The right kind of olives can be incredibly delicious and the wrong kind of olives can taste like sliced rubber, but are olives good for you?
The short answer is, yes.
Olives are good for you, and have been around for thousands of years going back to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Olives have such an important part in history that it is even among the few foods specifically mentioned in the bible. The expression “to extend an olive branch” is one such example.
Research has shown that olives contribute to heart health, brain health, skin health, joint health, cancer prevention, and diabetes prevention.
Olives grow on olive trees. Harvested olives are either used to make olive oil, or cured to make them eatable. To make olive oil, olives are squeezed to extract the olive oil inside the olives. Raw olives are too bitter to be eaten uncured, so they are cured, most of the time in salt water, to make them eatable as whole olives, which is the same method the ancient Greeks and Romans used to eat olives as well!
Are Olives Good For You? – Nutritional Value of Olives
Olives Help Against Cancer
In a 2006 study of the Journal of Nutrition (1), olives have shown to help in the fight against colon cancer.
Olives Increase Heart Health
Two recent studies (2, 3) have shown olives to increase heart health, with the second study (3) showing a 37 % lower likelihood of developing coronary artery disease (in which fat deposits build up inside the heart’s major blood vessels, restricting blood flow).
Olives Reduce Blood Pressure
Numerous studies have shown the beneficial effect of olives on blood pressure through its high content of oleic acid (4), a good fat. A recent study in the European Journal of Nutrition (5) has shown a positive impact for women with high blood pressure.
Olives Help Against Osteoporosis
The micronutrients (polyphenols) inside olives are beneficial in preventing osteoporosis (bone loss) and help in maintaining bone health (6, 7).
Olives Increase the Body’s Defenses System
Antioxidants are a critical part of the body’s powerful defense system to protect against a variety of illnesses. Olives are a high antioxidant food (8).
Are Olive Healthy? – Salt (Sodium) Concerns
While olives are full of nutritional value, as explained above, remember that olives are often cured in a salt water solution to reduce their natural bitterness.
This has the potential of increasing sodium in olives. So, are olives healthy given the potentially high sodium content? Well, eaten in moderation, olives are still very healthy. Just keep an eye on the sodium content, as different brands use different levels of sodium.
Are Olives Good For You? – Fun Facts
Green Olives vs. Black Olives
The color is driven by the timing of harvest. Green olives are harvested at the earliest stage. Black olives are harvested at full maturity.
I Don’t like Olives
If you ever had a bad experience with olives that have a rubbery texture and almost no taste, you probably ate California-style olives. Because they are cheap, you will find them being used at most sandwich shops, salad bars, pizza and hamburger places. They are usually the small, black, sliced-up olives.
Instead of using salt water to cure the olives (the traditional method) which takes many months, these olives are cured by the chemical lye (10), which reduces the cure time to a few days instead of the typical few months, and thus the cost is much lower. Lye is also otherwise known as a household detergent used to clean ovens and drain clogged pipes.
Types of Olives
There are hundreds of different olive types (12). The most famous olives types are Kalamata olives (Greek black olives; rich and fruity flavor), Castelvetrano olives (Italian green olives; meaty, buttery flesh with mild flavor) and Nicoise olives (French black olives, small and rich in flavor). But there are many more types of olives, each different in their own way.
Traditional Olive Curing Methods
As mentioned above, raw olives are too bitter to eat them. They need to be cured. Traditional curing methods are:
- Brine-curing: soaked in brine (a salt water mixture) for several months; this is the most popular method
- Oil-curing: soaked in oil for several months
- Dry-curing: packed in salt for several months
- Water-curing: soaked, rinsed, and re-soaked in plain water, this method is the slowest and the rarest method used.
The flavor of the olive you are eating depends on the olive, the curing method and what kind of herbs and spices (if any) are added during the curing method.
Are Olives Good For You? – In a Nutshell
Given the health benefits of olives, olives are excellent for you and a great addition to your diet. Once you find your favorite type of olive, it will be hard to imagine a food life without it!
(1) The Journal of Nutrition; Olive fruit extracts inhibit proliferation and induce apoptosis in HT-29 human colon cancer cells – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16988125
(2) Lipids in Health and Disease; Monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25274026
(3) Public Health Nutrition; Exclusive olive oil consumption has a protective effect on coronary artery disease; overview of the THISEAS study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26223368
(4) PNAS; Oleic acid content is responsible for the reduction in blood pressure induced by olive oil – https://www.pnas.org/content/105/37/13811.full
(5) European Journal of Nutrition; A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts improves endothelial markers involved in blood pressure control in hypertensive women – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26450601
(6) International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition; The effect of olive oil on osteoporosis prevention – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24975408
(7) British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology; Phytonutrients for bone health during ageing – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23384080/
(8) ScienceDirect; Antioxidant capacity and phenolic profile of table olives from the Greek market – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814605000117
(9) Wikipedia; List of olive cultivars – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_olive_cultivars
(10) California Ripe Olives; How olives are made – https://calolive.org/our-story/how-olives-are-made/
(11) Wikipedia; Lye – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lye
(12) List of olive cultivars – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_olive_cultivars