Extra virgin olive oil is a natural fruit juice containing polyphenols, valuable antioxidants that cannot be found in any other edible oil. Many consider the polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil to be responsible for the low incidence of heart disease associated with people who regularly consume a Mediterranean diet.
Phenolic concentration in olive oil depends on several variables:
- cultivar / variety
- ripening stage (oleuropein content decreases as olives ripen)
- environmental factors (altitude, cultivation practices, irrigation)
- extraction conditions (heat, added water, malaxation)
- extraction systems used to separate oil from olive pastes (pressure, centrifugation systems)
- storage conditions
- time since harvest
The major polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil include:
Responsible for bitterness in EVOO, this compound is known to help promote autophagy, the human body’s process of eliminating damaged cells and regenerating new, healthy cells. This process helps make extra virgin olive oil a powerful weapon against neurodegeneration.
In studies this compound has shown to be beneficial for combatting cardiovascular disease, as well as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects. It is also considered anti-proliferative, meaning it inhibits the growth and propogation of cancer cells.
Responsible for the pungency (burning sensation in the back of throat) in extra virgin olive oil, this compound is proven to be a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent, similar to ibuprofen. Oleocanthal has also been proven to be fatal to cancer cells.
High Polyphenol Content Matters
Individuals with cardiovascular disease and hypertension have had better outcomes when consuming EVOOs with high-polyphenol content vs EVOOs with less polyphenols. Because the quantity of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil naturally diminish over time, oils with higher polyphenol counts also provide a longer shelf life.
The high percentage of monounsaturated fatty acids coupled with the abundant polyphenols make extra virgin olive oil quite resistant to oxidation, thus reducing the opportunity for carcinogenic components to be created when heating the oil.