It's Just Oil, Right?

It's Just Oil, Right?

Written Jul 31, 2022 by Jorryn Yapadi, Brain and Cognition Student  - University of British Columbia, Canada.

It’s just oil. And you’re absolutely right. That’s what olive oil is - you use it for frying, sautéeing, for dressing salads, or a drizzle over pasta. It’s just oil. 

Certified organic extra virgin olive oil that is 100%-unadulterated is unmatched when it comes to keeping our health in check. Keep in mind that adulterated olive oils are impure, meaning that they are mixed with oils of inferior quality to sell at a lower value - thus trans fats enter the equation, which is not exactly what we want in our diet. 

Olive Oil for 500: What is it that sets apart raw, virgin olive oil from refined olive oil? 

What are Polyphenols? 

Well, what are they indeed? Polyphenols are aromatic organic compounds which are experienced by our smell and taste buds; vanillin has plenty of them (produces the smell/taste of vanilla), as well as cloves, peppermint, and star anise, among many others. 

The following whole foods are the richest in polyphenols: 

    • Herbs and spices (as mentioned above)
    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Olives
    • White and black beans
    • Coffee and tea
    • Berries
    • Nuts and seeds
    • Cocoa powder

    Olives are rich in these polyphenols, with 20g of olives containing about 113mg of polyphenols - that’s a hefty amount! What is all of this aromatic stuff doing in our food?

    What’s the deal with Polyphenols?

    Believe it or not, polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil are more useful than you might think. These 3 benefits below have been supported by human, animal, and epidemiological studies correlating to polyphenols, and are a result of evidence of polyphenols showing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

  • Preventing Neurodegenerative Diseases: evidence suggests that some polyphenols may protect against such diseases involving memory loss such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, through protection of neurons and impediment of beta-amyloid protein, the presence of which is linked to Alzheimer’s. Similar polyphenols also act as a preventative for neurotoxicity and similar diseases including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and Alzheimer’s. 

  • Promoting Cell Proliferation: a reason why extra virgin olive oil are good for babies and toddlers - it contains two flavonoids (a subset of polyphenols), luteolin and apigenin, which increases cell proliferation by 11-15% across multiple concentrations in lab testing. Cell proliferation is the process where a cell grows and divides, so these flavonoids are huge boosts for physical growth and development. 

  • Protecting from Heart Disease and Diabetes: foods rich in flavonoids, like extra virgin olive oil, are associated with increased cardiovascular health, anti-inflammatory effects, and decreased blood pressure. Furthermore, polyphenols also protect insulin-producing cells (called beta cells) from lowest-observed-adverse-effect-levels of glucose, and slow down our digestion of starch. This leads to our body being able to better control its blood sugar levels. 
  • Important Tip: Preparation is Key

    Before you click off, we have to remind ourselves and each other that polyphenols are highest in foods that are in their rawest forms. 

    As an example, polyphenols in vegetables decrease in a range of 10-80% when cooked with heat, with larger losses in high heat, in comparison to its raw, uncooked form. 

    This is the same with extra virgin olive oil: during a study, it was observed that polyphenolic content in the oil decreased by 40% during low-heating (120°C) in a pan, and 75% on high heat (170°C). 

    Moreover, in another study, the physicochemical parameters of extra virgin olive oil were observed to deteriorate under high heat and produce low levels of harmful compounds like trans fatty acids when heated past its relatively low smoke point (~175°C, which is the standard cooking temperature of an oven!).  I will write more about this in my upcoming blogs, but two oils I would recommend for cooking are coconut oil and avocado oil. 

    So, a quick tip about olive oil: don’t cook it, don’t heat it, and certainly don’t use it for frying.

    How do we recognize Polyphenols? 

    Since they are aromatic compounds after all, they’ve got to be distinguishable, right?

    The polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil are recognized by the pepperiness and bitterness in taste and aroma, and the stronger that sensation is, the stronger the presence of olive oil. 

    Which one do I choose?

    Extra virgin olive oil contains an average of around 150-400 mg/kg of polyphenols, which is substantially higher than that of refined olive oil or common olive oil, which contain 0-5 mg/kg and 10-100 mg/kg of polyphenols, respectively. 

    I was pleased to find out that Tucan Canada’s Zenolive contains 300mg of polyphenols per kg of olive oil. It’s a certified organic extra virgin olive oil, and 100% unadulterated; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen another olive oil with that description, which gets me wondering about whether or not other “extra virgin olive oils” have other oils or additions, all of which I consider contaminants. The peppery aftertaste was to my liking, and is just the right amount of intensity: not too bland and not too intense. 


    Don’t sautée it, and certainly don’t fry it. But use it for dressing salads, and for drizzling over pasta? Absolutely. 

    Extra virgin olive oil that is 100% organic is polyphenolic. It’s meant to be bitter. It’s meant to be peppery. It’s meant to be intense. 

    It prevents neurodegenerative diseases. 

    It promotes cell proliferation. 

    It protects from diabetes and heart disease. 

    It’s not just oil. It’s much more than that. 


    Click here to find out more about Zenolive and how you can get those polyphenols quickly.

    Click here to uncover the shocking truth about vegetable and canola oil. 


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    Memnune Şengül, Hilal Yildiz & Arzu Kavaz (2014) The Effect of Cooking on Total Polyphenolic Content and Antioxidant Activity of Selected Vegetables, International Journal of Food Properties, 17:3, 481-490, DOI: 10.1080/10942912.2011.619292