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Olive Oil’s Many Health Benefits to be Explored in Yale Symposium in Spain

October 07, 2021
by Michael Greenwood

An annual international symposium on olive oil and health hosted by the Yale School of Public Health is heading to the center of the olive oil world – Spain – where leading experts will gather later this year to examine the potential and impact of what some call “liquid gold.”

Co-hosted by the University of Jaen, the symposium will run from December 9 to 12 in Jaen, a city in the province of Andalusia, the heart of Spain’s olive oil belt and an area under consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage site for a grove known as the Mar de Olivos, or “Sea of Olives.” This is the third international symposium hosted since 2018. Last year’s event was postponed due to the pandemic.

Organized by Vasilis Vasiliou, Ph.D., the Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology and the chair of the Yale School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, and Tassos C. Kyriakides, Ph.D., a Yale Center for Analytical Sciences (biostatistics) faculty member, the symposium will bring together academics, business leaders, farmers and national and regional policymakers to discuss the still-untapped potential of the olive tree and its products, in particular olive oil.

“We’re very excited to be back. This year’s event is the biggest yet, with an incredible and ambitious program. I am truly excited about bringing together so many people who are as passionate about olive oil as I am,” said Vasiliou. “There’s nothing else like this symposium in the world.”

This year’s symposium will address a variety of themes central to olive cultivation and the future of olive oil, both in human and planetary health. They include:

  • Recent findings about health advances associated with olive oil.
  • How climate change is affecting olive groves and how olive agriculture can positively affect the climate.
  • Successful olive oil marketing and business models.

Each program session will conclude with a roundtable discussion and a Q&A. The symposium will also feature an olive oil tasting and a guided tour of olive groves.

The Yale School of Public Health is seeking to launch the Yale Institute for Olive Sciences and Health, which would be devoted to the scientific exploration of the olive tree, its products and their derivatives, and ways to further integrate the fruit and its products into peoples’ nutrition. The institute would also focus on planetary health issues, including sustainability, circular economy models and climate change.

Vasiliou, who is from Greece, also a major center of olive oil production and a leading consumer, said that a proposal for an olive oil institute should be completed and submitted for review by year’s end. Such an institute would serve as a global organization to facilitate and conduct work in all areas pertaining to the olive tree and its products.

“I grew up with olive oil and have seen its benefits firsthand. Mediterranean nutrition has been recognized for years as the healthiest in the world, and its cornerstone is olive oil,” he said. “I want to help establish Yale’s and its School of Public Health’s collaborative leadership in this important area.”

Meanwhile, Kyriakides, an olive oil sommelier, not only constantly tastes oils from all over the world, he consumes copious amounts of olive oil daily in his cooking in addition to his daily morning extra virgin olive oil shot.

“It works for me, and it is absolutely delicious and healthfully nutritious,” he said. “The olive tree and olive oil have been connecting people for thousands of years; it is our responsibility as public health professionals to ensure the benefits that this superfood can effect on human health are shared with those we connect with.”

Evidence from the past 50 years strongly suggests that olive oil promotes good health, Kyriakides said. A daily intake of 20 grams of olive oil (about two tablespoons) that includes a certain amount of a particular polyphenol (at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives) carries a health claim, approved by the European Food Safety Agency that relates to the protection of blood lipids from oxidative stress. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also supports a qualified health claim that consumption of oleic acid (the main component of olive oil) may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

Spain, which requested to be the co-host of this year’s symposium, is the leading producer of olive oil in the world, accounting for 35% to 40% of its production, Kyriakides said. Additionally, many advances in the olive agricultural, as well as sustainability and planetary health initiatives, have come from Spanish practices.

“Now, more than ever, the need for such a globally focused institute is so apparent in our efforts toward building more sustainable practices that will benefit both human and planetary health,” Kyriakides said.

To learn more about this year’s symposium, visit its website.

Submitted by Ivette Aquilino on October 07, 2021