It's About Time The Olive Oil Myth Was Laid To Rest

Olive oil has been hailed as the healthy oil for far too long and it’s about time science triumphed over the almighty media on this relentless myth.  Most people have been taught at some point or read somewhere that olive oil is a healthy oil to be consumed with fervor.  It’s a key component to the Mediterranean diet, which itself has been touted as a heart healthy diet. However, the evidence for these claims just do not stack up and for many people striving to lose weight, it is sabotage city.  

This is the reality: just like all other oils, olive oil is 100 percent fat, lacks a significant nutrient load, contains a whopping 120 calories per tablespoon, that’s fattening.

Olive oil. Flickr: trix0r

Some have proposed that extra virgin olive oil is heart healthy because it is rich in polyphenols.  Polyphenols have antioxidant characteristics and studies show that they reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.   However, all plant foods are rich in polyphenols and most deliver much more polyphenols (and far fewer calories) than olive oil.   If you rely on olive oil for your polyphenols, good luck getting enough.  You’d need to consume 5 tablespoons of olive oil, the equivalent of 600 calories, just to get 150 mg of polyphenols, the same amount in 55 calories of lettuce, not to mention hundreds of other nutrients and documented benefit in greens.  Study after study links the consumption of leafy greens with healthier, longer, disease-free lives.  Probably because they are loaded with all sorts of nutritious compounds, among them vitamins, minerals, fiber, polyphenols, and various carotenoids.  In comparison, olive oil, has little or none of these.1 In fact, phytosterols and vitamin E are a few of the slim pickings of nutrients found in olive oil that I decided to do a bit more digging on.  Compared to the amount of phytosterols and vitamin E in other foods, olive oil really doesn’t contain that much, as represented in the following chart:

Nutrients per 120 calories Olive Oil Broccoli, raw Spinach, raw Sunflower seeds, raw
Phytosterols 30 mg 174 mg 46 mg 110 mg
Vitamin E 1.94 mg 2.7 mg 10.2 mg 6.8 mg

It is also a myth that olive oil lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  Study design is key. Studies linking olive oil consumption to lower cholesterol levels are flawed.  Olive oil appears to lower bad cholesterol in most studies because the participants replace animal fats like butter, cheese, and fatty meats with olive oil.  Animal fats are composed of saturated fats, which are the most dangerous types of fat.  Consumption of saturated fats raises cholesterol levels and elevates the risk of heart disease and cancer.  Replacing animal fat with cardboard would lower anyone’s LDL cholesterol levels.  The addition of olive oil is not what lowers bad cholesterol levels; it is the removal of artery-clogging saturated fat.  This is a shame for the average consumer who is led to believe that olive oil is heart healthy and it doesn’t help that we see olive oil bottles labeled as “Heart Healthy” in grocery stores.  Yet, even the Food and Drug Administration has stated:

 “Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”

We truly are victims of the media. In conclusion, get your healthy fats from whole food sources and not low nutrient oils- olive oil included.  The Mediterranean diet might be healthy when compared to other diets, but this is because of the intake of fruits, vegetables, and nuts in that diet compared to the dangerous SAD diet, rather than any supposed benefits of olive oil.  And seriously who needs oil when nuts, seeds and avocadoes taste so good!

     

 

Reference:

1. Covas MI; Nyyssonen K; et al.The effect of polyphenols in olive oil on heart disease risk factors: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145(5):333-341.

 

The Mediterranean Diet is Not as Healthy as You Think

The Mediterranean diet describes a cuisine common to countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is characterized by regular consumption of fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, and nuts. Red meat is rarely consumed, chicken and fish appear in small amounts, some yogurt and cheese is used, and red wine is very common. One of the most defining elements is the use of pasta and olive oil. Where most of the fat in the American diet comes from cheese, butter, meat, and dangerous trans fats, the principal fat source there is olive oil.

Compared to the American population, those eating this way in the Mediterranean region exhibit a lower risk of heart disease and common cancers. Heart attack rates are 25 percent lower, and the rate of obesity is about half of America’s. The climate and fertile soil allow for many high nutrient plants to grow, which makes most of the dishes rich in phytochemicals. That, in turn, accounts for the diet’s protective effects. Nuts, particularly walnuts, are commonly used in the diet and they are a good source of omega-3 fats and other heart protective nutrients. The use of fish instead of meat also decreases saturated fat consumption and increases these beneficial fats. For these reasons, it is understandable why the Mediterranean diet is considered healthier than the SAD, but it is not without drawbacks. Studying its beneficial health outcomes—along with those of diets in other areas of the world such as Japan, rural China, Fiji, and Tibet— allows us to use the Mediterranean diet’s culinary principals to make a diet deliciously varied and even more disease protective, while avoiding its problems.

One of the diet’s main weak points is the use of pasta. The pasta intake should not be mimicked. There is very little difference between white bread and white pasta, and refined, white flour consumption has been linked to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and various cancers. Whole grains are immensely superior to refined white flour, but they still should not be consumed as a major source of calories. The benefit of the Mediterranean style of eating is the large consumption of fruits and vegetables, not pasta.

The heavy use of olive oil is also problematic because all oil has 120 calories per tablespoon, and those calories can add up fast. It is better to use olive oil than butter or margarine, but olive oil can easily sabotage your success. Ounce for ounce, it is one of the most fattening, calorie-dense foods on the planet. Vegetables prepared in olive oil soak up more oil than you would think, which transforms them into high-calorie dishes. Heavy oil use will add fat to our waistlines, heightening the risk of disease and making losing weight more difficult.

To continue to consume foods prepared in oil and maintain a healthful, slender figure, dieters must carefully count calories from oil and eat small portions of it. Remember, oil does not contain the nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals that were in the original seed or fruit. Compared to the calories it supplies, it contains few nutrients except a little Vitamin E and a negligible amount of phytochemicals. Olive oil is not a health food. The Mediterranean people of past years ate lots of olive oil, but they also worked hard in the fields, walking about nine miles a day, often guiding a heavy plow. Today, people in the Mediterranean countries are overweight, just like us. They still eat lots of olive oil, but their consumption of fruits, vegetables, and beans is down. Meat and cheese consumption has risen, and the physical activity level has plummeted. That way of living is not worth mimicking. The fast food and food technology industries have permeated most of the modern world. These people now follow a diet much like our own, and the rates of heart disease and obesity are skyrocketing in these countries.

This is an excerpt from Dr. Fuhrman’s book Eat For Health.

 

Mediterranean Diet, Vegetables May Extend Life...

Appearing in the British Medical Journal, a new study claims the Mediterranean diet—i.e. eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoiding meat, alcohol and dairy products—increases lifespan. Researchers examined the eating habits of 23,000 Greeks over 10 years, finding the presence of a diet rich in vegetables yielded health benefits, but when the heavy consumption of vegetables was removed, these benefits were negated; HealthDay News reports.

Sadly, many Mediterranean countries are loosing ground. In 2008, childhood obesity in Portugal, Spain and Italy jumped 30%. According to Dr. Fuhrman, all those healthy Mediterranean foods are giving way to western foods. That’s why the Mediterranean is getting fat, just like us!

And last September, a report revealed countries like Spain, Italy and Greece are buckling under the weight of fast food and the move away from their traditional dietary roots.

Image credit: ...-Wink-...

Guess What? Fast Food Leads to Bad Food Habits.

A new study in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests kids and adults eating fast food, like hamburgers, fries, pizza and soda, develop poor eating habits and obesity. Researchers claim children ages 2 to 12 who regularly eat fast food have a higher risk of becoming overweight. Mothers consuming fast food were more likely to have kids who eat fast food and drink more soda, but despite these kids being overweight, they were found to be happier than kids who ate less fast food. Leading scientists recommend healthy eating campaigns also focus on reduction of happiness; via Booster Shots.

Okay, even when I was a fat load, I avoided fast food like the plague. But not everyone does. In the Mediterranean, which traditionally had a healthy diet, fast food is now invading countries like Greece and muscling out good food. This does not bode well. New research found people living in neighborhoods with a lot of fast food restaurants, ate more fast food and gained more weight.

Fast food is gross and apparently indestructible too. Burgers kept in cool, dry basement will last forever and don’t decompose, seriously! But they’re great for painting pictures, like the Mona Lisa in grease.

Flickr: LWY

Eating Nuts Cuts Metabolic Syndrome

A new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine claims a Mediterranean diet plus daily servings of nuts helps older heart patients manage metabolic syndrome. Of the two groups assigned a Mediterranean diet, the individuals eating nuts lowered their prevalence of metabolic syndrome by 13.7%, but the people told to consume olive oil only reduced their risk by 6.7%; HealthDay News investigates.

According to Dr. Fuhrman nuts, and seeds, are a natural part of the human diet. And nuts protect against heart disease and help lower cholesterol. But the Mediterranean diet is outdated. Back in the 1950s people eating the Mediterranean diet consumed a lot of saturated fat, primarily olive oil, but they also did manual labor. But now, with the help fast food, many people in the Mediterranean are fat just like us!