Olives can be polarizing in the food world. Some people love them, while others can’t stand them. But wherever you stand, there’s no denying their health benefits.
For thousands of years, people have been growing and eating olives. Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia and Africa. Today, they’re also grown in California and Texas. A very resilient plant, the olive tree can survive under harsh conditions. An olive tree has a lifespan of around 500 years!
Olives are considered a type of fruit called a drupe. They have a fleshy outside with a pit in the middle. They’re usually black when ripe, but some are ripe when brownish or green in color. Unlike other fruits, olives are bitter when ripe. Because of this, they’re typically “cured” to get rid of the bitter taste. Curing can be done by soaking them in water or in a salt solution.
Olives are normally sold in jars or in grocery stores at self-serve olive bars, so you don’t need to check them for ripeness. Buying them from an olive bar does give you the added advantage of being able to sample lots of different types. The can or jar versions may be better used in recipes or on top of pizza.
Nutritional benefits of eating olives
Olives come in a variety different shapes, sizes, and colors. The oil and nutrient content varies depending on the type. In the United States, the five most common types are:
All of these are grown in California. Kalamata olives, which are grown in Greece, can also be found in the United Sates as imported varieties or “kalamata style.” These olives are “cured” by using dry salt instead of soaking in a solution.
Here are the nutritional benefits found in olives.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant. This means it protects the body against harmful damage from outside sources like pollution, sun damage, and other environmental factors. It also plays a role in helping your immune system function. One cup of canned black olives has 15 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
Around 80 percent of the calories in olives come from fat. But the type of fat they contain is a healthy fat. One of the main fats in olives is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid. Studies have found that oleic acid may have a protective effect when it comes to cancer and maintaining good heart health.
Olives, like many other plant-based foods, have phytonutrients. These are a variety of different chemicals found in plants that give the plant protection from disease, or from bugs that eat it. When we eat the plant, these chemicals are passed to us and have protective health benefits for us as well. They can help with heart health, digestive health, and more.
The combination of oleic acid and phytonutrients in olives is believed to have an anti-inflammatory effect. This means these nutrients both play a role in protecting your body from chronic conditions like osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease.
During the “curing” or fermentation process that many table olives go though, lactobacillus forms. Lactobacillus are a type of bacteria found naturally in the body. They are considered beneficial to human health because they don’t cause disease. They are living bacteria that help the body absorb nutrients and keep a healthy balance of good bacteria. They are helpful for digestive and immune health and can also be found in yogurt.
The age-old saying, “everything in moderation” applies to eating olives. It’s important to remember that while they are full of nutrients, many of the varieties sold in stores have high sodium levels. Remember, in order to reduce their natural bitter flavor, olives are often “cured” by using salt or soaking them in salt water solution.
Too much sodium in your diet contributes to high blood pressure. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that Americans eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That number is even lower for people who already have high blood pressure.
How to eat olives
You can eat olives plain, or try one of these simple recipes that combines olives with other healthy ingredients.
Fresh tapenade makes a deliciously impressive appetizer. This one uses black, kalamata, and green olives along with fresh basil and parsley. View the recipe.
Choose any three olive types you like with this roasted olive recipe. It’s quick and easy, and makes for a great appetizer or side dish. View the recipe.
Tomato cucumber salad with olives and feta
This salad is a nutritional powerhouse, using all of the highlights of a Greek salad: cucumbers, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Fresh dill adds to the refreshing flavor. View the recipe.
Mixed olive bruschetta
Bruschetta can be made lots of different ways. This one uses green and black olives along with other fresh ingredients, like tomatoes, onions, and garlic. View the recipe.
Marinated olives and feta
These marinated olives get a flavor boost from herb-infused olive oil. Serve them as an impressive appetizer. View the recipe.
If you love olives and hummus, there’s no going wrong with this recipe. The two flavors come together for a delicious, healthy spread. Use it on whole-grain bread or with raw veggies. View the recipe.
Shredded chicken salad with green olives, celery, and green onion
This is not your mother’s chicken salad. It gets its unique flavor from green olives and a dash of their brine from the jar. View the recipe.
If you’re an olive lover, there’s a lot to be excited about. When eaten in moderation, olives can be a good addition to a healthy, balanced diet.