Is the new Starbucks olive oil coffee drink healthy?

Starbucks made headlines this week for its latest creation: coffee infused with a spoonful of olive oil.

The coffee giant unveiled the new "Oleato" beverage line in their Italy stores Wednesday, with the drink options set to debut at select U.S. locations this spring. In the announcement, Starbucks interim CEO Howard Schultz described the new drinks, which use cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, as "the next revolution in coffee." He said they were inspired by "a family tradition that has existed in regions of Italy for generations — enjoying a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil each day as an uplifting ritual."

But is the oil just an unsual addition to entice consumers? Or are there actual benefits to having a spoonful of EVOO with your morning cup of joe?

Starbucks Oleato drinks are made with exra virgin olive oil. / Credit: Starbucks
Starbucks Oleato drinks are made with exra virgin olive oil. / Credit: Starbucks

Olive oil does have health benefits. It's been shown to lower blood pressure and contains "anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties known to reduce the disease process, including heart disease," according to the American Heart Association.

Olive oil also has the "highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, which lowers 'bad' LDL cholesterol and increases 'good' HDL" among all edible plant oils," the AHA explains.

And coffee, when taken black, has also been linked to a longer lifespan and other health benefits.

That's why Dr. Steven Gundry, a physician, medical researcher and author who advocates for daily olive oil consumption, considers this new line a win-win.

"It's just a brilliant idea combining two of the best polyphenol-containing compounds on earth together," he says, explaining polyphenol is a plant compound that has health-boosting benefits for your heart, brain and longevity.

And for those who don't love their coffee black, but want to skip the creamer, Gundry thinks oil could help give a "creamy texture to the coffee."

But even if both have benefits, that doesn't mean they need to be taken together.

"I love coffee and I love olive oil but this combo does not sound like a tasty one," says Laura Ligos, a registered dietitian nutritionist and specialist in sports dietetics.

She says consumers may also want to consider that oil is a calorie-dense ingredient, containing about 120 calories per tablespoon. And those with sensitive stomachs, especially those whose bowels are strongly impacted by coffee consumption, may also want to be cautious in trying the combo, Ligos suggests.

For Gundry, the only concern he foresees is if interest in the coffee combo drives demand to a point where the olive oil quality decreases.

"I'm a little worried about ramping up production, but we'll see what happens in the future," he says.

If this coffee combo sounds vaguely familiar, you may be remembering the butter coffee trend from previous years, where people (especially those on a high-fat, ketogenic diet) added a knob or two of unsalted butter to their black coffee.

But it's not exactly the same, the experts explain.

"It's similar in that it's a high amount of fat to be adding to a beverage, but it's different because of the type of fat — before it was saturated fat, where as olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat," Ligos explains. "It also appears (Starbucks is) adding it to oat milk drinks. And oat milk has more carbs and less protein than regular milk, so I'm not sure the angle they are going for here."

Gundry advises against taking olive oil in coffee with additions like oat milk, explaining the best benefits are when it's black.

The bottom line? Olive oil can have health benefits, as can black coffee, but that doesn't mean you need to consume them together.

Ligos views the "Oleato" line more as a trend than a steadfast superfood combo.

"I'm always open to people trying new things," she says, "(but) you certainly don't need olive oil in your coffee, and in fact you might prefer sticking with your normal coffee order and using olive oil in your cooking instead."

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