Question: Is Extra-Light Olive Oil a Low Fat or Low Calorie Cooking Oil?
A reader writes, "I bought some extra-light olive oil thinking it would be low fat or lower in calories than regular olive oil, but the label says it still has 14 grams of fat and 120 calories per tablespoon—all of them fat calories. How can this be?"
Answer: We know that olive oil is one of the heart-healthy fats because of its high monounsaturated fat content, making it a good choice when we need to use some fat in our cooking or salad dressings.
But all olive oil has 14 grams of fat per tablespoon, even if the label describes it as light or extra light.
Light or extra light, in this case, refers to the color and flavor of the olive oil, not its calorie content. If you look closely at the label on the bottle, it should say this, though it didn't in the past. Extra-light olive oil is pale and mild, as it's been ultra-refined. As extra-light olive oil has a higher smoke point* than regular or extra-virgin olive oil, it's best suited for use in baking or any kind of cooking where a neutral-tasting oil is needed.
For salad dressings or other dishes where the flavor and fruitiness of olive oil are important, opt for extra-virgin olive oil, which has the purest taste. The oil is pretty much fresh from the fruit. It may be filtered but no heat is used to refine the oil. And because of its strong flavor, a little olive oil really does go a long way.
*The smoke point refers to the temperature at which cooking oils start to break down.