Olive oil – virgin or extra virgin or not?
The Mediterranean diet is purported to be responsible for a longer life, lower risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer – and the single most contributory factor in the Mediterranean diet is thought to be extra virgin olive oil.
Olive oil is of course a fat, but as we know, not all fats are bad. Olive oil is predominantly high in healthy monounsaturated fat, vitamins E and K and the important omega 6 and 3 fatty acids, making it a friend rather than a foe.
But extra virgin olive oil (unprocessed) compared with regular or virgin olive oil has, until now, been considered the best for our health. This is because unprocessed olive oil contains many more beneficial chemicals such as polyphenols. These have an antioxidant effect helping to fight inflammation – the cause of many diseases.
However, few studies have provided a direct comparison of the benefits of extra virgin olive oil with regular olive oil. And as we know extra virgin olive oil can be very expensive!
Recently researchers at the Universities of Glasgow, Lisbon and Germany decided to do just that. In this very sophisticated study they looked at actual markers of heart health (as opposed to other studies looking at risk factors such as cholesterol). Sixty-nine healthy participants, previously unfamiliar with olive oil in their diet, were split into two groups and asked to take 20ml of olive oil – regular (low in polyphenols) or extra virgin (high in polyphenols) every day over a six-week period.
Interestingly both high and low groups saw a big improvement in proteins associated with heart disease. Drs Emilie Combet and Bill Mullen concluded that regardless of the polyphenolic content of the oil, there was a positive effect on heart health. Any olive oil, regular, virgin or extra virgin, seems to be beneficial. They surmised that the fatty acids are probably the main contributors to heart health and not the polyphenol content.
Now I´m not a nutritionist but I do love good science and this study is pretty compelling. Olive oil is good for our hearts, but it doesn’t have to be virgin olive oil. Personally I like the taste of virgin olive oil more than regular olive oil and now I choose to put that on my toast or bread rather than butter or margarine. Two tablespoons a day is thought to give maximum benefits and who can argue with that when it is so delicious.
Colegio de Fisioterapeutas (6968)
M.Sc Post. Grad. Dip. Physiotherapy. PGC Teaching and Learning
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