So, you’ve heard about all the benefits of extra-virgin olive oil, and you’ve incorporated it into your healthy diet. However, you might not be getting what you paid for — in fact, the oil you’re using might not be what it claims at all. Olive oil is deemed “good for you,” because it contains healthy fat: monounsaturated fat. Extra-virgin olive oil is deemed the best quality, as it is the least processed (from the first pressing of the olives) and therefore it contains more of the good stuff.
This Mediterranean staple has been found to protect against heart disease — it lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raises HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It might also reduce the risk of some forms of cancer (e.g. colon cancer and breast cancer), as it contains antioxidants and prevents the formation of gallstones.
In fact, the FDA has put a tentative stamp of approval on the monounsaturated fat from olive oil and its role in preventing coronary heart disease (CHD). It has stated that there’s limited (but not conclusive) evidence that consumers could reduce their risk of CHD by eating approximately two tablespoons of olive oil a day.
This is all well and good, but do the olive oil products available in the U.S. live up to these claims? You might be surprised with the answer.
U.S. distributors import the bulk of their oil from Italy and Spain, so most of us assume that all of these products are of high quality. This simply is not so. In fact, many products with “extra virgin” stamped on their labels are actually a lesser-quality olive oil (e.g. “pure”) or a concoction of a different type of oil, such as canola oil or olive oil.
Even worse, some oil products might be made from the dregs of the olive oil process, with some chemicals mixed in to try and pull out the last bits of oil. Moreover, cheaper, lesser quality oils not actually made in Italy or Spain are often labeled as coming from these countries.
What’s going on here? How is it that we’re buying one thing, but getting something else entirely?
The main problem lies with the inadequate labeling regulations in the U.S. These severely outdated requirements are not consistent with the rest of the world’s standards — and neither are our standards for the quality of olive oil.
In Europe, extra-virgin olive oil has to pass rigorous testing and meet specific criteria to be certified by the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC). Other countries, such as Spain, Italy and France, have their own olive oil governing councils, making it even more of a challenge for a product to qualify as being acceptable. In the U.S., the North American Olive Oil Association does very little testing of products coming into the country and there are no strong labeling laws in place.
The only exception to this is the California Olive Oil Council, which follows the same strict standards as the IOOC does when it comes to the olive oil that is made in California. This same council is working for better product and labeling standards throughout the U.S. for all olive oil products. So, let’s hope things change soon.
When a product is being touted as being beneficial to your health, it is especially important that you get what’s promised. The current state of labeling games and product deceptions should not be acceptable in any way. Changing the labeling regulations and olive oil standards could bring up the cost of the product, but at least then you’ll get exactly what you pay for.