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New Olive Oil Research Update
Dramatic new research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that consuming more than just ½ tablespoon of olive oil per day is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular, respiratory, and neurodegenerative disease, as well as from cancer.
Researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. These long-term studies looked at more than 60,000 women and 31,000 men the last 28 years (1990-2018).
They were all free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the beginning of the study. Then, every four years, participants filled out a diet questionnaire that asked about consumption of specific foods, oils, and fats, as well as brands that they used.
Those who consumed the highest amounts of olive oil, about 1/2 tablespoon a day, had a 19 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality, a 29 percent lower risk of neurodegenerative mortality, a 17 percent lower risk of cancer mortality, and an 18 percent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease. The people who consumed the most olive oil also consumed more fruits and vegetables and were less likely to smoke.
The same study found that upping consumption to a little more than ¾ of a tablespoon of olive oil per day neutralized the negative effects of the same amount of margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and dairy fat, and resulted in a 8 to 34 percent reduced risk of mortality.
The Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Previous research shows the benefits of eating olive oil for balanced blood sugar, lower inflammation, and more. At Brown University, Mary Flynn, PhD, has been researching the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) for decades. Flynn says, “Published studies show that no other food comes close to extra virgin olive oil for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.”
Her studies suggest that the benefits of olive oil go far beyond heart health, but her studies are based on consuming two tablespoons a day. At those level, extra virgin olive oil has been linked to:
- Lower blood sugar
- Less inflammation
- Lower oxidation rates
- Improved blood lipids (LDL, HDL)
- Weight loss
Watch my podcast with Dr. Flynn and dive deeper into the benefits of olive oil.
In a meta-analysis of seven studies from 1998 to 2015, Flynn reports that consuming two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day, with a total phenol content of at least 161 mg/kg, could significantly decrease systolic blood pressure in as little as three weeks. EVOO containing at least 300 mg/kg total phenols may also decrease diastolic blood pressure.
This study concluded that high-polyphenol EVOO lowered blood pressure significantly more than polyunsaturated fats, refined olive oil, or canola oil, from which polyphenols have been removed during the refining process.
Not All Olive Oil is Created Equally
Olives are extremely rich in polyphenols and most researcher’s link these polyphenols to benefits linked to olive oil, including:
- Lowering inflammation
- Boosting immunity
- Protecting against damaging reactive oxygen species
- Reducing allergies
- Reducing overall sickness and morbidity
- Serving as an anti-atherogenic and anti-thrombotic
- Slowing cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases
- Serving as an anti-mutagenic
The content of polyphenols in olive oil ranges from 50 to 1,000 mg/kg, depending on the soil, how the olives are grown (organic or conventional), ripeness at harvest, and extraction techniques, along with storage and packaging processes.
Polyphenols are not exclusive to olives. There may be more than 8,000 different polyphenols, many of which are also found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, roots, barks, leaves, herbs, whole grain products, some processed foods (dark chocolate), as well as tea, coffee, and red wine.
Based on the range of polyphenols from one olive oil to another, it’s critical to get the highest quality olive oil possible to ensure the greatest health benefits.
Olive Oil Winter Diet
Flynn suggests adding two tablespoons EVOO each day with other healthy fats at each meal, such as nuts and seeds. She also recommends eating a lot of vegetables at every meal, with particular emphasis on those with deep color and those from the cruciferous family, regularly eating whole grains, and limiting animal protein.
According to Ayurveda, it’s important to increase one’s fat intake in winter, as fats balance vata. Vata regulates the nervous system and is classically aggravated during the cold and dry winter months. Squirrels eat nuts and seeds in winter and so should we, in addition to olive oil and other healthy sources of fat, like ghee.
New Research on Cooking With Olive Oil
There has been much confusion around the safety of cooking with olive oil, as many studies find the smoke point of olive oil to be quite low. New research suggests that high-grade extra virgin olive oil is very stable at high heat and has a smoke point approaching 400°F.6
Past research may have suggested that olive oil should not be used for cooking which is true when you use off the shelf grocery store bought olive oil which is likely not 100 percent pure extra virgin olive oil as it says on the label. Research on these will result in an inaccurate conclusion with regards to olive oil can be used for cooking or not!
Most smoke point tests have been done on low-quality, likely adulterated olive oils purchased off a supermarket shelf. Studies on verified high-quality extra virgin olive oil have demonstrated low acidity, more stability, higher smoke point, higher resistance to oxidation, and longer shelf life compared to inferior oils on the market.
The stable properties of high-quality EVOO are primarily due to its polyphenols. Refining the oil or taking lower-quality oil from later stages of pressing significantly reduces polyphenol content. In one study, certain store-bought olive oils had as much as five times the polyphenol content as others.7
In a 2015 study on cooking with extra virgin olive oil, researchers found that frying with olive oil and water preserved the antioxidant content of the oil and the vegetables that were cooked and, in fact, boosted antioxidant content.6
Olive Oil Taste Test
A few years ago at LifeSpa, my team and I organized an olive oil taste test using the best oils we could source from around the world, including France, Italy, California, and other countries. While there were amazing oils from Europe, the organic oils from California were undoubtedly the best tasting. The winner of our taste test was from a small, family-owned farm in California named Fandango.
After investigating why their oil was so good, we found that just getting an organic certification in California is a major accomplishment, due to stringent toxin, heavy metal, and pesticide residue requirements laid out in the state’s Proposition 65.
At Fandango, on harvest day, olives are hand-picked when perfectly ripe, put into a certified organic mobile mill, then pressed immediately into oil. This process preserves the highest content of polyphenols and allows them to tout the lowest levels of oxidation on the market. Thank God for small farmers who care about small batch quality, not quantity!
Over the years, the folks at Fandango have become good friends of ours, but LifeSpa has no business relationship with them other than we love and use their olive oil exclusively.
How to Guarantee the Best Olive Oil
In a 2016 60 Minutes Report, based on a UC-Davis study that estimated that half the oil sold as extra-virgin in Italy and 75-80 percent of the oil sold in the U.S. does not meet the legal grades for extra virgin oil.
When sourcing olive oil, look for a harvest or press date. It is ideal to ingest the current year’s harvest.
If it is a California olive oil, make sure it is certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and certified extra virgin by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).
If the oil is from Italy, look for a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) seal, which means the olives are from where the label says they are from.
If it is a California olive oil, look for these seals: California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) and the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).
If the oil is from Italy, look for a DOP seal (Protected Designation of Origin), which means the olives are from where they say they are.