Another oil problem, this one of the extra virgin variety

First, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned us that "Pompeian Imported Extra Light Olive Oil" claimed unsubstantiated health benefits.

It was one of many products the FDA outed for health benefit hyperbole (a category we now will classify under the greed label as HBH).

Now, the University of California, Davis, has taken a deeper look at "extra virgin" olive oil. Researchers reported this week that not only did Pompeian Imported Extra Light fall short in its claims but also 69 percent of the "extra virgin" olive oils they tested did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture or international standards.

Extra virgin olive oil ranks highest in quality, the researchers noted. It is manufactured without chemicals, is lowest in acidity and offers the best flavor and odor.

Apparently, not all olive oils labeled "extra virgin" qualify to have that title. (Just what we need, another oil problem.)

This comes as olive oil has been touted for its health benefits, including an ability to lower risk of heart disease by reducing the total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol in your blood, Mayo Clinic nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky said.

The UC Davis researchers found that the samples failed extra virgin standards because of: "oxidation" due to exposure to elevated temperatures, light and or aging; "adulteration" with cheaper refined oil; and "poor quality" oil made from damaged and overripe olives, processing flaws and/or improper storage.

(Instead of lowering our heart risk, it looks as though someone wants to increase it).

Shauna Johnson, head nutritionist at Wellspring Camps, a therapeutic weight loss program, cautioned that olive oil still contains fat, which can make losing pounds difficult. "You can cook without it. I'm going to say use olive oil spray … and eat whole grains fruits and vegetables."

The reports and thoughts about olive oil are a good wakeup call, in particular as we look at what this popular staple costs.

When we consider the price of extra virgin olive oil can run anywhere from $5.49 for a Publix's 17 ounce brand to as much as $14.79 for Colavita's 17 ounce brand at the grocer, it's a bit disconcerting to learn that some of these so-called extra virgin olive oils aren't virgin at all.

The report prompted immediate responses from the olive oil manufacturers.

"We welcome the opportunity to help fund and support any research that exposes defective or adulterated oils wherever they exist — even in our own backyard," said Albert Katz of Katz Olive Oil in California.

For consumers, there are ways to ensure the quality of the olive oil. So here's the Edge, courtesy of Linda Sikorski, head buyer at Market Hall Foods:

• Check the label. Does it say extra virgin olive oil? Is there a harvest or milling date in addition to the "best used" date? Is the harvest date within 12 months? Extra virgin oil is best used within 18 months. Make sure the oil is purchased well in advance of the best used date.

• Check the bottle. Is the bottle dark to cut down on light exposure? Is it on the top shelf and exposed to direct light? Light dramatically shortens shelf life, so look for signs it's been on the shelf too long, such as dust on the bottle.

• Store extra virgin olive oil away from light, air and heat. Use it up once it is open.

Another oil problem, this one of the extra virgin variety 07/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 23, 2010 9:01pm]

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