Polyphenols are naturally occurring compounds found in plant-based foods such as cocoa, tea, fruits, vegetables, and olive oil. Some polyphenols work as antioxidants, which means they neutralize harmful free radicals that potentially damage the body’s cells, leading to conditions like cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline. Polyphenols are one of many reasons why studies show that eating more plant-based foods is important for your overall health. Studies show that polyphenols help fight inflammation and may help lower the risk of several diseases such as heart disease, some types of cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Olive oil contains at least 30 different phenolic compounds, including oleacein, tyrosol and hydroxytyrosol. By definition, high phenolic olive oil contains at least 250 mg polyphenols per kilogram of oil. So, not all olive oils are high in polyphenols — it depends how the oils are processed and stored.
In the European Union, bottles of high-polyphenol olive oil can bear the health claim label “olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress” as long as it contains at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives per 20 g of olive oil. There is no similar health claim in the US or Canada yet, but of course the health benefits would be the same.
Health Benefits of Oleacein
Oleacein is one of the most abundant polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil. This phenolic compound has
- antimicrobial activity,
- it seems to decrease the progression of atherosclerosis
- A recent clinical trial published by NIH about chronic lymphocytic leukemia provided more insight. It showed that olive oil with a high oleocanthal and oleacein content decreased cancerous white blood cells. It also caused an increase in the specialized death of cancer cells. Nine out of ten patients experienced these results. It sated that daily intake of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), which is the major component of the Mediterranean diet, may be partly responsible for the increased life expectancy of the Mediterranean people.
Health Benefits of Oleocanthal
- Oleocanthal acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and also has antioxidant properties.
- High oleocanthal olive oil causes a rupture of cancerous cells. It releases enzymes that cause cell death, without harming healthy cells.
- Also, oleocanthal enhances a potential neuroprotective mechanism against diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- A recent study from Italy showed that oleocanthal-rich olive oil helps facilitate weight loss and battles chronic disease. Ingestion of EVOO with a high oleocanthal concentration had beneficial effects on various metabolic parameters, inflammation and abdominal fat distribution. This is an important finding for a category of patients that has a high cardiometabolic risk.
Health Benefits of Oleuropein
- Oleuropein health benefits include antioxidant activity,
- Natural anti-inflammatory activity,
- Low blood glucose values,
- Free radicals’ removal
- and has cardioprotective and neuroprotective activity, providing protection against heart disease.
Health Benefits of Hydroxytyrosol
It thrives in olives, olive pulp, olive leaves and in lesser amounts in olive oil. It is a colorless, odorless liquid.
- A study published in 2022, studied the mechanism through which olive oil polyphenols, and especially hydroxytyrosol, preserve brain health and provide new ways to promote anti-aging and protection against cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s.
- Olive oil polyphenols display important beneficial properties against atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
- In a clinical trial published on November 10th, 2020, in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, it was seen that polyphenol rich olive oil and moderate polyphenol olive oil improve cognitive impairment. Patients who consumed either type of EVOO performed better than participants who only followed the Mediterranean Diet.
- A recent study showed that hydroxytyrosol reduced the oxidative and inflammatory response and suggests that hydroxytyrosol plays a supportive role for the immune system.
- A 2021 study found that high polyphenol olive oil may lower the risk of vascular disease associated with type 2 diabetes. While similar results have been reported in previous studies, this trial revealed that the type of olive oil is an important variable. Specifically, a single dosage of 50ml of high polyphenol EVOO improved the ability of blood vessels to expand when blood flows through them. This indicates that polyphenol-rich olive oil could be a suitable food for adults who are in risk of type 2 diabetes. It is important to note that the endothelial function was not improved by consuming refined olive oil. According to the researchers, the health benefits derive from the polyphenol concentration and diversity in specific olive oils, which result to anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidation properties.
- Olive oil’s health benefits are not restricted to phenolic compounds. For example, Elenolide is a non-phenolic compound of olive oil that has activity against high blood pressure.
How is High Polyphenol Olive Oil Certified?
In 2012, the EU published Regulation 432/2012 This regulation establishes a list of permitted health claims for foods.
The health claim for olive oil polyphenols is the following: “Olive oil polyphenols contribute to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. “
Conditions apply for the use of the health claim. The claim is valid for olive oils that contain at least 5 milligrams of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives (e.g., oleuropein complex and tyrosol) per 20g of olive oil, approximately one tablespoon and a half. To bear the claim information shall be given to the consumer that the beneficial effect is obtained with a daily intake of 20g of olive oil.
Certified laboratories can analyze olive oil samples to reveal the oil’s phenolic profile. If the Regulation’s conditions are valid, the olive oil can bear a high phenolic label.
There are many methods to reveal the phenolic profile of EVOO. The most common methods are High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). Unlike many large olive oil producers, Laconiko has taken the mystery out of our olive oil. Laconiko publishes the chemical analysis of each of our olive oil harvest each year and makes it available on our website to view. Our most recent chemical analysis can be found here.
Does Phenolic Content Affect Olive Oil Flavor?
In short – Yes. The more polyphenols an olive oil has the more intense its sensory profile in general. Some polyphenols have been also linked to specific sensory features; for example, oleuropein is responsible for the bitter sensation at the back of your tongue, while oleocanthal and oleacein seem to bring the peppery, pungent feeling to your mouth.
But this is not necessarily the whole story. Different individuals have different sensitivity to bitterness and pungency. Also, each tasting experience is different, given the physical and emotional context. For example, the calmer and more focused you are, the more able you are to identify specific sensory features.
As a result, we cannot use EVOO’s flavor as a way to quantify its phenolic content. The factors that affect a tasting experience are just too many to consider.
How is the Term “High Polyphenol” Related to “Extra Virgin”, and “Cold Pressed”?
Polyphenol Rich & Extra Virgin:
It is possible for Extra Virgin olive oil to not be High Phenolic and vice versa.
For example, it is possible for an olive oil to be within the extra virgin chemical spectrum and at the same time be fruity, pungent and bitter enough to meet the sensory standards, while having a polyphenol concentration of 200mg/kg.
Also, it is possible for an olive oil to have a high phenolic content but also have sensory defects due to bad practices.
Polyphenol Rich & Cold Pressed:
Think of Cold Pressed as “how” and High Phenolic as “what”. When olive oil is cold pressed, meaning it has been extracted below 27 degrees Celsius, then chances are it will be within the High Phenolic spectrum, since more polyphenols will have been preserved. Although this is not definite either. Don’t expect to get a significant intake of polyphenols from refined oil, pomace oil, or even virgin oil.
How to Preserve High Polyphenol Olive Oil
To preserve the phenolic content of olive oil you need to simply follow the general guidelines for olive oil storage.
- Use a glass bottle or a bag-in-box container. A 2020 Greek study on storage methods found that glass bottles and bag-in-box containers are most efficient.
- Keep the olive oil bottle away from high temperatures. Ideally, you want to keep it below 18°C (64.5°F). A cellar or light refrigeration will do.
- Keep it away from light, oxygen and humidity. The various phytonutrients, like monounsaturated fatty acids, can break down to free fatty acids. Phenolic compounds can break down to other phenolic or non-phenolic compounds that don’t play an active health promoting role.
- One of the key lessons that came out of the study in Greece is the care that must be taken to preserve the integrity of the phenolic content at every stage of production right through to certifying the mode of transportation (in hot weather), temperature-controlled distribution centers as well as retail warehouse storage facilities and shelf placement (under the lights). Heat and light are the major contributors to the degradation of any olive oil, but especially impacts on the levels of polyphenol content. Once at home and opened, air is the next enemy of olive oil.
- Aristoleo Certification – Aristoleo welcomes olive oils with high phenolic content, which is recognized in the EU with a health claim, 432-2012.
Olives and olive oils are measured for individual phenolic compounds by NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) at the World Olive Center for Health (WOCH), Athens. Each olive oil is additionally organoleptically analyzed for defects by independent labs. This is a very important undertaking, with EU support and compliance of nearly 3000 members. We will ensure that when you pay a premium for a high phenolic olive oil, especially when using it for its health benefits, you will be able to check out the QR code on the bottle and be assured of the phenolic compound profile, chemical analysis, olive variety, size and type of operation and compliance for certification. We are proud to have our Laconiko Olio Nuovo be the first Aristoleo-DataLok Certified EVOO in North America. Winning Aristoleo GOLD for phenolic content and NYIOOC GOLD four years running for taste. You can find out more about Aristoleo here.
How Long Does Olive Oil Retain High Polyphenol Content After Bottling?
It depends on:
- the polyphenol content the olive oil starts with
- the way you store it
If you choose an olive oil with a polyphenol content above 500 mg/kg, such as Laconiko Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and if you follow the storage instructions described above, then you can be confident that the olive oil will maintain its high phenolic content for at least a year.