If you know who the mass-murderer* (*not my words, but I’m using them, harsh as it may sound) Ancel Keys is, you might know about his romanticisation (with others of his ilk) of the Mediterranean diet in the 1980s and onwards, and how these anti-animal-food evangelists got into bed with the International Olive Oil Council (now the International Olive Council, no oil), a body based in Madrid and set up to control olive oil quality, and in no way a body to make more money for olive oil producers.* (*Possible sarcasm.) Regular events, all-expenses paid, in beautiful venues, were put on for journalists and academics who could then tell the world how wonderful olive oil was.
In the new low-fat tradition that Keys and his cronies had set up, the word that olive oil was not sinful – maybe it even came from the Garden of Eden, so yummy did food taste when cooked in olive oil, compared to animal-fat-free meals – was very welcome indeed to the fat-starved western world.
Olive oil has been used in the Mediterranean region, especially Greece,, since the Ancient Greek civilisation held sway. And when the American nutrition ‘scientists’ (some people regard them as having to have quotation marks to denote their incompetence in the profession) in the mid-1950s onwards visited the Mediterranean countries, they assumed that olive oil was a big factor in the so-called Cretan paradox and French paradox. oliveoiltimes.com brays loudly in a ‘special report’ that ‘Olive oil is the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet — an essential nutritional mainstay for the world’s longest-living cultures.’
Elsewhere on the site: ‘The time to welcome olive oil into our lives has arrived. In places with such unique cuisines as India, Mexico and China, governments faced with the high costs of health problems associated with the use of saturated fats are urging the use of olive oil.’
Yesss, that evil saturated fat that keeps us alive, keeps us moving, makes all our functions, er, function. The saturated fat that we’ve evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to consume ad lib (attached to meat, of course) as a primary foodstuff. And are these governments ‘urging the use of olive oil’, or is Olive Oil Times going down Propaganda Alley? A swift google of ‘Mexican government olive oil’ actually produces nothing to suggest that Mexico is doing much urging for extra-virgin.
Let me refer to Nina Teicholz, author of the wonderful ‘Big Fat Surprise.’ A Greek researcher published data in 2003 to assert that a ‘traditional Mediterranean diet’, which includes a ‘high intake of olive oil’ correlated with a ‘significant and substantial reduction in overall mortality.’
The researcher never actually measured the olive oil intake of her subjects, instead ‘estimating’ it from the dishes reported in the food questionnaires she used. Isn’t that a teeny-weeny bit dishonest for a scientist? For anyone?
Still with Teicholz here: the North American Olive Oil Association tried to use the above data and other ‘evidence’ to get the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put some sort of heart-healthy endorsement on olive oil labels. The FDA analysed 73 studies submitted and concluded 70 of them were not worthy of consideration; of the three studies they agreed to examine they also rejected because even though the data was in favour of olive oil as a heart healthy food item, the total study sample was too small, 117 subjects, and too homogeneous (samey!), consisting only of young males.
So olive oil as something that thousands of generations of wise Greeks have used to stay healthy would appear to be a myth. Especially when you consider the following: there is no evidence that olive oil was used as a foodstuff until the nineteenth century. Same in Spain, same in southern Italy. Surprised? I was, too, when I learned this.
Before then, that wondrous olive oil was used in religious rituals, on the skin, cosmetically, and later to make soap with. Medicinally. No-one ate it. Olives were grown in relatively small quantities. So what was the go-to (super healthy) cooking fat in the Mediterranean over all those centuries?…LARD. Drizzle that over your rocket and lamb’s lettuce saladette.