By Ellen Kanner
Fans of the Mediterranean diet say to pour it on, while others warn it's bad for your heart. What gives?
The benefits of olive oil
Diekman and other Mediterranean diet proponents don’t argue about olive oil’s calories. They point to something so positive it makes the calories worth it — polyphenols.
“They’re the most important thing you eat you’ve never heard of,” said Dr. Simon Poole, author of “The Olive Oil Diet” and “The Real Mediterranean Diet”. Polyphenols are plant compounds with “unique properties,” he said.
“In our bodies, they serve as antioxidants, as anti-inflammatory,” Poole explained. And extra virgin olive oil is loaded with them.
Fun fact: Olives are fruit, botanically speaking. Extra virgin olive oil is made from crushed olives, minimally processed, so you’re basically getting pure fruit juice with pure — and potent — olive flavor. That’s a good thing. Extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants and polyphenols.
“You can taste polyphenols in olive oil,” Poole said. “It’s that slightly bitter, peppery and pungent quality valued by tasters.”
One of the highest polyphenol olive oils, Olio Piro from Tuscany, has garnered over 20 awards, including the 2021 Flos Olei best in the category of blended, medium-fruity, extra virgin olive oil. The olives are hand-picked to prevent bruising and are crushed the day they’re harvested, keeping the nutrients intact. While most supermarket brands contain anywhere from 20 milligrams to 100 mg of polyphenols per kilogram, Olio Piro tops out at 700 mg.
Olio Piro producer Romain Piro, his wife Livia, and their two children consume about 50 liters of extra virgin oil each year. Exactly how our bodies metabolize polyphenols and how polyphenols interact with other plant nutrients is still being studied. But if the Piros are any indication, all those polyphenols are doing something right. The family is the picture of glowing good health — the best ad for their product. Esselstyn, who’s spent years on a WFPB oil-free diet, is looking pretty terrific, too. And he’s 88.