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Linda Larrowe Bergersen

Linda Larrowe Bergersen

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New Report Questions Health Benefits of Olive Oil

Posted: 02/ 1/11 12:27 PM ET

Most of us who watch the food channels are aware of cooking hosts touting EVOO -- extra virgin olive oil, that is. Everywhere we turn it is recommended that it be added to almost everything we eat in order to reap the health benefits of this numero uno oil. But I hate to burst the bubble: new reports are emerging that indicate it's not so great after all.

In the most remarkable recent discovery about olive oil, Dr. Robert Vogel at the University of Maryland reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that olive oil was found to reduce blood flow in arteries by 31 percent after consumption. This is significant in relation to blood clots and heart attacks, as well as angina. It's suggested that people be aware of any relationship between consuming olive oil and an angina attack. Also, it was found that olive oil "causes significant damage" to the endothelial cells that line the inside of arteries. This damage causes inflammation which leads to atherosclerosis.

Dr. Dean Ornish reported these findings in an article written for Reader's Digest, and now recommends canola oil as the best alternative in cooking, since it contains much higher levels of omega 3, whereas olive oil has almost none. Studies in the past have suggested that olive oil lowered cholesterol when it replaced oils higher in saturated fat. Dr. Ornish points out that it's not that olive oil is better for you, it's that olive oil is better than the higher saturated fat oils. That's because it didn't raise cholesterol as much.

The Pritikin Longevity Center agrees that olive oil "is not heart-healthy;" many other plant foods are more heart-healthy than olive oil. Dr. Vogel also reveals in his book, "The Pritikin Edge," that olive oil inhibits the release of nitric oxide into the body, but canola oil does not. Nitric oxide is the natural nitroglycerin of the body, expanding blood vessels and decreasing inflammation. The lack of nitric oxide also is correlated with a lack of penile erection.

On another note, laboratory testing done at the University of California at Davis in conjunction with the Australian sensory panel of 20 extra virgin olive oils sold at California retail stores revealed some surprising results. Sixty-nine percent of the imported olive oils and 10 percent of the California olive oils did not pass the standards of California, Australia and Germany for "extra virgin." Some were rancid, oxidized or of poor quality in general. One that passed with flying colors was Costco's Kirkland Organic brand. Some that didn't include Mazola, Pompeian and Bertolli. So even though we seek the best, there is no guarantee.

I have since begun to shy away from using olive oil as I did before. I used to add it to soups and sauces; I no longer do. I used to cook eggs with a tablespoon of olive oil; I no longer do. I used to use it in my salad dressing; I now use canola oil.

New information is constantly popping up about the foods we eat, and it's difficult to think that a food we think is healthful one day is junk the next. On the other hand, some foods, like eggs, that we once thought were bad for us, may have some health benefits. We can conclude that nothing is set in stone.

We need only to think back on what humans ate long before we began to process food, can food and before the creation of additives and preservatives. After all, olive oil is a processed food so to speak; just as fruit juice has been extracted from the whole fruit, but often contains added ingredients that make it unhealthy. We need to think about that. And so tomorrow is another day to evaluate yet another so-called wholesome food. What will be next?