The Truth on Olive Oil Health


Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food

We’ve all heard countless times that extra virgin olive oil is the core of the Mediterranean diet, and extremely healthy.  But how solid is the science surrounding olive oil?  Medical pundits frequently hold forth about olive oil with faulty facts.  How often have you been warned not to cook with extra virgin olive oil because heat breaks it down – despite the fact that quality extra virgin olive oil actually has a very high smoke point, and is extremely healthy?  Who saw Dr. Oz, in an otherwise fairly useful segment on olive oil real and fraudulent, urge his viewers to use the “fridge test” to find out whether their olive oil was authentic?  (The fridge test is based on bad science, and doesn’t work, as explained by chemist Richard Gawel here.)

Shaky olive oil science isn’t confined to TV health gurus and urban legends:  sometimes it’s spread by serious researchers.  Hundreds of medical studies involving olive oil have been performed over the last several decades, but their methods – and the olive oils they’ve employed – haven’t always been the best.  A recent Spanish study on the cardiovascular benefits of the Mediterranean diet, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, triggered a spate of press coverage including two articles in the New York Times (here and here).  Trouble is, much of the olive oil used was donated by Hojiblanca, Spain’s largest olive oil producer/bottler, which was recently outed by the Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios, the Spanish answer to Consumer Reports, for deceptively selling an inferior grade of olive oil as “extra virgin” (summary in Spanish here).  Just think how heart-healthy the study participants would have been if they’d actually been eating extra virgin olive oil, with its store of anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatories and other health-promoting substances!

Things could be worse.  Three weeks earlier, a group of Scandinavian scientists published “Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and Risk of Breast Cancer”.  The study revealed no correlation between Mediterranean diet and reduced incidence of breast cancer, which is surprising until you read the fine print:  the sources of monounsaturated fat in their diet weren’t olive oil, but meat, dairy products and “fat for food preparation and sandwiches.”  As far as I can determine, participants in this “Mediterranean diet” study didn’t eat any olive oil at all, though olive oil is of course a key part of this dietary regime.

It’s time to start separating the wheat from the chaff in olive oil health, by building a canon of solid scientific information, and debugging a number of widespread olive oil misconceptions.  Truth in Olive Oil has been in contact with several top medical researchers who really understand olive oil, whose research is helping to clarify how healthy extra virgin olive oil helps fight, and even cure, a number of pathologies – as well as to identify areas where olive oil isn’t actually beneficial at all.  One of these researchers is Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.  Over the last thirty years, while working as a teacher, researcher and outpatient dietitian, Mary has reviewed the existing science concerning the role of olive oil and health; performed her own research on olive oil health; created a weight-loss diet that features extra virgin olive oil; co-authored books about the fallacy of low-fat weight-loss diets (Low-fat Lies, Lifeline Press, 1999) and the health benefits of an olive oil- and vegetable-rich diet for breast cancer survivors and for people in general (The Pink Ribbon Diet, Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2010); and celebrated olive oil in culinary events with prominent chefs.  In the process, she has gained a remarkable appreciation of olive oil not only as a health-promoting substance but as a delicious, uniquely satisfying food.  “The sooner people realize that foods like extra virgin olive oil are medicine, pure and simple, the healthier we all will be,” she told me recently  a phrase worthy of Hippocrates.

Dr. Flynn is joining Truth in Olive Oil this week, to explain how her fascination with extra virgin olive oil was born.  In future posts she’ll talk in more detail about the science behind extra virgin olive oil health, describe the weight-loss and therapeutic benefits of her olive-oil-based diet, and detail her research, past and future, into the beneficial effects of extra virgin olive oil, especially against coronary heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Truth in Olive Oil aims to raise funds for Dr. Flynn’s vital and ongoing research, as well as to help create a working group of internationally-recognized scientists and research institutes interested in exploring the therapeutic properties of high-quality extra virgin olive oil.  (Details on how you can contribute to this cause will be provided in Mary’s next post on Truth in Olive Oil.)

Mary Flynn, PhD, RD, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island

My interest in olive oil began in 1984, when I joined The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, a major teaching affiliate of the Brown University medical school.  The American Heart Association had just released a new set of diet guidelines which recommended that patients reduce the fat in their diet to no more than 30% of total calories.  One of my tasks at the hospital was to test these guidelines by designing diets to decrease the risk of heart disease.  From the beginning, I saw that as dietary fat decreased, the lipids of the patients were getting worse, with consistent increases in fasting triglycerides, and decreases in HDL (the so-called “good cholesterol”).

To understand why this was happening, I started exploring the literature on how dietary fat is related to a wide range of diseases.  One of the first studies I read was the Seven Country Study led by Ancel Keys, an American epidemiologist who researched Mediterranean dietary regimes in the 1950s-1980s, and was one of the founders of the so-called “Mediterranean diet.”  Keys looked at heart disease rates around the world and tried to relate them to various factors, including diet.  I remember being intrigued to learn that the men on the island of Crete ate more than 40% fat, but their heart disease rate was over 80% lower than what was seen in the US.  The diet fat for the men on Crete was mainly from olive oil, so I thought, “How can total fat in the diet be a health risk, if Mediterraneans eat so much olive oil and yet have low rates of heart disease?”

In subsequent years I became increasingly interested in olive oil, as I continued to read study after study that showed olive oil’s wide-ranging health benefits.  Nutritional research studies routinely produce apparently conflicting results involving the same foods, often due to the study design, the participants used, or the food source of the nutrient.  Yet somehow, the research on olive oil was different:  studies involving olive oil have consistently revealed health benefits, and a relation to decreasing diseases.  I found this fascinating, especially since at the time US health officials had begun to recommend low-fat diets to fight most chronic diseases, as well as for weight loss.

In fact, I have never supported the use of low-fat diets for any reason.  In 1999 I co-authored a book for laypeople that presented the literature on low-fat diets, showing that they were neither healthy nor effective (Low-fat Lies, Lifeline Press, 1999).  Low-fat diets aren’t effective for weight loss either:  so long as you lower calories, the proportions of fat, protein and carbohydrates aren’t important for losing weight.  What’s more, to keep weight down long-term, people have to stay on the diet, and for this to happen it helps a lot to like the diet.  For me, in fact, the main problem with low-fat diets was the hunger that resulted from reducing dietary fat.  Hunger is one of the main reasons people stop a weight loss diet.

Yet for reasons that I don’t fully understand, the media as well as many health officials and scientists jumped on the low-fat bandwagon, and somehow made “Mediterranean” synonymous with “fat.”  I saw this in a conversation with my editor of Low-fat Lies.  She asked me what diet I would recommend, and I said, “a Mediterranean diet.”  Her response was, “Wouldn’t people gain weight on a high-fat diet like that?”  What’s more, the label “Mediterranean diet” is widely misused, even by serious scientists.  Some researchers term their diet “Mediterranean” if it includes canola oil, or has a ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats similar to that in olive oil –  even where the main source of monounsaturated fat isn’t olive oil at all, but red meat!  Real Mediterraneans would never recognize such an olive-oil-free diet as their own.

I developed a weight-loss diet based on the basic eating principles observed around the Mediterranean by Ancel Keys and others, and widely practiced by Mediterranean populations today.  To avoid confusion, however, I didn’t call it a “Mediterranean diet,” but a “plant-based olive oil diet” instead.  It contained 2 to 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil a day, which are used to cook vegetables, dress salads, dip bread, etc.  Over 40% of the calories in the diet came from fat, primarily from the olive oil (as well as nuts).  I thought that including olive oil at lunch and dinner would help to decrease hunger between the meals and as long as the calories were lowered, there would be weight loss.  I recruited 10 women from the staff at Brown University and asked them to follow the diet for 8 weeks.  From the first week of the diet they started to remark, “I am not hungry, and I am losing weight!”  I invented new recipes so that they could make complete meals of olive oil, vegetables and a starch source (pasta, rice, potatoes, legumes), without having to include meat, poultry or seafood.  (I don’t include meat, poultry or seafood in my recipes as these are not foods that will improve your health.  In fact, their extra protein can actually lead to weight gain, as we do not store protein as protein, but break it down and store it as fat.)

My further research supported these initial findings.  Around the year 2000 I set up two studies, one involving overweight people in a cardiac rehabilitation program (all had heart disease), and the other with Brown University employees who were overweight but otherwise healthy.  For both studies, I randomly assigned half of the participants to my plant-based olive oil diet, and half to a conventional lower fat diet (< 30% fat).  I was intrigued by the differences in the study meetings.  The people on my diet were actually enthusiastic at each meeting, discussing different recipes they had tried and remarking on how delicious their meals were.  Not so for the low-fat groups.  One of the recurring comments from the group on my diet was again that they were not hungry and were losing weight.  For both studies, my diet resulted in significantly greater weight loss than the lower fat diet.  In a separate study, women on my plant-based olive oil diet lost more weight than with a lower fat diet.  In addition, they had lower levels of triglycerides and higher HDL, ate significantly more vegetables, and their blood levels of carotenoids – plant pigments such as beta- and alpha-carotene and lycopene that have been linked to health benefits in humans – were significantly higher in my diet, meaning that they had more of these cancer-protective phytonutrients of these vegetables in their blood.

I teach nutrition at Brown University in the undergraduate program, and lecture on nutrition in the medical school.  One of my undergraduate courses explores the literature on how food is related to chronic disease development and treatment, and the core food in the course is olive oil, because certain studies show that olive oil decreases the risk of all of the diseases we cover.  This course is a lot of fun to teach, because I see students rapidly become more adept at understanding the health benefits of food, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of scientific studies, and comprehending how food can be used as medicine.  It also keeps me current with the literature, especially studies of the health benefits of olive oil.

In addition to research and teaching with olive oil, I also use my olive oil diet in clinical work.  In 2005 I started working with the chef of the hospital to develop recipes for the employee cafeteria, following my plant-based olive oil diet.  The recipes all contained 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 servings of vegetables, together with whole-wheat pasta and brown rice.  The meals were a success, and the chef dubbed them “Mary Meals.”  Anthony Mega, MD, a medical oncologist at my hospital, liked them and subsequently asked me to develop a diet study for his patients with recurrent prostate cancer, who were being treated with androgen deprivation, a therapy that causes weight gain and the development of the Metabolic Syndrome (also known as “pre-diabetes”).  We did a pilot study of 20 men who used my diet for weight loss.  The average weight loss in 8 weeks was just over 11 pounds (6% of baseline weight).  The majority of the men reported that they loved the diet, and were eating vegetables like spinach and broccoli that they had not eaten in years (if ever).

In several of my studies, participants had remarked on how inexpensive it was to eat my diet.  I am on the board of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, and asked the CEO if I could develop a study to see if food pantry clients who used my diet would spend less on groceries.  The results of this study showed that they did in fact spend less when they used my recipes for 2 to 3 meals per week.  They also improved their food security, diet quality and there was a significant weight loss for the group.   This study refutes the notion that a healthy diet is expensive; it also shows that including extra virgin olive oil daily instead of meat/poultry or seafood is a very economical as well as healthy way to eat.  I have also recently completed a small pilot study teaching 10- to 13-year-olds who are children of food bank clients to make meals with my recipes.  The results are showing that the kids can easily make the recipes and the families are reporting eating more vegetables and whole grains, plus using extra virgin olive oil for several meals a week.

I am just starting a program to use my olive oil meals at McAuley House, a congregate meal site (a.k.a “soup kitchen”) that serves low-income and homeless individuals.  The plan is to serve one olive oil meal a week and study their acceptability, cost, and ease of preparation as compared with the current meals.  I’m now interviewing guests and working with the staff to lay the groundwork for our kick-off meal, which is on May 10th.  I’ll be posting pictures from this event here on Truth in Olive Oil and on the McAuley House website.

I’ve been studying and working with extra virgin olive oil for thirty years, and am just beginning to sense how much we still can learn about it.  Yet already I’ve come to believe that extra virgin olive oil is an amazing – indeed a near-miraculous – food.  In future posts, I’ll be exploring some of its specific health benefits described in published studies, including my own research.  I’ll also be detailing studies that I feel need to be done in the future, for which I’m pursuing funding.  If you don’t believe it already, I hope to convince you with solid scientific evidence that including high-quality extra virgin olive oil in your diet will significantly decrease your risk of chronic disease.


8 Surprising Uses for Olive Oil


1. Get Healthy Skin (And Fight Cancer!)

People have used olive oil for centuries for personal care. It is a great skin moisturizer, in part because it contains linoleic acid, a compound not made by the body, but which prevents water from evaporating. According to Leslie Baumann, M.D., author of The Skin Type Solution, consuming olives and olive oil can promote healthy skin, as can applying it directly as a moisturizer. You can also add a bit of olive oil to a warm bath for a good healthy soak.

Some of the most exciting news, according to Baumann, is that olive oil also contains at least four different antioxidants, which can help “neutralize damaging free radicals that can lead to skin aging and skin cancer.” Baumann writes that in studies mice that drank extra virgin olive oil developed less skin cancer after exposure to UV light.

Olive oil can also provide a safe and natural lubricant for a close shave. As a soothing aftershave, rub in an extra teaspoon of the stuff after rinsing off. In fact, some products from The Art of Shaving are based on olive oil. Similarly, olive oil can soothe chapped lips. Make your own balm by mixing olive oil and melted beeswax in a 1:1 ratio (add an essential oil if you want a nice fragrance). According to the handy new Website AltUse, you can moisturize your cuticles by soaking in olive oil mixed with water, or apply olive oil directly to cuticles before applying polish or buffing nails.

2. Tame Tangled and Damaged Hair

Olive oil also has benefits for hair. Comb a bit of the stuff through dry or frizzy hair to help tame and moisturize your locks, especially in winter or on humid days. Olive oil can also provide some relief for damaged hair.

In his new book Clean Body, Zen Cleaner Michael de Jong suggests treating your tresses by kneading a few tablespoons of olive oil into your scalp and hair. “Swathe your oiled-up curls with a shower cap and take a thirty minute breather…snooze, toss back a latté, whatever. Then just shampoo as usual to reveal a refurbished mane that even Fabio would envy,” he writes.

3. Care for Your Cat

Just as Frank and Millie can benefit from grooming with olive oil, so can Fluffy and Mittens. According to, add a teaspoon of olive oil to your cat’s food to help prevent hairballs, as well as promote a shiny, healthy coat. Olive oil is likely to be more gentle on a cat’s system than petroleum-based anti-hairball lubricants. Plus, it has the benefit of coming from a renewable resource, as opposed to oil from the ground.

couple in bed sleeping

4. Ease Snoring

Kitties aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of natural lubricating properties of olive oil (yes it can be used as a “personal lubricant,” in case you were wondering). And according to AltUse, taking a sip of olive oil before heading to bed can help lubricate your throat muscles, cutting down on snoring. We won’t tell if you drizzle some extra olive oil on Grandma’s salad the next time she comes to visit!

Others have noted that downing a teaspoon of olive oil can help soothe a scratchy or ticklish throat.

5. Polish Furniture and Metal (and Condition Leather)

Silverware, copper and other metal items can be polished with ketchup or toothpaste. After you’re done rub a bit of olive oil on to prevent streaks, corrosion and tarnish. According to Michael de Jong, to polish your desk, use two parts olive oil mixed with one part lemon juice.

Pour just a few drops on a soft cloth, wipe away the dust, scuffs and fingerprints, and make your desk shine. In fact this technique works well for a range of wooden furniture and objects. You can also condition and revitalize leather goods, such as baseball mitts, by rubbing in olive oil. Let set for 30 minutes, then wipe away any excess.

red zipper

6. Free Stuck Zippers

There are few things more annoying than stuck zippers (remember that episode of Seinfeld when George visits his therapist?). So if you are vexed by this particular problem, break out the olive oil. Swab some of the stuff on the teeth of the zipper, then try gently easing it unstuck. Good luck!

7. Fix Squeaky Doors

Olive oil can actually be used as a lubricant in many applications. It’s safe to keep around the house, so you don’t have to worry about children or pets getting into it. Try it out on squeaky doors, hinges and anywhere else you might consider using WD-40 or another lubricant. While WD-40 may work well, it’s also based on hydrocarbons, so anytime we can use less of those we’re taking a step toward a cleaner world.

8. Cure an Earache

A number of folks swear by olive oil as a natural remedy for earaches. One suggestion is to “very carefully use a cotton swab to apply olive oil to the outside ear cavity to help with earaches and excess wax.” Another user suggests: heat up some olive oil in a microwave for 30 seconds then apply it to the ear that hurts for relief.

History of Olive Oil


Early cultivation

The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin; wild olives were collected by Neolithic people as early as the 8th millennium BC.[1] The wild olive tree originated in Asia Minor[2] in ancient Greece.

It is not clear when and where olive trees were first domesticated: in Asia Minor in the 6th millennium; along the Levantine coast stretching from the Sinai Peninsula to modern Turkey in the 4th millennium;[1] or somewhere in the Mesopotamian Fertile Crescent in the 3rd millennium.

Ancient Greek olive oil production workshop in Klazomenai, Ionia (modern Turkey)

A widespread view exists that the first cultivation took place on the island of Crete. Archeological evidence suggest that olives were being grown in Crete as long ago as 2,500 BC. The earliest surviving olive oil amphorae date to 3500 BC (Early Minoan times), though the production of olive is assumed to have started before 4000 BC. An alternative view retains that olives were turned into oil by 4500 BC by Canaanites in present-day Israel.[3] Until 1500 BC, eastern coastal areas of the Mediterranean were most heavily cultivated. Olive trees were certainly cultivated by the Late Minoan period (1500 BC) in Crete, and perhaps as early as the Early Minoan.[4] The cultivation of olive trees in Crete became particularly intense in the post-palatial period and played an important role in the island’s economy.

Recent genetic studies suggest that species used by modern cultivators descend from multiple wild populations, but a detailed history of domestication is not yet understood.[5]

Production and trade

Ancient oil press (Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, Bodrum, Turkey)

Olive trees and oil production in the Eastern Mediterranean can be traced to archives of the ancient city-state Ebla (2600–2240 BC), which were located on the outskirts of the Syrian city Aleppo. Here some dozen documents dated 2400 BC describe lands of the king and the queen. These belonged to a library of clay tablets perfectly preserved by having been baked in the fire that destroyed the palace. A later source is the frequent mentions of oil in Tanakh.[citation needed]

Dynastic Egyptians before 2000 BC imported olive oil from Crete, Syria and Canaan and oil was an important item of commerce and wealth. Remains of olive oil have been found in jugs over 4,000 years old in a tomb on the island of Naxos in the Aegean Sea. Sinuhe, the Egyptian exile who lived in northern Canaan about 1960 BC, wrote of abundant olive trees.[6]

Besides food, olive oil has been used for religious rituals, medicines, as a fuel in oil lamps, soap-making, and skin care application. The Minoans used olive oil in religious ceremonies. The oil became a principal product of the Minoan civilization, where it is thought to have represented wealth. The Minoans put the pulp into settling tanks and, when the oil had risen to the top, drained the water from the bottom.[citation needed] Olive tree growing reached Iberia and Etruscan cities well before the 8th century BC through trade with the Phoenicians and Carthage, then spread into Southern Gaul by the Celtic tribes during the 7th century BC.

The first recorded oil extraction is known from the Hebrew Bible and took place during the Exodus from Egypt, during the 13th century BC. During this time, the oil was derived through hand-squeezing the berries and stored in special containers under guard of the priests. A commercial mill for non-sacramental use of oil was in use in the tribal Confederation and later in 1000 BC, the fertile crescent, and area consisting of present day Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel. Over 100 olive presses have been found in Tel Miqne (Ekron), where the Biblical Philistines also produced oil. These presses are estimated to have had output of between 1,000 and 3,000 tons of olive oil per season.

Many ancient presses still exist in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and some dating to the Roman period are still in use today.[citation needed]

Olive crusher (trapetum) in Pompeii (79 AD)

Olive oil was common in ancient Greek and Roman cuisine. According to Herodotus, Apollodorus, Plutarch, Pausanias, Ovid and other sources, the city of Athens obtained its name because Athenians considered olive oil essential, preferring the offering of the goddess Athena (an olive tree) over the offering of Poseidon (a spring of salt water gushing out of a cliff). The Spartans and other Greeks used oil to rub themselves while exercising in the gymnasia. From its beginnings early in the 7th century BC, the cosmetic use of olive oil quickly spread to all of Hellenic city states, together with naked appearance of athletes, and lasted close to a thousand years despite its great expense.[7][8] Olive trees were planted in the entire Mediterranean basin during evolution of the Roman republic and empire. According to the historian Pliny, Italy had “excellent olive oil at reasonable prices” by the 1st century AD, “the best in the Mediterranean”, he maintained.

The Manufacture of Oil, 16th=century engraving by J. Amman

The importance and antiquity of olive oil can be seen in the fact that the English word oil derives from c. 1175, olive oil, from Anglo-Fr. and O.N.Fr. olie, from O.Fr. oile (12c., Mod.Fr. huile), from L. oleum “oil, olive oil” (cf. It. olio), from Gk. elaion “olive tree”,[9] which may have been borrowed through trade networks from the Semitic Phoenician use of el’yon meaning “superior”, probably in recognized comparison to other vegetable or animal fats available at the time. Robin Lane Fox suggests[10] that the Latin borrowing of Greek elaion for oil (Latin oleum) is itself a marker for improved Greek varieties of oil-producing olive, already present in Italy as Latin was forming, brought by Euboean traders, whose presence in Latium is signaled by remains of their characteristic pottery, from the mid-8th century.

  1. ^ a b Davidson, s.v. Olives
  2. ^ “International Olive Council”. Retrieved October 5, 2011.
  3. ^ Ehud Galili et al., “Evidence for Earliest Olive-Oil Production in Submerged Settlements off the Carmel Coast, Israel”, Journal of Archaeological Science 24:1141–1150 (1997); Pagnol, p. 19, says the 6th millennium in Jericho, but cites no source.
  4. ^ F. R. Riley, “Olive Oil Production on Bronze Age Crete: Nutritional properties, Processing methods, and Storage life of Minoan olive oil”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21:1:63–75 (2002)
  5. ^ Guillaume Besnarda, André Bervillé, “Multiple origins for Mediterranean olive (Olea europaea L. ssp. europaea) based upon mitochondrial DNA polymorphisms”, Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences—Series III—Sciences de la Vie 323:2:173–181 (February 2000); Catherine Breton, Michel Tersac and André Bervillé, “Genetic diversity and gene flow between the wild olive (oleaster, Olea europaea L.) and the olive: several Plio-Pleistocene refuge zones in the Mediterranean basin suggested by simple sequence repeats analysis”, Journal of Biogeography 33:11:1916 (November 2006)
  6. ^ Gardiner, Alan H. (1916). Notes on the Story of Sinuhe. Paris: Librairie Honoré Champion.
  7. ^ Thomas F. Scanlon, “The Dispersion of Pederasty and the Athletic Revolution in sixth-century BC Greece”, in Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West, ed. B. C. Verstraete and V. Provencal, Harrington Park Press, 2005
  8. ^ Nigel M. Kennell, “Most Necessary for the Bodies of Men: Olive Oil and its By-products in the Later Greek Gymnasium” in Mark Joyal (ed.), In Altum: Seventy-Five Years of Classical Studies in Newfoundland, 2001; popis pp. 119–33
  9. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, s.v. “olive” and “oil”
  10. ^ Fox, Travelling Heroes in the Epic Age of Homer, 2008:127.


Olive Oil and Mythology


In Greek mythology, Athens was built by the semi-god Cecrope, who was half man and half snake. As the first king, Cecrope unified the populations of the Attic villages of the Acropolis and asked the gods for a sign of their protection.

Poseidon, god of the sea, and Athena, Zeus’s daughter and goddess of wisdom, fought over who would give them a sign. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident; the rock released seawater and a horse that could run faster than the wind. Athena planted the first olive tree, a tree that for centuries would give mankind a delicious juice that could be used to prepare food, heal wounds and diseases, and give light. Naturally, Cecrope declared Athena the winner. Athena became the city’s protector and namesake, and the Parthenon was built in her honor. Built near the very first olive tree, the Parthenon became a symbol of Greek culture, freedom and peace.

Another myth says that Theseus, son of Egeo and Etra, chief of the expedition to Crete, defeated and killed the Minotaur to free the city of Athens from the yearly human sacrifice. Theseus was able to leave the labyrinth only thanks to a string-which he had tied around the branch of an olive tree.

Olive trees have always dominated the area around Athens. In 86 B.C., the Roman dictator Lucio Cornelio Silla had all of the trees destroyed in order to build instruments of war. Their destruction was interpreted as an omen of death.
Solone, poet, legislator and political chief, had more trees planted and became famous for having promoted the cultivation of olive trees and placed them under Zeus’ protection. Since then, nobody has been able to destroy these precious trees.

Another legend states that Alliroto, son of Poseidon, upset by his father’s defeat, tried to destroy the olive trees with an axe. The olive tree fell on him and killed him. In addition, Homer featured olive oil and olive trees prominently in his work.

For instance, olive branches ensured that the souls of the dead successfully crossed the river Acheron to the underworld on Charon’s boat. For the same reasons, the Spartans buried their dead on a bed of olive twigs. Those who attended the funeral wore crowns of olive branches to protect themselves from evil.

Eventually, olive oil’s all-important role through Greece resulted in changes to the law and the currency. In 500 B.C., an image of Athena’s head crowned with olive oil was added to the drachma, the Greek coin that was also the most circulated currency in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, in Sparta, anyone who cut down a tree was executed or exiled. Olive oil also featured in early religious ceremonies, including the Olympics, which were named after the city of Olympia. Here, games were dedicated to the father of the gods, Zeus. Prizes included cash and olive oil. The oil was gathered in amphorae of five to eight and a half gallons each, meaning winners would receive 220-450 gallons of oil each! The winner was crowned with olive branches–the tradition was instated by Heracles, who organized the first Olympic ceremonies. The Romans continued this tradition by crowning victorious generals and emperors with olive wreaths.



Legend has it that the olive tree was a gift from the goddess Athena to humanity. Homer referred to olive oil as liquid gold, and Thomas Jefferson proclaimed it the richest gift of heaven. For centuries, a gift of olive oil was a welcome treasure. Food-lovers have never entirely forgotten the delightful golden fluid, but in recent years, a new awareness of the benefits of olive oil has been born. Science has turned its investigative eye upon it in recent years, and numerous studies have only reinforced the notion that olive oil is an amazing substance with numerous benefits. Here are 101 of them.

Olive oil can:

1. Make your arteries more elastic – Two tablespoons daily makes you more resistant to strokes and heart attack.

2. Reduce bad cholesterol levels. – Olive oil contains polyphenols, which help to keep your levels of LDL cholesterol within healthy ranges.

3. Make you less hungry – Olive oil makes you feel sated and tends to make you eat less and have fewer sugar cravings.

4. Reduce the risk of stroke in the elderly through yet another mechanism – Older people who ate diets rich in olive oil consumption, which contains plasma oleic acid, had fewer strokes in a 2011 study.

5. Lower the risk of coronary heart disease in women – Mediterranean cultures have long revered the olive and its oil, with good reason. An Italian study found that a diet that included olive oil along with plenty of leafy vegetables and fruit resulted in reduced rates of coronary heart disease in women enrolled in the study.

6. Cure or reduce acne – Although it sounds counterintuitive to use oil to fight pimples and blackheads, using an olive oil and salt scrub helps some types of acne.

7. Protect your red blood cells and therefore your heart – Over time, cells oxidize, leading to the common effects of aging. A specific polyphenol in olive oil is especially effective at protecting your red blood cells from oxidation. A 2009 study identified this component as DHPEA-EDA.

8. Treat sunburn – Olive oil soothes the pain of mild sunburn by helping skin retain its moisture. Use equal parts olive oil and water in a tight-lidded container. Shake well, then apply to mild sunburn. Shake the mixture often during application to keep it from separating.

9. Help fight breast cancer – Olive oil contains phytochemicals, and a 2008 study found that they are effecting at killing cancer cells and suppressing cancer genes.

10. Improve your memory – Some research has shown that olive oil can prevent and possibly even reverse the memory loss that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease.

11. Prevent heart attacks in men – A 2008 study showed that men who ate at least two ounces of olive oil reduced their chances of having a heart attack by 82 percent as compared to men who ate no olive oil.

12. Keep your lips soft and supple – Make your own lip balm by combining olive oil with equal parts beeswax. Put it into a small glass jar and apply it with your fingertip.

13. Condition your hair – Ancient beauties and warriors alike used olive oil to tame and beautify their locks. Olive oil strengthens hair and makes it more flexible.

14. Help you to stay healthier into old age – The Mediterranean Diet has been proven to be one of the healthiest in the world. Some consider it the healthiest. Olive oil has always been an integral part of the Mediterranean Diet. Although red wine and lots of fish, whole grains, fruits and vegetables also play a huge part in the diet’s success, scientists agree that it wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial without olive oil.

15. Prevent dry scalps – Using olive oil as a scalp conditioner moisturizes your dry scalp.

16. Prevent middle-age spread – Because olive oil is a calorie-dense food, it is often avoided out of fear that it will cause weight gain. However, a 2008 study showed that olive oil, along with nut oils, did not cause weight gain the way less healthy fats do.

17. Provide an easy way to add minimally processed food to your diet – Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is unrefined. It is obtained by pressing cold olives. All other oils that are readily available to consumers must be refined using heat and other harsh processes.

18. Clean sensitive skin – The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans had no soap and didn’t miss it thanks to olive oil. They massaged olive oil into their skin, then scraped it back off, along with dirt and dead skin. Today, a wide variety of soaps, including some made from olive oil, are available. Yet many people still prefer to clean their skin with pure olive oil.

19. Remove paint from your skin – Olive oil gently loosens paint on your skin. When you wipe away the oil, the paint goes with it. Your skin will be left soft, firm and smooth.

20. Make an inexpensive exfoliant that works like the most expensive spa products available – Exfoliating removes dead skin and prevents your skin from becoming dull. Mix a palmful of olive oil with a teaspoon of sugar or salt. Apply the mixture to your skin, then massage gently.

21. Moisturize your skin – Olive oil is closer in chemical structure to your skin’s natural oil than any other naturally occurring oil. Use it as you would a body, face and hand lotion.

22. Prevent your skin from aging prematurely – The same antioxidant properties that keep your red blood cells from oxidizing when you eat olive oil keep your skin cells from oxidizing when you apply it topically. The antioxidant hydroxytyrosol and vitamin E help to prevent cell degeneration in your skin.

23. Never clog your pores or cause pimples – Olive oil penetrates the skin, leaving your skin silky smooth with no greasy feeling. Cleopatra undoubtedly had many costly beauty secrets up her sleeve, but the most important of them can be yours for the price of a small bottle of EVOO.

24. Prevent sagging skin – The squalene in olive oil increases your skin’s elasticity, leaving it firmly toned with a bright, youthful glow.

25. Smooth and moisturize rough, dry feet – Make a foot scrub of equal parts olive oil and honey, a third part sugar and a dash of lemon juice. Soak your feet in warm water, then massage the moisture into them. Follow up by moisturizing your feet and hands with a well-shaken water and olive oil emulsion.

26. Give you a safe sunless tan – Use olive oil as a medium to make self-tanners go on more smoothly and evenly. Mix equal parts of a commercial self-tanning product and olive oil. Apply the mixture to your skin and enjoy your streak-free sunless tan.

27. Act as a perfect medium for cosmetics – Combined with natural pigments and beeswax, olive oil makes inexpensive, natural lip-gloss, blush and even eye shadow.

28. Make a perfect addition to homemade skin-care products – Nearly all your skin-care recipes, from masks to exfoliants, can be improved by substituting olive oil for the oil called for in the original recipe. You can also often improve and extend expensive commercial skin care products by mixing a small amount with a palmful of olive oil just before you use them.

29. Act as a perfect carrier for oil-based medicines – Essential oils usually cannot be used full-strength on the skin. They typically require the use of a carrier oil. Olive oil is excellent carrier oil for most essential oils.

30. Team up with mashed avocado for a homemade facial mask – Mix olive oil with a mashed ripe avocado into a paste. Smooth onto your face or another area that needs moisturizing and rejuvenating. Allow to sit for 15 minutes, then rinse.

31. Combine with honey and egg for a beauty mask right from the pages of Venus’ beauty guide – An ancient beauty mask recipe is made from an egg yolk, a spoonful of honey and a spoonful of olive oil. Rub it on and wait for 15 minutes, then rinse it all off with warm water.

32. Make a natural vitamin supplement – Two tablespoons can replace your daily vitamin E supplement while providing all the other benefits of olive oil.

33. Possibly protect and lubricate your voice – There is no scientific evidence yet to back them up, but singers have been using olive oil as a gargle before performing for centuries.

34. Make a natural massage oil – Olive oil may very well be the world’s oldest massage oil. It can be used alone or as a carrier oil for essential oils.

35. Enhance spirituality – Homer makes reference to the use of olive oil as an anointing oil. In ancient times, anointing was very important. Olive oil was often combined with myrrh or cinnamon oil before it was used for this sacred purpose.

36. Improve your skin’s appearance from the inside out – Including olive oil in your daily diet helps your skin stay healthy and beautiful.

37. Act as an all-natural personal lubricant – Olive oil is almost certainly the world’s oldest personal lubricant. It should not be used in combination with latex condoms or diaphragms, however.

38. Help fight off degenerative diseases – The antioxidants in olive oil give it the power to help lessen the impact of degenerative diseases on your body.

39. Improve the health of the entire population of the world – The World Health Organization officially recommends that people across the world adopt the Mediterranean diet for better health and specifically suggests olive oil as the healthiest source of fat on the planet.

40. Hold its own next to fruits and vegetables as a source of antioxidants and vitamins – EVOO is a natural, minimally processed food that contains as many antioxidants and nutrients as many foods that are touted as health foods.

41. Lower your blood pressure – Although researchers have some theories as to why it works, no one is sure why olive oil helps to lower blood pressure. They just know that it does.

42. Reduce nitric acid to normal levels – Nitric acid has been proven to increase blood pressure. Olive oil reduces nitric acid levels. This may be one of the ways it lowers your blood pressure.

43. Take the credit for making women beautiful – The Bible mentions that the Persian king Xerxes’ wives used olive oil to make themselves beautiful. More recently, Sophia Loren, who is still being named to “most beautiful” lists in her 70s, credits her beauty to olive oil baths. She also claims to consume olive oil daily.

44. Make fine soap – The very first soap in the world was made of olive oil. Today, olive oil soap is still one of the smoothest, best-smelling soaps on the market.

45. Combine with butter for a healthier bread spread – In a mixing bowl, combine one part softened butter and one part olive oil. Mix on low until the oil is whipped into the butter. Refrigerate and use it as you would butter.

46. Make you live longer – There is no doubt that eating a healthy diet can make you live longer. Olive oil is part of the healthiest diet on earth, the Mediterranean Diet. Jeanne Calment, who currently has the distinction of being the longest-living person whose age could be confirmed in the world, needed no convincing. She lived to be a very youthful 122 and gave the credit to her daily consumption of olive oil. She also used it topically.

47. Minimize cellulite – Mix used coffee grounds with olive oil for a topical cellulite treatment. Apply it directly to the skin.

48. Help you get a sunless tan without using commercial products – If you don’t like the thought of mixing olive oil with a commercial self-tanning lotion, mix it with used coffee grounds instead. Apply it liberally but evenly in the tub before your shower and allow it to work its magic.

49. Condition your hair – Used coffee grounds and olive oil make a good hair conditioner, as well. Rub it in well before you shampoo your hair.

50. Deep condition damaged hair – Warm a quarter cup of olive oil to a comfortable temperature, then work it through your hair to the roots. Wrap your hair in plastic wrap or a shower cap, then heat your hair with a hair dryer. Allow the oil to sit on your hair for up to a half hour, then shampoo as usual. If you do this in the shower, your whole body will emerge soft and silky.

51. Remove makeup – Apply olive oil to a cotton ball and gently wipe your makeup off your face. You can safely use olive oil near your eyes.

52. Firm and tone skin – Combine equal parts water and olive oil in a jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. Apply to your skin.

53. Add a new dimension to ordinary wrestling matches – In Turkey, a 600-year-old tradition involves grown men wrestling while covered in olive oil.

54. Act as a sensual massage oil – Olive oil has been used as a sensual massage oil since ancient times.

55. Help you create delicious, healthy baked goods – Olive oil is commonly used in baking in the Mediterranean. Use a lighter-colored, lighter tasting end-of-season version for desserts.

56. Ensure your baked goods come out of the pan in one piece – Olive oil can be rubbed or misted on baking pans instead of baking sprays or shortening.

57. Turn fast food into health food – Use olive oil to transform unhealthy American pizza into healthy Mediterranean pizza by substituting it for other oils and using it to oil the pan and shine up the finished crust.

58. Keep baked goods fresh longer – The vitamin E in olive oil helps to keep baked goods moist and fresh longer than solid shortenings or even other oils.

59. Replace butter in recipes – Olive oil is a good substitute for butter in recipes. It even works in baked goods. Use slightly less than the amount of butter called for in the recipe.

60. Return Italian dishes to their healthy roots – Use olive oil in sauces, to prevent pasta from sticking and to sauté ingredients. A little of the right oil can make the difference between a health dish and an unhealthy one.

61. Make heaven on a plate – Make heart-healthy pesto by grinding basil, walnuts or pine nuts, parmesan and garlic together, then incorporating EVOO until the texture is right. Serve over pasta or as a dipping sauce for bread.

62. Protect food from freezer burn – Use as a protective seal for homemade sauces or other Mediterranean dishes before you freeze them.

63. Prevent mosquitoes from breeding – Prevent mosquito larvae from contaminating rainwater by pouring a layer of olive oil on top of the water in your rain barrel.

64. Make a heart-healthy condiment – EVOO is delicious drizzled over bread and many other dishes.

65. Make a heart-healthy salad dressing – Combine equal parts EVOO and balsamic vinegar, raspberry vinegar or red wine vinegar and drizzle over your salad.

66. Make ordinary bread something special – Bread dipping oils can be flavored with a variety of herbs and spices. Start with EVOO and use your imagination.

67. Combine with herbs, spices, garlic or citrus juices to make your taste buds pop – Infuse EVOO with herbs for dipping sauces. Experiment with adding garlic alone or in combination with herbs, spices, vinegars or lemon or other citrus juices.

68. Compliment or contrast with your food – Different EVOOs pair beautifully with foods. Choose flavors of EVOO that either compliment or contrast with the food you are serving it with, then drizzle the cold oil over the food.

69. Reduce the appearance of stretch marks – Combine equal parts cocoa butter and olive oil for a stretch-mark minimizer.

70. Enhance the beauty of black hair – Combine olive oil with hair care products to make the product spread more evenly through your hair.

71. Detangle your hair – Work olive oil into your hair, then comb the tangles right out of it.

72. Shine and seal your hair – After moisturizing, apply olive oil to prevent the moisture from evaporating.

73. Boost a commercial conditioner – Add olive oil to conditioner to enhance and improve it.

74. Prevent hair loss and damage – By using olive oil to manage your hair instead of using harsh chemicals, you can minimize damage to your hair.

75. Kill lice – To kill lice, follow the directions for using olive oil as a deep conditioning treatment. Make sure to leave the oil on your child’s hair for at least 30 minutes and repeat the treatment every ten days for at least a month.

76. Prevent prematurely gray hair – EVOO contains pigments. Using it in your hair will gradually darken it.

77. Aid digestion – People have taken olive oil as a digestive aid for generations.

78. Make a sweet-smelling, clean-burning lamp oil – Olive oil lamps have been prized for thousands of years for their good light and lack of sputter.

79. Act as a household lubricant – Use olive oil anywhere you would use a lubricant spray or 3in1 oil.

80. Shine household surfaces – Appliances, faucets, stainless steel and laminate surfaces all benefit from a light coating of olive oil and a gentle buffing.

81. Condition cutting boards – Rub olive oil lightly on cutting boards, wooden salad bowls and wooden utensils.

82. Sauté food – You can sauté most foods in olive oil. Avoid high heat and don’t try to use it for deep-frying.

83. Darken and highlight eyelashes – Use olive oil instead of mascara to darken and shine your eyelashes and eyebrows.

84. Turn or bath into a spa – Add olive oil to your bath the way you would use any bath oil. Experiment with using different essential oils to scent it.

85. Soothe a baby’s delicate skin – Use olive oil instead of baby oil for baby care, especially to treat and prevent diaper rash.

86. Waterproof your work boots – It also works on tool belts, baseball gloves and other utilitarian leather items.

87. Smooth out that rough shave – Use olive oil instead of soap or shaving cream for a close, comfortable shave.

88. Polish wood furniture – Apply olive oil to a soft cloth, then wipe it onto your furniture.

89. Condition cuticles – Apply olive oil on a cotton swab to moisturize your cuticles.

90. Keep measuring cups clean – Wipe measuring containers with olive oil to allow sticky ingredients to slide right out of the pan.

91. Tame frizzy hair – Lightly spray olive oil on frizzy hair before combing.

92. Unstick a zipper – Allow oil to penetrate the zipper, then unzip as usual.

93. Improve a cat’s coat – Add a small amount of olive oil to cat food for a shinier coat and healthy skin.

94. Lend a shine to brass – Apply olive oil to a soft cloth, then rub it onto brass hardware.

95. Ease earache pain – A popular over-the-counter earache remedy has only one ingredient: olive oil.

96. Ease a scratchy throat tickle – A sip of EVOO may quiet that annoying tickle.

97. Make shoes shine – Lightly dampen a soft cloth with olive oil, then buff your shoes with it.

98. Protect hands from yard work – Put olive oil on your hands before gardening or other dirty work to prevent dirt buildup and make cleanup easier.

99. Remove sap or tar from your skin – Apply olive oil to the sticky spot, then rub gently until the residue is removed. Wipe the oil off your hands.

100. Remove stickers – Saturate the sticker with olive oil, then gently peel it off the surface.

101. Remove chewing gum from skin or non-porous surfaces – Rub the gum gently with olive oil. It might also help you pass chewing gum you have swallowed, but consult a doctor if you have swallowed more than a piece or two.