Julie Wendt, MS, CNS, LDN | Mar 22, 2021
Olive Oil: the devil is in the details
My pursuit of high quality olive oil began in earnest when an exchange student that we hosted from Spain brought me a bottle of Nobleza del Sur Centenarium as a gift. I was blown away by the flavor that this oil brought to my table. At the same time, I gained an appreciation for the detailed understanding needed to truly use olive oil as a therpeutic food for my clinical patients. When I got to the bottom of that first bottle, I searched for a US distributor because I had to have that olive oil on my table at all times! I was thrilled to find that not only could I get this oil in the US but it was high in polyphenols. Why does that matter? It’s this particular detail about Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) that makes it a health food!
The Mediterranean Diet holds the top rank in the nutrition world as one of the most researched eating patterns that overwhelmingly demonstrated in many studies a reduction in our most common chronic concerns:
A large part of what drives the benefits from this eating pattern is the health benefits imparted by EVOO. Studies link the use of EVOO to all of the health benefits listed above. And yet, it’s not as simple as just going to the store and grabbing a bottle. As with most things in my line of work, the devil is in the details! Why? Because the overall quality of the food in Mediterranean countries (Italy, France, Spain), is much higher than in the US. They have fewer chemicals in their food supply and fewer toxins. So we need to pay attention to the details of the foods we buy if we want to use them to get the therapeutic effects that we see coming out of the research.
Here’s what to look for when you are buying EVOO in order to get the health benefits we read about:
1. Amber glass bottle
Fats that are liquid at room temperature are relatively fragile and need to be protected from air, heat and light to avoid becoming oxidized which causes damage to our blood vessels when we consume it. Thus, look for EVOO packaged in dark amber glass bottles to reduce light exposure, reduce leaching of chemicals from plastic, and be sure to store your EVOO in a dark cupboard away from heat sources.
2. High Polyphenol/Oleic Acid content
Polyphenols are the antioxidants found in food that along with Oleic acid help neutralize inflammation. This is where the therpeutic impact of EVOO comes from and what gives olive oil a bitter taste. Start with a Ploynphenol count of 300+ and then progress to 500 and above count. Look for oils that are over 70% oleic acid. Most supermarket brands do not list this information on the bottle. However, ConsumerLabs recently did a review of EVOO and identified the following brands as have therapeutic levels of polyphenols (https://www.consumerlab.com/reviews/extra-virgin-olive-oil-review/evoo):
a. California Olive Ranch
3. Certification of Quality from USDA
North American Olive Oil Association, California Olive Oil Council, and Extra Virgin Alliance
4. A Harvest Date
The date of harvest tells you that the oil is fresh since the longer an oil sits on the shelf, the more the polyphenols breakdown.
Now that you’ve got this great quality oil, how should you use it?
Thinking about the ways that olive oil can become oxidized, it’s best to avoid heating the olive oil to preserve the polyphenol count. I have one type of olive oil that I use to sauté and another that I use raw for fresh veggies or to drizzle for flavor after cooking.
My Spanish friend introduced me to the wonders of high quality olive oil and ever since then I have gotten my EVOO from www.oliveoillovers.com. I like it because I can filter by polyphenol count (the higher the better) and country of origin. It’s fascinating to taste the different oils and find your own favorites. I actually started giving this out as holiday gifts instead of bottles of wine!
When you’re in the business of optimizing health, details matter and the pursuit of EVOO is a great example of how understanding the quality of what you are purchasing is critical to being able to achieve the best health outcomes.