Olive Oil, Cornerstone of the Ikarian Diet

Centenarians of Ikaria might not know the countless ways olive oil can improve their health, they just know it works.

Mar. 29, 2017
By Charalampos Papapostolou

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It could be a long time until you’ll see a bot­tle of Ikar­ian olive oil at your local store: Pro­duc­tion is small and the locals have lit­tle to spare.

If there isn’t any olive oil in the house, what can you cook?- Ioanna Proiou Dim­i­tri­adou

Ikaria, the leg­endary home of Icarus whose wings melted when he flew too near the sun, is home to 8,000 Greeks, many of whom live much longer than aver­age. In fact, one in three Ikar­i­ans lives well into her 90s, and many here go on to become cen­te­nar­i­ans.

But not only do Ikar­i­ans live long, they also tend to be in more robust health and die nat­u­rally.

Today, the Ikar­ian secrets have been uncov­ered. Mod­er­ate daily exer­cise, naps, a car­ing com­mu­nity, lit­tle empha­sis on time. and the key one. the Ikar­ian diet: lots of greens and olive oil.

The island has an exten­sive moun­tain­ous topog­ra­phy, so olive groves are cul­ti­vated on hand-made stone ter­races.

Gior­gos Stenos, 85, has grown up along­side his trees. Land here is tra­di­tion­ally passed from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion.


He told Olive Oil Times that nearly all cul­ti­vated olive groves on Ikaria have resulted from the graft­ing of wild olive trees that already existed here.

Ioanna Proiou-Dim­i­tri­adou lives in Chris­tos Rachon vil­lage and despite her 106 years, has a very active life. She spends sev­eral hours a day in her work­shop, weav­ing tex­tiles at a loom. When asked about the impor­tance of olive oil she said, olive oil is a rem­edy, it revi­tal­izes us.”


Dur­ing the sec­ond world war, when the island was occu­pied by the Ger­mans and Ital­ians, there was a sub­stan­tial loss of life through star­va­tion. The vil­lages affected were only those with­out olive groves around. As Stylianos Moulas, the priest of Aghios Polykar­pos vil­lage said, We owe our sur­vival to olive oil.”

Olive har­vest­ing is an impor­tant sea­sonal job of a typ­i­cal Ikar­ian house­hold. Every year from the end of Octo­ber until Feb­ru­ary you’ll find many Ikar­i­ans out in the fields.

Ikar­i­ans who don’t have olive trees go and help those who do. Instead of money, they get olive oil in return. Often, they work a field of olive trees and give the owner half of the har­vest.

Agge­los Poli­tis, the owner of a local olive press, said local pro­duc­ers take much care with their olives because the oil pro­duced will feed their fam­ily.

Cen­te­nar­i­ans of Ikaria might not have knowl­edge of the count­less ways olive oil can improve their health, but they are fully aware of its effects on their lives.

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