My interest in olive oil began a few months ago when I picked up Tom Mueller’s book ” The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil” which I highly recommend. Before, even up to six months ago, I would randomly pick up a medium priced olive oil bottle that was labeled organic and would regularly shake my head at the ridiculously high price of the dark slender bottle of extra virgin olive juice next to it. “Who buys this stuff?!” I thought. Now I know, an informed public who knows the real value of extra virgin olive oil.
Here is what convinced me to start buying extra virgin olive oil.
Did you hear?
A daily dose of extra virgin olive oil may act as a natural pain reliever! According to Beauchamp, “newly pressed extra-virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal–a compound whose pungency induces a strong stinging sensation in the throat, not unlike that caused by solutions of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen.” Source
What does this mean?
It means that “a daily dose of 50 g or 4 tablespoons of olive oil confers the equivalent of around 10% of the recommended ibuprofen dose for adult pain relief, say researchers led by Paul Breslin of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, who discovered the effect. So although it won’t cure a headache, it may give you some of the long-term benefits of repeated ibuprofen use, including helping to ward off Alzheimer’s.” Source
So keep drenching your salads in lots of olive oil! Or, if you are as excited as I am, keep sneaking little sips. Word of advice: don’t take it on an empty stomach – not speaking from personal experience of course or anything 😉
There is, however, a catch.
All olive oil is not created equal! Not only are some olive oils mixed with vegetable oil (read more about this phenomenon here) but even olive oil that is not diluted with vegetable oil may have been processed at high temperatures, which kills its valuable polyphenols and hydrocarbons, including oleocanthal.
This potent yet little known remedy is part of extra virgin olive oil’s “polar fraction”, a delicate cocktail of over one hundred polyphenols, hydrocarbons, vitamins, and other perishable and often volatile compounds which vanish when the oil is treated witch chemicals or heat. Though many of these compounds are poorly understood, they are coming under scrutiny by medical researchers, who are revealing that they posses a wide variety of therapeutic properties. Source
In fact, scientists are discovering that while some health benefits do originate from the olive oil’s monounsaturated fat profile, most of its healing properties it contains stem from other “minor components”, says Beauchamp.
Since the 1950’s, people have accepted that olive oil, the main source of fat in this diet, is the keystone to a healthy regime. Some of the olive oil’s positive effects stem from its monounsaturated fat profile, but more and more medical research suggests that the polyphenols and other “minor components” of olive oil, which constitutes a scant 2 percent of its volume, are the main source of oil’s health benefits. Source
So what kind of olive oil should you be drinking gallons of?
Freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil folks! According to Mueller (2013), to meet the legal requirements of the extra virgin grade, an oil most be made from healthy, expertly picked olives, milled within twenty-four hours of the harvest to preserve their flavors and spoilage. The International Olive Oil Council stipulates that extra virgin olive oil can not be heated beyond 80* F (30* C). It is supposed to have a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of no more than 0.8 grams per 100 grams. A high oleic acid reflects a lower grade fruit, and a higher pressing temperature.
But really the best test is your own taste buds. Luckily, oleocanthal induces a distinct stinging sensation in the throat similar to ibuprofen, which contributed to the discovery of this amazing phenolic compound. Does your olive oil have that distinct peppery taste? Not sure? Take a slurp and let it sit in your mouth for a few moments like a fine wine. Close your eyes and reflect on the flavors. Does it even have any? Bland is no bueno. This means there are no polyphenols left, which can happen when manufacturers use olives from the second pressing, or worse chemical extraction of the olive mash left over after the first pressing. This olive oil is more appropriate for polish your furniture than strengthening your immune system.
These same substances give a high-quality olive oil its pepperiness, bitterness and other prized sensory properties; in fact, the oil’s healthful properties are directly proportional to the strength of its flavors, aromas, and other sensory characteristics. If an oil doesn’t sting at the back of the throat, it contains little to no oleocanthal. If it isn’t bitter, it’s low in toccopherol and squalene. If it isn’t velvety in texture, then it’s missing hydroxyrosol. […] The concentration of these beneficial substances varies widely among oils, from about 50 to 800 mg per kilo of oil, depending of factors such as the olive cultivar, where it is grown, how much water the extraction methods used. Refined olive oils contain next to no polyphenols, because they and the rest of the polar fraction disappear during the refining process. Yet olive oil labels rarely communicate this crucial data- most contain just a heart health message about the fatty acids in olive oil, which lumps extra virgin olive oil and refined together as one undifferentiated commodity. Source
Choose an excellent extra virgin olive oil and start incorporating it into your daily diet. There is a reason the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower incidence of atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, neuro-degenerative diseases and certain types of cancer! Although I have mostly focused the benefits of oleocanthal, extra virgin olive oil also contains other beneficial polyphenols, which can contribute to:
- Cardiovascular health source
- Strengthens the immune system source
- Fights against cancerous cells source
- Guards against neurological damage source
- May heal peptic ulcers source
Truly, real olive oil is the food of the gods and I highly recommend adding it to your diet. The reasons I listed above convinced me to do a lot more research before reaching for that cheap bottle of olive oil at the grocery store. I hope it convinced you too! Be informed about the quality of your food!
If you can’t afford it, save your money and wait until next time. It’s worth it!
Mueller T. (2011), Extra Virginity, (1st ed.).New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company