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Olive Oil Deceptions

Recent conversations where I’ve had to defend my views regarding the pricing (affordable brands are not always good), purity, and quality of olive oil (with my client claiming that branded=Trust & greater purity) inspired me to write the following post. Sometimes, it takes such encounters for me to publicly share my opinion, and I must thank this former client.

When you buy olive oil labeled Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you think you’re getting the best of all possible salad oils. Based on what the label says, especially if it’s from Italy, you assume that you are getting the healthiest and purest oil possible. And of course, we all tend to look at the costs. Surely a well-known brand that is affordable, provides the desired results? Not really, since sometimes you have to pay for the quality and go with smaller, lesser known, but purer stuff.

Olive oil has been part of the human diet for more than a thousand years. Millennia of human experience, along with modern research, indicate that olive oil is beneficial to health, and can safely be included in our diet. However, most of the olive oil on the market today does not deliver what our ancestors were consuming. In fact, frequently people don’t get what they think they are buying, and their attempts to be healthy are undermined by the quality of the olive oil.

It is unfortunate that most commercial olive oil is processed in a manner that damages its nutritional content and is diluted in ways that result in the loss of essential nutrients. Olive oil is almost unique among oils, in that it can be consumed in its crude form without refining. The powerful antioxidants in real extra virgin olive oil are beneficial to health and protect us from damage caused by free radical oxidation.

What you need to know

Cell membranes contain fatty acids that are highly susceptible to free radical damage. This damage produces lipid peroxides that can kill cells. Real olive oil contains antioxidants (polyphenols, vitamin E, and other natural antioxidants) that prevent this type of damage. These same natural 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 anymore. Producing olive oil the old way is more time consuming and expensive. The costs of harvesting by hand, to protect the fruit from damage, are astronomical, but mandatory to making good oil. The increase in demand for olive oil has made producers adopt automation and mass production techniques.

Modern factories extract more oil more cheaply, but their processing methods substantially reduce the nutritional quality of the oil. Companies have been caught red handed engaging in these fraudulent practices with huge volumes of oil. Very little comes of it as the heads of the big edible oil producers in Italy are often politically well connected. After all a branded Italian company that sells expensive olive oil must be selling the genuine article, right? But is that really true?

Deceptive Labeling
The producers’ attitude is that if it smells good and tastes good, it’s good oil. There is no mention of deception on the health benefits of pure olive oil. And that’s where health conscious consumers are being cheated. The hard fact is simply this: most of what is labeled extra virgin olive oil, isn’t.

Slipping You the Bad Stuff

There has to be some processing and hydrogenating of the oils for them to last all that time and movement. They are partially hydrogenated in order to keep the liquid vegetable seed or nut oils processed with heat or chemicals, from going rancid. There is no requirement to display “partially hydrogenated” on the labels of olive oils mixed with up to 20% of other hydrogenated oils. This practice extends shelf life. But these partially hydrogenated oils create many of the health problems that plague us, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer.

In such scenarios, the health benefits of olive oil are nullified while the toxicity of processed, partially hydrogenated oils invades our bodies. You just can’t trust those big plastic bottles in stores and supermarkets that are labeled extra virgin or virgin olive oil.

Here’s the Good Stuff

The oil should be stored in tinted glass bottles or stainless steel cans. Oil will leech chemicals from plastic bottles; that’s its innate nature. Traditional small producers often provide unfiltered oil made from organic olives, which will show up as cloudy or with some sediment. These olive oils will be pricier. But using less will benefit your health much more than using more of the cheaper stuff.

The oil from 100% pure cold-pressed olives does have a long enough shelf life (of 2 to 3 years) without hydrogenation, because of its innate unaltered antioxidant content. The health benefits of olive oil’s polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals remain intact for the consumer to benefit from.

How can one ensure that they are eating the most healthful oil? Find an extra virgin olive oil that is coldpressed, unfiltered, and looks cloudy. Factory produced olive oil looks clear. If it’s clear, it has been filtered, furthering reducing the nutritional quality of the oil. Real olive oil is not filtered 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 produced in small estate bottled settings. The challenge is to find a product 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 causes reactions that destroy the oil thousands of times faster than just oxygen alone. During storage, olive oil oxidizes and undergoes a slow, continuous, and irreversible deterioration until it becomes toxic and inedible. Oxidized (rancid) oils should never be consumed.

The bottom line is that modern, factory-produced olive oil has been stripped of its health-enhancing nutrients, and the task of selecting high-quality oil has been made very difficult.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

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To your good health…
Bewell,
Vivek

Sources for more information:
The Olive Oil Scandal
http://www.living-foods.com/articles/oliveoil.html

Olive Oil Imports Deceptive Labeling
http://www.weeklytimesnow.com.au/article/2009/10/03/119311_latest-news.html

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