`Use Any Olive Oil You Like, "As Long as it's Green and Bitter"

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Use Any Olive Oil You Like, "As Long as it's Green and Bitter"

May. 11, 2011
Julie Butler

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The Euro­pean Food Safety Author­ity (EFSA) last month approved the claim that con­sump­tion of olive oil polyphe­nols con­tributes to the pro­tec­tion of blood lipids from oxida­tive dam­age.”

Here we speak to the leader of the research team whose inves­ti­ga­tion of EVOO’s health ben­e­fits was piv­otal to the approval.

Dr. María-Isabel Covas is head of the Car­dio­vas­cu­lar Risk and Nutri­tion Research Group at the IMIM-Research Insti­tute, Hos­pi­tal del Mar in Barcelona, Spain. She is also head inves­ti­ga­tor of the CIBER of Obe­sity and Nutri­tion (CIBEROBN) a Net­work of Research Groups of Excel­lence in Spain. Last week she won an inau­gural Cata­lan olive oil DOPs prize in recog­ni­tion of her out­stand­ing research.

Dr. Covas explains why lipid oxi­da­tion mat­ters and that the key to ben­e­fit­ing from EVOO is not to take it as a med­i­cine. You must enjoy it.”

Please tell us about the research that led to the EFSA approval.

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Our research started about twelve years ago and focuses on the health ben­e­fits of olive oil, in par­tic­u­lar the effects of its polyphe­nols on the heart. Until 2004, it had been known that olive oil was good for you but there was a con­tro­versy over the in vivo antiox­i­dant power (in humans) of the polyphe­nols.

We started sev­eral stud­ies with Cata­lan olive oil and our hypothe­ses were suc­cess­ful but we needed full proof, because in this area of sci­ence, for a health pro­fes­sional to be able to say, take this, it is good for you,” you need evi­dence from ran­dom­ized and con­trolled stud­ies with humans. You also need to be very accu­rate when you deter­mine the aver­age daily dose nec­es­sary to get suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of polyphe­nols, because the effect will be not a phar­ma­co­log­i­cal one but phys­i­o­log­i­cal.

We there­fore held an ini­tial trial with Cata­lan olive oil involv­ing about 30 healthy indi­vid­u­als here in Cat­alo­nia. We also did another study here with 38 peo­ple with sta­ble coro­nary heart dis­ease. Then, in order to have defin­i­tive clin­i­cal proof, we orga­nized a Euro­pean study, the EUROLIVE Study, encom­pass­ing 200 healthy indi­vid­u­als from five Euro­pean Coun­tries. They con­sumed 25ml/day of three types of olive oil that were sim­i­lar but dif­fer­ent in polyphe­nol con­tent.

What were the results of these stud­ies?

We were able to prove that there was an increase in lev­els of high den­sity lipopro­tein (HDL), the good cho­les­terol, and that this was directly pro­por­tional to the olive oil polyphe­nol con­tent. There was also a proven decrease in lipid oxi­da­tion, one of the main risk fac­tors for car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, and this risk was shown to be inversely related to the polyphe­nol con­tent of the olive oil.

All this work paid off on April 8 when EFSA con­cluded that a cause and effect rela­tion­ship had been estab­lished between the con­sump­tion of olive oil polyphe­nols and pro­tec­tion of low den­sity lipopro­tein (LDL- the bad” cho­les­terol) par­ti­cles from oxida­tive dam­age, and that this was a ben­e­fi­cial phys­i­o­log­i­cal effect. This was mainly based on our study and we were really happy about it.

How much EVOO must we con­sume each day to ben­e­fit from this antiox­i­dant effect?

EFSA says that 5mg of hydrox­y­ty­rosol and its deriv­a­tives (e.g. oleu­ropein com­plex and tyrosol) in olive oil should be con­sumed daily.

That means tak­ing 25ml/day of a vir­gin olive oil that con­tains 300mg/kg of polyphe­nols, or 30ml/day of a vir­gin olive oil con­tain­ing 200mg/kg of polyphe­nols. (Vir­gin olive oils have an aver­age con­cen­tra­tion of around 250mg/kg of phe­no­lic com­pounds.)

These amounts, if pro­vided by mod­er­ate amounts of olive oil, can eas­ily be con­sumed in the con­text of a bal­anced diet. How­ever, the con­cen­tra­tions in some olive oils may be too low to pro­vide a suf­fi­cient amount of polyphe­nols while still main­tain­ing a bal­anced diet.

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