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The Israeli olive oil guru

Posted By ISRAEL21c Staff On January 16, 2005 @ 6:00 pm In | No Comments

Some of the olive oil-derived products available from Eger Farms’ Olive Oil Products Industry Ltd. Olive oil is in the news, and the news is good. Last week’s findings by Northwestern University in Chicago that olive oil can help fight breast cancer, is just the latest of many health benefits that have been shown to be derived from this oldest of medicinal foods.

“Our findings underpin epidemiological studies that show that the Mediterranean diet has significant protective effects against cancer, heart disease and ageing,” said the study’s lead author, Javier Menendez, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg medical school.

One of the few non-drug products that has gained FDA approval, olive oil was attributed by the agency at the end of 2004 with the ability to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.

Israelis, who long ago made olive oil a staple in their diet, are no strangers to the benefits of olive oil, and two in particular – Dr. Shaul Eger and Professor Ishak Neeman are leading the way in developing olive oil-derived products aimed at enabling people to live healthier lives.

A visit to Egers Farms in Yokneam near Haifa, run by Eger – coined the “guru” of Israeli olive oil – provides ample evidence of the scope of applications for the ancient oil.

“More than 20 diseases are caused by oil malnutrition,” Eger told ISRAEL21c, citing cardiac and digestive problems as well as a host of other ills including post-partum depression, ADHD, dandruff, loss of hair, and skin diseases such as psoriasis.

“It is finally recognized that food kills. A low-fat diet can be harmful because we need essential oils. The human nervous system is oil dependent, and it is one of the first to deteriorate when deprived of essential oil.”

An animal physiologist by profession, Eger, together with Neeman of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, has developed a whole line of products based on olive oil. Through their research at the Technion situated on Mount Carmel – where coincidentally the first olive tree took root some 6,000 years ago – they’ve succeeded in solidifying the oil for use in spreadable olive oil products, as well as ointments.

The achievement won Neeman a Hershel Rich Technion Innovation Award presented to researchers for outstanding innovative projects with commercial potential.

It represents a new way of producing an oil spread that can replace butter and margarine, according to Eger, without the process of hydrogenation, which produces saturated fatty acids and trans-configurated acid and constitute potential health risks. The patented procedure can also be used with different oils such as olive, corn or sunflower.

At Eger Farms – which hosts Eger and Neeman’s Olive Oil Products industry ltd. – the olive oil enthusiasts make a good case for putting olive oil on your pasta, on your bread, and in your salads – not to mention rubbing it on your skin and hair.

“Most processed food [like margarine] loses its nutritional properties and is potentially harmful,” said Eger. “To modify it to a solid state the vegetable fat undergoes a process of hydrogenation, thereby raising quantities of saturated fatty acids. It is no secret anymore that oils solidified by hydrogenation contain trans-fatty acids,” adds Eger.

According to the FDA, any food that contains over 1% fatty acid cannot be considered a functional food and is actually detrimental to health. Most spreads contain 9-12% trans-fatty acids.

Eger and Neeman say that people need to change from a diet of saturated fats, to a balanced diet with at least 75% mono-unsaturated fat, no more than 15% saturated, and 10% polyunsaturated. The winner as a therapeutic food is top quality extra virgin olive oil.

“It has optimal fatty acid composition and a high content of antioxidants,” says Eger.

The collaboration between Eger and Neeman led to the development of olive oil products that have no synthetic colors, preservatives, sugar, salt, or water. There are no other solidified olive oil products on the market that offer the same health benefits, they said.

“We have worked for more than 10 years developing innovative olive oil products,” said Eger who earned his doctorate at the School of Agriculture of the Hebrew University.

Dr. Eger – Olive Oil Products industry ltd., is a private company specializing in olive based products, established in 1991. The company, in cooperation with the Technion Research and Development Foundation Ltd., has developed a unique technology for solidification of edible oils.

Based on this technology, the company developed patented spreads – in flavors like garlic, basil and oregano – as a substitute to butter and margarine for the retail and industrial market, as well as cosmetic products.

The spreads also include an Omega-3 boost (tasteless and odorless fish or vegetable-based oil). Omega-3 is vital for visual systems and cognitive development in infants, and reduces the risk of arteriosclerosis and cardio vascular impairment in adults. It can also ameliorate the deterioration of mental capacity of adults and improve cognitive ability.

“We have the only products in the world that include such a high content of Omega-3 – 20% in therapeutic products, and 10% in nutritional products,” said Eger.

Eger also produces a line of Olive Oil/Aroma Cosmetics: natural ointments with moisturizing and nourishing properties for the face and body, and Olive Oil for the Scalp. Each product is enhanced with natural essential oils, both therapeutic and aromatic.

Neeman, an Associate Professor in the Department of Food Engineering and Biotechnology at the Technion, has a distinguished academic career. He has done research at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical School. He is also well-known for his research on other natural products: avocado (which has anti-bacterial properties), cactus flower extracts (anti-depressant), pomegranate juice and oil (a potent anti-oxidant), and has co-founded several companies based on his patented technology.

Eger said that their products are already being sold in Japan and Korea, and in the upcoming year, consumers in North America and England will also be able to sample their wares.


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