More Than A Salad Dressing, Medicinal Olive Oil

More Than A Salad Dressing, Medicinal Olive Oil

There's one special diet that has been so widely recognized for its wide range of health benefits, and that's the Mediterranean Diet. Olive oil is the primary source of added fat and a star staple in the Mediterranean Diet, as there are so many health benefits associated with the polyphenols and oleic acid it contains. In scientific studies, regular olive oil consumption has been linked to a wide range of health benefits including a lower risk of cancer, particularly breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers, and has been linked to fewer cancer deaths. 

We spoke all about this with Dr. Limor Goren, a cancer researcher with a PhD in Molecular Biology. Dr Goren’s research centers on one of the most important anti-inflammatory molecules found in medicinal olive oil, namely oleocanthal.  She started her olive oil company, kyoord, after she received numerous requests from friends and family for the medicinal olive oil she used in her research, and realized it was not easily accessible in the US. She searched the world for the best high-phenolic olive oil and ultimately came across a small, family-owned farm and mill on the Greek island of Corfu, which had just won an award for having the highest concentration of oleocanthal ever discovered at that time.

From there, kyoord was born and Dr. Goren’s mission to advocate the health benefits of olive oil took hold. It is her goal to spread awareness about this holistic approach to health, and to make high-phenolic olive oil accessible to consumers.

Here, Dr. Goren shares more about her amazing scientific discoveries and explains why her olive oil is so much more medicinal than others on the shelf. She also shares the best way to consume olive oil and tells us how to purchase the highest quality out there to reap all the amazing health benefits.

Tell us a little about your background and how your studies and research in cancer development led to the birth of your company kyoord.

I was always a big healthy nutrition freak and loved to cook and used tons of olive oil, but didn’t know much about it. Then, while getting my PhD in Molecular Biology, the story of the health benefits of olive oil’s polyphenols (a large family of phytochemicals with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties) pretty much hit me in the face.

I was working in a cancer lab studying cancer metabolism, and was sent samples of a molecule called oleocanthal – which is isolated from extra virgin olive oilI was asked to try and find out the mechanism by which it was specifically toxic to cancer cells.

I ended up working on this project for four years. Along the way, I also found out that not all extra virgin olive oils are equal in their oleocanthal concentration and hence their health benefits can vary. Some oils - because of the olive genetics, but also the extraction methods and olive maturity -  can have almost ten times the amount of oleocanthal than the average out there. In my lab, I found that these oils that are uber-concentrated in oleocanthal and other polyphenols are way better at killing cancer cells than the ones with small amounts.

What makes olive oil so medicinal? What types of compounds are found in this, and how do they affect us?

Many of the polyphenols in olive oil are not found anywhere else in nature. In fact, most of the polyphenols in olive oils are not even found in raw olives! They are created during the malaxation process which is the main step of extracting olive oil.

One of the most important polyphenols here is oleocanthal, which is a highly reactive small molecule that has been tied to many ways it can benefit our health, ranging from treating cancer through heart health and brain health, to anti-aging. Other polyphenols in olive oil such as oleacein are very strong antioxidants and are believed to be the main reason the Mediterranean Diet is so strongly associated with overall health, less chronic disease and, ultimately, longevity.

Can you specifically elaborate on how different compounds in olive oil have been scientifically proven to kill cancer cells? This is an amazing discovery!

This was indeed a mind-blowing discovery. I always thought that all olive oils were healthy, period. But I have seen with my own eyes how some olive oils can completely wipe out cancer cells in a dish, while others just promote their growth. The key here again is the level of oleocanthal and the other polyphenols. The other interesting thing is the mechanism of how the cells die, and this is also the reason these compounds specifically target cancer cells and not healthy cells. In our lab we found that oleocanthal has the ability to burst open the lysosomes which are essential organelles in our cells that cancer cells are more reliant upon.

When finding a high-quality olive oil, what should we be looking for?

There are a few telltale signs you can look for before even buying the oil:

  1. Never purchase olive oil in a plastic bottle. This has been scientifically proven to shorten the shelf life of the oil, and in most cases by the time you get it home, it will already have gone rancid. Often olive oils in plastic bottles are infused with flavors to mask the rancid flavor.
  2. Look for a harvest date – not a best by date. Always buy the freshest oil possible – preferably not more than 18 months from harvest date. Unlike wine – olive oil does not age well.
  3. Once you’ve bought an olive oil or have an opportunity to taste one – it is even easier to tell if it is high in oleocanthal. Take a little sip and notice if you have a peppery, slightly stinging sensation in the back of the throat! This is the sting of truth!

What's the difference between traditional olive oils on the market and yours

We are committed to offering ONLY high phenolic olive oils. There are some good oils out there that are delicious, authentic and great, but just not high in polyphenols. In my opinion, these are wasted calories. All olive oils have 120 calories per tablespoon. Wouldn’t you rather consume one that is also bursting with health benefits? The other nice side benefit of that is that the polyphenols enrich the taste. All of our oils are robust and bold, and frankly, I can no longer enjoy an olive oil that is not.

How much olive oil should we be consuming daily to get the benefits out of it?

Studies show that adding just about one tablespoon of the right olive oil to one’s diet each day already has a measurable effect on health. For serious conditions or for therapeutic use, more is better, but only if it’s high-phenolic.

Can you explain the difference between cooking with olive oil vs consuming it raw? Does one have more health benefits than another?

Cooking with olive oil, just like any other oil, will slowly oxidize the fatty acids in the oil and reduce the amount of antioxidants in it, so you would definitely get more of the health benefits by consuming the oil in the raw. However, for most dishes you need to cook with some fat – and this is the really cool thing: studies show that olive oil is the healthiest fat to cook with (compared to even avocado or coconut oil). Again, the reason for this is that the polyphenols or antioxidants in the oil actually protect the fatty acids from oxidation for longer, which results in less harmful polar compounds in the finished dish compared to cooking with other oils, including the ones that are considered “high smoke point”.

What is your favorite olive oil recipe?

Do you really think I have only one?? LOL, I have hundreds… but I would say probably making my own sauces and dressings from scratch is what I use most of my olive oil on.

I love making aioli, vegan hollandaise, chimichurri, pesto, vinaigrette, and on and on… When I go to a dinner party my friends always ask me to bring an olive oil sauce or two.

Which other pantry stables do you recommend always having on hand to support our wellness?

Garlic and fresh herbs. Together with a good olive oil, this is the trifecta of Mediterranean cooking.