As Americans have tried to cut fat, their intake of olive oil has steadily increased. Scientists believe the oil can help lower cholesterol and play an important part of a healthy diet.
High LDL cholesterol levels contribute to plaque build-up in arteries and can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Generally, a low-fat diet and exercise have been considered two ways to help lower cholesterol levels and improve good health. However, the fats in olive oil are considered better than other fats.
The Mayo Clinic calls olive oil one of the top five foods that can “lower your numbers.” Doctors point to the antioxidants in olive oil, which can reduce bad cholesterol without compromising good cholesterol. Mayo recommends choosing extra virgin oil because it is more natural.
The Olive Oil Times describes extra virgin olive oil as essentially fruit juice, since it is squeezed from olives. The main difference between “extra virgin” and “virgin” is that extra virgin generally has better flavor. Taste is based on the grower and region of the world in which the olives are grown.
However, the United States Department of Agriculture actually allows more of the cholesterol lowering oleic acids in virgin olive oil than extra virgin. While the lower acidity improves flavor and is considered to be of overall better quality, health experts point to acid content as one of the main reasons olive oil has cholesterol lowering properties.
It may be better to choose the virgin varieties, which still have good taste, but are allowed to have up to 2 percent oleic acid content. Virgin olive oils have still been through a natural process and are not refined.
A good rule of thumb may be to use virgin olive oils for cooking and extra virgin olive oils for dipping and salad dressings.
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