Olive Oil Health Primer: What are Polyphenols?

Chemistry wasn’t my specialty growing up, although I was interested in the topic. But over the years I’ve developed a greater appreciation for chemistry – especially now that I’m working for an extra virgin olive oil maker.

iStockphoto.comWe all know EVOO tastes great. What many people probably don’t know about is the chemistry of olive oil, and how it potentially can contribute to good health.

Take polyphenols, the chemical substances found in plants that may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. The word is a mouthful, I know. But bear with me.

Because it’s unrefined, extra virgin olive oil contains more polyphenols than other olive oils – including much of the olive oil imported here from Europe.

Polyphenols are a potent antioxidant – one that can decommission an especially nasty molecule in your body, the free radical. Free radicals contain at least one unpaired electron. They can gyrate wildly inside your body and damage good cells.

In her book, The New American Olive Oil (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009), Fran Gage describes the work of polyphenols this way:

“These antioxidants circulate in the body, hooking up with free radicals, unstable compounds thought to play a role in more than 60 different health conditions including cancer and atherosclerosis, as well as aging.”

Nutritionist Lisa Sheldon, author of Olive Oil Baking (Turner Publishing, 2007), notes polyphenols “are vital to cellular health because they prevent damage from free radicals.”

Polyphenols, in other words, can nip some pretty serious problems in the bud.

Other foods rich in polyphenols include: onions, apple, tea, red wine, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries.

Olio Nuovo – pressed right after the olives are picked – also happens to be a good source for polyphenols.

Bon appétit,

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch