Olive oil has become the latest food to win the FDA's approval, receiving a cautious nod that will allow the product to display a qualified health claim for its potential to reduce coronary heart disease (CHD).
The FDA said in a statement that "there is limited but not conclusive evidence that suggests that consumers may reduce their risk of CHD if they consume monounsaturated fat from olive oil and olive oil-containing foods in place of foods high in saturated fat".
The FDA, however, further qualified this by noting that any benefits could only be attained if people did not increase the total number of calories consumed daily.
The FDA was at pains to point out that the research concerning the health benefits of olive oil is not conclusive and said that the amount of olive oil consumed should be limited to about two teaspoons or 23 grams a day.
Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet and thought to be responsible for the longevity of southern European populations and their low rates of heart disease.
A study in the Journal of American Medical Association in September 2004 sang the health-giving praises of a Mediterranean-style diet, showing that the regime may improve healthy longevity.
Researchers from Wageningen University, the Netherlands concluded that individuals aged 70 to 90 years old who adhered to a Mediterranean-type diet and led a fairly healthy life had a more than 50 percent lower death rate than those who did not.
The HALE (Healthy Ageing: a Longitudinal study in Europe) was conducted between 1988 and 2000 and included 1,507 healthy men and 832 women, in 11 European countries. The researchers found that adhering to a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 23 percent lower risk of all-cause death; moderate alcohol use, a 22 per cent lower risk; physical activity, a 37 percent lower risk; and nonsmoking, a 35 percent lower risk.
Similar results were observed for death from coronary heart disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Having all four low risk factors lowered the all-cause death rate by 65 percent.
This is the third qualified health claim the FDA has announced for conventional food since the process for establishing such claims took effect last year.
The last claim was that for omega-3 fatty acids in September 2004 when the FDA declared that foods containing eiscosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids could now carry a qualified health claim stating that they may help to reduce the risk of CHD.
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