The health benefits of olives are usually credited
to its healthy oil, but in its fresh state it is also highly
beneficial in preventing many chronic diseases.
Olives are the fruits of the olive tree (Olea Europea), which originated from the Mediterranean area, although nowadays it is also cultivated in other parts of the world.
They are an excellent source of healthy oil, and the Latin word for oil is oleas. Although olives are not commonly juiced, I’m including it under the “Healing Food” section due to its many healing virtues by mainly its oil.
The olive fruit is botanically a drupe, green in color when young, and blackish-purple when fully ripe. It is composed of three parts: a thin, smooth peel or epidermis, a pulpy flesh of varied texture (from soft to firm), and a woody stone. The fruit pulp is rich in lipids, which concentration tends to increase as the fruit ripens.
Many varieties of olives are used to produce olive oil, but here we will focus on the varieties that can be eaten raw (or less frequently cooked), either green or ripe.
In general terms, edible olives can be classified in two main types: 1) green olives, which are harvested before they are fully ripe, have a firm flesh and are green in color; 2) black olives, which are harvested when they are fully ripe, have a softer flesh than green olives, and are black or purple in color.
Olives are rich in fat, especially oleic acid, an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid. They are also excellent sources of minerals (potassium, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, iron), vitamins (beta-carotene, vitamin E, D and K), anti-oxidant phytonutrient (polyphenols) flavonoids, and fiber. Olives in brine have a high content in sodium, as well.
Thanks to their high content in monounsaturated fats and anti-oxidants, olives have plenty of beneficial properties for health, especially for heart health.
Anti-cholesterol action: Both monounsaturated fats and polyphenols found in olives help prevent oxidation of cholesterol, and hence have a remarkable protective and preventive effect against atherosclerosis and related cardiovascular diseases, such as stroke and heart attack.
Antioxidant and anticancer activities: Polyphenols, vitamin E and beta-carotene are the most important anti-oxidant substances found in olives. The anti-oxidant activity of polyphenols is particularly significant: through their action against free radicals, they help prevent cancer, premature aging, heart disease as well as many other types of degenerative and chronic conditions.
Bone health: Olives are rich in vitamin D, calcium and phosphorous, which all play a critical role in bone growth, remodeling and maintenance and help prevent bone conditions such as rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults.
Heart health: In addition to their anti-cholesterol action, polyphenols exert a beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system by also preventing blood clots formation and promoting vasodilation. This results in decreased heart work and improved heart function.
Purifying effect: Olives improve both the liver’s and the intestinal functions and, thanks to their high content in fiber, help cleanse the colon, as well as prevent or fight constipation. All these effects result in improved detoxification and excretion of toxins from the body, with consequent improved function and health of the whole body.
Restorative properties: Due to their high content in minerals, olives are excellent natural alternatives to multi-mineral supplements used to give the body more energy, strength and nutrients.
Skin health: It is well known that anti-oxidants have a beneficial effect on skin health, since they help prevent the damage caused by free radicals on skin tissue. However, olives also contain relatively high amounts of beta-carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, and vitamin E which play an important role in stimulating skin regeneration and providing skin protection. Therefore the combined effect can help maintain a healthy, smooth and young skin.
Vision: Not only vitamin A is beneficial for skin health, but is also essential for normal vision, especially in low light, as well as for eye health and integrity.
Edible olives can be used in a variety of dishes. They can be eaten raw, alone or in salads, or they can be used to prepare sauces for pasta or to garnish meat or fish dishes. Olives can be even eaten roasted or stuffed and fried.
Olive paté (a paste made from green or black olives) is delicious on crusty bread, crackers, raw veggies and fish.
Raw olives are very bitter so are sometimes soaked in a concentrated brine solution, making it a very salty food. People with high blood pressure may want to avoid taking olives preserved this way.