Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Nuts

Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Nuts
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The short-term effect of replacing refined olive oil with extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, or almonds on cardiovascular risk factors.

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Recently, researchers in Spain wondered what would happen if they replaced much of the refined olive oil in people’s diets with extra virgin olive oil, or walnuts, or almonds. What were the effects on people’s cardiovascular risk factors after a month on each of the different diets? Same people, but three different months’ diets; different only by the main source of fat. And, this is what they found.

The people in the nut groups did significantly better, dropping their total cholesterol about seven percent, knocking about twenty points off their bad cholesterol. However, the extra virgin olive oil did do somewhat better than the refined olive oil—presumably because it retains a few more phytosterols. But nuts and seeds remain the best source of fat.

Whole food sources of fats, like everything else, tend to be preferable. One can think of extra virgin olive oil like fruit juice—it’s got nutrients, but the calories you get are relatively empty, compared to the whole fruit. Olives are, after all, fruits. You fresh squeeze them, and you get olive juice. Less nutrition than the whole fruit.

But then, it gets even worse. They throw away what’s called the olive wastewater, which contains all of the water-soluble nutrients in olives. So, the oil just has a small fraction of the nutrition of the whole fruit.

So, why not just eat the olives? Well, the problem is that they’re soaked in brine— such that a dozen olives could take up half your sodium intake for the day. So, I suggest eating them only in moderation.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bj.schoenmakers, Victor M. Vicente, and Selvas via Wikimedia; factsanddetails.comcommonfloor.comhippychick, and UNEP; and mucksterMor, and Gabrielle Cantini via flickr 

Recently, researchers in Spain wondered what would happen if they replaced much of the refined olive oil in people’s diets with extra virgin olive oil, or walnuts, or almonds. What were the effects on people’s cardiovascular risk factors after a month on each of the different diets? Same people, but three different months’ diets; different only by the main source of fat. And, this is what they found.

The people in the nut groups did significantly better, dropping their total cholesterol about seven percent, knocking about twenty points off their bad cholesterol. However, the extra virgin olive oil did do somewhat better than the refined olive oil—presumably because it retains a few more phytosterols. But nuts and seeds remain the best source of fat.

Whole food sources of fats, like everything else, tend to be preferable. One can think of extra virgin olive oil like fruit juice—it’s got nutrients, but the calories you get are relatively empty, compared to the whole fruit. Olives are, after all, fruits. You fresh squeeze them, and you get olive juice. Less nutrition than the whole fruit.

But then, it gets even worse. They throw away what’s called the olive wastewater, which contains all of the water-soluble nutrients in olives. So, the oil just has a small fraction of the nutrition of the whole fruit.

So, why not just eat the olives? Well, the problem is that they’re soaked in brine— such that a dozen olives could take up half your sodium intake for the day. So, I suggest eating them only in moderation.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Bj.schoenmakers, Victor M. Vicente, and Selvas via Wikimedia; factsanddetails.comcommonfloor.comhippychick, and UNEP; and mucksterMor, and Gabrielle Cantini via flickr 

Doctor's Note

Adding nuts and seeds to one’s salad boosts the bioavailability of the fat-soluble carotenoid phytonutrients in the greens. See my video Forego Fat-Free Dressings?Oil would work, but whole food sources of fat (and other nutrients!) are superior. For more on nuts and cholesterol, see Nuts and Bolts of Cholesterol Lowering. And for more on the adverse effects of too much sodium, see Dietary Guidelines: With a Grain of Big Salt and Salt OK if Blood Pressure is OK?

For more context, check out my associated blog post, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

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