January 2020 Food Focus – Olive oil contributes towards pain reduction
We have all experienced pain of some sort in our lives. It is part of the human existence. For some however, and a growing number here in the UK, daily life is impacted by chronic pain, a constant ache in muscles and joints, with seemingly little or no relief. The NHS has strategies to help people in these situations – anti-inflammatory drugs, immune-system suppressants – which provide relief for some, but often not in the long term and not without side effects.
If you suffer with chronic pain, there are choices that you can make that have been shown scientifically to reduce inflammation. It is inflammation that drives pain, so focusing on getting certain foods into your day or week can have an impact on your pain levels. It won’t happen overnight but it will be have an effect so it is worth persevering. Here I focus on olive oil. An easy and delicious addition to your day.
So how does olive oil work to reduce pain?
Rich in phenolic compounds – one of the most abundant phytochemicals in the plant kingdom – olive oil has been well researched for its anti-inflammatory properties. In particular, a polyphenol in olive oil called oleocanthal, has been shown to have similar anti-inflammatory properties as ibuprofen. We are lucky that olive oil also happens to taste great. Many people these days use olive oil as their go-to cooking oil and this is fine – just don’t heat it at too high a temperature. But for the anti-inflammatory effects, you want to eat most of your olive oil raw – i.e. not heated but drizzled at the table. I remember when I was training in nutrition, and whilst on a ski holiday in Italy, I watched as two teenage boys sat down for a pizza and, before tucking in, liberally drizzled their dinner with olive oil. Light bulb moment! That is how to do it. And I've been doing it ever since – over everything. Don’t just use this for salads – who feels much like salad in January? – but over soups, casseroles, steamed broccoli and other veggies. Or over your pizza for that matter. Make this routine and aim for 2-3 tablespoons a day. It is worth splashing out on olive oil that you serve at the table. Chose a single estate oil, somewhere in the region of £10 gets you a decent bottle.