more than a decade I have advised people to substitute olive oil for the
regular oils available in the supermarket.
Good advice. But here's the problem: trying to find real
olive oil is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Olive oil has been part
of the human diet for more than 5000 years. These millennia of human
experience plus modem research indicate that olive oil is beneficial to
health and that we can safely include it in our diet. In fact, olive oil has
been singled out as contributing to the health of Greek centenarians.
But, to get the same health effects as the Greek
centenarians, the oil has to be made the way they made it. The problem is
most of the olive oil on the market does not duplicate what our ancestors
were eating, and people are not getting what they think they are buying.
Almost all olive oil is processed in ways that result in the loss of
nutrients which are essential to health.
Olive oil is almost unique among oils in that it can be
consumed in the crude form without refining. This has the effect of
conserving all its vitamins, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients.
Because it contains all these nutrients, including powerful antioxidants,
real extra virgin olive oil is beneficial to health and protects us from
damage by free radical oxidation. Cell membranes contain fatty acids that are
highly susceptible to free radical damage. This damage produces lipid
peroxides that can kill the cell. Real olive oil contains polyphenols,
vitamin E, and other natural antioxidants that prevent this damage.
Numerous studies show that olive oil reduces cholesterol,
lowers blood pressure, inhibits platelet aggregation, and lowers the
incidence of breast cancer. Because it is so rich in antioxidants, olive oil
appears to dramatically reduce the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thereby
preventing heart disease. These same antioxidants also add to the stability,
shelf life, and flavor of the oil.
Historically, high quality olive oil, rich in
antioxidants, was easy to obtain, but not any more. Today, high quality oil
is available only in relatively small quantities, usually from family owned
farms, where the oils are produced in ways similar to how the Greeks and
Romans made theirs. On these farms, olives are picked by hand so as not to
damage the skin or pulp. They are transported in well aerated containers and
milled within 48 hours of harvesting. Before milling, leaves and twigs are
removed, the olives washed and dried, and then stone pressed the same way as
it was done in antiquity. The resulting olive paste was then pressed in a
hydraulic press without the use of heat, hot water, or solvents. The oil is
left unfiltered as filtering removes many nutrients. The first pressing
produces the best "extra virgin" oil.
The problem with most of today's olive oil is that it is
rarely produced in the old way, which is more time consuming and expensive.
Due to the increasing demand for olive oil, the trend has been to reduce production
costs by moving toward more automation and concentration of production in
ever larger installations. These modem factories extract more oil more
cheaply, but their processing methods substantially reduce the nutritional
quality of the oil.
To reduce costs, olives are machine harvested along with
leaves and twigs. Olives that have dropped on the ground, which can be said
to contain bad oil, are often mixed with the good ones. They are shipped in
all kinds of containers, many of which are poorly ventilated, and heaped in
large piles where the olives are stored for too long and often become moldy.
The oil is then extracted in a continuous centrifuge where hot water is used
to help separate out the oil.
Antioxidant polyphenols are soluble in water and are
washed away in this process, thereby lowering the shelf life and the
nutritional quality of the oil. Italy alone produces 800,000 cubic meters of
waste water per year from this process. Because substantial amounts of
antioxidants are washed away, factory produced olive oils have a short shelf
life of only months, whereas real olive oil lasts for two to three years.
Factory produced olive oil is filtered and looks clear. Real olive oil is not
filtered and looks cloudy.
Most people think that by purchasing "extra
virgin" olive oil they are getting a high quality oil.
Unfortunately, in most cases, this is not true. It's more
complex than that. A label reading extra virgin is no guarantee of quality.
For one thing, nowhere does it say that extra virgin olive oil has to be made
100% from olives. An major criterion for grading olive oil is its level of
acidity. Extra virgin oil should have a free oleic acid acidity of no more
than one percent, whereas ordinary virgin olive oil can have an acidity of up
to 3.3 percent.
Lower quality oils can be refined to bring the acidity
down so they can be labeled as extra virgin. But now the oil has been
refined, and that's not what you want. That's why being labeled extra virgin
is no guarantee of getting high quality oil, which has not been processed in
ways that reduce its nutritional value. To complicate matters even more, the
term "extra virgin" has no official meaning in the United States.
The U.S. is not a member of the International Olive Oil Council. So, olive oil
sold here can be labeled extra virgin without meeting the accepted
Another reason why you can't trust extra virgin olive oil
is exemplified by a problem that manifested last year, and may turn out to be
the biggest food fraud of the 20th Century. Despite the fact that details of
this scandal have been published in Merum, a Swiss-German magazine, and in
Italian journals such as Agra Trade, and the newspaper Gazzetta del
Mezzogiorno, this information has been successfully suppressed and is known
to only a handful. Investigators are gathering evidence indicating that the
biggest olive oil brands in Italy have for years been systematically diluting
their extra virgin olive oil with cheap, highly-refined hazelnut oil imported
from Turkey. International arrest warrants have been issued and so far
documents indicate that at least ten thousand tons of hazelnut oil are
involved. As much as 20% hazelnut oil can be added to olive oil and still be
undetectable to the consumer. In fact olive oil labeled "Italian"
often comes from Turkey, Tunisia, Morocco, Spain, and Greece. Considering
what has happened in Europe, where there are strict regulations, imagine what
can happen in California where there are no regulations. Apparently, more oil
is "produced" in California than there are olives available. The
truth is, most of the extra virgin olive oil on the market does not supply
all the nutritional value and health giving properties that we have a right
to expect from olive oil.
This is scary stuff when you consider how extremely
important oil is to human health. Our modem chronic disease problems are the
result of radically changing, in a short period of time, the fundamental
parameters of human existence, namely: diet, environment, and behavior. One
of the most fundamental changes in our diet has been the kind and the amount
of fats and oils that we consume. For example, the consumption of
hydrogenated oils has proved to be a disaster for human health. Hydrogenated
oils have been implicated in both our cancer and heart disease epidemics. In
fact, all modem processed oils are injurious to human health. To reverse our
pandemic of chronic disease, we have to return to eating a more traditional
diet, and high quality olive oil can safely be included in that diet. It's
not so much that olive oil should be added to the diet as much as healthy,
real olive oil should be used to replace the unhealthy, processed oils now
How does one ensure that they are eating the most
healthful oil? Find an extra virgin olive oil that is cold pressed,
unfiltered, and looks cloudy. The oil should be packaged in dark glass
bottles to protect it from the damaging effects of light. Real olive oil is
still made in small estate bottled settings. The challenge is to find one
that does it! all right.
After selecting the oil, it has to be stored properly.
When properly stored, real extra virgin olive oil can last two to three
years. Because of processing, most of the extra virgin oil on the market has
a shelf life of only a few months. A good rule of thumb is to purchase oil in
small bottles and consume it within a year of purchase; this will also ensure
getting the best flavor. Store the oil away from both heat and light.
Storing in a dark place is important because exposure to
light will start a chain reaction that will destroy the oil a thousand times
faster than oxygen. During storage, olive oil oxidizes and undergoes a slow,
continuous, and irreversible deterioration until it becomes inedible.
The bottom line is that modem, factory- produced olive
oil has been stripped of its health enhancing nutrients, and the task of
selecting a high quality oil has been made very difficult. That's why Beyond
Health has made the selection process easier for you. We have searched for a
high quality, estate bottled oil that meets our standards and we have found
one. The brand name is Bariani. It's produced by the Bariani family on a
small farm in the central valley of California. Their olives are grown
They are hand picked from the trees, carefully washed and
dried, and milled with a stone wheel within 48 hours of harvesting. It is
pressed in a hydraulic press, collected in stainless steel vats, decanted,
This first cold pressed oil is the real stuff and retains
all the natural flavor and goodness. Bariani is used by chefs in a number of
fine restaurants. It is available at selected specialty food stores in
California, and from Beyond Health.
Raymond Francis is an M. L T.-trained scientist and an internationally
recognized leader in the emerging field of optimal health maintenance.