In traditional times, Italians outlive Americans with an average of four years. However, at the Sicani Mountain area of Sicily, marked by rolling hills covered with olive trees, the locals live past 100 at a rate more than four times greater than Italy as a whole.
Sicani Mountain villagers eat a Mediterranean diet, snacking on olives and using the fruit's oil to prepare dinner. As a consequence, their arteries are as supple as the ones of people 10 years younger, researchers say.
"We have known for 50 or 60 years that the Mediterranean diet is beneficial for health, but olive oil is emerging as the most important ingredient," says Domenico Praticò, M.D., director of the Alzheimer's Center at Temple University.
Among individuals in olive-growing regions, the incidences of heart disease, cancer, type two diabetes and cognitive decline are extremely low.
The olive oil offers hope
Praticò and others have been exploring the effect of extra-virgin olive oil, or even EVOO, on the brain. They've discovered that compounds in the fat of this high-grade oil can flush out fats that gum up the communication channels between brain tissues. That may delay, and even reverse, Alzheimer's and other dementias.
One chemical that seems to drive this effect is an olive-derived polyphenol called oleocanthal. In animal research at Auburn University, oleocanthal demonstrated an ability to wash out amyloids, which form the plaques associated with Alzheimer's. In mice, EVOO can flush out tau, a protein that hinders language abilities and memory in humans.
Buyer, Make sure to beware!
But maybe not all of the EVOO sold at the supermarket is as potent as the petroleum that researchers use to flush out neurotoxins. In lab tests more than half of imported EVOO purchased at retail failed to meet standards of quality and flavor (a marker of antioxidant content) established from the Madrid-based International Olive Council.
In a 2015 analysis from the National Consumers League, 6 at 11 EVOOs obtained from reputable shops such as Safeway and Whole Foods failed the extra-virgin test. They were either mislabeled or had degraded during transport and storage.
So what does all this mean? You have to understand a few shopping tricks if you want to get all the protection that EVOO offers to the centenarians of the Sicani Mountains.
1. Look for"extra virgin"
That distinction means the oil is free of flavor defects. EVOO also has the highest concentration of disease-fighting polyphenols,'' says Praticò. (He recommends consuming two tablespoons each and every day for the best effect.)
2. Pick a dark jar.
Exposure to light can ruin EVOO's polyphenols. "Dark glass or tins offer much greater protection," says Joseph Profaci, executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association. For further protection, store the oil in a cool, dark place.
3. Assess the bottle date.
"Some olive oils have a shelf life of six months; others last three years," says Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. To find the freshest oil, then start looking for the best-before date, that is usually 18 to 24 months from when the oil was bottled. "If the best-before date is just a few months away, find a fresher petroleum," says Flynn. When you open the bottle and expose the oil to oxygen, it starts to degrade.
4. Buy from California
In 2014, California began standardized testing. The impact is significant: In 2017 retail samples of unregulated EVOOs were below standard 82 percent of the moment, but regulated EVOO failed only 10 percent of the time. Richard Isaacson, M.D., director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine, says he can see the difference in his practice.
"I have had dozens of patients who started taking at least 1 to 2 tablespoons of EVOO daily, and it had no effect," he says. So he switched them to California oil. After that"their cholesterol improved"
5. Give it a swig
The more potent an oil's flavor, the more powerful its protective effects. If you feel a slight burn at the back of your throat, it means the oil has high levels of oleocanthal, the polyphenol that's been demonstrated to bust up Alzheimer's plaques.