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The Ingredient Our Brains Love

three bottles of oil sitting on table

The Mediterranean diet continues to reign supreme as a dietary pattern that supports brain and heart health.  One of the core ingredients responsible for delivering its health-promoting properties, in addition to fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts, is extra-virgin olive oil. My Italian relatives paid homage to olive oil, and no meal was complete without a shower of this delicious elixir. Here are a few facts about this versatile neuroprotective kitchen essential:

Phytochemical Package

The first fresh pressing of olives, which are stone fruits, like peaches or cherries, yields extra-virgin olive oil. This precious fresh-squeezed, fruity liquid contains compounds that interfere with the clumping of proteins that are found in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. A portfolio of polyphenols such as oleocanthal, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol are some of the nutritional agents in extra-virgin olive oil that have the ability to influence cellular health. According to research in both animal and human trials, these phytochemical bodyguards go into action to cool down inflammatory processes and scavenge free radicals that cause oxidative damage to neurons.

Best Picks

There are many different types of olive oil available in the marketplace such as pure olive oil, virgin olive, oil, refined olive oil, light olive oil and olive oil blends such as olive oil combined with soybean, grapeseed or canola oil. These oils do not meet the same sensory or nutritional standards of an extra-virgin olive oil. Bottom line: stick with the extra-virgin olive oil for optimal health protection and natural antioxidant assurance. Adulteration of olive oil has also been a concern so it is important to purchase olive oil from brands you can trust that haven’t been tampered with.  This review from New York Magazine may be a helpful resource to find highly-rated olive oils that you can buy.

Culinary Tip

A high-quality olive oil has a diverse flavor profile ranging from fruity to nutty but it should never taste musty or rancid. To keep extra-virgin olive oil fresh for maximum taste and nutritional benefits, avoid exposing it to light, air and high temperatures. Store your olive oil in a cool, dark place and keep the bottle tightly closed to maintain its nature-made goodness.  Olive oil has an average shelf life of about 2 years. Once you open it up, use it within 2 months if possible. Chilling or freezing olive oil does not result in any deterioration in quality and it will resume its normal consistency when it is warmed. Good news! You can cook with extra-virgin olive oil, but never exceed its smoke point, which can be as high as 410 degrees Fahrenheit.


There are a number of olive oil organizations in North America and trustworthy websites that have lots of information to keep you up to date about this humble stone fruit.  One of my all-time favorites is, which is jam-packed with everything you ever wanted to know about this nutritional powerhouse.

A recipe rich in olive oil

Enjoy this olive-y rich recipe from my kitchen to yours! Buon Appetito!

Olive Herbed Pesto


½ cup fresh herbs, cleaned and loosely packed (basil, parsley, mint, cilantro, etc.)

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons pitted olives

1 Tablespoon miso

2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 Tablespoons water

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

Place all of the ingredients in a blender or in the bowl of a small food processor and process until smooth.

About the Author: Kathie Madonna Swift, MS RDN LDN FAND EBQ

Kathie is the founder of the Kathie Swift Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practice and the co-founder of the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy. Kathie is committed to a holistic and integrative approach to nutrition. Her 30 plus years of expertise in “whole food as medicine” and her passion for sharing her knowledge has led her to author “The Swift Diet: 4 Weeks to Mend the Belly, Lose the Weight, and Get Rid of the Bloat”, co-author “The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Health”, and to contribute to Dr. Mark Hyman’s New York Times Bestseller, “UltraMetabolism”.

Background and Education:

Kathie completed her B.S. in Food and Nutrition at SUNY Plattsburgh and her M.S. magna cum laude in Food and Nutrition at Arizona State University. She is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), licensed through the Massachusetts Board of Dietitians and Nutritionists, and is an EBQ™ certified instructor from The Center for Taiji and Qigong Studies.


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