According to Professor Avni Sali, founding director of the National Institute of Integrative Medicine in Australia and president of the International Council of Integrative Medicine (ICIM), the benefits of olive oil consumption and a broader Mediterranean diet are crystal clear.
He was speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia just after the 11 April launch of the Olive Wellness Institute (OWI), an online resource dedicated to increasing awareness of extra virgin olive oil and other olive products.
The OWI, sponsored by extra virgin olive oil producer Boundary Bend Limited, gives subscribers access to research findings on nutrition, health, and wellness benefits related to olive products, as well as the latest news on developments in the olive world. Seven leading academics sit on its advisory panel.
Multi-purpose medicinal properties?
Sali, who has long been an advocate for the benefits of olive oil, espoused its multiple health benefits: "Olive oil has anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunity-boosting, and overall nutrition-enhancing properties. It's also good for heart health, diabetes, and blood pressure; this makes it highly protective against many illnesses.
"There is also the anti-ageing aspect. Olive trees can live for up to 2,000 years — that alone should make us curious as to whether it has anti-ageing qualities worth exploring."
He added that he would recommend olive oil to cancer patients in particular, saying, "We can assume a cancer patient on a healthy diet will live longer than one not on a healthy diet.
"For cancer patients who can't eat much and are losing weight — and even healthy people in general — I would encourage them to incorporate as much olive oil into their diet as possible."
Integration and ingredients
Explaining his interest in integrative medicine, he said, "The integrative doctor has a much larger toolbox than the traditional doctor. We are open to methods such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, the Mediterranean diet and many others that regular doctors might avoid recommending to their patients.
"For too long, medicine has been looked at as purely prescription-based, but no single prescription will cure chronic illness. Doctors must talk to patients about their diet, physical activity, and habits.
"This way, they can make recommendations that may help to lower the risk of illness for the healthy, and improve the quality of life for the chronically ill."
Misconceptions and misinformation
The Mediterranean diet is especially important to Sali, who specialises in the treatment of chronic disease. He believes olive oil is the most crucial component of the diet, and hopes the OWI will help to deal with the misconceptions around olive oil.
"Not all fats are bad. In fact, olive oil fats are very healthy. Many also think it's hard to cook with olive oil because of its low smoke point, which in turn makes it more susceptible to becoming carcinogenic, but its smoke point is higher than people think."
In an OWI statement, nutritional medicine practitioner and skincare expert Fiona Tuck concurred: "The common misconception is that you cannot cook with extra virgin olive oil due to its low smoke point, but the antioxidant properties make it a safe and healthy oil to cook with.
"Coconut oil is often described as one of the healthiest oils; however, there is simply no comparison between its health benefits and polyphenol properties to those of olive oil."
Like Sali, she hopes the OWI will become a vital source of easily accessible information on olive products and their benefits.
"With so much misinformation, clever food marketing tactics and fad diet information available online, the OWI will provide credible and up-to-date news and research to bring much-needed awareness to the general public."
A review published in the latest edition of the Journals of Gerontology highlights the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of phytochemicals found in abundance in extra virgin olive oil.
The OWI said the review reinforces the role played by olive oil and the Mediterranean diet in reducing the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, peripheral artery disease and breast cancer, and its potential to improve the gut microbiota.