Monthly Archives: February 2014

Two Tablespoons: FDA’s Take on the Benefits of Olive Oil

Nearly a decade ago, the Food and Drug Administration allowed a qualified health claim on food labels of olive oil in response to a petition filed by the North American Olive Oil Association. The stamp of approval in the form of the qualified health claim, and increased awareness of the benefits may explain the higher intake of olive oil by Americans in recent years.

The claim states that daily consumption of about 2 tablespoons, or 23 grams of olive oil, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The decision to allow the claim was made after the FDA found sufficient evidence to conclude that monounsaturated fatty acids, naturally present in olive oil, may prevent heart disease.
SEE MORE: Health Benefits of Olive Oil
The scientific literature reviewed by the FDA showed that replacing saturated fatty acids with monounsaturated fatty acids reduced levels of serum total cholesterol and serum LDL cholesterol, both of which are known to increase the risk of coronary heart disease. However, only some of the reviewed studies reported an increase in HDL-cholesterol which, as the “good” cholesterol, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease at high levels.

From their findings, the FDA determined that a minimum daily intake of 17.5 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil is needed to exert a positive effect on reduction of coronary heart disease.

With monounsaturated content of olive oil as high as 74 percent, only 23 grams of olive oil are needed to supply the required 17.5 grams of monounsaturated fatty acids. This amounts to 1.7 tablespoons of olive oil, which is conveyed as about 2 tablespoons every day in the qualified health claim.

For olive oil to help reduce the risk of heart disease, the claim further states that olive oil should replace an equivalent amount of saturated fat in the diet. Similarly, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010) states that “Consuming less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids and replacing them with monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids is associated with low blood cholesterol levels, and therefore a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”

In addition to monounsaturated fatty acids, the presence of antioxidants and vitamin E in olive oil are often associated as factors that may prevent heart disease, reports the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

In the last cautionary statement that follows the initial health claim, it is clear that the FDA does not want you to go overboard and increase your intake of total fat. After all, olive oil is still a fat and provides the same amount of calories per gram as other dietary fats. Based on the USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 26), the recommended 23 grams of olive oil would contribute about 203 calories. To prevent an increase in calories from fat, olive oil should be used to replace, and not add to the other fats present in your diet.

More Americans recognize the health benefits of olive oil and have made it part of their diet. This is evident as olive oil consumption in the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase of 5 percent every year between 2008 and 2012, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Achieve Nutrient Adequacy by Following the Mediterranean Diet

Dependence on dietary supplements increases when diets fail to supply sufficient amounts of nutrients. Findings of a recent study published in the journal Nutrients reveals that inadequate nutrient intake stems from foods consumed in the Western diet. The authors stated that as more people replace their traditional diets with the low nutrient-dense Western diet, their needs for essential nutrients are not met. It is, therefore, not surprising that dietary supplements worth $96 billion were bought globally in 2012, with numbers estimated to increase to $104 billion in 2013, according to The Nutrition Business Journal.

In contrast, the authors of the article, “The Mediterranean Diet and Nutritional Adequacy: A Review,” reported that adequate nutrient needs can be achieved by adhering to the Mediterranean diet. The results, published earlier this year, are based on literature reviewed from MEDLINE (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA) spanning a 13 year period starting from 2000 through 2013.

The Mediterranean diet, rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy and legumes is very different from the Western diet, which mainly consists of fast foods, soft drinks, red meat, processed meat, precooked foods, potatoes, eggs, sauces, sweets, and whole dairy. The study reports that iodine, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, selenium, vitamin C and folic acid were some of the essential nutrients lacking in subjects who regularly consumed the Western diet.

On the other hand, subjects who strictly followed the Mediterranean diet were more likely to meet their needs for all nutrients from their diet. This included sufficient intake of folic acid; vitamins A, B1, C and E; as well as minerals such as zinc, iodine, magnesium, iron and selenium. Consumption of the Mediterranean diet also increased intake of monounsaturated fatty acids but decreased energy intake from total and saturated fats. Although the amount of carbohydrates consumed by these subjects was low, their intake of fiber was high.

The trend of meeting nutrient needs was also observed in children between the ages of 6 to 14 who followed the Mediterranean diet. This included daily consumption of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, cheese or yogurt; cereal or grain-based and milk or other dairy product for breakfast.

In addition, adherence to the Mediterranean diet included intake of pasta or rice at least five times a week; fish and nuts 2 to 3 times a week and legumes once a week. The study reports that as compliance to the Mediterranean diet increased so did their intake of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and all vitamins except vitamin E.

The authors also found that the positive effects of the Mediterranean diet are reflected in increased plasma concentration of beta-carotene, folates, vitamin C, alpha-tocopherol and HDL cholesterol or good cholesterol.

Although the authors acknowledge that there were limitations to the study, it is clear that the Mediterranean diet enhances nutritional adequacy and may decrease dependence on dietary supplements. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet provides better dietary fat in the form of olive oil; has anti-inflammatory properties; and increases intake of antioxidants that are beneficial to health.

By SUKHSATEJ BATRA on February 20, 2014