Heart Health Program & Olive Oil | Natural Health Blog

Olive Oil under Attack

Cooking Oils

In a recent Reader’s Digest article, Dr. Dean Ornish expressed a number of concerns about olive oil – questioning its reputation as a healthy fat.

Is Olive Oil Healthy?

Who would have guessed? Olive oil is now under attack.

In an article in Reader’s Digest titled, The Great Olive Oil Misconception, Dean Ornish takes on this staple of the Mediterranean Diet. In the article, Dr. Ornish expressed a number of concerns about olive oil. I also went online and found articles and interviews where he expressed several more. Let’s take a look as his concerns and see how they stack up.

Myths About Olive Oil From Dr. Ornish

  • Despite claims to the contrary, olive oil doesn’t lower cholesterol. It merely raises it less than saturated fats.
  • It doesn’t lower the risk of heart attacks. Eating fruits and vegetables and eating oils high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as canola oil do that.
    • Even the FDA credits olive oil with reducing the risk of coronary disease.
  • Studies indicate it reduces blood flow by 31%
    • Dr. Ornish is referring to a March 2000 study by Dr. Robert Vogel, which concluded that olive oil may be nearly as dangerous as saturated fat in clogging arteries. However:
      • The study required people to eat 4 tablespoons of olive oil at a meal. You’re talking about 500 calories just in oil per meal. You should be having ½ to 1 tablespoon per meal. Let’s be reasonable here.
      • The study involved only 10 people, and it identified an isolated biological effect that has not been connected to heart disease.
      • Not to mention the fact that more recent studies contradict the results.
        • In particular, one study found that: Olive extract could improve blood flow, boost cardio health.
  • Olive oil has 13 times the amount of harmful omega-6s as beneficial omega-3s.
    • This is really bogus. Olive oil is 77% monosaturated fat. That means you’re dividing up 23% among all the other fats. So yes, it may contain a bad ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, but it’s at such low levels it has virtually no impact on the actual ratios in your body. I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Ornish, but on this one: for shame!
  • Healthier sources of polyphenols are recommended such as grapes, without all the fat.
    • This too is meaningless. That’s like saying there’s no difference between EGCG as found in green tea and resveratrol as found in grape skin extract because they’re both polyphenols. Nonsense!! Each source of polyphenols is different in the particular polyphenols it contains. For the most part, they are not interchangeable.
  • Olive oil has 126 calories per tablespoon
    • As do all oils.

In addition, olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids as well as a host of phytochemicals. The antioxidants in olive oil may protect against peroxidation, reduce plasma levels of LDL cholesterol and increase HDL cholesterol levels.  It has been shown in studies to normalize blood pressure in hypertensive patients and inhibit the inflammatory response, decreasing the expression of pro-inflammatory proteins associated with atherosclerosis. And olive polyphenols, including hydroxytyrosol, appear to be effective free radical scavengers that can inhibit platelet aggregation. It’s also worth mentioning that olive oil has beneficial effects independent from those on lipids, such as improving insulin and blood glucose levels.

Perhaps what this is really all about is the results of a 2006 study that supported the cardiovascular superiority of traditional Mediterranean diets versus extreme very-low-fat diets like the one developed by Dr. Dean Ornish. In fact, the study found that the group that received free virgin olive oil enjoyed greater decreases in blood glucose levels, greater improvements in the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, and significant reductions in their blood levels of C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation linked to heart disease).