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Unveiling the Power of Polyphenols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Enhanced Health

March 10, 2024 3 min read

Unveiling the Power of Polyphenols in Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Enhanced Health

Recently the spotlight has been on polyphenols and their crucial role in promoting overall health. While polyphenols are present in various plants, specific types found in extra virgin olive oils have elevated this ancient elixir to the status of a healing superfood. 

Polyphenols, also known as biophenols, are antioxidants that belong to a family of organic compounds occurring naturally in plants. They deliver many of the health benefits of olive oil.  The spotlight has intensified due to their potential in combating diseases such as:

heart disease,
inflammatory bowel diseases,
and others.

Extra virgin olive oil boasts at least 25 specific polyphenols, including oleocanthal, oleuropein, and hydroxytyrosol, some of which are unique to olive oil and cannot be found in other plants or substances derived from them.  Olive oil is the only edible fat that contains polyphenols at amounts and a concentration that makes a difference to human health. Avocado oil also contains some polyphenols, but at very low levels that don't have an impact. Seed oils contain no polyphenols.

Not all olive oils are created equal, and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) stands out as a superior source of polyphenols. Factors influencing polyphenol content include the freshness of the oil, the timing of the harvest, processing methods, and olive varieties. Refined oils lack the beneficial polyphenols.  The bottle needs to say "extra virgin" or "virgin" on it.  If it doesn't, it means the oil in it is refined with chemical methods and has next to no polyphenols in it.  Extra virgin is obviously the preferred choice.

The concept of "high polyphenol" olive oil is subject to regulation, with the EU stipulating that oils with 250 mg/kg of polyphenols or more qualify.  Your standard supermarket extra virgin comes in at around 100mg/kg of polyphenols, way below the lowest limit for a health claim of 250 mg/kg.  The current harvest of our OPUS Oléa comes in at 484mg/kg.  This is as high as the much-advertised "Blueprint" olive oil by multi-millionaire and longevity practitioner Bryan Johnson. OPUS is just less expensive than Blueprint and available in the UK with much fewer transport-related CO2 emissions. 

Oleocanthal, a potent polyphenol found in EVOO, has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to low-dose Ibuprofen. Research suggests health benefits can be obtained from a consumption of just 2 tablespoons per day and an up to 4 tablespoons per day consumption (such as is practiced in the Mediterranean) is advisable, but not necessary.

Dr. Simone Poole a full-time UK doctor with a specialist interest in the nutritional value of olive oil, in his very informational book "The Olive Oil Diet" emphasizes the need for evidence to support claims of benefits from oils with extremely high polyphenol levels exceeding 700 mg/kg. There might be a saturation point beyond which the benefits plateau or reverse. This caution is important, as extremely high in polyphenol oils (ie. over 700mg/kg), that are often marketed as nutraceutical supplements, may come at the cost of unpalatably intense flavours that are poorly balanced and much higher production expenses.

Apart from health benefits, polyphenols generally contribute to the positive sensory experience of EVOO.  You can literally taste them in your oil.  They enhance the oil's aroma, creating a pleasant bitterness, and adding a peppery sensation. These compounds contribute to the quality of the olive oil and also extend its shelf life by acting as preservatives, preventing oxidation and maintaining freshness.

While EVOO is renowned for its monounsaturated fats, Vitamin E and Omega 3's, it is the polyphenols that truly amplify its superfood status.