Leading experts involved in research and education related to the olive tree and its products recently gathered in Rome to discuss the positive health benefits of olive oil during the fourth annual Yale Symposium on Olive Oil and Health.
Organized by the Yale School of Public Health, the University of Rome Tor Vergata and the University of Bari Aldo Moro, the September 15-18 symposium covered a wide range of topics relevant to olive cultivation and the future of olive oil Central to people and health are planetary health.
“We are in the Eternal City presenting an amazing program for people who are dedicated in their careers and in their lives and who are just as passionate about olive oil as we are,” said Vasilis Vasiliou, PhD, Susan Dwight Bliss Professor of Epidemiology and Chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences of the Yale School of Public Health: “This is a unique and impactful symposium.”
The symposium was organized by Vasiliou and Tassos C. Kyriakides, PhD, Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Public Health. The organizing committee also included Laura Di Renzo, Director, School of Specialization in Dietetic Sciences, University of Rome Tor Vergata; Alessandro Leone, Professor of Machines and Systems for the Food Industry, University of Bari Aldo Moro, and Francesca Rocchi of Slow Food Rome.
Di Renzo focused on the role of high-quality extra virgin olive oils in preventing noncommunicable chronic degenerative diseases (NCDDs) and the health benefits of a sustainable Mediterranean diet. NCDDs include obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic respiratory disease, and many cancers. They are the most common causes of prolonged disability and death worldwide.
“Healthy, personalized nutrition, bioactive molecules, and microbiota play important roles in the prevention and treatment of NCDDs,” said Di Renzo. She emphasized the role of the sustainable Mediterranean diet in the prevention and treatment of NCDDs, including the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO).
Di Renzo has formulated a new acronym – “P4 (Pre/Pro/Post-biotic and Polyphenols components of EVOO)” as Functional Nutrients for Wellness and Beauty. Also highlighted during the conference was a new method for evaluating the NACCP (Nutrient, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) process, for Total Quality Management (TMQ) and optimal nutritional value of EVOO.
Di Renzo, along with Professors Paola Gualtieri and Antonino De Lorenzo, explained that the NACCP process is based on four general principles: ensuring the preservation of health; Assessing and ensuring the nutritional quality of food and TMQ; inform consumers correctly; and ensure an ethical win. Nine specific measures to apply NACCP and promote EVOO were presented at the symposium. They were: 1) identification of nutritional markers that must remain intact throughout the food supply chain; 2) identify critical control points that need to be monitored to minimize the likelihood of quality degradation; 3) set critical limits to maintain adequate nutrient levels; 4) establish and implement effective monitoring procedures for critical control points; 5) determine corrective actions if necessary; 6) identify metabolic biomarkers; 7) assessment of the effects of taking EVOO; 8) establish consumer information procedures; 9) Implement health claims according to regulation EU 1924/2006.
Leone explained that global demand for olive oil is constantly growing due to increased consumer awareness of olive oil’s benefits for human health. It is therefore vital that the quality and quantity of olive oil remains sufficient to meet demand. This means organizing the olive oil supply chain in the best possible way in terms of environmental sustainability, Leone said. In this context, the University of Bari has been conducting research and innovation in the oil supply chain for many years, sharing its insights with the production sector.
Attendees praised the symposium for helping raise awareness of the health benefits of olive oil. Italy, the location of this year’s symposium, has a long tradition of olive growing with many advances in the sector resulting from the country’s practices. During the week of September 12-18, the public could taste olive oil in three locations in Rome: the Garum Food Museum, the Palazzo Rospigliosi and the Palazzo Valentini, where the symposium was held.
“I believe that this edition of the symposium was important to bring to the capital of the Italians, who are the main consumers of extra virgin olive oil, the great problems of consumption of extra virgin olive oil,” said Rocchi. “The symposium was able to insert itself into the reflections of the policy makers, thus giving life to an unprecedented free week of oil in Rome, thus demonstrating the strength of our project, aimed at research but also at the proposal of new solutions for the Consumption.”
Vasiliou and Kyriakides are leading international advocates for promoting olive oil as an important part of a healthy diet. The two researchers are working towards establishing a Yale Institute for Olive Sciences and Health next year. The Institute would be dedicated to scientific research into the olive tree, its products and their derivatives, and ways to further integrate the fruit and its products into people’s diets. It will also focus on planetary health issues, including sustainability, circular economy models and climate change. The institute aims to serve as a global center facilitating research in all aspects of the olive tree and its products.
“It is imperative that we think about the global need for sustainable practices that benefit both human and planetary health,” Kyriakides said. “The proposed institute will serve as a home for activities and partnerships towards this goal.”
Kyriakides, an olive oil sommelier, not only constantly samples oils from around the world, he consumes copious amounts of olive oil daily in his kitchen in addition to his daily morning extra virgin olive oil shot.
“It’s a delicious, natural and healthy nutritious food,” he said. “The olive tree and olive oil have brought people together for thousands of years; As public health professionals, our job is to preserve and protect the olive tree and its many beneficial effects on human and planetary health. The olive tree can serve as a vehicle in our quest for sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural practices.”
Evidence accumulated over the past six decades shows that olive oil promotes health, Kyriakides said. A daily intake of 20 grams of olive oil (about two tablespoons) contains a polyphenol (at least 5 mg of hydroxytyrosol and its derivatives) that helps protect blood lipids from oxidative stress. The finding was supported by the European Food Safety Agency. The US Food and Drug Administration also supports a qualified health claim that consumption of oleic acid (the main ingredient in olive oil) may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease.