Health Benefits of Olives

Olives are the fruit of the olive tree, or olea europaea, meaning “European olive.” Olive trees are grown throughout the Mediterranean Basin as well as in South America, South Africa, India, China, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the United States. 

Olives of various varieties are a main ingredient in Mediterranean dishes and a significant export crop for Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Morocco. The most common olives in the United States are green and black, though kalamata olives are also popular. 

They are often sliced or used whole in recipes or pressed into olive oil, which is also a major agricultural export in the Mediterranean region. 

Eating olives whole or using olive oil for certain meals may help protect against various health problems.

Health Benefits

The vitamins and antioxidants found in olives may provide important health benefits. For example, some studies have shown that olives may protect against osteoporosis, in which bones become brittle or weak.

Olives are also rich in vitamin E, which can improve skin health and help your immune system.

In addition, olives may provide health benefits like:

Heart Health  

Numerous studies have shown that consuming olive oil, especially the extra-virgin variety, may reduce the risk of heart disease and mortality in people who have a high risk of this condition.

Cancer Risk Reduction

Olives contain the compound oleocanthal, which studies have shown can kill cancer cells. Other studies have shown a link between consuming olive oil and reducing the risk of cancers, including breast cancer.

Lower Risk and Treatment of Cognitive Diseases

The oleocanthal in olives and olive oil is linked to a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related diseases. This compound also increases the activity of the drug donepezil, which is used to treat dementia

Diabetes Prevention

Research shows a link between consuming olive oil and preventing type 2 diabetes by helping the body regulate glucose (sugar). Unregulated glucose can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.  

Nutrition

Olives are rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease

Continued

It’s also an excellent source of:

Nutrients per Serving 

Five large black, pitted olives contains:

Things to Watch Out For

Olives provide many health benefits, but they are still relatively high in fat. Canned olives are often packed in brine, which makes them high in sodium (salt). A high sodium diet can contribute to cardiovascular (heart-related) disease. Fresh olives are a healthier choice if you are watching your sodium intake. 

How to Prepare Olives

You can buy olives in many forms at most grocery stores. You can find them canned or bottled in a salt solution or water. You may be able to find fresh olives at a grocery or local Mediterranean specialty store. 

Olives can be served whole, and often are when they make an appearance on a charcuterie board or cheese plate. 

It is possible to extract the oil from olives to make your own olive oil, but this process is complex. If you want to try, you’ll need to gather several pieces of equipment:

  • A millstone or another grinder
  • An immersion blender
  • A weight such as a brick or heavy book
  • A clean surface for pressing
  • Bottles
  • A funnel

The basic steps include cold-pressing olives to extract the olive oil and then discarding the remainder. Cold-pressing allows you to extract oil without using heat, which leaves the oil as intact as possible. 

Here are some other ways to use olives in recipes:

  • Drizzle it on hummus
  • As a cocktail garnish or ingredient
  • Use as a salad dressing base
  • Replace less healthy oils in baking recipes
  • Chop up to use in a tapenade
  • Slice and use as a pizza topping
  • Add to pasta dishes
  • Slice and use as a sandwich topping
  • Stuff large olives with soft cheese and serve as an appetizer
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 20, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

BMC Medicine: “Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in PREDIMED Study.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Olives, black, large, canned.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “High olive oil consumption linked to lower breast cancer risk.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Salt and your health, Part I: The sodium connection.”

Harvard School of Public Health: “Vitamin E.”

HortScience: “Olive Oil: History, Production, and Characteristics of the World’s Classic Oils.”

Hunter College: “Hunter Study Shows That Certain Olive Oils Kill Cancer Cells.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Olives and Bone: A Green Osteoporosis Prevention Option.”

Rutgers: “Ingredient in Olive Oil Looks Promising in Fight Against Cancer.”

Southeast AGNet Radio Network: “How to Make Your Own Olive Oil.”

Universities Space Research Association: “Olive Trees.”

University of Florida EDIS: “Health Benefits of Olive Oil and Olive Extracts.”

Yale School of Medicine: “Olive oil’s health benefits explored at Yale School of Public Health Symposium.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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