Heart Health Claim Approved for Olive Oil
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently decided to allow a limited health claim to appear on labels of foods that contain olive oil, according to a report issued on November 1, 2004.
The FDA has announced that packaging labels on olive oil and foods made with olive oil can now state that eating them might reduce the risk of heart disease. This is the third qualified health claim made available since the process for approving them was established in 2003. Under the provisions outlined in the FDA’s “Interim Procedures for Qualified Health Claims in the Labeling of Conventional Human Food and Human Dietary Supplements,” qualified health claims are granted when the scientific evidence supporting a health benefit is considered to be limited but not conclusive.
Olive oil is an important component of the Mediterranean diet. A wealth of evidence suggests that the Mediterranean diet is linked to low risk of heart disease. In people with heart disease, switching to a Mediterranean-type diet, low in saturated fat and rich in olive oil, vegetables, and fiber, was shown to reduce the risk of death from cardiac disease and all other causes by 70%. Studies have found that olive oil may have many beneficial effects, including lowering blood pressure, lowering total- and LDL-cholesterol levels, reducing plaque formation in the arteries, preventing dangerous abnormal heart rhythms, reducing inflammatory activity in the body, improving blood sugar stability, increasing longevity, and reducing risk of some cancers. Some studies have suggested that olive oil is most likely to improve health when it is used to replace saturated fats and when its use does not increase the total calories eaten per day.
Olive oil is known for its high levels of an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid known as oleic acid. Olive oil has about 75% oleic acid and this is believed be a major reason for its heart-disease-preventing properties. Some of the other components in olive oil—including squalene (a fatty acid), vitamin E, and antioxidant bioflavonoids—have also demonstrated beneficial effects on heart-disease risk. At least 30 different antioxidants have been identified in olive oil. Despite the overwhelming positive evidence, the FDA finds it inconclusive and has therefore qualified the health claim attached to foods with olive oil: “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. One serving of this product [Name of food] contains [x] grams of olive oil.” It is hoped that the printing of a qualified health claim on labels will help people to make good choices about what fats to include in their diets and help to dispel the misguided belief that all fats are bad for health.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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