Last week I was lucky enough to attend an event held by Nutrition Australia who brought one of the world’s leading experts on olive oil, Dr Mary Flynn (https://vivo.brown.edu/display/mflynnph) to Australia to share her expertise in this area. Now very rarely do I skip work to attend events, but this time I am really glad that I did. In all honestly, I had really forgotten how strong the research is to support the medicinal use of extra virgin olive oil in the diet, particularly when dealing with a number of inflammatory health conditions, and also when specifically looking at the best diet for the prevention and management of breast and prostate cancer.
Extra virgin olive oil is produced using 100% fresh olives, which then have their oil mechanically extracted using minimal heat – think the ‘juice’ of the olives. Extra virgin olive oil is therefore the most expensive of olive oils, and the higher the quality of the olives, the more expensive the oil is likely to be. The health benefits from extra virgin olive oil come from its rich antioxidant content. In fact, there are no oils that even come close to matching the antioxidant content of extra virgin olive oil, hence its standout health benefits. And in this case, ‘lite’ is definitely not better, with lite varieties of olive oil containing far lower levels of these powerful antioxidants as a result of its processing.
Now, onto the important health stuff. For many years, extra virgin olive oil has been talked about in terms of its heart health benefits – and indeed studies over time have showed that the Mediterranean diet, packed with as much as 80ml of olive oil per day is linked to lower levels of heart disease. But at this seminar, things got a little more technical as the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of extra virgin olive oil were specifically discussed.
Extra virgin olive oil among other things inhibits a specific inflammatory pathway in the body; it helps to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and one of its components, squalene is a tumor inhibitor – overall acting across several different pathways in the body to help fight cancer. And indeed, specific studies looking at both prostate and breast cancer have so far shown positive results with diets high in olive oil linked to both reduced risk of these cancers, as well as better outcomes during treatment.
So what does this mean in practical terms? For me, it is a good reminder that while dietary fads such as coconut oil come and go, there is a lot to be said for what we already know deep down – that if we really, really want to take care of our health, we have to not only cut out the bad stuff but really work on getting the good stuff in there on a daily basis. And when it comes to oil, don’t skimp on cheap oils, when so many wonderful benefits come from the liberal use of extra virgin olive oil, especially when teamed with plenty of brightly coloured vegetables every single day. So now, instead of telling my clients to stick to 1 tbsp. of oil a day, I will now be suggesting two, so they can also reap these benefits.
Note: This is not a funded posted. All views are my own and based on scientific evidence. Lunch was provided at this event but no payment received (just in case you were wondering).