Polyphenol-rich olive oil is olive that has a high phenol content. Everyone currently seems to be searching for polyphenol-rich olive oil. To be frank, it’s a bizarre occurrence for our industry. Especially since essentially all high-quality extra virgin olive oil has a high polyphenol content. But this trend makes sense because it appears self-proclaimed industry ‘experts’ are making all sorts of claims about their own products.
To be clear, preying on the fear of consumers is wrong. Let us also state that while doctors, health and wellness professionals, and chefs might have some things to say about olive oil, they’re not experts on the product. Therefore, this is not their playground.
Throughout this post, we quote many scientific journals. We hope you will use these articles as a resource for understanding polyphenols and their health benefits without the distraction the media often presents.
What are Polyphenols?
In short, polyphenols are antioxidants. Polyphenols occur naturally and can often be found in virgin olive oil, coffee, tea, cocoa, fruits, and vegetables. Some other definitions:
Cancer.gov states that polyphenols are, “A substance that is found in many plants and gives some flowers, fruits, and vegetables their color. Polyphenols have antioxidant activity.”
This article states, “Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found largely in the fruits, vegetables, cereals and beverages.”
This article digs a little deeper stating, “Polyphenols are naturally occurring micronutrients that are present in plants as essential physiological compounds . They comprise a wide family of molecules bearing one or more phenolic rings and are present in many food sources like wine, green tea, grapes, vegetables, red fruits, and coffee [2,3]. It is generally accepted that most polyphenols are potent antioxidants [4,5] and may also possess anti-inflammatory properties [6,7].”
Not all polyphenols are all the same. In fact, more than 8,000 different types of polyphenols have been identified. It’s believed that polyphenols are the largest group of chemical substances in the plant kingdom. Today we will only focus on a few, as it would likely take multiple lifetimes to study and understand them all.
What is Hydroxytyrosol?
Hydroxytyrosol is a phenolic derivative from the olive tree and a by-product of olive oil. It has been studied extensively as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer.
A deeper definition from this article states, “Hydroxytyrosol (HXT) is a phenolic compound drawn from the olive tree and its leaves as a by-product obtained from the manufacturing of olive oil. It is considered the most powerful antioxidant compound after gallic acid and one of the most powerful antioxidant compounds between phenolic compounds from the olive tree followed by oleuropein, caffeic and tyrosol. Due to its molecular structure, its regular consumption has several beneficial effects such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and as a protector of skin and eyes, etc.”
This article states, “Hydroxytyrosol is the major olive polyphenol consumed and well absorbed in humans. It is considered to have the highest antioxidant potency compared to the other olive polyphenols.”
Hydroxytyrosol is not something customers ask us a lot about. However, it’s showing up more frequently in studies. Over the past few years, scientists have been studying the element in great detail. Hydroxytyrosol is also commonly found in olive leaves which are often used to make cosmetics (re: forever young).
Why Polyphenols Matter in Olive Oil
Polyphenol levels in olive oil are important for several reasons. First, they’re antioxidants that can provide many health benefits. Especially those looking for more ways to incorporate antioxidants into their diet.
Polyphenols levels are also important for farmers and producers because it’s a metric that the farmer and/or producer can use in order to make changes to an olive oil and/or the trees. Every measurable parameter within the olive oil industry has value to the farmer and producer. Without these solid metrics, we would not be able to move forward or grow within this space.
This image provides a wonderful example of where to find the highest levels of polyphenols in olive oil.
Health Benefits of Polyphenols include:
- Antioxidant protecting from free radicals
- Anticancer (protecting cells from cancer attacks)
- Decreases blood pressure, improves the lipid profile by increasing the levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol *) and reducing the levels of LDL cholesterol * (“bad cholesterol”) and triglycerides, reduces oxidative stress, inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, thus making it unable to settle in the arteries.
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Prevent obesity
- Prevent type 2 diabetes
- Protection against osteoporosis and neurodegenerative diseases
For details visit this study.
The olive oil industry has been waiting for a deeper analysis of extra virgin olive oil by the FDA. We still have a lot of work to do, however, there was some progress. The FDA approves the following health claim, “Supportive but not conclusive scientific evidence suggests that daily consumption of about 1½ tablespoons (20 grams) of oils containing high levels of oleic acid, when replaced for fats and oils higher in saturated fat, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.” We hope more research on olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil will be conducted by the FDA. Currently, most research is being performed by universities or privately.
Additional resources for the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil and polyphenols can be found below:
How to Test for Polyphenols in Olive Oil
When tasting olive oil the bitter, peppery, tingly, and/or spicy sensation especially in the back of your throat is an indicator of polyphenols. The more bitter and spicy an olive oil is, the higher the polyphenols.
The best and most accurate way to test polyphenol levels in olive oil is to send it to a lab for proper testing. The lab can run a full COA (certificate of analysis) or simply test for polyphenol levels.
Do Polyphenol Levels Deteriorate as Olive Oil Ages?
An extra virgin olive oil with a high polyphenolic level will preserve the product longer than an EVOO with a lower polyphenolic profile. However, as olive oil gets older the polyphenol levels may decrease. This is also why it’s best to consume extra virgin olive oil within 18 months of the bottle date.
Should We Be Obsessing Over Polyphenol Levels in Extra Virgin Olive Oil?
No. It’s redundant to seek out high-quality extra virgin olive oil with a high polyphenol content because high-quality extra virgin olive oil should have a high polyphenol content if it’s truly extra virgin and high-quality. It’s like saying “first, cold press extra virgin olive oil”, all EVOO is first, cold press today because of the equipment used to mill the oil. It’s redundant.
High-quality extra virgin olive oil is usually made from olives harvested still mostly green (we like a mix of green and purple). Green olives yield the highest polyphenol content (you see where we’re going?). The olives are harvested then milled and the end product is EVOO. If the trees and olives were healthy and well cared for then the oil will likely have a high polyphenol content. This is also why it’s important to know your producer. And of course, lab work can (and should) be done.
We hope you learned quite a bit about polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil!
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