Food/Nutrition Columnist
Olives & Olive Oil – Where Taste and Good Health Meet
Nov 11, 2013 - 12:00:20 AM

( - For far too long a major public health message in the US has been to eat less fat. As research has evolved we have come to realize that not all fats are created equal. The fat found in olives and olive oil, monounsaturated fat, is not only tasty but is beneficial to your health. A daily dose of healthy fats may be a wiser choice than a low fat eating plan.

The Mediterranean Diet, rich in olive oil, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fish, with a lower intake of meat and saturated fat has proven in observational studies to lower the risk for heart disease. The PREDIMED study (, conducted in Spain set out to see if the Mediterranean diet was effective as a primary prevention approach for heart disease.

The researchers divided 7,447 people into 3 groups; 1. the Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil; 2. the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts (walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts); and 3. a low fat diet. Each group was provided with healthy eating advice. What was most important about this study is that the subjects were at high risk for heart disease. They were 55 or older, had type 2 diabetes, and 3 or more risk factors for heart disease.

The results were impressive. The group using extra virgin olive oil and the group eating nuts both had a 30% reduced risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. The PREDIMED study proved that a high vegetable fat diet (whether from olive oil or nuts) was more effective in preventing heart disease than a low fat diet. The results were most impressive for stroke reduction which was shown not only in this study but in another with equally good results. (

Researchers speculated that the high polyphenol content of extra virgin olive oil was the protective factor in reducing heart disease risk. Polyphenols are compounds with powerful anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antimicrobial, antiviral and pain reduction effects.

Though research on table olives has not been as extensive as that done on olive oil, it would stand to reason that olives, high in monounsaturated fats and rich in polyphenol compounds, would also provide health benefits. Olives are widely consumed throughout the world but consumption in North America is on the decline. It could be assumed that consumers consider olives a high fat food or that they are unsure how to use them in everyday meals.

There are two types of olives, black and green. Most olives need to be cured and very few varieties can be eaten straight from the tree. They are a fruit and can be counted toward your daily fruit and vegetable servings. Just a few olives adds to the feeling of satisfaction after eating and may help to prevent overeating. In an animal study ( researchers found a link between eating oleic acid (an abundant fat in olives) and the production of a hormone that sends hunger-curbing messages to the brain. Though more research is needed in this area, these results suggest that eating olives may affect appetite. The monounsaturated fat in olives also promotes the absorption of carotenoids, the plant form of vitamin A. Adding just a few olives to a salad or vegetable dish enhances vitamin absorption.

If you shy away from eating olives thinking they are high in fat, sodium and calories, think again. Greek olives are slightly higher in fat because they are cured in oil. Green and black olives, cured in brine, have less. When you use olives in a recipe, omit salt and let the natural salty taste from the olives provide the flavoring. Chopping olives spreads flavor throughout the dish and makes tastes pop similar to herbs or spices. Try using olive spread to add zest to a sandwich instead of mayonnaise or salad dressing.

Eating olives as a snack can be both healthy and satisfying. Next time you are considering snacking on chips or cookies think about eating olives instead. All of the following equal a one-third (0.3) ounce serving of olives.

For more information about eating a diet rich in heart-healthy fats, look for my latest book The Fat and Cholesterol Counter from Pocket Books.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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