Experts hail ever-versatile olive oil at J’lem conference

Israel can become prominent in the industry by developing food, health products, Mediterranean forum participants say.

Olive Oil 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Olive Oil 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Although the average Israeli’s annual consumption of olive oil is low – only 2.2 kilos compared to 10 times that by his Greek counterpart – and production of the oil is minimal compared to that of Spain, Italy and other countries, Israel can still be prominent in the development of new foods and therapeutic products based on the healthpromoting oil.
So said Dr. Shaul Eger – a trained physiologist who has been spending many years developing olive-oil based products – at Terra Olivio, the first Mediterranean international olive oil competition and conference.
The event, which attracted over 120 people from Israel and abroad, was held at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel on Wednesday.
Eger’s company, based in Yokneam, will soon begin the marketing of a non-dairy, low-sugar chocolate spread made with olive oil. His company also makes puff pastry, burekas, lipstick that treats herpes virus, and creams for diaper rash – all based on olive oil.
Eger, who says he got into the field when he found that drinking eight spoons of olive oil every morning “cured” his irregular heartbeat, noted that even though olive oil is a fat, it does not have to make people fat, because it satisfies hunger. In addition, it is full of polyphenol antioxidants that fight the aging process, are anti-inflammatory and minimize the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Prof. Shimon Lavee, an olive expert at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture, said that despite a sharp decline in olive oil production during the Turkish rule of Palestine and the early years of the state, the last 35 years have seen a major increase – largely because of awareness that as a monounsaturated oil, it is very good for health, and because it has become more profitable.
Yet experts at the conference warned that there were major differences in the quality of olives, the way they were harvested and milled – cutting them into slices is much better than squeezing the oil out. In addition, the shorter the period between harvesting and milling, the more healthful olive oil can be, as the antioxidant content remains. However, there is a problem in Israel of counterfeit olive oils, marketed as genuine but in fact adulterated with large amounts of cheap and less healthful oils.
Israel still produces less than 1 percent of the world consumption of olive oil, and 60% of Israeli olive oil is produced by Arab farmers.
Prof. Michael Aviram, a senior lipids expert at Rambam Medical Center and the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, said that his lab showed that the oleic acids in olive oil could produce a dramatic beneficial effect.
Way back in 1993, he gave 25 milliliters of olive oil to healthy medical students, and in only two weeks, their low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol,” or LDL) declined substantially. Microphages in the body gobble up LDL in the bloodstream and coronary arteries, thanks to the olive oil, he said. He also conducted olive oil experiments on genetically engineered mice, whose bodies were unable to remove cholesterol from the coronary arteries.
Their consumption of coldpressed “extra virgin” olive oil removed superfluous cholesterol from their bodies and minimized the size of plaque inside the blood vessels, he said.
The conference included guided tasting of dishes containing olive oil, a lavish dinner with all courses – including ice cream – based on the oil, and an international judges’ competition of 100 different olive oils from more than a dozen countries.
A full feature on the Terra Olivio conference will appear on the Sunday Health Page of August 8.