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Olives: This Superfood Is More Than Just a Vehicle for Pimentos!

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

You know olives should be on your healthy foods list, but why?

When it comes to so-called “superfoods,” olives definitely qualify. According to Russell H. Greenfield, MD, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine, olives have heart health benefits and contain healing compounds, as well.

And they taste pretty darn good, too.

Because olives are typically too bitter to eat when they are picked, they are frequently cured/pickled. They can be water-cured, brine-cured or lye-cured, indicates The World’s Healthiest Foods website.

  • Water-curing: The olives are submerged in water for several weeks. This method tends to leave the olives with a slightly bitter taste, as it removes less oleuropein than brine- and lye-curing.
  • Brine-curing: The olives are submerged in a concentrated salt solution, and can take months to complete; the olives often undergo fermentation during this process.
  • Lye-curing: The olives are submerged in a strong alkali solution containing either sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. This process typically takes a number of steps, and can take up to five lye solutions to complete curing. More information about the process is available on The World’s Healthiest Foods website.

Olives: A Healthy Fruit--Yes, Fruit!

The Mediterranean Diet has made headlines in the health world for a wide range of potential benefits—protection against heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, dementia, even depression, indicates Dr. Greenfield in an article posted on the Dr. Oz website. And olives are a big part of the Mediterranean way of eating. In fact, in areas where the olive is cultivated and, therefore, highly consumed as part of a regular diet, nearly half of all fat ingested comes from olives, Dr. Greenfield estimates. Why is this important?

“This is noteworthy,” Dr. Greenfield explains, “because olives are known to be an excellent source of monounsaturated fat (oleic acid), to which many of olive oil’s health benefits have been ascribed, especially its capacity to help prevent heart disease. Both olives and high-quality olive oil have been studied for their potential beneficial effects on blood pressure and cholesterol levels, their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and their mild blood-thinning effects that may help prevent inappropriate blood clot formation.”

Most people are aware that olive oil has potential positive effects on heart health. However, Dr. Greenfield also indicates that additional compounds in olives and olive oils may dilate blood vessels and help nutrients flow through the entire body, giving olives and olive oil natural anti-inflammatory properties. And, some proponents of olives and olive oil indicate that the healing compounds found in olives may offer cancer-fighting benefits as well, Dr. Greenfield says.

“Hydroxytyrosol, a phenol found in high concentrations in Kalamata olives, may help prevent DNA damage and abnormal cell growth,” Dr. Greenfield indicates. He also says additional phenols found in olive oil could help prevent colon cancer, and perhaps some compounds in olive oil will be useful in fighting breast cancer in the future.

Will Just Any Olives or Olive Oils Do?

Typically, extra virgin olive oil has the highest concentration of health-benefitting phenols, as it is an early press of the olives. Extra virgin is also the least acidic, deeming it a higher-quality oil for culinary pursuits. And black olives, as opposed to green, are typically thought to have the most health-benefitting phenols and antioxidants.

How Many Olives Per Day for Health?

A traditional Mediterranean-style diet calls for eating about 8-10 olives per day, Dr. Greenfield writes, or 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Some people may balk at that, believing that olives have too much fat, but remember: The fat from olives and olive oil is potentially health-benefitting fat. Taken within the context of an overall healthy diet, there should be no reason to panic when munching a healthy snack of olives or drizzling a bit of olive oil over your veggies at dinner.

Olive Oil Cheaters

Of course, there have been reports of some unscrupulous olive oil dealers trying to pass cheap, less-healthy olive oils as more expensive varieties. However, new testing may help in identifying the types and varieties of olive oils, according to some Spanish scientists who claim to be close to creating a “paternity test” for olive oils.

“‬Virgin olive oil is relatively expensive,” Dr.‭ ‬Juan de Dios Alché said in an article on The Olive Oil Times, “and people are willing to pay more for qualities they value,‭ ‬such as oil from a particular region or variety,‭ ‬something dishonest producers take advantage of.‭ ‬With this test we can verify an olive oil‭’‬s authenticity,‭ ‬confirming whether it really is of the origin and variety, or varieties,‭ ‬stated on the label.”

And, for those who do not really want to eat olives or olive oil, regardless of its potential benefits? We have a whole list of innovative uses for olive oil that do not involve the Mediterranean Diet right here on Huliq.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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