Health Benefits of Olive Oil
The medical community says very clearly that a Mediterranean diet is good for one’s health. Olive oil is a key part of such a diet. Read below for some articles on the health benefits of olive oil.
Extra Virgin Anti-Inflammatories
By HAROLD McGEE (Published: June 6, 2007, The New York Times)
FOR a newcomer to the world of olive oil connoisseurship, the sound effects from the 20 or so tasters at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds in Pomona, Calif., were startling. The low murmurs of discussion were punctuated by loud, sharp slurps, and loud, sharp coughs. Slurps and coughs, hour after hour. On the second day I made two notes to myself: reread “The Magic Mountain”; check in with Dr. Beauchamp.
I was observing the annual Los Angeles international extra virgin olive oil competition, where nearly 400 oils from 15 countries were evaluated by expert judges last month. Through the three days of competition I learned what a wonderful variety of aromas you can discover in olive oils when you sip and slurp. (Vigorous slurping aerates the viscous oil and helps release its flavors.)
There were many different green notes pressed from the green fruit: of grass, celery, raw and cooked artichoke, green tea, seaweed. An oil from the Spanish picual variety smelled startlingly of tomato leaf, then green herbs: sage and rosemary and basil and mint and eucalyptus. From riper olives there were fruity and nutty aromas: citrus and almond and even banana.
Many of these aromas were delicate and elusive; they would be swamped by most of the foods that we anoint with olive oil. Since the competition, I’ve been starting supper with aperitif-like sips of straight oil, just to enjoy it for itself.
I also learned a lot about the not-so-delicate side of olive oil: the bitterness, the drying astringency and especially that peppery pungency that hits the back of the throat and provokes a cough. Some oils were so strong that they seemed more medicinal than delicious. But the Italian and Spanish judges consistently rated the most peppery, throat-catching oils at the top, nodding in admiration even as they gasped for breath.
The sensations of bitterness, astringency and pungency are caused by members of the phenolic family of chemicals. Phenols also have antioxidant properties and so help to protect the oil from going rancid. Whenever you taste an especially peppery oil, it’s an indication that the oil is rich in olive extracts and relatively fresh.
Pondering the line between delicious and medicinal reminded me that some years ago a very peppery oil had inspired a brilliant biomedical hunch. That’s why I made a note to call Dr. Gary Beauchamp, the director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia: to get an update on the chemistry of the olive oil cough.
At the 1999 international workshop on molecular and physical gastronomy, in the mist-shrouded mountain town of Erice, Sicily, the physicists Ugo and Beatrice Palma brought along oil freshly pressed from their own trees. Dr. Beauchamp tasted the oil and felt his throat burn, as did I and all the other attendees. But he was the only one who immediately thought of ibuprofen.
Dr. Beauchamp happened to be an ibuprofen connoisseur. He and a Monell colleague, Dr. Paul Breslin, had been trying to help a manufacturer replace acetaminophen with ibuprofen in its liquid cold and flu medicine. The medicine tasted fine until it was swallowed. Consumer panels described the unpleasant sensation as bitterness, but Dr. Beauchamp recognized it as an irritation akin to the pungency of black pepper and chilies, strangely localized to the back of the throat. And he recognized it again in Sicily.
“ The moment I felt that burn from Ugo and Beatrice’s oil, I saw the whole picture in my head,” Dr. Beauchamp recalled last week. “There’s a natural analogue of ibuprofen in olive oil, and it could have anti-inflammatory properties, too.”
He, Dr. Breslin and several collaborators confirmed that the pungent substance in olive oil is a phenolic chemical, which they named oleocanthal. And they showed that oleocanthal is even more effective than ibuprofen at inhibiting enzymes in the body that create inflammation. “It took five years of spare-time unfunded research to prove it, but that was some of the best fun I’ve had doing science,” he said.
In their 2005 report to the journal Nature, the team noted that anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen appear to have long-term health benefits, including reduction in the risk of some forms of heart disease and cancer. They suggested that the oleocanthal in pungent olive oils might be one of the things that make traditional Mediterranean diets so healthful.
The scientists are engaged in further oleocanthal research that may identify new sensory receptors in the throat. It may even spin off new medications that are more potent and more palatable than ibuprofen.
In the meantime, the medalists of the 2007 Los Angeles County competition will be announced on June 16. If you like olive oil, shop for a couple of them and give the sip-and-slurp method a try. And be ready to enjoy a good healthy cough.
Olive oil an aid in breast cancer fight: study
Monday, January 10, 2005. 7:05pm (AEDT). Scientists have discovered why eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables and particularly olive oil can help to protect women from developing breast cancer. The key is oleic acid, the main component of olive oil.
Dr Javier Menendez, of Northwestern University in Chicago in the United States, said oleic acid blocks the action of a cancer causing oncogene called HER-2/neu. HER-2/neu is found in about 30 per cent of breast cancer patients.
“We have something now that is able to explain why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy,” Dr Menendez said.
Doctors and researchers had been aware that eating a Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of breast cancer and other illnesses, such as heart disease. But until now they did not know how. Dr Menendez and his colleagues in the United States and Spain studied the impact of oleic acid in laboratory studies of breast cancer cells.
“We are able to demonstrate that the main component of olive oil, oleic acid, is able to down regulate the most important oncogene in breast cancer,” Dr Menendez said. “The most important source of oleic acid is olive oil.”
They found that oleic acid not only suppressed the action of the oncogene, it also improved the effectiveness of the breast cancer drug Herceptin. Herceptin is a targeted therapy made by Swiss drug maker Roche that works against the HER-2/neu gene.
“There is no evidence at all that olive oil is toxic,” Dr Menendez said. “It is totally safe to consume olive oil.”
Dr Menendez stressed that although the laboratory results are promising, more research is needed. His findings were published in the journal Annals of Oncology.
More than one million cases of breast cancer are diagnosed worldwide each year.
Olive Oil Makers Win Approval to Make Health Claim on Label
By MARIAN BURROS (Published: November 2, 2004, New York Times)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 1 – The Food and Drug Administration said Monday that producers of olive oil could say on their labels that there was “limited and not conclusive” evidence that people could reduce the risk of coronary disease by replacing saturated fats in their diets with olive oil.
It is only the third time that the agency has approved such a qualified health claim for a food label. The other two foods approved for such health claims were walnuts and omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon and tuna.
Until last year, the only health claims that food producers were permitted to make were those for which there was “significant scientific agreement,” like calcium’s role in preventing osteoporosis.
Producers will now be able to say on their labels: “Limited and not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that eating about two tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil daily may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monounsaturated fat in olive oil. To achieve this possible benefit, olive oil is to replace a similar amount of saturated fat and not increase the total number of calories you eat in a day.”
Scientists have also found that polyunsaturated oils and other monounsaturated oils, besides olive oil, can reduce the risk of heart disease. But the agency said that only olive oil producers had asked the government to be able to make that claim.
Dr. Meir Stampfer, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said the decision showed the agency had adjusted its opinion about healthful diets.
“In the past,” Dr. Stampfer said, “they declined to give any cardiovascular health claim for anything that was not low fat. Now they are recognizing that the idea that fat is bad as guidance for health is a concept that we should have moved away from long ago.”
“We always have to think about diet as replacement,” he added, “the basic idea of healthy, relative to something.”
But Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that often criticizes the government and food companies, said, “The way the regulations are written, they allow too much saturated and trans fats in a food that will be marketed as good for your heart.”
In addition, Ms. Liebman said, qualified health claims will confuse people. “People will not understand what evidence that is ‘limited and not conclusive’ means.”