Is Virgin Olive Oil Really Virgin?

We all look for ways to shave calories when cooking at home, but does the switch from olive oil to extra virgin olive oil really help? Recent studies indicate a cloudy answer.

According to a recent report from University of California, Davis, many of the olive oils in the US are not the premium extra virgin olive oils that they claim to be.

The study analyzed popular brands and found 69% of imported oils and 10% of domestic oils sampled did not meet the international standards that define the pure, cold-pressed, olive oils that deserve the extra virgin title.

“Consumers, retailers and regulators should really start asking questions,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of UC Davis’ Olive Oil Center, which conducted the study in partnership with the Australian Oils Research Laboratory, in South Wales.

Funding for the study came in part from California olive oil producers and the California Olive Oil Council, a trade group that works to promote locally produced oils.

The “extra virgin” designation indicates that the oil was extracted without the use of heat or chemicals, is pure, satisfies a taste test and falls within chemical parameters established by the IOC.

He also questioned the objectivity of a study financed in part by California olive oil producers.

“The research was done by academics, but with funds supplied by the industry,” Bauer said. “When you look at results that are so different from ours, it does raise some questions.”

The study found that olive oil by Whole Foods, the country’s largest organic food retailer, failed to meet two of the nine chemical parameters established for extra virgin olive oil by the IOC. The company said it had not reviewed the study, but that it stands behind their 365 Everyday Value 100 percent Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil.

Yet there are also benefits to eating a diet that includes olive oils. Study author Dr. Jun Dai, an assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Indiana University in Bloomington, used data from the Emory Twins Heart Study and found men eating a Mediterranean-style diet had greater heart rate variability — variation in the time interval between heartbeats during everyday life — than those eating a Western-type diet high in fat and red meat.

Dai and colleagues compared dietary data from a questionnaire with cardiac data results from 276 identical and fraternal male twins and scored each participant on how closely his food intake correlated with the Mediterranean diet — the higher the score, the greater Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in fish, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, cereals and moderate alcohol consumption.

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