Even though more attention is usually given to their delicious oil than the whole food itself, olives are one of the world's most widely enjoyed fruits. Yes, they are fruits even though most of us think of them as zesty vegetables. Here are 10 reasons why you should be eating these little delicacies every day.
1. Cardiovascular Benefits
When free radicals oxidize cholesterol, blood vessels are damaged and fat builds up in arteries, possibly leading to a heart attack. The antioxidant nutrients in black olives impede this oxidation of cholesterol, thereby helping to prevent heart disease. Olives do contain fat, but it's the healthy monounsaturated kind, which has been found to shrink the risk of atherosclerosis and increase good cholesterol. When diets low in monounsaturated fat are altered to increase the monounsaturated fat content (without becoming too high in total fat), research study participants typically experience a decrease in their blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and LDL:HDL ratio. All of these changes lower our risk of heart disease.
Recent research studies have also shown that the monounsaturated fat found in olives (and olive oil) can help to decrease blood pressure. The oleic acid found in olives--once absorbed up into the body and transported to our cells--can change signaling patterns at a cell membrane level (specifically, altering G-protein associated cascades). These changes at a cell membrane level result in decreased blood pressure.
2. Weight Loss
It appears that monounsaturated fats, the kind found in olives, when replacing saturated fats, may encourage weight loss. Olive oil consumption has been shown to breakdown fats inside fat cells, get rid of belly fat and reduce insulin insensitivity.
People who have the highest olive consumption eat fewer calories overall and are rarely overweight. Blood tests show they have higher levels of serotonin, a so-called satiety hormone that makes us feel full.
The aroma extracts from olive oil can leave us feeling fuller, cutting our calorie intake by almost 200 a day, they said.
3. Cancer Prevention
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olives make them a natural for protection against cancer because chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation can be key factors in the development of cancer. If our cells get overwhelmed by oxidative stress (damage to cell structure and cell function by overly reactive oxygen-containing molecules) and chronic excessive inflammation, our risk of cell cancer is increased. By providing us with rich supplies of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, olives can help us avoid this dangerous combination of chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation.
Black olives are a great source of vitamin E, which has the brilliant ability to neutralize free radicals in body fat. Especially when working with the stable monounsaturated fats found in olives, vitamin E can make cellular processes safer. When such processes such as mitochondrial energy production are not well protected, the free radicals produced can cause oxidation, damaging a cell's mitochondria, and preventing the cell from producing enough energy to supply its needs. If the DNA of a cell is damaged, it may well mutate and become cancerous. Studies have shown that a diet supplemented with olive oil leads to a lower risk of colon cancer, almost as low a risk as a diet rich in fish oil.
4. Less Pain
Spanish-style green olives, Kalamata-style olives, and many different methods of olive preparation provide us with valuable amounts of many different antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients which can act as a natural Ibuprofen. Their oils contain oleocanthal, a substance with anti-inflammatory agents. Similar to classical NSAIDs, they are a type of non-selective inhibitor of cyclooxygenase (COX). 50g (more than three and a half tablespoons) of a typical virgin olive oil per day contains an amount of oleocanthal with similaranti-inflammatory effect as 1/10 of the adult ibuprofen dose.
5. Skin and Hair Health Black olives are rich in fatty acids and antioxidants that nourish, hydrate and protect. Chief among those is vitamin E. Whether applied topically or ingested, vitamin E has been shown to protect skin from ultraviolet radiation, thus guarding against skin cancer and premature aging. You can gain a healthy, glowing complexion by washing your face in warm water, applying a few drops of olive oil to vulnerable spots, and letting it work its magic for 15 minutes before rinsing it off. In fact, you can moisturize with olive oil before any bath, and even condition your hair with it by mixing it with an egg yolk and leaving it before rinsing and washing.
6. Less Allergies
New research may help explain how olives work to provide us with anti-inflammatory benefits, especially during circumstances involving allergy. Olive extracts have now been shown to function as anti-histamines at a cellular level. By blocking special histamine receptors (called H1 receptors), unique components in olive extracts may help to lessen a cell's histamine response. Because histamine is a molecule that can get overproduced in allergy-related conditions and can be a key player in the inflammatory process, it's likely that the anti-inflammatory benefits we get from olives involve this anti-histamine pathway. It's also possible that olives may have a special role to play as part of an overall anti-allergenic diet. Your circulation will improve and you’ll be able to breath easier with olive consumption. They can increase blood flow and help lessen the effects of illnesses such as asthma through its anti-inflammatory properties.
7. Digestive Tract Health Frequent consumption of both vitamin E and the monounsaturated fats in black olives is associated with lower rates of colon cancer. These nutrients help prevent colon cancer by neutralizing free radicals. Olive oil's protective function also has a beneficial effect on ulcers and gastritis. Olive oil activates the secretion of bile and pancreatic hormones much more naturally than prescribed drugs, thereby lowering the incidence of gallstone formation. A cup of black olives also contains 17% of the daily allowance of fiber, which promotes digestive tract health by helping to move food through the system at a healthier pace. This keeps any one part of the digestive tract from having to work too hard and supports the ideal balance of chemicals and populations of microorganisms required for a healthy digestive system.
8. Good Source of Iron Olives, especially black are very high in iron. The ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body is due to the presence of iron in the blood. If we suffer from a lack of iron, our tissues don't get enough oxygen, and we may feel cold or weak. Iron also plays a vital role in the production of energy. It is a necessary part of a number of enzymes, including iron catalase, iron peroxidase, and the cytochrome enzymes. It also helps produce carnitine, a nonessential amino acid important for the utilization of fat. To top it all off, the proper function of the immune system is dependent on sufficient iron.
9. Eye Health One cup of olives contains ten percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin A which, when converted into the retinal form, is crucial for healthy eyes. It enables the eye to better distinguish between light and dark, thereby improving night vision. Furthermore, Vitamin A is believed effective against cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma and other age-related ocular diseases.
10. Increases Blood Levels of Glutathione
Olives have shown the ability to increase blood levels of glutathione (one of the body's premier antioxidant nutrients). Consumption of olive pulp is associated with significantly increased glutathione levels in the blood and improvement in antioxidant capacity.
How to Select Olives
While olives have been traditionally sold in jars and cans, many stores are now offering them in bulk in large barrels or bins (often called an "olive bar"). Buying bulk olives will allow you to experiment with many different types with which you may be unfamiliar and to purchase only as many as you need at one time.
While whole olives are very common, you may also find ones that have been pitted, as well as olives that have been stuffed with either peppers, garlic or almonds. If you purchase olives in bulk, make sure that the store has a good turnover and keeps their olives immersed in brine for freshness and to retain moistness. Some grocers will also use genetically modified oils such as Canola which should be avoided.
Avoid purchasing olives in cans. FDA data has shown levels of acrylamide as high as 1,925 ppb in some canned, nationally distributed brands of black pitted olives. Based on this data, higher acrylamide levels in select canned black olives may be related to specific handling, storage, processing (especially preservation and darkening methods), and heating steps that favored formation of acrylamide.
When selecting olives, beware of the label description, "hand-picked." This description does not necessarily tell you anything helpful about the olive harvesting. Many olives are hand-picked, even though the product label makes no mention of this fact. Conversely, olives with have been mechanically harvested with a hand-held pneumatic rake are sometimes labeled as "hand-picked."
As far olive oils go, the best processing come from ice-pressed oils which is in the complete absence of heat; a dramatic 20-30 times colder than the cold-pressed olive oil; a critical distinction in terms of maintaining the oils’ nutritive and healing potential and to staking claim as one of the world’s only RAW producers of olive oil. Taste the distinct refreshing taste!
John Summerly is nutritionist, herbologist, and homeopathic practitioner. He is a leader in the natural health community and consults athletes, executives and most of all parents of children on the benefits of complementary therapies for health and prevention.