Gotta Love Olives for Their Nutritional Benefits

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Growing up, my brother and I used to embarrass my mother greatly whenever we would go to a restaurant that had a salad bar. We’d both go through the line and return with a plate full of some greens, some carrots and tomatoes, some celery, and LOTS of olives. Mom would just roll her eyes at both of us, but we’d both finish our plates.

    It turns out that my brother and I were ahead of our time in embracing a health food. The George Mateljan Foundation, which is a non-profit foundation with no commercial interests or advertising, reported the benefits as:

    • Olives have many health-protective nutrients. “The overall conclusion from these studies is exciting for anyone who loves olives of all varieties,” the foundation reported. “Greek-style black olives, Spanish-style green olives, Kalamata-style olives, and may different methods of olive preparation provide us with valuable amounts of many different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
    • One olive phytonutrient, hydroxytyrosol, has been linked to both the prevention of cancer and of bone loss. “These findings are fascinating, since consumption of a Mediterranean Diet has long been associated with decreased risk of osteoporosis, and olives often find themselves on center stage in Mediterranean Diet studies,” the foundation explained.
    • Olives and olive leaves have been used to treat inflammatory problems because they function as anti-histamines at a cellular level.

    In addition, the foundation noted that one cup of olives provides 25% of a person’s RDA of iron, 20% of vitamin E, and more than 15% of dietary fiber and copper. According to the foundation, one cup of olives has slightly more than 150 calories.

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    Many people worry about olives because they are considered high-fat; however, most of that fat is oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) while the rest is smaller amounts of linoleic acid (which is an essential fatty acid) and alpha-linoleic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). In other words, you're eating the good type of fat that reduces the risk of cardiovascual disease as well as decreases in blood cholesterol, including LDL cholesterol (the lousy cholesterol that's bad for you).

    Much of this is not surprising considering that olive oil continues to receive positive accolades.  A recent article by NPR reporter Scott Hensley described a French study that suggested that olive oil could help reduce the stroke risk in the elderly. The study, which included 7,000 participants who were 65 years and older, analyzed how much olive oil was consumed by participants and their rate of strokes.  The researchers found that after adjusting the data for other risk factors, study participants who used a lot of olive oil had a 41% lower risk of stroke than those who didn’t use this oil; however, NPR also noted that only 148 strokes were recorded during the five years of the study. "A lot of olive oil" was defined as using olive oil for both cooking and dressing. People who used olive oil only for cooking or for dressing were considered having moderate use. If people didn’t use olive oil for either purpose, they were classified as none. 

  • Still, you need to be careful about the amount of olive oil that you use. Dr. Donald Hensrud of the Mayo Clinic warned, “...even healthier fats like olive oil are high in calories, so use them only in moderation. Choose MUFA-rich foods such as olive oil instead of other fatty foods — particularly butter and stick margarine — not in addition to them. And remember that you can't make unhealthy foods healthier simply by adding olive oil to them.”

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    Olive oil also has a limited shelf life since the healthy phytonutrients and the taste can degrade over time. Therefore, it’s recommended that you use the olive oil within a year of when you open it. Also, be aware that heat, light and air may also affect the taste and nutrients so you want to store olive oil in a dark, room-temperature cupboard or the refrigerator.

    You don’t have to go overboard like my brother and I did in eating gobs of olives when we could (but then, we just liked them and weren’t aware of the health benefits). Just know olives provide good fats that can, in moderation, be really beneficial to your health.

Published On: December 05, 2011

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