Health benefits of olives

Olives are small oval fruits that grow on trees (Olea europaea). These trees are traditionally found in the Mediterranean Basin, particularly in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece and Turkey, but are also planted in areas such as South America and California. Olives are naturally high in healthy monounsaturated fats and antioxidants like vitamin E, which help fight disease-causing free radical damage in the body.

Time and time again, a Mediterranean-style diet has been proven to be among the best eating patterns for health and longevity. And it\’s no coincidence that olives, as well as olive oil, are a hallmark of the healthy eating plan.

Olives are packed with good-for-you nutrients that support our cardiometabolic health, which includes factors that affect the heart, blood, and blood vessels. This is how the fruit keeps us well nourished.

They support heart health

Olives and olive oil are among the best sources of monounsaturated fatty acids (or MUFAs), the heart-healthy dietary fats that help lower bad LDL cholesterol and raise good HDL cholesterol.

Research repeatedly shows that diets rich in MUFAs such as those found in olives, nuts, seeds and avocados are associated with better long-term health outcomes. A 2022 study reported that people who consumed more than a half tablespoon of olive oil each day had a 19 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality compared to people who consumed little or no olive oil. Regular olive oil consumers also had a lower risk of death from other causes, including respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as cancer.

They are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients

Olive oil tends to get the most credit for being an anti-inflammatory ingredient, but olives themselves are packed with key nutrients, such as vitamin E. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps scavenge free radicals in the body ( which break down your cells), therefore reducing oxidative stress, or an imbalance between antioxidants and free radicals in the body. This ultimately reduces the risk of disease.

Olives also contain flavonoids (natural dietary compounds found in many fruits and vegetables) such as quercetin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It also contains hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol (another type of natural food compound) that has potent anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antioxidant properties.

They promote satiety

The grease is filling up. Dietary fats have more calories per gram than proteins or carbohydrates and are digested more slowly. While one gram of fat serves up nine calories, one gram of protein or carbohydrates serves up just four calories. This is why adding healthy fats to our meals and snacks makes them more filling and more satisfying.

Interestingly, the healthy fats found in olives may aid in weight management beyond just helping to fill us up. A 2020 systematic review reported that diets enriched with oleic acid, the most prevalent MUFA in olives, could possibly support body recomposition by increasing the fat burning process and energy expenditure (calories burned).

They might help balance blood sugar

Pairing carbohydrates with healthy fats and lean proteins is one of the best ways to promote steady blood sugar or blood glucose levels. That\’s because both fat and protein help reduce the blood sugar spikes that can follow after eating carbohydrates.

THE guy the fats we consume matter, though. Consuming a large excess amount of saturated fat concentrated in animal-based foods such as ham or cheese could contribute to the development of insulin resistance, a common precursor to type 2 diabetes.

The other side of the coin, unsaturated fats, such as the MUFAs found in olives, can improve blood sugar results. A 2018 systematic review found that replacing carbohydrates with the same number of calories from unsaturated fat led to improvements in hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control over the past two to three months) and insulin sensitivity. However, replacing carbohydrates with saturated fat didn\’t have the same effect. Also, when polyunsaturated fats, such as the omega-3s we get from fatty fish, were exchanged for carbohydrates, even greater reductions in blood sugar levels were seen.

Olives are one of the best sources of monounsaturated fats like oleic acid. According to the USDA Food DataCentral, one cup of black olives provides:

  • Calories: 157
  • Fat: 14 gr
  • Unsaturated fats: 11 gr
  • Saturated fats: 3 gr
  • Sodium: 992 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 8 gr
  • Fiber: 2 gr
  • Added sugars: 0 gr
  • Protein: 1 gr

Olives are generally low in protein and carbohydrates and high in fat. However, most of the dietary fat in olives are those unsaturated fatty acids that can help support healthy cholesterol levels.

However, if your main cardiovascular concern is hypertension (aka high blood pressure), you\’ll want to take note of olives\’ high sodium content, nearly 1,000 milligrams per serving. It\’s important to note that the serving size listed above is 1 cup of olives, more than most of us consume in one sitting. But even half that amount would provide a significant amount of salt, particularly for those limiting their daily sodium intake.

People who watch their sodium intake should enjoy olives in moderation. The staple of the Mediterranean diet tends to be high in salt thanks to the fact that it is typically stored in salt water or brine.

The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, while some individuals diagnosed with hypertension may need to limit their intake to as little as 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. For people with high blood pressure, just one cup of black olives could account for 33 percent of their daily sodium goal.

If you\’re sensitive to salt or watch your blood pressure, stick with a cup of olives (which will provide about 250 milligrams of sodium) as a serving. You can also rinse jarred olives to lower the salt content slightly.

Another option is to look for olives with the words reduced sodium on their label. Warning: low sodium and low sodium are not synonymous. Just because a product has less sodium than the original doesn\’t actually mean it\’s a low-sodium food, so be sure to check the nutrition facts panel again to gauge how many milligrams of sodium there are per serving.

It\’s a good idea to make the most of the fats you consume with unsaturated fats. Nuts, seeds, avocados, fish and, of course, olives and olive oil are all great sources.

Here are some delicious and healthy ways to enjoy olives:

  • Incorporate olives into Mediterranean-inspired salads or grain bowls, along with other antioxidant-rich ingredients like tomatoes and caramelized onions.
  • Try a simple pan-fried chicken recipe that includes flavorful fruits and vegetables, such as olives and fennel.
  • Toss olives into a quickie of whole-wheat pasta along with kale pesto and sautéed chard for a night of fiber-filled spaghetti.
  • Spread olive tapenade on a homemade chicken sandwich for a pop of nutritious flavor.
  • Do you like to snack on pretzels? Swap them for low-sodium flaxseed crackers and add some olives on the side for a high-fiber snack.

Olives are a stellar source of monounsaturated fats that support cardiovascular health, as well as contain antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin E. They\’re also packed with flavor and highly versatile.

Unlike the olive oil, olives are typically preserved in a high-sodium brine. Practice moderation with your servings of olives to keep your salt intake in check.

If you\’re diagnosed with high blood pressure or are watching your sodium intake for other reasons, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about the right amount of olives for you.

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