Rather than embarking on the typical ‘new year, new me’ routine of crash-dieting, I’m more interested in how small changes to daily habits can improve overall wellbeing. One of my health related ambitions is to consume more healthy fats, so I was intrigued when olive oil specialists, Alice Alech and Cécile le Galliard, sent me their book, The Seven Wonders of Olive Oil.
I’ve always loved olive oil – fresh bread and a little bowl of olive oil is surely one of life’s true pleasures, and one of my favourite ways to serve vegetables is roasted with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. In recent years, though, my favourite oil has been getting some rather bad press, and different oils, such as coconut, are often put forward as being the healthier option.
In their book, Alice and Cécile break down the research to showcase the oil’s numerous beneficial qualities, from reducing the risk of life-threatening illnesses to being an excellent make-up remover, and many more surprising facts. I asked both authors to answer a few questions about their favourite subject, for anyone else who’s keen to incorporate more healthy fats in their diet and use more olive oil.
MN: To start off, would you tell me how you both became friends and decided to write The 7 Wonders of Olive Oil together?
Alice: We were ‘internet colleagues’ for a long time before we finally met. Cécile is a qualified olive oil expert and so is very knowledgeable on the practical aspects of olive oil. I often turned to her for additional information when I wrote for the American Review Olive Oil Times. When I suggested that we write a book, Cécile did not hesitate: her enthusiasm was instantaneous, so we proceeded. What’s great about working with Cécile is her energy and passion- we work and collaborate well. Her French/ Spanish background and my English/ French one were very useful for our research.
MN: How did your passion for olive oil begin, and what made you want to study the health benefits of the oil more deeply?
Alice: My interest started when I interviewed olive oil enthusiasts my for Olive Oil Stories; here were producers, growers, men and women who were passionate about their work and what they produced. I knew very little about this precious oil but soon became intrigued. As a health care worker (I am a radiographer specializing in breast work) it seemed important to go further. Interviewing the different specialists for this book was an amazing experience.
Cécile: I lived in Madrid, Spain for over six years and I fell in love with Spanish gastronomy and of course extra virgin olive oil. I’m from Brittany in France, where butter is predominately used for cooking, so it was a new experience for me to cook with olive oil. I was surprised at how tasty the dishes cooked with EVOO were. When I realized that it was also incredibly good for our health, I wanted to study these benefits more and more and to promote olive oil consumption.
MN: For those who haven’t read the book, would you summarise what the ‘7 wonders’ are?
Alice: Our research and writing covered the following benefits of extra virgin olive oil:
1. Slows Alzheimer’s disease
2. Reduces the Risk of Strokes and Heart Attacks
3. Strengthens Bones
4. Works as an Anti-Inflammatory
5. Reduces the Risk of Diabetes
6. Kills Cancer Cells
7. Protects, Rejuvenates, and Beautifies Your Skin
MN: Your book is meticulously researched! What was one of the most surprising discoveries you made about olive oil whilst researching and writing the book?
Alice: That’s a difficult question because I learnt so much from the different researchers and from everyone I interviewed. There was an awful lot to understand and to take in. Also, I was surprised at the enthusiasm and how willing the contributors were to share their knowledge. On the research side, I had no idea oleocanthal was such a powerful polyphenol, we could have written so much more on this natural component contained in extra virgin.
Cécile: Yes, Alice is right. It’s very difficult to choose one wonder among the seven we have listed! For my research on “Understanding fats” I worked with a nutritionist who is also a pharmaceutical technician. It was very interesting to understand the function of Fats and how important it is to select the best quality for your body.
MN: I know you always recommend buying extra virgin olive oil. Would you share some more tips on how to shop wisely and buy the best oil?
Cécile: You should always buy extra virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil and not another name or category because these two are genuine olive juice.
MN: I especially appreciated your chapter about olive oil being a wonderful product for skincare, and I now like to remove my mascara using it (it’s so gentle!). Do you have a favourite beauty ritual that involves olive oil?
Cécile: For my baby, I used a mix of olive oil and lime water every day to protect and nourish her skin especially for diaper rash. You can buy this in pharmacies, but it’s so much more convenient to make it at home.
Alice: I used to suffer terribly from brittle nails. Ever since I started rubbing my nails with olive oil, they have improved wonderfully.
MN: I love cooking with olive oil, as well as drizzling it over salads. I was relieved to learn in your book that it’s healthy to use it for frying, as I know there’s been a trend lately for swapping to coconut oil instead. Do you have a favourite dish that involves olive oil as a star ingredient?
Cécile: I love EVOO at breakfast, something I got from living in Spain. Olive Oil with bread and honey is delicious, and with it, you have all the energy you need to begin your day.
MN: You share so much valuable information in the book, but if people could only take away one factor lesson from the book, what would you want it to be and why?
Cécile: Extra virgin are the two most important words! Ignore other labels for olive oil; they are not as tasty and as healthy as the pure unadulterated juice of the olives.
Alice: So many people think that you cannot cook with olive oil. That is, of course, a myth. Part 3 of 7 Wonders — Olive Oil in the Kitchen explains smoke point of cooking oils and the latest research on cooking with Olive Oil.
Thanks so much to Alice and Cécile for their informative responses to my questions. If you’d like to learn more about them and their research, do check out their website, where there are also some signed copies of The Seven Wonders of Olive Oil available.
If you’re trying to make any positive health changes this year, good for you and good luck!