By Deane Alban
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
You’d have to live in a cave to not have heard about the health benefits of olive oil. It’s a monounsaturated fat that is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and is believed to be a factor why people in that area of the world are some of the healthiest and long-lived.
Olive oil has been used medicinally for over 5,000 years. Its health benefits are legendary. It has been found to boost the immune system, increase bone density, prevent cancer, strokes, and heart disease, lower blood pressure, and reduce your risk of diabetes. And if that isn’t enough, it seems that olive oil can improve memory and increase overall cognitive function. A large study on 6,000 women over the age of 65 found that women who consumed the highest amount of monounsaturated fats, which can be found in olive oil, had better patterns of cognitive scores over time. (1)
I recommend it as one of the two vegetable oils that are truly healthy and that everyone should have in their kitchen, along with coconut oil…
But now it looks like the olive oil you trusted to provide you with health benefits might be a fake! Is nothing sacred anymore? My first thoughts were…
How do you make fake olive oil? Who is doing this? Why are they doing it?
Olive Oil Is Big Business
Working backwards, it’s pretty easy to guess the “why”. There is money to be made in olive oil forgery. The US alone spends 1.5 billion dollars a year on olive oil. It might not seem worth the effort to make fake oil, but in one Italian bust alone, authorities broke up a criminal gang sitting on $8 million worth of fake oil!
The “who” might be surprising…
Throughout Europe there are large scale facilities that pump this stuff out. According to the book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, these illicit manufacturers slap an Italian flag and the name of an imaginary producer on the label and dump this stuff on the US market, where consumers are easy pickings. And we aren’t the only victims; studies done in Australia and New Zealand found that half of their Mediterranean imports were fake, too. Anywhere olive oil is in demand is a possible target.
So how do you fake olive oil? Olive oil can be diluted with poor quality oils or sometimes there is no real olive oil in it at all. Cheap and unhealthy soy or canola oils are colored with industrial chlorophyll and flavored with artificial flavorings. Yum.
Extra Virgin Oil?
The term “virgin” when applied to olive oil doesn’t mean quality. There are four levels of virgin olive oil. The lowest grade of virgin olive oil is not fit for human consumption and designated for “other” uses, like making soap.
The top of the line olive oil is extra virgin. This means it’s cold-pressed so the temperature during processing can’t exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit.(2) It’s also supposed to meet high standards of acidity and taste.
Independent tests at the University of California found that 69% of all store-bought extra virgin olive oils in the US failed to meet extra virgin olive oil standards, specifically the following brands:
- Filippo Berio
- Newman’s Own
- Rachel Ray
- Whole Foods
Seeing brands on this list that pride themselves on being healthy and natural – like Newman’s Own and Whole Foods – is very disappointing. Apparently, parts of the olive oil industry have become quite adept at their forgeries.
You can read the full reports here:
- Evaluation of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil Sold in California; Frankel, E. N.; Mailer, R. J.; Wang, S. C.; Shoemaker, C. F.; Guinard, J.-X.; Flynn, J. D.; Sturzenberger, N. D., April 2011
- Report: Tests indicate that imported “extra virgin”olive oil often fails international and USDA standards; Frankel, E. N.; Mailer, R. J.; Shoemaker, C. F.; Wang, S. C.; Flynn, J. D., July 2010
Finding the Real Thing
You naturally want to get what you pay for. If you are paying more for extra virgin olive oil and you care about your health, you don’t want to be buying diluted, adulterated junk. Not only will fake oil lack health benefits, it could actually do you harm. In fact, in 1981, six hundred people died and 25,000 more were hospitalized from consuming bad oil in Spain.(3) While that was highly unusual, I think you get the point.
A test you can try on any olive oil you currently have is to stick it in the fridge and see if it solidifies. If it doesn’t, you don’t have olive oil. If it does, this means you may have olive oil. It suggests that you have mostly monounsaturated oil, but it won’t rule out whether it’s adulterated with high-oleic sunflower, safflower, or canola oils… or whatever.
The same University of California study also listed which brands did meet their standards for being true extra virgin olive oil.
- Corto Olive
- California Olive Ranch
- Kirkland Organic
- Lucero (Ascolano)
- McEvoy Ranch Organic
In their September 2012 issue, Consumer Reports published results of their taste test of 138 bottles of extra virgin olive oil from 23 manufacturers. The olive oil was sourced from a variety of countries including the US, Argentina, Greece, Chile, and Italy. Their general finding was that those produced in California surpassed those from Italy – the two that earned the highest scores were McEvoy Ranch and Trader Joe’s California Estate, both from California. (4)
 Olive oil consumption, plasma oleic acid, and stroke incidence: the Three-City Study. Neurology 2011;77
Olive oil. Pertinent to neurologic diseases too? Neurology 2011;77
 Olive Oil Primer: Deciphering the Term “First Cold Pressed” – http://consumers.californiaoliveranch.com
 Article: A Long Trial in Spain on Fatal Tainted Food – http://www.nytimes.com
 Consumer Reports: How to find the best extra-virgin olive oil – http://consumerreports.org
Previous articles by Deane:
- The Alarming Truth About Supermarket Meat
- 18 Choices You Make Every Day That Keep You Up at Night
- Can’t Get the Hang of Meditation? Try This Instead
- Stress, Telomeres, and the Secret to Prevent Aging
- Zapped: Your Brain on Electromagnetic Fields (Infographic)
- 20 Common Medications That Can Cause Memory Loss
- Beat Brain Fog: Know the Causes, Symptoms and Solutions
- 5 Common Food Additives That Are Toxic to Your Brain
- Coconut Oil Cures Alzheimer’s Disease: Truth or Wishful Thinking?
- 6 Common Habits that Rob You of Essential Brain Vitamins
- The ABCs of Vitamins for Memory and Brain Health
- The Toll Being Overweight Takes On Your Brain
- Eat Your Way Smart With a Brain Food Diet
About the author:
Deane Alban holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and has taught and written on a wide variety of natural health topics for over 20 years. Her current focus is helping people overcome brain fog, “senior moments”, and other signs of mental decline now, and preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia in the future.
The human brain is designed to last a lifetime, but modern life takes a greater toll on the brain than most people realize. Deane teaches the best ways to keep your brain healthy and stay mentally sharp for life at her website BeBrainFit.com.