Is olive oil good for you?

That olive oil is a good fat is common knowledge. Many regard it a health food, and use it even to moisturize the skin, and some have claimed it could help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Nutritionists at the Pritikin Longevity Centre however, have a different view of olive, arguing instead that it is calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, and bad for you. Researchers at the center contend that comparatively, olive oil has, as do other refined oils, over 4000 calories, and 13%-14% of which is saturated fat, and which although less than the 38% and 63% in lard and butter, respectively, for examples, does not mean it is not harmful.

The researchers argued that although we notice a drop in cholesterol levels using olive oil instead of butter, for example, it is because of the lesser saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, in it than in butter, rather it lowering our cholesterol. Therefore, we should focus on using more mono-unsaturated fatty acids rather than olive oil, which latter still has substantial amounts of saturated fat. A little olive oil in our salad could make us eat more salad, which is a good thing, but we should avoid using a lot of olive oil in our salad dressing.

To be sure, there have been claims and counter-claims on the health benefits of olive oil, and some studies have shown increased elasticity of the arteries of persons who used olive oil rich in polyphenol antioxidants as opposed to those whose diet had little. Could this partly explain the reduced prevalence of heart attacks and stroke in countries where people consume olive oil regularly? In 2004, the FDA allowed olive oil manufacturers to use product labels mentioning the ‘limited and not conclusive scientific evidence’ of the benefits of consuming about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil per day on reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, because of the monounsaturated fat in it.

No doubt, we should continue to aim for lower cholesterol levels in our diet and avoid foods that increase its levels such as trans-fat, margarine, fried and packaged foods, which could have high partially hydrogenated oils levels. Indeed, the FDA approved label mentioned above notes that we achieve the ‘possible benefit’ of olive oil ensuring it replaces an equivalent amount of saturated fat rather than increase our total daily calorie intake. Other cholesterol-rich foods for examples, shrimps and egg yolks, and animal products in general, should be minimal on if not off our menu lists. Vegetarian diets, fiber-containing diets, whole grains, beans, and fruits and vegetables, all help lower cholesterol levels, and reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes, and heart diseases.