Olive Oil Health Benefits with Scientist Dr. Mary Flynn

Olive Oil Health Benefits with Scientist Dr. Mary Flynn

In This Article

Olive Oil: The Hearts Best Friend

cooking with olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil is arguably the healthiest oil in the world. You would be hard pressed to find a study linking it to any health risks.

In fact, one study aimed to see if olive oil was safe for folks already having cardiovascular concerns. This study followed over 7,000 people ages 55 to 80 with high cardiovascular risk for almost five years. The results were astonishing!

Those who had the highest consumption of olive oil saw a 48% reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality. For each 10 gram increase in extra virgin olive oil consumption per day, cardiovascular disease and mortality risk decreased by 10% and 7%.1

Adding olive oil to your diet is great, but if you replace butter, margarine, and mayonnaise with extra virgin olive oil, you will see even more health benefits.

Olive Oil vs Coconut Oil

Even coconut oil, of which I am a fan, has issues. Unlike olive oil, studies on coconut oil show increased cardiovascular risk. (At the same time, many studies cite cardiovascular benefits.)4,5

Coconut oil and olive oil are grown in two very distinct climates: coconuts are tropical, whereas olives are Mediterranean. The indigenous diet, which supports the health benefits of coconut oil, is much different than the diet traditionally eaten in the Mediterranean. Foods that grew together may have been meant to be eaten together.

Wheat and olive oil, for example, are staples in the Mediterranean diet because both originated in Mediterranean countries. Wheat does not grow well in the tropics and was, therefore, not consumed with coconut oil.3 Traditional cultures figured out how to balance their macro and micronutrients from their traditional, time-tested wisdom and seasonally available foods. Many vegans, for example, do well with coconut oil because they have little saturated fat in their diet and have some of the lowest rates of heart disease of any diet.6

We recommend "Coconut Oil: Medicine or Menace?": https://lifespa.com/coconut-oil-medicine-menace/

Introducing Olive Oil Researcher Dr. Mary Flynn

Mary Flynn PhD RD LDN | Olive Oil Scientist | July Podcast: Olive Oil Health Benefits | John Douillard's LifeSpa

At Brown University, Mary Flynn, PhD has been researching the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil for decades. Her studies suggest consuming a minimum of two Tbs of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) each day can improve your health. While her research was mostly done on just two Tbs per day, in my podcast with her, Dr. Flynn suggests that the benefits are even greater when we consume three Tbs of EVOO each day.

Dr. Flynn says, “Published studies show that no other food comes close to extra virgin olive oil for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.”

In a meta-analysis of seven studies from 1998 to 2015, Flynn reports that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), with a total phenol content of at least 161 mg/kg at a minimum intake of two Tbs (25 ml) a day, could significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in as little as three weeks. EVOO containing at least 300 mg/kg total phenols may also decrease diastolic blood pressure.

The study concluded that high-polyphenol content EVOO lowered blood pressure significantly more than polyunsaturated fats, refined olive oil, or canola oil. In each of these oils, polyphenols are removed during the refining process.

This study further reports that phenol-rich EVOO was more effective in lowering blood pressure than committing to a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. The DASh diet recommends consumption of about nine serving of fruits and vegetables daily.10

Benefits of Two Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil Per Day8-11

  • May lower blood sugar
  • May lower inflammation
  • May lower oxidation
  • Can improve blood lipids (LDL, HDL)
  • May help support weight loss

EVOO Helps Weight Loss

In another study published by Flynn, she followed 44 overweight women for six months and concluded that an olive oil-enriched diet brought about greater weight loss than a lower-fat diet. Moreover, these women overwhelmingly chose to continue the olive oil-enriched diet for six months during follow-up.11

Polyphenol Content Matters

Polyphenols are found not just in olives, but in many fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, roots, barks, leaves, herbs, whole grain products, and dark chocolate, as well as tea, coffee, and red wine.

Polyphenols are abundant in nature, with over 8,000 polyphenols identified and a couple of hundred in edible plants. However, polyphenols in olives are unique. Researchers like Flynn believe strongly that olive polyphenols are the key to the health benefits of olive oil.

Arguably, bioactive plant polyphenols are the primary cause of health benefits associated with olive oil. In olive oil, the content of polyphenols ranges from 50 to 1,000 mg/kg, depending on the soil, how they are grown (organic or conventional), ripeness at harvest, and extraction techniques, along with storage and packaging processes.7

Again, based on the range of polyphenols from one olive oil to another, it is critical to get the highest quality olive oil possible to ensure the greatest health benefits. Read on to see what olive oil won the LifeSpa olive oil test taste!

Bioactive Plant Polyphenol Benefits7

  1. Can reduce overall sickness/morbidity
  2. May slow development of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease
  3. Strong antioxidant against damaging reactive oxygen species
  4. Anti-inflammatory
  5. Anti-allergenic
  6. Anti-atherogenic and anti-thrombotic
  7. Anti-mutagenic
  8. Can boost immunity

The Olive Oil Diet

Professor Flynn suggests adding two to three Tbs EVOO each day, especially in combination with other healthy fats like nuts and seeds. She also recommends eating vegetables at each meal, with a particular Mediterranean emphasis on those with deep color and those from the cruciferous family. She also suggests consuming whole grains with minimal animal protein.

New Research on Cooking with Olive Oil

There has been much confusion around the safety of cooking with olive oil, as many studies find the smoke point of olive oil to be quite low. New research suggests that high-grade extra virgin olive oil is very stable at high heat and has a smoke point approaching 400°F.12

Past research may have suggested that olive oil should not be used for cooking, which is true when you use off-the-shelf grocery store-bought olive oil. This oil is likely not 100% pure extra virgin olive oil, as it says on the label. Research on these will result in an inaccurate conclusion with regards to whether olive oil can be used for cooking or not!

Most smoke point tests have been done on low-quality, adulterated olive oils purchased off a supermarket shelf. Studies on verified high-quality extra virgin olive oil have demonstrated low acidity, more stability, higher smoke point, higher resistance to oxidation, and longer shelf life.

We recommend "Is Your Olive Oil Real?": https://lifespa.com/is-your-olive-oil-real/

The stable properties of high-quality EVOO are primarily due to the polyphenols. Refining the oil or taking lower-quality oil from later stages of pressing significantly reduces polyphenol content. In one study, certain store-bought olive oils had as much as five times the polyphenol content as others.13

In a 2015 study on cooking with extra virgin olive oil, researchers found that frying with olive oil and water not only preserved, but boosted antioxidant content of both the oil and the vegetables that were cooked.13,14

Olive Oil Taste Test

A few years ago at LifeSpa, my team and I organized an olive oil taste test using the best oils we could source from around the world, including France, Italy, California, and other countries. While there were amazing oils from Europe, the organic oils from California undoubtedly tasted the best. The winner of our taste test was from a small, family-owned farm in California named Fandango. Turns out we were not the only ones to taste test their olive oil: in the last nine years, they have won 95 olive oil competition medals. Check our all their awards here.

After investigating why their oil was so good, we found that just getting an organic certification in California is a major accomplishment, due to stringent toxin, heavy metal, and pesticide residue requirements laid out in the state’s Proposition 65.

At Fandango, on harvest day, olives are hand-picked when perfectly ripe, put into a certified organic mobile mill, then pressed immediately into oil. This process preserves the highest content of polyphenols and allows them to tout the lowest levels of oxidation on the market. Thank God for small farmers who care about small batch quality, not quantity!

We recommend "Dr. John's Favorite Olive Oil": https://lifespa.com/dr-johns-favorite-olive-oil/

Over the years, the folks at Fandango have become good friends of ours, but LifeSpa has no business relationship with them other than that we love, trust, and highly recommend their award-winning olive oil.

How to Guarantee the Best Olive Oil

cooking with olive oil organic

When sourcing olive oil, look for a harvest or press date. It is ideal to ingest the current year’s harvest.

If it is a California olive oil, make sure it is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and certified extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).

If the oil is from Italy, look for a DOP seal (Protected Designation of Origin), which means the olives are from where they say they are.

Want to learn more from Dr. Mary Flynn? Check out our podcast!
olive oil health benefits mary flynn

Thank you for visiting LifeSpa.com, where we publish cutting-edge health information combining Ayurvedic wisdom and modern science. If you are enjoying our free content, please visit our Ayurvedic Shop on your way out and share your favorite articles and videos with your friends and family.

Dr. John


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030221/
  2. https://www.onlinejacc.org/content/75/15/1729
  3. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-africa/africa-can-easily-grow-wheat-to-ease-hunger-price-shocks-study-idUSBRE89800520121009
  4. https://lifespa.com/coconut-oil-medicine-menace/
  5. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.043052
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6301673/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877547/
  8. https://1.oliveoiltimes.com/library/ucd-blood-pressure.pdfhttps://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-news/evoo-effective-in-lowering-high-blood-pressure/50151
  9. https://www.oliveoiltimes.com/olive-oil-health-news/olive-oil-improves-blood-lipid-profile-reduces-heart-disease/47026
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20545561
  11. http://acnem.org/members/journals/ACNEM_Journal_June_2015.pdf
  12. http://olivecenter.ucdavis.edu/research/reports
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26041214

11 thoughts on “Olive Oil Health Benefits with Scientist Dr. Mary Flynn”

  1. What a wonderful article. So happy to see you supporting the important work that Dr. Flynn is doing.
    One of the problems with our current nutritional paradox is that most American consumers still believe that fat makes you fat and equate any fat source with weight gain. As you pointed, this claim has been completely disproved.
    I also appreciate you educating people about the role of polyphenols – not all olive oils are created equal. Per most scientific literature, the healthiest ones are the polyphenol rich olive oils.

  2. I’ve always been a fan of EVO. Unfortunately my Ayurvedic doctor says no go for my kapha constitution. Has it been highlighted in these articles that EVO is too heavy an oil for some constitutions?

    • Hi Tamara,

      I am not sure I agree with the notion that EVOO is bad for kapha types as it is well studied to reduce obesity, lower LDL, total cholesterol and triglycerides which are all kapha in nature. Hard to make such broad statements.

      Be Well,
      Dr. John

  3. I am curious about two things. First, I don’t remember hearing any talk about ghee, with Dr Flynn. I’m surprised, since you support the use of ghee. Should we be using EVOO instead of ghee? I use it already, but also use ghee. I ask, because like coconut oil, ghee is high in saturated fat. Second, I heard no mention of the California Olive Ranch Co, per say, only California standards. Although no label of certification, other than Non-GMO on theirs, wondered if their olive oil is indeed healthy and clean enough to consume? They claim authenticity and freshness otherwise, but not sure if I can trust this after listening to the podcast. Thanks!!

    • Hi Gretchen,

      I did not discuss ghee as this was not Dr. Flynn’s area of expertise.

      I have heard many mixed reviews about the CA Olive Ranch and I do not recommend them. In the article I make suggestions of how to source the best olive oil.

      I love ghee for cooking and cleansing and coconut oil mostly for cooking.

      Hope that helps,
      Dr. John

  4. Thank you for this wonderful article of which I am a strong proponent. I am a bit biased with the olive oil from my family heirloom trees near Kalamata, Greece ( a small village named Arfara). We call it “liquid gold”!
    Dina Kartsonas

  5. If you live on the pacific coast of Mexico (puerto Vallarta) is olive oil still considered best? Or should one consume coconut oil since the weather is different than the Mediterranean?

  6. Great article! Some questions:
    The Fandango brand on their website shows a packaging date of Dec 2019 and a shelf life of 18 months.
    Dr. Stephen Gundry sells some Olive Oil (OO) which he claims has 30x the amount of polyphenols than other brands. His Production date is April 2020 and the label says the EVOO is good for 3 years. His brand I ordered and the OO tastes bitter. The label says Gundry OO “has 30x more polyphenols hydroxytyrosol per serving compared to “regular” EVOO”.

    Some questions:
    Why the bitter taste of Gundry EVOO? Any ideas? (Research on the internet indicated that the bitterness is due to prompt harvesting.)
    What is the polyphenol content of Fandango? Is there a third-party site that compares oils by polyphenol content?
    What brand does the researcher Dr. Mary recommend, or used in her studies?
    Which is “better”: Gundry or Fandango Olive Oil ?

    • Hi Greg,

      Dr Mary suggested the California Olive Ranch but I am not sure if she knew they sold out to a big mass producer. I don’t recommend them because of it.

      I’m not sure about Gundry. I have written an article contrary to the info in his book. I am also wary of such claims of 30x polyphenol content over other brands.

      Bitter is a sign of good olive oil and this will vary based on the olive and harvest.

      I suggest you contact Fandango to get specific info on their product.

      Be well,
      Dr. John


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