Sep 302013

Today National Public Radio’s segment, Morning Edition, discussed foods with health claims. Olive oil was among them.

If you click on the NPR logo below you will be directed to an article about the segment, select Listen to the Story and you will be able to listen to the audio program featuring olive oil. The transcript to the audio is printed here beneath the button.



It’s MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I’m Steve Inskeep.


And I’m David Greene.

We’re sorting out some health food claims this morning, like kombucha. Is this fermented brew really good for you? We’ll find out in a moment. But first, olive oil. The truth: not all oils are created equal.

NPR’s Allison Aubrey reports on what you need to look for to make you’ve got the good stuff.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: If you pay any attention to health trends, you’ve likely heard about the Mediterranean diet. This is a pattern of eating that includes lots of vegetables, grains and fish – not so much meat – and generous portions of olive oil.

MARY FLYNN: Olive oil is a very healthy food. I consider it more medicine than food.

AUBREY: That’s Mary Flynn. She’s an associate professor of medicine at Brown University. And she says the evidence that olive oil is good for your heart has never been more clear. She points to a big study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine, where researchers in Spain had men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who were at risk of heart disease follow one of three diets. Some ate a low-fat diet. Another group ate a Mediterranean diet with nuts. And a third group ate a Mediterranean diet that included nearly four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil per day.

FLYNN: So, they could compare the three diets: Was it nuts, was it olive oil, or was the low fat diet as beneficial?

AUBREY: And what researchers found was that a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil cut the risk of heart attack and strokes by about 30 percent. Researchers even stopped the study early, since the benefits were so clear.

TOM MUELLER: The fact is, there are a huge range of different health benefits of real extra-virgin olive oil.

AUBREY: That’s Tom Mueller. He has spent the last six years investigating and writing about olive oil. He says olive oil is good for two reasons. It’s mostly unsaturated fat, and extra-virgin oil – which is the highest-grade and least-processed form of olive oil – contains a whole range of other beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. But here’s the catch: Unfortunately, it turns out that more than half of the extra-virgin olive oil imported into the U.S. has been shown to be sub-standard.

MUELLER: It’s quite often just very low-grade oil that doesn’t give you the health benefits and doesn’t give you taste of that extra-virgin should give you.

AUBREY: In fact, a study from UC Davis found that 69 percent of imports tested failed to meet a USDA quality standard. And Mueller says, in some cases, the oil is just too old. By the time the imported olive oil reaches us, it’s often been shipped from place to place, and sometimes not stored well. And even if it isn’t noticeably rancid, many of the heart-healthy compounds have degraded or fizzled out.

MUELLER: Extra-virgin olive oil is fresh-squeezed olive juice. It’s a fruit juice. Therefore, freshness is a critical question.

AUBREY: Mueller says the FDA used to police olive oil imports to ensure producers were meeting quality and freshness standards. But those efforts have fallen off. So where does that leave those of us who want to get our hands on the healthy stuff? Well, for starters, Mueller says look for brands that carry a harvest date on the bottle. California Olive Ranch oil – which is sold in lots of chain supermarkets nationwide – has a date clearly stamped on the back of the bottle.

I met up with Gregg Kelley of California Olive Ranch at a Safeway grocery store.

GREGG KELLEY: So this is a harvest date. Every single bottle produced by California Olive Ranch includes the date the olives were harvested to produce the oil in the bottle.

AUBREY: And he says the olives were pressed very quickly, so the oil is really fresh.

KELLEY: The most important thing for consumers to remember when they’re purchasing extra-virgin olive oil is it is not wine. It does not get better with age. So olive oil never gets better than the day it was produced.

AUBREY: Now, as long it’s properly stored, the freshness will hold in the bottle, at least for a while. Some bottles now carry an expiration date. But as soon as you open the bottle and expose the oil to oxygen and light, it will slowly start to degrade. So Tom Mueller says don’t make the same mistake his family made.

MUELLER: I grew up with terrible oil. I grew up with a huge tin in my grandparent’s cabin, and that was olive oil for me. And it was moldy and fusty, and it was there for years.

AUBREY: Many factors determine how quickly an olive oil goes bad. But studies suggest once you’ve opened it, you should consume it within four to six months.

Now, oils with the highest levels of heart-healthy compounds tend to be pungent and peppery. And Mueller says if the oil stings the back of your throat a little, that tells you that those beneficial polyphenols really are there. I got the chance to experience this during a tasting of fresh imported oils at Greg Bonaduce’s(ph) olive oil shop in Brooklyn.


AUBREY: Mm-hmm.

BONADUCE: This is an organic Coratina, and it was grown in Peru, and it was just crushed in April.

AUBREY: We did feel that tickle, and it made us both cough.

BONADUCE: That pungency…


BONADUCE: This is definitely a two-cougher.


AUBREY: And Mueller says that’s what you’re looking for.

MUELLER: Once you have that taste, you get used to the little bitterness and the little pungency, you never go back. It’s a completely different experience.

AUBREY: And the healthy one, too.

Allison Aubrey, NPR news.

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May the sun shine through your branches.

Sep 202013

I just read an interesting provisional study by Hady Keita, Eduardo Ramírez-San Juan, Norma Paniagua-Castro, Leticia Garduño-Siciliano and Lucía Quevedo published in the DMS Journal (Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome). The study is about rats that were fed high doses of extra virgin olive oil.

Yes, they gained a lot of weight. Yes, their insulin resistance increased. BUT their cholesterol levels were reduced and the interior walls of their vascular and lymph systems remained healthy. Here is a link to the entire study.

Below is the provisional abstract.

It has been hypothesized that fatty acids derived from a diet high in saturated fat may negatively affect endothelial function more significantly than a diet high in unsaturated fat; nevertheless, the effects of the long-term ingestion of monounsaturated fatty acids on endothelial function have been poorly studied.

To examine the chronic effects of monounsaturated (e.g., extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)) or saturated (e.g., margarine (M)) fatty acid-rich diets on the development of insulin resistance and endothelial dysfunction in rats, three groups of rats were fed control, high-EVOO or high-M diets for 20 weeks. Body weight, energy consumption, insulin resistance, lipid peroxidation and in vitro vascular reactivity with and without metformin were assessed during the study period.

Both high-fat diets produced obesity and insulin resistance. EVOO-fed rats showed smaller increases in total cholesterol and arterial lipid peroxidation when compared with M-fed rats. Vascular reactivity to phenylephrine and sodium nitroprusside was not modified, but the vasodilating effect of carbachol was especially reduced in the M-fed rats compared with the EVOO-fed or control groups. Metformin addition to the incubation media decreased the vascular response to phenylephrine; decrease that was lower in rats fed with both high fat diets, and increased the carbachol and nitroprusside effects, but the metformin-enhanced response to carbachol was lower in the M group.

Our results suggest that feeding rats with high quantities of EVOO, despite producing obesity and insulin resistance, produces low levels of circulating cholesterol and arterial lipoperoxidation compared to M fed rats and shows a preserved endothelial response to carbachol, effect that is significantly enhanced by metformin only in rats fed with control and EVOO diets.”

Interesting. Right?

May the sun shine through your branches.

Apr 232013

During Bill Clinton’s first presidential run the phrase “it’s the economy stupid” was created and popularized by Clinton’s campaign manager, James Carville. It was Carville’s way of telling folks not to take their eyes off the ball and to focus on what was immediate and important, albeit in an attention-getting manner.

Lately there has been much ado in the media about the cardio health research published this past February in the New England Journal of Medicine. Some media outlets got the conclusions of the study wrong and then published them. Other media outlets who don’t write original pieces anyway and can’t be bothered to do research republished the incorrect stories. Now “Study finds that olive oil cures heart disease” stories abound on the internet.

I am certainly a major fan of olive oil and its health benefits, but temper my enthusiasm with fact checking. This is truly better for both the olive oil industry and for consumers.

Olive oil (unrefined) is a component of the Mediterranean Diet. In order to reap the benefits found in the study mentioned above folks must actually follow the Mediterranean Diet. The diet consists of eating, in varying portions:

  • grains, vegetables & fruits
  • olives & olive oil
  • nuts, beans, legumes & seeds
  • herbs & spices
  • cheese & yogurt
  • fish & shellfish
  • eggs
  • meats
  • wine
  • water

The types of food to eat are not the entire picture for the Mediterranean Diet. Also recommended by Oldways (this is a great website), a nonprofit that promotes “Health Through Heritage,” are certain controls and lifestyle choices. They are:

  • portion size
  • moderation
  • healthy lifestyle habits
  • meals in the company of others

Whether you or someone you love is suffering from cardiovascular disease or would like to eat well without feeling like you are being tortured, follow the Mediterranean Diet. It’s this healthy, delicious way of eating and pleasant lifestyle that is good for you, your heart, and your well being.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet, NEJMTraditional Mediterranean Diet, Oldways

Feb 162013

by Tahni Segars

During the winter months, it’s not uncommon to need a little extra lathering with lotion to avoid dry skin. And while my bottle of cocoa butter does wonders for keeping my skin from getting scaly and itchy, my pup, Lola, isn’t so lucky.

In the cooler, drier months, Lola gets dry and flaky. Wintertime usually means a lot of itching and scratching for my poor pet. Lola has a dark coat, and this makes her condition very visible. To make Lola look and feel better, I turn to extra virgin olive oil.

Two to three times a week I add just a bit of extra virgin olive oil to Lola’s dry food. Depending on pet size, use ½ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon to keep skin healthy. Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids are essential to a dog’s diet and extra virgin olive oil is the perfect supplement.  But be careful not to add too much, after all, olive oil is a fat.

Sometimes Lola’s dry skin is persistent. When this happens I apply the extra virgin olive oil directly to her skin. In a container I mix 5-10 tablespoons of olive oil with a bit of water (warmed water is better for mixing) and massage the solution into her skin. Creams and shampoos containing olive oil extracts can be an added benefit.

Extra virgin olive oil provides even more pet benefits. The monounsaturated fats and other acids found in extra virgin olive oil can help prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. Evoo is an immune system booster that helps ward off disease. It improves circulation which gives them more energy, and it helps prevent cognitive decline. Extra virgin olive oil also reduces shedding, strengthens claws and improves digestion. In cats a small amount of oil helps treat hairballs and constipation.

Marshall waiting for his evoo massage to soothe his flaky skin.

Olive Crazy’s cat, Marshall, waiting for his evoo massage to soothe his flaky skin.

So the next time you notice your pet scratching a dandruffy coat, having digestion troubles or exhibiting the “hairball hack,” grab a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. With so many pet health benefits, extra virgin olive oil should always be on hand.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jan 162013

Many times you and I’ve heard the most popular and lawful reasons for that bottle of extra virgin olive oil in our pantries actually containing real evoo. The most popular being, “I’m a consumer, I bought extra virgin olive oil and that’s what I expect.”

When we read news articles and books about low-grade olive oil being substituted for fresh extra virgin or worse, mixed with rapeseed (canola to us Norte-Americanos) or hazelnut oils, what is our reaction? I can tell you mine. I feel cheated and disgusted.

But what if there’s another reason out there that matters more.

Last week I read a personal letter written by a young man from England named Graham. This young man has suffered for many years with ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis (UC) is similar to Crohn’s Disease, which gets more headlines, but can flare up anywhere in the digestive tract.

I don’t know how long Graham has suffered with UC but I do know from acquaintances that have suffered with digestive tract disorders that each mouthful can cause pain and embarrassment that makes normal life difficult. It is difficult to travel, hold down a job, rest comfortably, and the list goes on. Worst of all – digestive tract disorders are life threatening.

Graham’s letter tells of his personal experimentation with treatments for the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. Even with all the treatments he previously employed, with varying successes, he still has flare ups every four weeks.

At some point Graham began taking a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil each morning on an empty stomach and then ending his day with another tablespoon. To his surprise, after six weeks of the evoo regimen he didn’t have his usual four week flare up. And at another point, his wife mistakenly purchased plain olive oil, not extra virgin, and the plain olive oil did not help allay his UC symptoms.

Now, I know this is anecdotal health information, but since Graham did not appear to be receiving any monetary or other-than-health benefit from evoo, his experience provides a very good reason to be absolutely sure that the extra virgin olive oil we buy is indeed the real thing.

May the sun shine through your branches.