ouldn’t it be amazing if we could have the cholesterol levels of children, even in our seventies, eighties and beyond, and if chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer were almost unheard of?
For the youthful-hearted, long-lived people in certain parts of the Mediterranean, this is how life is. In these idylls of health and happiness, if someone lives to their nineties or even hundreds without experiencing so much as a spot of high blood pressure, it passes without comment.
What’s more, these people attain their exceptional health in large part by eating plenty of delicious food which they really enjoy. And some of their top daily staples are olives and olive oil.
I have been lucky enough to visit some of these real-life ‘Shangri-las’ and to taste their exquisite produce for myself. These are the kinds of places you never want to leave, but it’s good to know that we can incorporate many of their longevity ‘secrets’ into our daily lives back home. Eating olives and using olive oil is a great place to start.
Campodimele, also known as Europe’s ‘village of eternal youth’, is a medieval hilltop village in Italy surrounded by olive groves. Here I met characters such as sprightly Giuseppe, a hundred and two years old, and joyful Quirino, ninety-two. Studies show that, amongst other markers of great health, the people here have cholesterol levels ‘like those of infants.’ 1 Locals relish their varied diet of fresh, nutrient-rich local produce, and everything is dipped in or drizzled with extra-virgin, organic olive oil.
Symi is a herb-scented, unspoiled island in Greece and home to some of the healthiest, longest-lived men and women in a region already known for its excellent health records. 2
One man told me about his mother, Esmeralda, who died quietly in her sleep at 107. ‘She used olive oil, never butter, and ate olives daily’, he said. ‘She was never sick in her lifetime and never once went to a doctor.’
Barbagia in Sardinia, is an area of extreme good health and longevity much-studied by longevity scientists. The local diet consists largely of home-grown, organic produce which includes plenty of olives and olive oil. Here I met lively 105-year-old Consolata, and Maria, 91, who, when I admired the soft skin on her hands, replied ‘I am strong, like a blade of grass.’
By our resident nutritionalist Sally Beare
- Alimentazione, Nutrizione, Invecchiamento; 2a Campodimele Conference, Obiettivo Longevità (Rome: Edizioni L. Pozzi, 1995).
Karagiannis et al (1994). Comparison of Morbidity and Causes of Death Between the Province of Rhodes and the Rest of Greece, During the Decade 1981-1990.’ Paper presented at the 14th Panhellenic Gastroenterology Conference, Athens, November 16-20.