Why your olive oil is probably fake

  • Hope I don’t get a horse’s head in the bed for this, but… 
  • There’s a dodgy Mafia-controlled product in your kitchen cupboard – and it’s probably fake 
  • Is this alternative any healthier?

Last week, I got some great responses to my letter about burning sage.

Otherwise known as ‘smudging’ – an ancient practice for cleansing the air, warding off infection and sharpening the mind.

At the end of that letter I asked for some of your experiences with sage as a healing remedy.

Kate emailed me to say that she found out about sage via the ideas of Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist and herbalist from the 17th century.

“I was into plant lore when I was pregnant 30 years ago, and while being interested in homeopathy, wanted to explore the history of botanical medicine.  On Culpepper’s advice, I added handfuls of sage to my bath – can’t say if I noticed whether I was more or less hysterical, but certainly the baths were very relaxing – and anything that persuades your mind that you are doing ‘self-care’ has to be beneficial!”

Another reader, Lynda, emailed me with this:

“I use sage occasionally to clear the energy in a room – as I am a counsellor, I often have a lot of negative energy transmitted while my clients offload their issues. I might smudge after my clients have left but not while they were there, in case they found the smell too strong.”

I got an interesting cleansing alternative from Hennie, who recommends juniper.

“When I had a respiratory problem earlier this year, I put a few drops of juniper oil into a bowl of very hot water and gave myself a steam inhalation with a towel over my head, sitting at the table for a few minutes.  It’s also good to spray in a spritzer to cleanse energies in a room if they feel a bit ‘sticky,’ or someone’s been in a bad mood in the room.”

All great stuff – thank you to everyone who has written to me so far!

Talking of which, I received an email from a reader who wanted me to do a bit of online digging…

The little-known benefits of rice bran

John wrote to tell me that he uses a product known as ‘rice bran oil’.

He discovered this oil because he has coeliac disease, so he tends to cook from scratch, avoiding most standard foodstuffs.

He chanced on rice bran oil when making a carrot cake and has since used it whenever frying, baking or making salad dressings.

“It claims to be a source of natural vitamin E,” he writes, “has no cholesterol, has plant sterols, has a light, neutral flavour and has a high smoke point of 250 deg. C (whereas some others turn a bit nasty if they experience too much heat).”

But, he says…

“What I find most puzzling is that neither celebrity chefs, cookery book writers nor specialist health food suppliers make any reference at all to this oil.

Is it, perhaps, that all these people are signed up to the ‘olive oil mafia’?  Perhaps you might do some sleuthing and Google it to see if there is some dastardly characteristics which are not so evident?”

So, I’ll get onto the ‘olive oil mafia’ in a moment.

First, what is rice bran oil?

Well, it’s the oil which is extracted from the outer layer of the rice grain.

Popular in Asia, this oil is not very well known over here, as it is often chucked away after rice has been milled.

Yet it has some powerful health benefits:

  • It’s packed with vitamin E, which keeps your immune system strong, as well as your skin and eyes.
  • In early studies on humans, it has been shown to help lower blood sugar levels and improve insulin resistance.
  • Other studies (again, on humans) suggest that it can improving cholesterol levels to help reduce heart disease risk.

What makes it unique, compared to canola or olive oil, is that it contains the active compounds oryzanol and tocotrienols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

  • Oryzanol has been shown to block the absorption of cholesterol into the body.
  • Tocotrienols are fat-soluble compounds that are converted into vitamin E which is an antioxidant for the heart.

There are no sneaky side effects, except for advice that people with digestive tract problems such as intestinal ulcers should avoid it, as the fibre can potentially cause blockages.

So why is this oil not more

well known?

Have the Agromafia cancelled this ‘healthy oil’?

You might not realise this but there’s a Mafia problem with Italy’s food supply.

The crime organisation has got deep into the agriculture business (the so-called ‘agromafia’), controlling everything from production, to transport, distribution and export.

Food now counts for 15% of the Mafia’s total estimated turnover.

Because of this meddling, it is now reckoned that 80% of the Italian olive oil you see in the shops is fraudulent.

The New York Times has said, “Much of the extra virgin Italian olive oil flooding the world’s market shelves is neither Italian nor virgin.”

Many of these dodgy olive oils are sold under well-known brand names. In fact, even in Italian supermarkets, an estimated 50% is fraudulent.

So is the Mafia helping strangle publicity surrounding alternatives like rice bran oil?

Well, I’ve looked around and seen articles in the Mail, Guardian, and many health sites extolling the virtues of this oil.

Which means I don’t think there’s a conspiracy of silence.


What I do think is in the media, certain products become ‘trendy’ while others fall under the radar.

When something trends EVERYONE wants to write about it as the latest superfood.

And when it doesn’t, journalists ignore it.

Remember that, ultimately, most media outlets primarily want attention – clicks, shares, likes, newspaper purchases – as opposed to having a genuine interest in getting the right health information to you.

There’s another factor in play, too…

Because it’s so cheaply available in the supermarkets (around £2-2.50 per 500ml), there is not much impetus for people to sell it on their websites, as they won’t really be able to compete and make any margin of profit.

That means less advertising and less overall awareness of that product.

But hopefully today’s letter redresses that a bit!