Got olives? If not, I encourage you to start weaving these versatile, ancient fruits into your repertoire. Adding olives to your dietary mix is one of those super-simple, not to mention tasty, habits that helps boost health with minimum effort. In our house, olives are a staple item, always at the ready to dress up a salad, bring out the best in fish, meats, and poultry, or to add into, stews, sauces…the list goes on. Olives are also perfect just as they are, enjoyed straight up (sans martini, of course) as a health boosting ‘finger food’ snack. They may seem like an indulgence, but they’re actually a fiber-packed, good-for-you-anytime treat. And, with roughly 500 varieties to choose from, boredom will never be on the menu. Nature has gifted us with an olive to suit virtually every taste, so dig into these petite powerhouses and enjoy the benefits they’ll bestow from head-to-toe:
Olives help tame inflammation’s flames.
Anything you can do to tame inflammation – the root of so many modern health ills — is a victory for your body. And olives can be a very helpful ally. Adding olives to your plate, either as a snack or worked into meals, delivers polyphenol compounds to your system which can help lower C-reactive protein levels in the bloodstream. Why does this matter? Because C-reactive protein is a marker for inflammation in your body and olives – and their anti-inflammatory polyphenols – help you fight it.
Olives are the ‘anti’s’ you need in your corner.
One notable polyphenol that olives deliver is oleuropein, a chemical compound known for its numerous ‘anti’ qualities. First up, oleuropein an antioxidant, always a good thing in the anti-cancer department. Next, it’s anti-atherogenic which means it helps protect against the formation of plaques in your arteries. (Yes, please!) And it’s also anti-fungal and antimicrobial, boosting your body’s ability to keep external threats at bay. What’s more, oleuropein also helps cut oxidative stress in the brain and is thought to help boost memory as well, making olives a fantastic way to feed your head too.
Olives love up your cardiovascular system.
Though olives may be small, they are mighty when it comes to fat, as in, the healthy, monounsaturated kind, which helps maintain good cholesterol (HDL) levels and cuts risk for hardening of the arteries. Another bonus: the monounsaturated fat in olives comes complete with oleic acid, which is linked to lower blood pressure and better overall cardiovascular health, so bring ‘em on.
Olives make eyes and skin shine.
If you’ve got eyes and skin to keep youthful, then you’ll want to have olives on hand. Olives are rich in vitamin A, an antioxidant that’s essential for protecting the cornea and maintaining eye health. It can help fend off age-related eye problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma. When it comes to skin, it can help reduce wrinkles. Olives also include vitamin E as well as the antioxidant compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, all of which offer additional eye and skin-health support.
Olives can help curb appetite.
If you’re wrestling with a few unwanted pounds, olives can help here too, thanks to their high fiber count as well as their monounsaturated fats which are linked to belly fat loss and better insulin sensitivity. To help tame appetite in a healthy way at mealtime, before you tuck in, try pre-gaming with a small serving of olives. Both the filling fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids in the olives will support better digestion and stimulate satiety hormones, so you feel full sooner, making putting the fork down a little easier.
Olives will add energy to your day.
Another thing that olives have got going for them is glutathione which is essential to energy production, and getting enough can be the difference between powering through your day or tanking long before day’s end. When you add more olives to your day, several studies show that you’ll ensure significant increases in glutathione levels in the blood, which will in turn keep you feeling energetic. In addition, olives, particularly black ones, deliver a nice dose of iron, which is also important for energy production and immune system function – so dig in to keep your health humming.
Know your olives and buy like a pro.
Hitting the olive bar at any health-oriented market these days can bring you face to face with a profusion of barrels and bins loaded with these tiny treats. So, where to start and how to find the good stuff? Here are a few things to look for:
1) Think small.
Look for smaller artisanal producers and/or knowledgeable sellers who can guide you to the best olives at the farmers’ market, or specialty shop. You may even get to sample a few to find the perfect bite. In general, products from small batch and artisanal vendors are likely to be less processed, more likely to be closer-to-organic quality.
2) When bottled olives are your only option…
Look for certified organic, non-GMO brands, avoiding olives that have been cured with lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, a solvent which speeds the curing process, taking it down from months to just a few days. Great for the producers, but for you, not so much. Though lye-cured olives are washed repeatedly to remove the solvent, the lye curing method can result in olives with a softer texture and some say a slightly soapy or chemical taste.
3) Make traditionally cured olives your default.
Whenever possible, go for fresher, tastier, high-turnover olives that have been traditionally cured: in brine (a 1 – 6 month-long process); in oil (several months); or ‘dry,’ meaning packed in salt for a few months. As a rule of thumb, traditionally cured olives will be firmer and tastier, and you’ll find them in bins or barrels or in small-quantity pouches. Buying just the amount you need will also make it easier to taste test a variety of different types over time and find the ones that speak to your palette.
4) Pass on the canned olives.
Once you up your olive game and start savoring small batch or artisanal offerings, you’ll have a hard time choking down the canned stuff. Most canned olives, produced on an industrial scale, will likely have been sprayed with pesticides during the growing process, then cured with lye, then dosed with extra salt – and who wants that? Best leave canned olives on the shelf and buy smaller quantities of the good stuff to help contain costs.
5) You may need to tame the salt.
Olives, though delicious, can be quite salty. Most folks are not salt sensitive, but if you are, and you are keeping an eye on your sodium intake, limit your olive consumption to, say, 5 – 10 at a time. Think of them as a frequent treat rather than an every-single-day habit. No matter which type of olive you buy, to reduce the sodium content, be sure to give them a bath. Here’s how:
- Drain olives, pouring off the liquid and decanting olives into a bowl.
- Fill the bowl with water and let sit for an hour.
- After an hour, do a taste test to check if the olives are less salty. If not, repeat the process every hour or so until the olives reach your desired level of less-saltiness.
- If you don’t plan to use all the olives right away, coat them lightly in extra virgin olive oil and store them in an air-tight container in the fridge, or in the freezer on their own (without oil).