|Since ancient times, people have used olive oil for health and healing. Today, modern
medicine confirms the health benefits of olive oil with scientific data. Dr. John T. Deane,
an internal medicine specialist in Marin County, California, and founder of The Olive Oil
Source, an organization devoted to consumer information on olive oil, said, “Studies
suggest that olive oil decreases rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
“Extra virgin olive oil is one of the few oils that can be eaten without chemical processing.
It retains the natural flavors, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other healthy products
of the olive fruit,” he said. Deane added that the components and mono-saturated fats in
olive oil “demonstrate a remarkable variety of health benefits.”
According to Deane, some of these benefits stem from the antioxidant activity of
polyphenols found in olive oil. They have been shown to aid in the decrease or
prevention of arteriosclerosis, anti-microbial activity, colon and breast cancer, oxidative
stress from passive smoking, skin damage and photo-protection, said Deane. Olive oil
in a low calorie diet can aid in reducing the amount of bad cholesterol, called LDL, in the
body, he said.
The National Institutes of Health agree. According to recent studies by a branch of the
NIH, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, experts
found olive oil to be a good source of monounsaturated fat, the “healthiest type of fat,” in
a diet for diabetes.
In the 2000 Scientific Session, the American Heart Association reported that the
Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, “might be one of the best prescriptions for a
longer life.” According to their findings, compared to northern European populations
which consume more saturated fats and butter, fewer people of the Mediterranean
countries of Italy, Greece and Spain experience heart attacks from coronary heart
disease. In addition, the AHA reported that the antioxidants found in the this diet, which
include vitamin E in vegetables and olives, N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish such
as salmon and tuna, and monounsaturated fatty acids from olive oil, contributed to good
health after a heart attack.
“Olive oil is more than the sum of its healthy components. It is an integral part of the
Mediterranean diet, which is associated with sensible portions and slower, more
enjoyable eating,” said Dean. He said that although olive oil is high in calories, it quickly
satisfies hunger which leads to lower caloric intake at mealtime.
James Roe, marketing director at Whole Foods Market in Dallas for over ten years, said
that extra virgin olive oil is considered the ultimate in flavor. “It is the first pressing of a
mechanically extracted oil and is considered unrefined.” He said that the oil is extracted
from the olive by a stone press. It is then masticated in a screw grinder or a hydraulic
Roe warned that some lower grades of olive oil are chemically extracted with hexane, a
petroleum distillate. He said refining is a process which improves the shelf life of olive
oil. However, it also removes the nutritional value of olive oil as well as its natural flavor,
Roe said that olive oil is best used in low to medium heat when cooking as it has a
smoking point of 350 degrees. But olive oil is often used straight out of the bottle. “It’s
great drizzled on bread, vegetables or pasta,” said Roe.
Some recipes are as simple as tossing a few ingredients together on top of a piece of
bread. Roe said, “I like to take some olives from our olive bar, rinse the brine off of them,
throw in some diced Bucheron goat cheese, drizzle with olive oil, toss the mixture and
serve on sliced baguette. Goat or sheep’s cheese are especially flattering to the sweet
nutty flavor of extra virgin olive oil.”
Roe recommended several name brand olive oils including Raineri Extra Virgin,
Unfiltered, First Cold Pressed Olive Oil imported from Italy ($19.99 per liter),“It is a
remarkable rich oil with a buttery round taste.” In addition, he recommended Olio Verde,
a high end dark green oil with a “grassy, peppery flavor” (500 ml at $29.99). Roe said that
the oil is produced in Sicily where the olives are hand-picked.
Other favorites include I Tattoli Chianti Classico Unfiltered Olive Oil (750 ml at $26.99)
which according to Roe, “uses riper olives for a sweeter, nuttier oil that resembles
bottled sunshine.” Nunez De Prado Certified Organic Olive Oil (16.9 oz at $9.99) is
Roe’s favorite Spanish oil which uses younger olives to make the green color and spicy
flavor. Frantoia Extra Virgin Olive Oil (16.8 oz at $12.99) blends three different olives, said
Roe. It is produced in Sicily using traditional granite grinders to produce an oil
“possessing a fruity flavor with a buttery almond aftertaste,” said Roe. It serves well in
dips, marinades and cooking, he said.
Whole Foods Market carries its own brand of extra virgin olive oil which Roe
recommended. “It’s a real bargain at $5.99 per 12 oz. bottle.” He said it is made from
ripe organic olives giving it a “light golden color and sweet, nutty flavor.”
For more information on olive oil and recipes, interested shoppers can find Roe at the
Highland Park location of Whole Foods 4100 Lomo Alto. Store hours are 8 am to 10 pm.
Dr. John Deane conducted research on cholesterol metabolism at the University of
Berkeley. He started the Olive Oil Source, a web site devoted to consumer information
about the olive oil industry. He is a supporting member of the California Olive Oil council
and a member of the Slow Food Movement. In addition, Deane lobbied for truth in
labeling of olive oil produced in the U.S.