In the Mediterranean basin, olive oil, along with fruits, vegetables, and fish, is an important constituent of the diet, and is considered a major factor in preserving a healthy and relatively disease-free population. Epidemiological data show that the Mediterranean diet has significant protective effects against cancer and coronary heart disease. We present evidence that it is the unique profile of the phenolic fraction, along with high intakes of squalene and the monounsaturated fatty acid, oleic acid, which confer its health-promoting properties. The major phenolic compounds identified and quantified in olive oil belong to three different classes: simple phenols (hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol); secoiridoids (oleuropein, the aglycone of ligstroside, and their respective decarboxylated dialdehyde derivatives); and the lignans [(+)-1-acetoxypinoresinol and pinoresinol]. All three classes have potent antioxidant properties. High consumption of extra-virgin olive oils, which are particularly rich in these phenolic antioxidants (as well as squalene and oleic acid), should afford considerable protection against cancer (colon, breast, skin), coronary heart disease, and ageing by inhibiting oxidative stress.