When Dr. Mehmet Oz hosted a segment on his TV show about counterfeit extra-virgin olive oil in 2013, he was mad. Dr. Oz said that while he had long touted the health benefits of extra virgin olive oil, experts were now saying that most of the extra virgin olive oil (or EVOO) “that is sold worldwide is fake.”
He said he felt duped, and went on to assert that the use of cheap, so-called “filler” oils in expensive EVOO could also be dangerous to those with nut allergies. He suggested nut oils are among the oils used to stretch out the real stuff. “If you’re allergic to nuts,” he said, “and they used a nut oil that they added with your olive oil to cut it, to make it differently and save money, that’s a big issue for a lot of folks.”
Dr. Oz’s statement caused a stir in the food allergy community. Allergic Living decided to do a reality check on the allergy point of the EVOO controversy. We contacted Professor Dan Flynn, executive director of the University of California Davis Olive Center, and one of the experts on the episode, whom Dr. Oz called “the definitive expert on olive oil.”
Reality Check on Nut Claim
Flynn noted that his center tested 207 olive oils for purity over the past three years, and that 65 percent of the imported brands on grocery shelves in the United States didn’t meet the standard for EVOO, despite being labeled as such.
But in our interview, Flynn did not agree with Dr. Oz’s suggestion that some of these altered EVOO oils would include nut oils or that they would cause reactions. In fact, he thinks this is highly unlikely.
The professor says that in the olive center’s testing to date of counterfeit EVOO brands, it appears only “refined” oils have been used. The process of refining an oil destroys or removes the proteins that trigger allergic reactions. While the extra virgin olive oil claim appears to be false on many oils, “if the oils were adulterated, it was probably with refined olive oil,” Flynn explains.
He notes that “unrefined” oils also tend to be more aromatic, and it would probably be easier for the average consumer to detect by smell that something is afoul.
How to Check Your EVOO
One caution, however. Flynn says it is theoretically possible that an unrefined nut oil could be used to doctor an EVOO oil – but this wasn’t the case in the many samples the UC Davis center tested.
Still, if you’re dealing with a nut allergy and are concerned about an EVOO (or other oil) that you are using, in addition to checking the label, Allergic Living suggests contacting the manufacturer to inquire specifically about whether a product could include nut oils.
One thing Dr. Oz certainly didn’t exaggerate was that many EVOO brands were tainted with lesser oils. The UC Davis center’s trained testers also did a taste test. On the Dr. Oz show, Flynn noted that their descriptions of the fake EVOO oils included: “musty, waste pond, baby diaper, waxy, crayons, the kind of things you don’t want to get near your salad bowl.”
And as Dr. Oz summed up, “bad or rancid olive oil loses much of the anti-oxidant benefit, loses the anti-inflammatory benefit that I brag about all the time.”
To read the UC Davis Olive Center’s 2011 report, click here.