Heart Health Claim Approved for Olive Oil
By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (December 2, 2004)—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.

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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.