olive Pomace Oil


They did not mention “Extra Virgin Olive Oil” only because all the studies were done on olive oil in general.

At the moment only in the European Union, and very recently, it was introduced that only the few extra virgin olive oils (the more bitter and fruity usually) could add the claim about the presence of few polyphenols compound which should be measured.

It means that not all the extra virgin olive oil could have a high level of polyphenols.

As a conclusion all olive oils are healthy product if compared to all the seed oils available and consumed in the world simply because they have the highest level of MUFA,  which reduce the Coronary Hearth Disease. Consequently the “purists” are wrong. It might be for a deep ignorance or a perhaps a peculiar interest.

Unfortunately olive oil consumption in the world is only close to 4 percent of the total fats consumed in the world and all the countries who want to reduce their health problems should replace the seed oil with olive oil.

This opinion article was only lightly edited.

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This article was last updated December 30, 2014 - 12:38 PM (GMT-5)

  • OliveChirper

    While it’s true that all olive oil grades have benefits, extra-virgin olive oil — and especially high-phenolic oils with low oxidation products — has greater benefits than refined oils, and will not have residues of solvents.

    While listed as a ‘reader submission’ and attributed to an otherwise-unidentified “Massimo Occhinegro” of Taranto, Italy, this article is also tagged DCPL, and echoes talking points used by the DCPL group. Indeed, many of the OO Times ‘reader submission’ articles also seem to have an ax to grind: the article “USITC Stalking the Olive Groves” from the otherwise-unidentified “Virginia Brown Keyder” of Istanbul is advocating in favor of subsidies to Middle Eastern olive producers and against possible trade restrictions. The article “USITC Investigation of the Olive Oil Market: Thoughts from Legal Experts” by Peter Koenig was not (as one might think) an article summarizing interviews with several legal experts, but the opinion of Koenig himself; Koenig’s background is at least given (at the end), and one might rightly or wrongly speculate in a possible interest in lobbying or legal representation for the industry on these issues, but the headline and the bio could have been clearer.

    May I suggest that articles not written by OO Times staffers come with brief bios and disclosure statements?

    • Olive Oil Times

      Thanks for your suggestions. Opinion articles are clearly identified as such and author bios accompany opinions when the author includes one. 

      Editors do confirm who opinion articles are written by and we included the DCPL tag here since we were aware Mr. Occhinegro worked for Nicola Pantaleo, the Italian partner of Dalmia Continental, and the opinion related to the ongoing debate on olive oil quality in India where DCPL plays a major role. Readers, however, are free to submit opinion articles as individuals and professional bios are not always presented.

      • OliveChirper

         Thanks for that clarification. So, do you not think it would be better to have a policy where all authors would include short bios, including disclosure of any actual or perceivable conflicts of interest as regard to of the article’s subject matter?

  • Massimo Occhinegro

    Dear Olive Chirper. Thank you for your comment. Anyway I write using my first and last name so that I’m fair. I don’t think that your first name is Olive. 
    I would like to remind you that I’m a Pantaleo advisor  such as advisor of other companies. I don’t have any share of Pantaleo or any share of DPCL and often I’m invited  for having speech in conferences in Italy and abroad for sharing my marketing experienc in the sector. 
    For example in the past I was also invited by U.N.D.P. (U.N.O.)) for leading a course of 5 days in Cyprus for explaining to farmers how to produce olive oil but the list is very long.

    Nothing I Know about you. 

    Anyway you cannot say that my article is not correct in fact regarding extra virgin olive oil I say that it is the best because it contains, in addition to MUFA,  polyphenols which should be  measured anyway.

    Regarding solvents you completely wrong. 

    As I wrote, solvents are used for the extraction of oil from different seeds which is called “seed oil” common used worldwide. (sunflower, peanut, corn..)

    Also Olive Pomace olive oil (used “worldwide” not only in India) is obtained by the extraction of the oil from “sansa”

    This product has the same composition of the other olive oil, including an high percentage of MUFA.

    If you say that olive oils have “residue of solvents” you completely wrong it means that all seed oils have “residue solvents” only because the oil is obtained using the same extraction process.

    Please don’t create confusion and read more about this.
    Thank you anyway for having given me the opportunity to respond you.

    • oliveoilguy

      Solvent extracted oils including pomace olive oils DO contain solvent residues. Once you mix liquids of the same polarity like hexane (solvent) and edible oil it is very difficult to completely remove one completely from the other. I can send you some refereed scientific journal articles on the matter if you like.

      • Massimo Occhinegro

        Dear oliveoilguy, thank-you for giving me the opportunity to respond to your posted comment.

        The purpose of my article is to explain to people that all olive oil have healthy benefits but there is graded list: Extra Virgin Olive Oil; Olive Oil and Olive Pomace oil.

        This last is a better substitute of other vegetable and animal fats.

        All the above have one common benefit which comes out from the higher level of MUFA, they have,  compared to other seed oils.

        The point is : most of common seed oils  (sunflower, peanut, soya , corn , etc) are obtained using the same extraction method using a solvent called 

        If we accept this we could say that all the common seed oils used by the world families could contain traces of hexane solvents.

        It’s true that the industrial extraction  process cannot avoid totally the hexane residues ; for this reason there is , for example , an European law which fix a limit , in case a residue exists, of  1 mg for kg.

        The same limit (1 mg per Kg) is valid also for cocoa butter , so that chocolate.

        The limit of another solvent (20 mg/kg) has been fixed  for coffee and tea for removing caffeine, for example..and we could continue for other food examples without ending.

        So that all seed oils could have some solvent residues, but if any,  always are on respect of the law.

        According to your reasoning which I accept in terms of eventual possibility and always under the limits decided by the international rules, all food should be subjected to the same condition.

        Let us think about agricultural chemicals residues on all agricultural foods (vegetables for example).

        If we should select all the food available in the world disposing the ones containing whatever residue, it might be that all  consumers should eat only “organic”. 

        But even for organic we should discuss.

        So that we could decide of  not eating  for living.

        As conclusion what we have to avoid, honestly, is the food alerts, when they do not exist. 

        Remains the validity of my article which suggest that all olive oil grades have heathy benefits as demonstrated by high living expectations in the countries where olive oil is used especially in combination with the Mediterranean Diet which became a Unesco intangible Cultural  Heritage.

        Replacing seed oil or animal fats with Olive Oil in general, could help us in gaining an healthier life especially where there are bad eating  habits.

        • Richard Gawel

          1mg/kg hexane residue.
          You just go with that. I won’t. Don’t care what other food products have it.
          I know hexane. I work with it.

    • OliveChirper

      First: you’re right: I choose to remain anonymous. I feel entitled not to make any disclosures, because I have no disclosures to make: I have no economic involvement with the olive oil industry. By contrast, you seem to have a lot that transparency would require you to disclose.You *now*, when pressed, say that you’re often invited to share marketing experience in the olive oil sector, and to explain to farmers how to produce olive oil; how were we to know any of this? You say that you “would like to remind [me] that [you’re] a Pantaleo advisor such as advisor of other companies”, but you’re not “reminding” me: you didn’t disclose it in the first place, and are only doing so now when pressed.

      The thrust of your opinion piece is slanted in a way that it *seems* as if you represent Dalmia, and a person who was not as familiar as I am with the science at stake or with the recent moves by Dalmia to promote refined oil would not pick up on that. And even now, you seem to be trying to obscure the conflict of interest built into the view you’ve promoted. You say,”I don’t have any share of Pantaleo or any share of DPCL,” which *seems* to be disingenuous, since Mr. Cord informs us that you “worked for Nicola Pantaleo, the Italian partner of Dalmia Continental, and the opinion related to the ongoing debate on olive oil quality in India where DCPL plays a major role.” Is Mr. Cord mistaken, or misrepresenting your background?

      As to the substance of your reply: you say, “Anyway you cannot say that my article is not correct in fact regarding extra virgin olive oil I say that it is the best because it contains, in addition to MUFA, polyphenols which should be measured anyway.” But at no point in your article did you say EVOO was best. You *mentioned* polyphenols, only to seemingly dismiss them by contrasting the view of the EC with that of FDA.

      Your article implies that olive oil’s health benefits are primarily because of its fatty acid composition, and in your reply above you still repeat that “This product [pomace oil] has the same composition of the other olive oil, including an high percentage of MUFA.” But its fatty acid composition is not superior to that of many seed oils. Its composition is almost the same is true of high oleic sunflower or safflower oil, and canola oil has, in addition to MUFA, a generous portion of omega-3 fatty acids: if we consider only fatty acids, there is an argument that any of these refined seed oils, or even soybean oil is equal to or superior to olive oil.

      You wrote, “All the international scientific studies conducted for establishing that
      olive oil is the best fat, referred to all olive oil grade, called as the general category “olive oil.”” This is simply false. There are multiple studies on the health benefits of virgin and extra virgin olive oil, often showing its superiority to “all olive oil” or to refined olive oil. Just recently, for instance, it was reported that “The inverse association between olive oil intake (per 10 g/d per 8368 kJ (2000 kcal)) and [coronary heart disease] was more pronounced in never smokers (11 % reduced CHD risk (P = 0·048)), in never/low alcohol drinkers (25 % reduced CHD risk (P < 0·001)) and in virgin olive oil consumers (14 % reduced CHD risk (P = 0·072))." (British Journal of Nutrition, FirstView 2012 Sep 25:1-8). "Anti-inflammatory effect of virgin olive oil in stable coronary disease patients: a randomized, crossover, controlled trial." (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 62(4):570-4). The huge PREDIMED study in Spain is conducted using virgin olive oil, not "all olive oil." And the EUROLIVE trial headed by Dr. Maria Covas demonstrated the greater health benefits of high-polyphenol extra-virgin olive oil over either refined oil, or a mixture of refined and extra-virgin.

      It is the minor components of extra-virgin olive oil that make it superior to seed oil, not the fatty acids; refined olive oil is very much like refined seed oil, with a similar fatty acid profile to many of them and no minor components. And it's not just polyphenols that refined oils lack: it's the naturally-occurring alpha-tocopherol (instead of gamma-tocopherol or synthetic, racemic alpha-tocopherol), the carotenoids, and the squalene. It may even be some of the phytosterols, which are often stripped away along with these other components during refining.

      You say, "If you say that olive oils have "residue of solvents" you completely wrong it means that all seed oils have "residue solvents" only because the oil is obtained using the same extraction process." But that's exactly my point. Pomace oil is extracted, like seed oils, using solvents, and as a result, it contains residual solvents, just as they do. EVOO is extracted using mechanical means only, and thus does not contain solvents. How is that "completely wrong"?

      Please don't create confusion and read more about this.

      • massimo occhinegro

        OliveOil Chirper you are very strange. What’s your name , it might be a cartoon protagonist. That I found in the web. You are an expert twitterman , more than me. I should learn from you. I’m still a student. You can type (and you know well) my name in the web and you can discover most of information about me. I’m fair you not. It’s a fact. Regarding your long post, let me say , yes cold extraction seed oil have a level of MUFA like olive oil but are very expensive (like Extra Virgin olive Oil) and not so easy to find in the market. Regarding Canola oil, yes it contains both but firstly do you know how Canola was born? And are you sure that it is well balanced? Regarding extra Virgin Olive oils are you sure that you can keep always the polyphenols (if there are severals) . Are you able to measure them in the shelf? Are you sure that all EVOO coming from the world respect the pesticides residues?
        AnywayI put EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL in the top of the grade classification. And the reason why there is a very big competition among the extra virgin olive oil in the world, which could include also fake products in few cases,is because persons like you, who say that have not any interest in olive oil (where is the proof?) don’t differentiate the olive oils in the different available grade. In my article I did not sponsor any company, but if you look for other articles it might be that some “free advertising” is made. I asked you a friendiship on fb. Still waiting.

  • Vn Dalmia

    Might I add (with full disclosure of my name) that the EU has a law requiring Benzopyrene (the PAH byproduct of solvent extraction) to be no more than 2 parts per billion or 0.000000002% (if I’m not wrong) and that since most olive pomace oil is imported from Europe, it is in full compliance. In fact, our olive pomace oil is substantially less than even this percentage as per regular test reports received from Italy. May I also add that India has no law or standard for Benzopyrene and so there is no way to know what the percentage of Benzopyrene is in local solvent extracted seed oils. They could be substantially more. In this respect too, I would propose European olive pomace oil as a safer alternative to local seed oils.

    In response to olivechirper’s suggestion of short bios, might I propose that people like him who comment be also required to include a byline about their occupations and preferably also disclose their full names?

    • Richard Gawel

      What is this full name stuff. Hey, get with the 21st century. The olive oil times allows commenters to use their twitter account to login and comment. I and others use that. If you want to know about me,just log in to twitter along with the other 10% of the western world and search for my twitter handle. You can then find out anything you need to know. Incidentally, @OliveChirper is the most rigorous scientific commenter on olive oil matters that I know.