Say No to Olive Oil? (cont.)

Given that, how dangerous can olive oil really be? "Whatever protected those people from heart disease may have had nothing to do with olive oil," Vogel insists. "It could have been the fact that they were very physically active. Or that their diet was very rich in fruits and vegetables."

Combine Oil With Antioxidants to Be Safe

Vogel's own research, in fact, has shown that when olive oil is combined with foods rich in antioxidants, such as vegetables, the vessel-constricting effect disappears. All you have to do is combine olive oil with red wine vinegar, which is loaded with the same antioxidants found in wine, and it appears you can prevent the deleterious effect on blood vessels.

So was the uproar over olive oil a false alarm? Only time will tell. First, the results of Vogel's small study must be duplicated by other researchers. Keep in mind, his findings were presented at a meeting and haven't yet been published. Then, if the effect on blood vessels is firmly linked to greater risk of heart disease, there may well be a reason to steer clear of olive oil.

For now, if you are the worrying type, make sure you drizzle your olive oil over leafy greens and vegetables -- or in pasta with a lot of tomatoes and basil. And avoid sopping your bread with the olive oil served at trendy Italian restaurants these days.

Remember, to study the effects of certain foods or nutrients, researchers must isolate them from the rest of the diet. But most of us don't eat meals consisting of a single food. To play it safe, just make sure your diet is abundant in fruits and vegetables, which have clearly been found to lower heart disease risk.

"Given what we know about the benefits of unsaturated oils like olive oil, and the very low risk of heart disease in places where olive oil is consumed," says Harvard researcher Sacks, "we should be encouraging more people to switch from butter to these liquid vegetable oils, not scaring them away."

Peter Jaret is a freelance writer based in Petaluma, Calif., who has written for Health, Hippocrates, and many other national publications. He is a contributing editor for WebMD.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005 10:40:09 PM