Today, I saw a December 2008 posting on the Huntsman Cancer Institute's web site on the link between extra-virgin olive oil and cancer protection. Here's the opening summary of the research, which was done in Spain:
"Good quality extra-virgin olive oil contains health-relevant chemicals, 'phytochemicals', that can trigger cancer cell death. New research published in the open access journal BMC Cancer sheds more light on the suspected association between olive oil-rich Mediterranean diets and reductions in breast cancer risk."
Javier Menendez from the Catalan Institute of Oncology said:
"Our findings reveal for the first time that all the major complex phenols present in extra-virgin olive oil drastically suppress overexpression of the cancer gene HER2 in human breast cancer
The value of extra-virgin olive oil comes from pressing olives without heat or chemical treatments, thus avoiding the loss of potent phytochemicals, including the important polyphenols, in typical refining processes.
While cancer researchers are intrigued by the possibility of using olive oil polyphenols as "an excellent and safe platform for the design of new anti breast-cancer drugs," I think it's a good bet to "go Mediterranean"-- as in adopting a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil and luscious Mediterranean style vegetables.
Meanwhile, few word to the wise on olive oil:
- Don't settle for the lighter, less olive-y tasting oils that have gone through heat and chemical refinement.
- Do store your extra-virgin olive oil in a cool, dark place, preferably in dark or opaque plastic or metal containers that protect against light. Did you know that 2 months of exposure to light creates peroxides or free radicals that damage the value of your olive oil?
- Do buy from a store that has high turnover of its shelf products and buy the bottles from the back of the shelf, away from store lights.
- Do buy smaller containers of oil as oils lose many of their valuable antioxidants and polyphenols within 12 months (it's not worth saving a bit of money if the oil doesn't have the things your cells most need!).
- Consider storing most of your olive oil in the refrigerator, with only a week or so of oil at room temperature for use in cooking.