Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs Butter Experiment – Design

As I often say, I believe looking at LDL cholesterol levels alone is like reading the last chapter in a long book… you need to know all the elements in the story before that point to get an idea of how it ended up there.

Certainly I’ve been focused on the energy model and how being “powered by fat” is very relevant to resulting lipid levels. But I’m also aware of many other factors that impact cholesterol levels as well:

  • Fiber
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Genetics

Yet one of the most common suggestions in lowering cholesterol (both total and LDL) is “replace saturated fat with mono and polyunsaturated fat”. This advice appears to have lots of evidence behind it. I’ve both read many studies and heard many stories that back up this advice, although individual results can vary.

In particular, I regularly hear one should “replace butter with extra virgin olive oil” where they can. Given the enormous popularity of both these sources of fat, I decided to set up an experiment to test each in isolation — and it’s going to be a bit ambitious.

Experiment Design

This experiment will be a double crossover for four weeks, meaning I will be alternating between two interventions each twice, resulting in a total of four one-week phases. I will attempt to keep all other variables as equivalent as possible throughout: eating times, exercise times/duration, and sleep schedule.

For the extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) I’ll be using Kirkland and for the butter, Kerrygold. Both will be combined with warm water by emulsion blender and then mixed with a meal replacement shake powder (Ketochow). In addition to the shakes

Schedule Outline

  1. June 30-July 6 – EVOO
  2. July 7-13 – Butter
  3. July 14-July 20 – EVOO
  4. July 21-27 – Butter

Everyday Constants

Water and electrolyte beverages will be consumed ad libitum

Exercise will consist of two to three miles a day of walking with moderate, ad libitum upper body exercise (such as pushups).

Sleep will be ad libitum between 12am and 8am.

Blood tests for mornings of June 30, and July 7, 14, 21, and 28:

  • Apolipoprotein A-1
  • Apolipoprotein B
  • C-Reactive Protein
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC)
  • Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP)
  • Cortisol
  • Fatty Acids, Free (NEFA)
  • Ferritin, Serum
  • Fructosamine
  • GGT
  • Glucagon, Plasma
  • GlycA
  • Hemoglobin A1c
  • IGF-1
  • Insulin and C-Peptide
  • Leptin
  • Lipid Panel
  • Lipoprotein(a)
  • Lp-PLA2 Activity
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)
  • Oxidized Low-density Lipoprotein (OxLDL)
  • Reverse T3
  • Testosterone, Serum
  • Thyroid Panel
  • Uric Acid, Serum
  • Vitamin B12 and Folate
  • Vitamin D, 25-Hydroxy

Endpoints of Interest

There are two categories of interest to me for this experiment: lipid levels and inflammation markers. But more specifically, I’m interested in what will happen with LDL-C/LDL-P/ApoB vs Oxidized LDL (oxLDL).

  • I posit the EVOO interventions will have lower relative total and LDL cholesterol levels
  • I posit the EVOO interventions will have a greater proportion of oxidized LDL relative to total LDL particle count (oxLDL/LDL-P)

Discussion

As mentioned above, there are many factors that can influence cholesterol levels, particularly LDL. There is one effect that is rarely discussed in the literature but is of particular interest to me — how much we see particular types of dietary fat result in higher or lower oxidation per LDL particle.

In other words, are we seeing lower levels of LDL cholesterol because LDL particles are getting oxidized and cleared by scavenger receptors at a higher rate? There are many limitations to the experiment in how well it can provide evidence to this answer, but it might open the door.

Regardless, I suspect we’ll have lots of other data from the many other blood markers I’m capturing that may prove quite useful.

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Andrew James
Andrew James
5 months ago

Wow, at the range of blood tests. I know Nadir likes adiponectin as a marker as well. But as a fellow APOE 3/4 who doesn’t tolerate dairy (histamine intolerance, NOT lactose intolerant), I’d be more interested in a EVOO vs coconut oil challenge. Coconut or MCT oil seems to send my cholesterol through the roof. I peaked out at ~370 TC in February on a strict keto diet, but have dropped it to “only” 253 after switching to EVOO exclusively. I also added small daily quantities of a legume or oatmeal dish, which probably helped. But my TG/HDL ratio also improved to from 1.1. to ~0.5 (tho’ still not quite qualifying for LMHR status). Of course, my cardiologist says he only looks at TC, not ratios. He pushed statins on me as hard as he could, but settled for recommending me for a CT calcium scan in October.

Siobhan Huggins
Admin
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew James

Interesting on the coconut oil, thanks for sharing! Of course if there’s anyone who wants to try other variations of the experiment and share back the results we’d welcome it. For now this is to test against a control (butter) against EVOO – the experiment is already pretty demanding, so adding another arm would be difficult, and swapping butter for coconut oil wouldn’t work well as a control. So, EVOO vs butter it is.
Regarding your results, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the carb additions (legumes, oatmeal) would impact (as per the lipid energy model), although the EVOO may be impacting as well (perhaps Dave’s experiment will provide some insight on this).

Nic
Nic
5 months ago

Hi Dave, look forward to seeing results, especially as my cholesterol levels have increased somewhat on a low carb mostly carnivore diet. Then there is the question as to how much that matters.
Just wondered: is a week long enough to see changes in your cholesterol levels?
Kind regards, Nic

Siobhan Huggins
Admin
5 months ago
Reply to  Nic

In our experience the change in lipids from diet is very rapid (3-5 days depending on what you’re looking at). There are exceptions, of course, for example if you’re coming from a metabolically unhealthy context to a healthy one, losing weight, etc that can cause slower changes over time. But for the sake of this experiment I would expect a rapid change in the space of a week, yes. 🙂

Denise Dgani
Denise Dgani
5 months ago

Can’t wait to hear the results

Denise Dgani
Denise Dgani
5 months ago

Excited for the results

Tim
Tim
5 months ago

As we all know that most olive oil is mixed with cheap vegetable oils. Good information on how to find the real thing: https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/seven-ways-to-tell-the-difference-between-real-and-fake-olive-oil-article

VINCENT
VINCENT
5 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Stick with EVOO from Italy. Especially from a single source in the south or Sicily.

MARCUS
MARCUS
3 months ago
Reply to  VINCENT

The safest EVOO is from Australia or Chile, the others are more difficult to find abroad that are not mixed or low quality.

Siobhan Huggins
Admin
5 months ago
Reply to  Tim

As far as Dave has mentioned, the brand he chose was picked due to it being reliable in this regard. From what he has commented on with regards to the flavor, it sounds like what the article describes. 🙂

Sebastian
Sebastian
5 months ago

Oh boy, I am so excited to see the outcome of this experiment! Like you Dave, I am also an ApoE4/E3 carrier, and I found this out near the end of June 2019 after having a blood test and seeing the high lipids and bad ratios.

Jon Sibilski
Jon Sibilski
5 months ago
Reply to  Sebastian

Just curious on what your ratios are if you care to share. Im 6 mo in to Keto as well and had a recent panel done. TC 342, Trig 42, HDL 91 – I consider this my personal best ratio to date.

Sebastian
Sebastian
4 months ago
Reply to  Jon Sibilski

Sure Jon.

Non-fasting lipid panel (June 27, 2019) after eating too many eggs and butter:
Cholesterol: 553 mg/dL
Triglyceride non-fasting: 437 mg/dL
HDL: 125 mg/dL
LDL direct: 302 mg/dL

Non-fasting lipid panel (Jan 2, 2020). This was from having eaten no eggs or butter, and only meat:
Cholesterol: 259 mg/dL
Triglyceride non-fasting: 279 mg/dL
HDL: 76 mg/dL
LDL calculated, non-fasting: 127 mg/dL

Now this is my most recent lipid panel (May 9, 2020) eating only meat, no eggs, no dairy fat, and no added fats:
Fasting lipid panel:
Cholesterol: 223 mg/dL
Triglyceride: 109 mg/dL
HDL: 79 mg/dL
LDL calculated: 122 mg/dL

phillip kalasz
phillip kalasz
5 months ago

This is very cool. I wish I could use evoo in my coffee…lol

Jacob
Jacob
5 months ago

Sounds exciting. Wish you’d also test suet.

VINCENT
VINCENT
4 months ago
Reply to  Dave

We appreciate your flexible palate, Dave.

Julie
Julie
5 months ago

Looking forward to seeing your results. Good luck!

Gediminas Mikelenas
Gediminas Mikelenas
5 months ago

Have you considered the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio?

Pam myers
Pam myers
5 months ago

Well you need to use a good olive oil not a store bought put together

Stephanie
Stephanie
5 months ago

Would love to see what stearic acid does to lipids, and if there is a difference between animal-based or plant-based, as in suet vs cocoa butter.

Justin
Justin
4 months ago

Interesting research. As an apoe 3/4 I am keen to see the outcome of your study. With Kerrygold (or any butter from grass fed cattle) it is cheaper and more readily available than any exotic and expensive EVOO where you have to research the brand. Keen to see too what it means for those that are primarily on a meat diet (i.e. how to introduce more mono and polyunsaturated fats).

Lex
Lex
4 months ago

Are you weighting yourself? If theory goes right, you’re going to lose weight on butter or gain weight on EVOO . It’d be nice to get a confirmation to that.

Siobhan Huggins
Admin
4 months ago
Reply to  Lex

Usually Dave weighs himself for experiments as (as he saw in his weight gain experiment) it can influence the numbers. So I’d suspect so, yes.

flipflop
flipflop
4 months ago

You are using bottom-of-the-barrel EVOO and top-of-the line butter. Was this intentional?

Siobhan Huggins
Admin
4 months ago
Reply to  flipflop

Apparently kirklands olive oil is supposed to be pretty reliable quality, and actual olive oil instead of cut with other oils which is what he was looking for. Not bottom of the barrel. Both are supposed to be widely available options people are likely to get.

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