I’m guessing you’ve never paid much attention to olive oil. You see it on the bottom shelves of the grocery store next to mustard, vinegar and other condiment staples. And truthfully, I never used to either. Still, after tasting a properly produced one many years ago in Tuscany, I went down a rabbit hole. Today, as a certified expert taster, international contest judge and producer of the award-winning documentary “Obsessed With Olive Oil,” I hope you’ll take a quick moment to join me down one of the many rabbit holes of olive oil.
For one, the health benefits are immense, and its production’s art and craft can be as incredible as any wine, beer, or cheese obsession that you may have taken pleasure in investing in. But to keep it simple, it’s the product of fresh fruit, so it needs to smell good and taste clean; it should remind you of freshness, green and vegetables. It needs to be bitter and peppery, letting you know that its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances are present. For a runner, these benefits of olive oil make it great to stock on your shelf.
It is challenging to understand how it was possible that 3,000 years ago, olive oil was already widely used by athletes to improve their performance when science had not yet discovered all of its remarkable properties. Undoubtedly a happy intuition and gift from mother nature who already knew that olive oil is in its composition and fatty acid content closest to mother’s milk.
The ancient athletes used it extensively by consuming and applying it directly to their bodies to prolong their sports efforts. Olive oil, indeed, was one of the original medical salves. Today, countless medical studies have confirmed all the insights into the usefulness of olive oil in activities that require the maintenance of a tremendous physical effort. Like, say, running.
Its high-caloric content (900 calories per 100ml) guarantees a high level of “ready to use” energy and important reserve, essential in endurance sports such as long-distance running. Its predominant monounsaturated fatty acid composition (the “good” fat) alongside the right amount in quality and quantity carbohydrates and proteins build a great diet to maintain long-term health and performance.
Like I said, I went down an olive oil rabbit hole. But I think you too will find that consumption of olive oil gives strength and protection to the muscles and psychophysical well-being. Its vitamin E and polyphenols contents help protect our cells from oxidative stress. This help is welcomed by the body of a marathon runner who, during a long run, requires a substantial increase in oxygen consumption by the muscles and has to cope with an excessive formation of free radicals.
Hydroxytyrosol is a polyphenol naturally present in quality extra virgin olive oil. Its antioxidant characteristics have proven to be ten times more effective than green tea. Its concentration will vary depending on the latitude and altitude of the olive’s origin, the harvest, extraction, transport, and storage methods. Another hidden treasure of extra virgin olive oil, of great benefit for athletes, is Oleocanthal, which is “Nature’s Ibuprofen.” It has a profile and power of action similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, perfect for limiting and naturally alleviating the appearance of inflammation and muscle pain.
All of this is to say: consuming good olive oil is essential, but not all olive oils are created equal.
So how do you find and recognize an excellent extra-virgin olive oil? Again, think fresh, green, bitter and peppery. And unlike wine or cheese, vintage is not an asset.
If buying from a store, ask to taste to ensure fresh, green, bitter and peppery. If tasting is not an option, bring home, taste and return or exchange if it doesn’t meet the standards!