New Year’s celebrations began around 4000 years ago when the Babylonians partied for eleven days to commemorate new beginnings with the planning of new crops in the spring (their new year began in March). Our familiar January first celebration originated in ancient Rome, where branches from sacred olive trees were often given as New Year’s gifts. The tradition of creating New Year’s resolutions began when Julius Caesar named January (the first month of his new calendar) after Janus, the Roman god of transitions, gates, doorways and beginnings. With two faces, Janus could look forward into the future and backwards into the past. The early Roman resolutions centered on family, friendship and gift giving and that tradition continues today, with an additional focus on health, saving money, personal development and taking care of the planet.
After spending a month in Italy during the olive harvest, where olive oil permeates every aspect of living, I realized that olive oil has yet another role to play - making this next year even better than the last. Here are some ideas to “infuse” olive oil into five of the most common New Year’s resolutions.
- Get Healthy, Lose Weight.
Getting healthy and losing weight are the most common resolutions. You can get an easy start by making these simple changes in your diet: use olive oil instead of butter and other fats, and adopt a Mediterranean-type diet, rich in olive oil, fruit and vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry. A healthy diet is the best defense against high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight (the three main factors contributing to heart disease). Recent studies also associate consuming olive oil with alleviating or prevent numerous health concerns, including lowering the risk of strokes and preventing certain cancers. I personally take two tablespoons of olive oil every morning to start my day and use olive oil at every meal. Remember, olive oil contains 120 calories per tablespoon, but lessens your need for sugar during the day.
- Improve my Social Life.
Research shows that strong social relationships are associated with better health and longevity*. There’s no better way to enrich your social life than by breaking bread (and drizzling it with olive oil!) with family and friends. Making it a point to regularly spend time with people you enjoy, preparing and sharing healthy meals together, can enrich your social life and improve your health. My recent visit to Italy was filled with camaraderie and olive oil. Each five-course dinner started with an appetizer (antipasti) including bread and drizzled with new oil (olio nuovo). The first course (primo) was either pasta, soup or risotto; the second course (secondo) meat, poultry or fish; the side dishes (contorni) were vegetables, potatoes, salad, and all, (even some desserts (dolce) were prepared or drizzled with olive oil.
- Go Green.
What better way to “go green” than with olive oil? Because olive oil is created from natural ingredients, it won’t release harsh chemicals into the air like many common household cleaning products. And it’s perfect for recycling - you can use last year’s oil or the bottle you forgot in the back of your cupboard to make your favorite possessions last longer. You can use olive oil (and a bit of lemon) to polish furniture, tile or wood flooring and surfaces. And don’t forget that olive oil can be used to clean tools; silence squeaky hinges; and, preserve your leather items.
- Save Money.
There’s no easier way to save money than by replacing expensive creams and lotions with olive oil as part of your regular “beauty” routine. There are numerous skin treatments using olive oil, including removing make-up and conditioning your hair and scalp. You can mix a bit of olive oil and sea salt for exfoliating, and create your own body massage oil. Both men and women can take advantage of olive oil as a handy moisturizer and a shaving lotion. The benefits: olive oil is completely natural and non-allergenic, is non-irritating and extremely effective. The cost is about $1.40 an ounce – an incredible bargain, compared to costly face creams (often topping $100 an ounce). And, remember olive oil is great for moisturizing yourself from the inside out, especially during the winter months.
- Travel/Learn Something New.
Consider traveling near or far and expand your knowledge by exploring the world of olive oil. Check your local area to discover specialty stores and gourmet markets that provide olive oil tasting opportunities. Sign up for an olive oil seminar where you will be taught to taste olive oil and recognize the positive attributes of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). Or take a cooking class that features the use of olive oil. Look for olive oil events in your area or arrange your own olive oil tasting party. For an easy way to find locations and events in the US, you may wish to download the iPhone/iPad app - GoEVOO.
Of course, the ultimate learning experience is to visit an olive oil producing area during the olive harvest, which occurs in the Northern Hemisphere during late October/November and in the Southern Hemisphere in May and June. During the harvest, you can help pick olives and see the fruits of your labor turned into olive oil at a local mill (frantoio). There are several olive harvest opportunities and adventures around the world. But, if you don’t want to stray too far from home, look for olive oil events in your area or find ideas at The Olive Oil Source Calendar of Events.
While it’s true that most New Year’s resolutions have a high failure rate, this year can be the exception by simply “infusing” olive oil into your daily life. And when you go out to celebrate all the positive changes that result, remember that according to the Global Hangover Guide, taking a teaspoon or two of olive oil before going out for a night of frivolity and drinking can prevent a hangover!
*Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Medicine, July 27, 2010