Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: What is the difference between pure olive oil, light olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?
A: In the United States we categorize olive oils into extra virgin (sometimes referred to as EVOO), virgin, light and classic (pure) olive oil. All these oils are made by extracting the juice of olives. All olive oils, like any other fat, contain about 120 calories per tablespoon. Extra virgin olive oil is the first product of the extraction process, and thus has the strongest flavor and aroma of the three types. Virgin olive oil is also from the first pressing but is of slightly lower quality. Light olive oil refers to the absence of flavor, which makes it appropriate for dishes that would otherwise clash with the stronger flavored oils. Classic or pure olive oil typically results from a mixture of virgin olive oil and refined oil. Nutritionally, the fat in all three types of olive oil is mainly monounsaturated fat (MUFA). When MUFA is substituted for saturated fat, it lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol without reducing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Studies linking greater use of olive oil with lower risk of heart disease generally don’t look at specific types of olive oil. However, both heart health and other possible health benefits may also relate to anti-inflammatory, antioxidant benefits of several natural compounds in olive oil. Extra virgin oil offers the most potential health benefits because it is the least processed and retains more of these compounds, including squalene, polyphenols and tocopherols (related to vitamin E).
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association which operates as the umbrella organization for the network.The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (www.wcrf-uk.org); Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (www.wcrf-nl.org); World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (www.wcrf-hk.org).