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Harvard Men's Health Watch

Is extra-virgin olive oil extra healthy?

Q. Is extra-virgin olive oil more heart-healthy than regular olive oil? A. Recent studies have confirmed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which cuts the risk of heart disease. The diet's nutritional benefits probably come from a variety of sources, but the diet's generous use of olive oil has also drawn a lot of attention. Olive oil, regardless of type, is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, containing about 75% by volume. When substituted for saturated fat, monounsaturated fats help lower your "bad" LDL cholesterol. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olive oil add benefits beyond cholesterol lowering. Extra-virgin olive oil is pressed mechanically from ripe olives and processed without high heat or chemical solvents. This protects chemicals in the oil called phenols. Small laboratory-based experiments suggest that phenols may have beneficial effects in the bloodstream. In contrast, highly processed olive oils lose these beneficial chemicals. Despite the laboratory-based tests, there has been no definitive study comparing the ability of refined versus extra-virgin olive oil to prevent heart disease. Extra-virgin olive oil may have some unique properties, but it is not the sole healthy ingredient in a Mediterranean diet. Think of it as just one aspect of the Mediterranean style of eating, which includes fruits, vegetables, and nuts; whole grains; limited amounts of animal foods like red meat; and, for those who imbibe, moderate amounts of red wine. — William Kormos, M.D. Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch

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