Olive Oil & Phytonutrients

Phytonutrients, Polyphenols & Olive Oil

Mom always said, “Eat your vegetables!”

Modern nutritional science affirms that eating your fruits and vegetables is important for a number of proven reasons. The plants we eat contain naturally occurring micronutrients known as ‘phytochemicals’ or ‘phytonutrients.’

Overwhelming evidence from recent studies suggest that a plant-based diet containing biologically active phytochemicals can reduce the risk of common chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

There are thousands of different phytochemicals, and obviously, the research into the role of these micronutrients is continuing at an accelerated pace.

‘Polyphenols’ are one major category of phytochemical. One recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that, “Polyphenols are abundant micronutrients in our diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases is emerging. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailability.”

Polyphenols have antioxidant properties critical to the maintenance of the body’s cells. Antioxidants slow or prevent health problems from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. So, consumption of polyphenols is important in slowing the process of aging and in preventing cardiovascular disease, cancers, dementia and other diseases of modern society. See an excellent discussion of phytochemicals at mercola.com.

When we eat foods that contain polyphenols these micronutrients are used in two ways. First, polyphenols are partially absorbed in the small intestine and then the rest are metabolized in the gut microbiota. According to Chris Kresser, “Researchers are now discovering that the relationship between polyphenols and the gut microbiota is a two way street: that is, the polyphenols change the composition of the gut bacteria, and the gut bacteria are responsible for metabolizing the polyphenols into their bioactive metabolites.”

Plant-based foods are rich in polyphenols. These foods include onions, apples, chocolate, tea, red wine, Swiss chard, cantaloupe, cabbage, flax seeds, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, and, not to be forgotten, extra virgin olive oil.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is Rich in Polyphenols

Can polyphenol-rich olive oil provide cardiovascular health benefits?

According to the American Society for Nutrition, studies support the concept that dietary polyphenols from olive oil, in addition to improving systemic cardiovascular risk factors, can modulate, in a protective mode, genes involved in chronic degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular and other inflammatory ones.

Should You Cook with Olive Oil?

In a word, “Yes.” According to Kelsey Marksteiner, RD., a registered dietitian with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from NYU and a Master’s in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine: “Here’s the bottom line: extra-virgin olive oil is perfectly safe to cook with. It stands up well to heat due to its monunsaturated fatty acid and phenolic compounds content and fares much better than other vegetable oils. It’s a great oil to eat both in taste and health and shouldn’t be avoided.”

If that’s not enough to convince you, here’s how a serious food blogger at Serious Eats researched his decision to cook with olive oil.

And, remember, the best olive oil is organic, unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil, which is the highest in polyphenol content. That’s why we only use this type of olive oil.

Mother Knew Best

Well, Mother always knew best. Now, we know why.


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