When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, trust your instincts and not the health star rating.

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

In a world where, one month the social conversation says something is healthy and the next it becomes hazardous to eat, even the most nutritiously conversant can start to worry about what's right and what's not.

So let's start off by saying, olive oil is and always has been an extremely healthy oil and stands head and shoulders above canola and sunflower oil. It's single food source, containing antioxidant rich polyphenols known to lower blood pressure, reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, and support a healthy immune system and it also contains oleocanthal a unique anti-inflammatory compound not found in other foods. With its high monounsaturated fat content and balanced distribution of saturated, and polyunsaturated fats extra virgin olive oil stands out as a superfood in most countries - other than our own - if we are to believe the latest ruling by the Health Star Rating system.

I name canola and sunflower oil because, due to the flawed algorithms used to assess how many stars oil is given, in the current health star ranking, these two oils rate higher than olive. It's hard to believe considering the one diet touted by experts to be the healthiest is the Mediterranean diet complete with fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, lesser amounts of meat and olive oil. Olive oil, by the current Health Star Rating system, is ranked as a category 3.

Now I realise that the Health Star Rating which was introduced in 2014 does have some merits. The system is meant for packaged products and only appear on products at the discretion of food manufacturers and retailers. It can be helpful to compare the health properties of comparable products, such as brands of yoghurt or packets of soup and it has encouraged some food manufacturers to modify their product recipes to earn more stars. However there are limitations. The system doesn't account for food additives such as preservatives, artificial flavouring and food colours, and nor does it account for beneficial antioxidants, such as polyphenols, micronutrients and healthy omega-3 fat.

The main question is why, when other food products such as fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, and single ingredients such as flour and sugar are not expected to display the Health Star Rating, olive oil has been included in rating system at all?

Despite lobbying by the Australian Olive Oil association to make changes to the system, naturally produced extra virgin olive oil will continue to be ranked with fewer stars than refined seed oils, such as canola and sunflower which means that we - as shoppers - must continue to use common sense when buying our food. Continue to buy extra virgin olive oil over refined seed oils regardless of what the labels say and enjoy it.


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