I remember the words of a friend “extra virgin olive oil is not just a super-fat and food, but a hyper-food too”. Back then, a few months ago, I am not sure I was realizing the meaning behind this statement. Indeed, for me high quality extra virgin olive oils are healers from nature, which brings delight and excitement with their rich and diverse flavours. This healing power of the golden elixir derives from its purity and naturality and it is worthwhile mentioning it, given the fact that nowadays there is rarely an industrial product to which we add nothing in the process of production, just its main natural ingredient. In the case of the highest category of olive oil ~ extra virgin ~ we talk about a pure olive juice as if taken from the fresh juice maker. Another healing dimension is the unparalleled composition of the lipid ~ balanced triglycerides in favour of the beneficial Omega 9, and also 2-3% non-fat components such as polyphenols, hydrocarbons, tocopherols and vitamins, which bring health on our table, in a concentrated way and without a compromise. The latter is valid especially when we have high quality products crafted with care and utmost attention to the fruit quality ~ its right maturity level and good health ~ from the tree to the picking, to its storage and processing. One could not imagine another lipid in our diet to offer us so much!
There is no other fat for which an approved EU health claim exists (EFSA, commission regulation 432/ 2012) stating that “olive oil contributes to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress”. It refers to EVOOs containing more than 250mg of phenolic compounds per 1 kg, and the recommended daily consumption is 20g of EVOO (circa 2 tablespoons) containing 5mg of hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol or its derivates. Polyphenols act as antioxidants with protective and anti-inflammatory capacity. They carry immuno-stimulant, antibiotic, and neuroprotective effects. And many of the high quality EVOOs meet these requirements, especially when the olives are harvested earlier in time.
EVOO is a carrier of beneficial active ingredients, which undoubtedly place the olive nectar on the list of medicinal super-foods. Yet, what makes it a hyper-food is the combination of all the lipid and non-lipid active components, and the levels of polyphenols, which are higher and exceptionally high as compared to the approved EU health claim. And this is what I would love to talk about now!
Have you come across a situation when you begin exploring a topic and the information starts flowing to you from different sides, to answer some of your questions and put the puzzle together? This is exactly what happened to me. I’ve always been attracted to high phenolic EVOOs and their expressive and stimulating pungency, I love their bold statement when paired with food, and how they elevate the dish to a new sensorial level. I love them for their health and protective capacity too, and thus it is not a surprise that usually I have bottles with EVOOs containing 500-600mg of polyphenols per 1kg as a minimum. When they go to 800-900mg and above, my happiness and excitement further multiply.
I was not looking purposefully for more information on the high phenolic topic until few weeks ago, after opening that special box from Gourmet Groceries, an online shop for clean and pure Mediterranean food, devoted to great taste and health, based in Nicosia Cyprus ( gourmetgroceries.com ). It was like a treasure box full of delicatessen from Cyprus and Greece ~ a few flavourful organic pine honeys from Arkadia in Peloponnese and Evia island, some aromatic dried thyme and oregano to season the dishes, some EVOOs of the highest quality offering multi-layered flavour sensations, and a range of EVOOs which opened that new and magic door of exceptionally high phenolic olive oils. I was amazed, for the first time I had the chance to taste in a row a selection of exceptionally high phenolic EVOOs from Cyprus, Peloponnese and Crete, which play in the medicinal territory, in a very focused way. For all of them the fruit is being harvested in September – October when the concentration of polyphenols is the highest (vs. January-February when the values are in their minimum).
Tasting EVOOs with phenolic level of above 1300 mg/kg and some reaching 2000mg/kg and higher is a totally different experience (NMR/nuclear magnetic resonance method is being used for measuring individually the phenolic compounds) . I started asking the question ~ is this a medicine or what? Bitter, pungent, stimulating. And the answers started flowing and a new useful information has come to me to put the things together. I came across some studies and observations run by Dr Prokopios Magiatis (from the University of Athens and the World Olive Centre for Health) who has focused and dedicated his work on studying the effects of phenolic compounds in EVOO on human health in the past 10 years. Some other epidemiological and clinical studies are in progress, like the one on Alzheimer’s at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, to support the healing power of high phenolic EVOOs.
And indeed, this kind of EVOOs with their medicinal properties are associated with a preventive and protective role, and influence much favourably people who are already at risk (e.g. with Alzheimer’s/ other cognitive conditions or with cardiovascular issues, or bone health conditions, etc.). A teaspoon in the morning, with persisting Bitterness and Pungency and richness in Oleocanthal and Oleacein (2 essential and unique phenolic compounds in olive oil with anti-inflammatory and protective function, Oleocanthal has a similar impact as the one of Ibuprophen ) could do beneficially to ease the condition. Since the effect is very individual, I took these precious bottles to my Mom who has arthrosis and suffers from joint and muscle pains, to run our own healing observations. You already know my faith in Nature and its gentle healing capacity, and how essential it is to gift our bodies and mind with caring and pure natural remedies ~ with clean and potent food and medicines.
Perhaps it would be useful to mention that the level of polyphenols in olive oil has to do a lot with the olive cultivar and its DNA, like for instance Coratina or Moraiolo from Italy, Picual from Spain, or Koroneiki from Greece, which intrinsically carry high levels of polyphenols. Yet, the farmer and producer could involve some focused efforts to achieve the more potent medicinal effect of EVOO from various olive varieties, when taking the proper care of the fruit and its concentrating of the optimal levels of the compounds, when picking the fruit earlier in the harvest season, when doing the extraction right, etc. And we notice more and more producers to play in the health territory too in the past 10 years, which is encouraging and much rewarding. Moreover, the olive tree cultivation has a positive environmental impact too. It supports greatly the CO2 absorption and is with a negative carbon footprint (1 l of olive oil captures 10.64 kg CO2) ~ one more reason to praise and support the olive production and high phenolic olive oils consumption. You could always ask the producer and distributor of the oil about its chemical and polyphenols analysis. Some of the online shops have those certificates uploaded for convenience of their shoppers. In time it turns natural to taste, distinguish, compare and make informed choices which best suit ones taste and health needs. Like many other food categories where we purposefully look for the health dimension too.
Coming back to the treasure box I mentioned earlier, I kept the rest of those special bottles with average and high levels of polyphenols (> 500mg/ 1kg) for my food pairing explorations, to combine health and pleasure in one. Mediterranean diet with olive oil in its core is associated with reduced risk of many medical and chronic conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, Diabetes 2, Alzhaimer’s and dementia, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol LDL, stroke, heart attack, some types of cancer, asthma, depression, overweight. It is an inclusive diet offering balance, moderation, variety and our body flowing with Nature’s seasonal rhythm. Myself, I am an ambassador of MedDiet and encourage it as lifestyle and a philosophy of eating and living.
Therefore, introducing high quality EVOO in our daily diet is a blessing, and a great support to our balanced mental and body functioning. It is a pure gift for our children when integrated in their menu since early childhood and the weaning period! It is not a coincidence that more than 2200 years ago Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, defined olive oil as “the Great healer” for more than 60 medicinal conditions. And although in the last, perhaps, 20-30 years we, modern people have been majorly distracted by processed food and large quantities of food intake, it is about time to reconsider our reconnection and proximity with Nature and the purity and balance it has to offer. Luckily, more and more of us get reconnected to our human roots and look for cleaner, more potent and flavourful food, yet, less in quantity, for its healing capacity too. Because Less is indeed more.
I wish you health and an ultimate delight for the senses!
~ we are what we live ~ we are what we eat ~ food for change ~