The small, oval fruits that grow on olive trees (Olea europaea) are known as olives. These trees are traditionally found in the Mediterranean basin, especially Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece, and Turkey, but they are also planted in areas like South America and California. Olives are naturally packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as antioxidants like vitamin E, which help fight disease-causing free radical damage in the body.
Time and 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 meal plan.
Health Benefits of Olives
Olives are loaded with good-for-you nutrients that support our cardiometabolic health, which includes factors that affect your heart, blood, and blood vessels. Here’s 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 our ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and raise our ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.
Research repeatedly shows that diets high in MUFAs like those found in olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado are associated with better health outcomes long term. A 2022 study reported that people who consumed more than one-half tablespoon of olive oil every day had a 19% lower risk of cardiovascular disease-related mortality compared to people who consumed little or no olive oil. Frequent olive oil consumers also had a lower risk of death from other causes, including respiratory and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as cancer.
They’re Packed With 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, like 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 your body. This ultimately lowers your risk of disease.
Olives also contain flavonoids (natural dietary compounds found in many fruits and vegetables) like quercetin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. It also contains hydroxytyrosol, a polyphenol (another type of natural dietary compound) that has potent anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant properties.
They Promote Satiety
Fat is filling. Dietary fats have more calories per gram than proteins or carbohydrates and are digested slower. Whereas 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 assist in weight management beyond simply 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 (calorie burn).
Thеy Might Hеlp Bаlаncе Blооd Sugаr
Pairing carbohydrates with healthy fats and lean proteins is a good way to promote steady blood sugar levels. Fats and proteins help lessen blood sugar spikes that can occur after consuming carbs. However, the type of fats consumed matters. Consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats found in animal-derived foods could potentially contribute to the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
On the other hand, unsaturated fats, such as the monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) found in olives, can improve blood sugar outcomes. Replacing carbohydrates with the same number of calories from unsaturated fats has been shown to improve hemoglobin A1c levels (a measure of blood sugar control) and insulin sensitivity. In addition, swapping carbohydrates with polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3s from fatty fish, has been observed to further reduce blood sugar levels.
- Olives are a good source of monounsaturated fats like oleic acid.
- One cup of black olives provides approximately 157 calories, 14g of fat (11g unsaturated and 3g saturated), 992mg of sodium, 8g of carbohydrates, 2g of fiber, 0g of added sugars, and 1g of protein.
- Olives are generally low in protein and carbohydrates but high in fat, with the majority being unsaturated fatty acids that can support healthy cholesterol levels.
- People watching their sodium intake should consume olives in moderation.
- Olives, especially those preserved in brine, tend to be high in salt. One cup of black olives can account for a significant portion of the recommended daily sodium intake.
- The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, while individuals diagnosed with hypertension may need to limit their intake to 1,500 milligrams per day.
- For those who are salt-sensitive or have high blood pressure, a serving size of ¼ cup of olives (providing about 250 milligrams of sodium) is recommended. Rinsing jarred olives can slightly reduce their salt content.
- Look for olives labeled as “reduced sodium” if you need to limit your sodium intake, but check the nutrition facts panel to assess the actual sodium content per serving.
Tips for Eating Olives:
- Make the majority of the fats you consume unsaturated fats, such as those from olives, olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado, and fish.
- Incorporate olives into salads, Mediterranean-inspired grain bowls, or easy sheet pan chicken recipes with flavorful fruits and vegetables.
- Add olives to whole wheat pasta dishes, sandwiches, or enjoy them as a high-fiber snack alongside low-sodium flaxseed crackers.
In summary, olives are a great source of monounsaturated fats that support cardiovascular health and contain antioxidants like flavonoids and vitamin E. However, practice moderation in consuming olives due to their high sodium content, especially if you have hypertension or are watching your sodium intake.