Dr. Gundry’s Olive Oil: Controversial Pitchman Peddles a Dose of Deception

A YouTube video advertisement features a Beverly Hills doctor making questionable claims to sell his Moroccan olive oil for nearly $200 per liter.
Steven R. Gundry (OOT Illustration)
Feb. 6, 2021
Curtis Cord

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YouTube view­ers with olive oil any­where in their search algo­rithm will likely encounter a 10-minute adver­tise­ment for a brand with some lofty claims.

The video begins with a sen­sa­tional hook: Olive oil from your local gro­cery store might actu­ally be more harm than good for your body.”

Gundry, who is not an accred­ited dieti­cian, came under crit­i­cism long before his foray into the olive oil busi­ness.

The pitch­man is Steven R. Gundry, a Beverly Hills-based car­diac sur­geon and author, who claims his olive oil brand con­tains more polyphe­nols than any other olive oil you can find.”

Gundry explains that his oil is sourced from a Moroccan farm where the desert con­di­tions stress the olives, which respond by pro­duc­ing more hydrox­y­ty­rosol than any other olives in the world.”

The adver­tise­ment is replete with grand pro­nounce­ments that Gundry’s olive oil can restore your youth­ful vital­ity no mat­ter how old you are,” and he repeat­edly states that his Polyphenol-Rich Olive Oil has 30 times more polyphe­nols than any other olive oil.”

The sleight-of-hand that might escape most view­ers is that Gundry repeat­edly com­pares his brand to what he calls tra­di­tional” olive oils, not extra vir­gin olive oils. Refined oils by def­i­n­i­tion con­tain a frac­tion of the phe­no­lic con­tent of extra vir­gin olive oils.

When asked how their olive oil would com­pare with extra vir­gin olive oils, a Gundry asso­ciate replied, Since we have not tested for third-party extra vir­gin olive oils, we would not be able to pro­vide a com­par­i­son to our prod­uct. I sin­cerely apol­o­gize for any incon­ve­nience.”

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Gundry’s Polyphenol-Rich Olive Oil (Photo: Olive Oil Times)

In my med­ical prac­tices, I always advise my patients to get at least a liter of olive oil a week,” Gundry says in the video, with­out spec­i­fy­ing whether his 8,000-calorie pre­scrip­tion is to con­sume extra vir­gin or refined olive oil.

In order to slim down, sup­port your heart health, super-charge your energy, soothe your joints, and make your skin glow, a liter of olive oil a week is more than worth it,” Gundry pro­claims.

One can imag­ine some of his devo­tees smoth­er­ing their Western-diet fare with more than 1,000 calo­ries per day of olive oil, hop­ing to slim down.”

If Gundry coun­sels his patients to con­sume a liter of refined oil to reach his rec­om­mended intake of polyphe­nols, he dis­re­gards extra vir­gin olive oils in his direc­tive entirely. (And did­n’t he say, Olive oil from your local gro­cery store might actu­ally be more harm than good for your body”?)

If he intends for his patients to take a liter of extra vir­gin olive oil, he fails to acknowl­edge the legions of researchers who have deter­mined that replac­ing less healthy fats with a mere two table­spoons per day could bring sub­stan­tial health ben­e­fits.

But as an alter­na­tive to down­ing a liter of some kind of olive oil every week, Gundry wants you to take half a table­spoon per day of his Polyphenol-Rich (and Super-Expensive) Olive Oil, which he says will ensure you’re get­ting an entire liter a week’s worth of super­charged polyphe­nols in just 4 days.”

Olive Oil Times com­mis­sioned two analy­ses of Gundry’s oil that revealed total phe­no­lic con­tent between 561 and 612 mg/kg (or ppm).

While lab test results always have a degree of uncer­tainty and can vary depend­ing on the ana­lyt­i­cal meth­ods employed, the phe­no­lic con­tents of Gundry’s sam­ples, while quite high, would be in line with extra vir­gin oils pro­duced in regions around the world from early-har­vested olives.

However, an inter­na­tion­ally-cer­ti­fied taste panel leader found the Gundry sam­ple from the most recent har­vest to be lam­pante — or unfit for human con­sump­tion — call­ing it one of the worst oils I have ever assessed,” devoid of any pos­i­tive attrib­utes and exceed­ingly ran­cid.

Gundry lists extra vir­gin olive oil as the sole ingre­di­ent on the back of the bot­tle, but the front indi­cates polyphe­nol-rich olive oil.” It’s there­fore unclear, inten­tion­ally or not, whether the prod­uct is being rep­re­sented as EVOO or as refined olive oil with addi­tives to boost its phe­no­lic com­po­si­tion.

Gundry’s web­site offers another prod­uct, Chef’s Select,” from the same Moroccan source, which indi­cates extra vir­gin olive oil on the front label yet sells for 1/4 the Polyphenol-Rich oil price. When asked to explain the dif­fer­ence, a Gundry asso­ciate replied, there is no hydrox­y­ty­rosol in the Chefs Select” — a sur­pris­ing state­ment since any extra vir­gin olive oil has at least some of the com­pound.

Again, when Gundry explains that it would take a liter of reg­u­lar olive oil” every week to reach his rec­om­mended intake of phe­nols, he seems to be refer­ring to refined oils. To sug­gest his olive oil boasts 30 times more polyphe­nols than any extra vir­gin olive oil would be patently false.

Yet that’s the rea­son­ing behind the nearly $200-per-liter price tag of Gundry’s prod­uct when Moroccan extra vir­gin olive oil is trad­ing for around $3.65 on a good day.

Gundry’s label also shows a three-year shelf-life, a rare and unscrupu­lous (though tech­ni­cally legal) prac­tice that helps a pro­ducer sell oil well past its prime.

Joseph R. Profaci, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North American Olive Oil Association, said mem­bers of the group, includ­ing major American importers, are pro­hib­ited from indi­cat­ing a three-year shelf-life on pack­ag­ing fol­low­ing clear guid­ance from the International Olive Council.”

And jus­ti­fy­ing a sky-high price for ele­vated phe­no­lics lev­els (even if it were true) has its own prob­lems.

Gundry claims you can never get too many polyphe­nols” with­out cit­ing evi­dence, con­trary to some health experts who say that’s not the case.

You get to a point, and some­times early, that the high doses [of polyphe­nols] become haz­ardous,” Jim Kehrer of the phar­macy depart­ment at the University of Alberta in Edmonton said in an inter­view with CBC News.

See Also: World’s Healthiest Olive Oil? The Jury’s Still Out.

Advertisers have put forth the idea that a lit­tle is good, more is bet­ter, and a lot is great, but that isn’t really cor­rect,” said Kehrer, who has been research­ing the effects of free rad­i­cals since the 1970s, accord­ing to CBC.

Gary Beauchamp, the pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who dis­cov­ered and named the phe­no­lic com­pound oleo­can­thal, said there is no evi­dence that more is always bet­ter when it comes to phe­nols, adding it is rea­son­able to assume that there is a level of phe­no­lics that would not be healthy to con­sume.”

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Steven Gundry (Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Web Summit via Sportsfile)

Gundry, who is not an accred­ited dieti­cian, came under crit­i­cism long before his foray into the olive oil busi­ness.

Robert H. Eckel, a past pres­i­dent of the American Heart Association, wrote in an arti­cle for the Center for Nutritional Studies that Gundry’s diet advice con­tra­dicts every dietary rec­om­men­da­tion rep­re­sented by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association and so on” and that it is not pos­si­ble to draw con­clu­sions from Gundry’s research due to the absence of con­trol patients in his stud­ies.

There is no detailed pub­li­ca­tion of his meth­ods, his sub­jects, his results, or his inter­ven­tion,” Eckel wrote, attribut­ing Gundry’s unsub­stan­ti­ated claims to either will­ful neg­li­gence or aston­ish­ing incom­pe­tence.”

I find it curi­ous that MDs think they can func­tion as a nutri­tion­ist,” said Mary Flynn, a nutri­tion­ist for Brown Medical School. As an MD, his nutri­tion knowl­edge would be lim­ited, so I guess he is just one more MD mak­ing money off the inter­net.”

In New Scientist, food writer and chef Anthony Warner called Gundry’s the­o­ries on nutri­tion laugh­able” and unsup­ported by main­stream nutri­tional sci­ence.

Beauchamp, who first iden­ti­fied one of the most cel­e­brated phe­no­lics in extra vir­gin olive oil, said Gundry’s work seemed very prob­lem­atic” when asked about the adver­tised claims.

Hard-work­ing pro­duc­ers of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oils world­wide have always strug­gled to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their brands in a crowded mar­ket­place rife with lesser prod­ucts.

Undermining their efforts is the long-stand­ing prac­tice by mass mer­chants who use extra vir­gin olive oil as a loss-leader, sup­press­ing prices and liveli­hoods.

Celebrity doc­tors and chefs rou­tinely stum­ble through on-air mis­truths, like a widely cited (and thor­oughly debunked) refrig­er­a­tor test to deter­mine olive oil qual­ity or a ludi­crous see-through test for purity.

And there will always be snake oil sales­man throw­backs who cap­i­tal­ize in the vac­uum of con­sumer knowl­edge about a healthy, afford­able and nec­es­sary com­mod­ity.

We need to stop the spread of the false choice that olive oil is healthy only if it’s expen­sive,” Profaci wrote. Such mis­in­for­ma­tion pushes con­sumers who can’t afford to pay $1 or $2 per table­spoon or even more to forgo the poten­tial health ben­e­fits of olive oil entirely and opt instead for less healthy cook­ing oils. And it is espe­cially objec­tion­able when such mis­in­for­ma­tion comes from a physi­cian who has sworn to do no harm.”

There are oth­ers fol­low­ing Gundry’s lead. A Los Angeles-based osteopath is sell­ing Greek olive oil for $272 per liter, claim­ing it con­tains plant-based super­phe­nols,” what­ever that means. (A trade­mark appli­ca­tion for the mean­ing­less term is pend­ing.)

Gundry nev­er­the­less enjoys a con­sid­er­able fol­low­ing who gush with glow­ing tes­ti­monies of their changed lives on his YouTube chan­nel and prod­uct pages.

If only the oppor­tunis­tic doc­tor used his mega­phone to spread truths, instead of adding to the abun­dant con­fu­sion about this vital prod­uct and sub­vert­ing eth­i­cal pro­duc­ers and mar­keters’ efforts to edu­cate the deserv­ing pub­lic.

Curtis Cord is the founder and edi­tor-in-chief of Olive Oil Times.


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