What Are Polyphenols? — Extra Virgin Olive Oil’s Powerful Antioxidant



It’s New Year’s resolution time. As good a time as any to spread the word about polyphenols. They’re olive oil’s most raved about health component. And if you haven’t heard about them, they promote good health and have shown to help prevent disease.

So what exactly are polyphenols – other than a mouthful of a word? They’re a form of phytonutrient found in plants that may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. How do they do that? Polyphenols are a potent antioxidant – one that can decommission a nasty molecule in your body called a free radical. Free radicals can ricochet around inside your body and harm good cells. Antioxidants, such as the polyphenols found in olive oil, work to neutralize free radicals; protecting the body from their harmful antics.

In her book,The New American Olive OilFran 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.” Polyphenols, in other words, act as a pretty powerful cell protector inside your body. Extra virgin olive oil, in particular, is rich in polyphenols. 

Thanks in large part to the recent spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet, extensive research has been done on the phytonutrient composition of olive oil. What they’ve discovered is an extensive list of phytonutrients; one of the most praised is its polyphenols. The amount of polyphenols found in olive oil is truly amazing!

There are a multitude of polyphenols found in extra virgin olive oil. Hydroxytyrosol (HT), being one form, helps protect our blood vessels from being damaged by overly reactive oxygen molecules by triggering changes at a genetic level.

Several of the polyphenols found in olive oil—including hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein and luteolin—have shown to be especially helpful in avoiding unhealthy blood clotting by keeping our blood platelets in check.

New research is showing that polyphenols in olive oil may help balance the bacteria in our digestive tract; slowing the growth of unwanted bacteria. On this list of polyphenols are: oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol and ligstroside. Some of these polyphenols are specifically able to inhibit the growth of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium; the bacterium that leads to stomach ulcers and other unwanted digestive problems. Yet another category of polyphenols called secoiridoids, continues to be a focus in research on prevention of digestive tract cancers.

The list of benefits goes on and on. So how do you get these polyphenol benefits from extra virgin olive oil? According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, “These anti-inflammatory benefits of extra virgin olive oil do not depend on large levels of intake. As little as 1-2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day have been shown to be associated with significant anti-inflammatory benefits.”

Other foods rich in polyphenols include: onions, apples, tea, red wine, swiss chard, cantaloupe, cabbage, flax seeds, strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries.