What’s in an olive?

Exotic charm and benefits for your heart


If you like trying different kinds of food, chances are you have already tried olives. Olives are considered exotic and they instantly make a dish or a drink look international. Unfortunately, olives aren’t as popular as the oil derived from them, which is considered one of the healthiest. This is because, olives are still largely eaten for their glam factor rather than their health benefits, which they offer in abundance.

Eat olives because…

Olives have high fat content. But much of the fat they contain is the good variety [MUFA—Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acid] that doesn’t stick to the blood vessels and form plaque. It’s the plaque build-up that causes heart attacks and stroke.

Consuming MUFA reduces chances of cell damage and inflammation and improves our good cholesterol: bad cholesterol ratio. MUFA also helps in controlling blood sugar and triglycerides and hence is good for those with diabetes.

Olives are abundant in anti-oxidants that help the body fight the ill-effects of ageing, smoking, heavy drinking, exposure to UV radiation and pollution, stress and excessive exercise. The antioxidants also protect the body against chronic conditions like cardiac problems, digestives issues, ulcers, cancers, respiratory problems and neurological complications. Black olives are richer in anti-oxidants than green olives.

Those who are deficient in iron benefit from eating olives.

Studies suggest that olives contain a certain compound that helps reduce loss of total bone mass, decreasing one’s risk of osteoporosis.

Pair olives with…

Olives taste well with cheese, wine and martini. Black olives are found in salads and on pizzas, whereas green olives are popularly used to add colour to the dish. Some dishes that taste awesome with olives:

  • Bread, sandwiches
  • Pasta/ noodles
  • Chicken/meatballs/ turkey stuffing
  • Sauces/soups/stews
  • Bhajiyas/pakoras especially paneer/tofu or cheese pakoras
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Omelettes and waffles
  • Chaat
  • Dips with cheese or thick yoghurt
  • Cracker toppings
  • Veggie patties/cutlets
  • Kebabs/falafels
  • Baked dishes

Buy and store olives…

  • Avoid buying olives that have undergone heat processing.
  • Store olives in the refrigerator if the pack has been opened. They last about 1 – 2 weeks. But an unopened bottle of olives can last even up to two years without refrigeration.

Don’t eat olives if…

People with a high blood pressure should avoid eating olives as they are processed in brine, which contains concentrated salts, to make olives palatable. Highly processed olives are also not recommended to those with renal failure and heart failure. To reduce sodium levels soak, boil in water and finally drain the water before using olives.

Further, olives should not be consumed on an empty stomach or eaten in excess [more than 10] as it causes nausea and even vomiting. To be safe, restrict to eating about 5 — 7 olives in a day.

Oil’s good

Consuming olive oil improves lipid profile, helps weight loss, improves arthritic pain and boosts immunity. The oil also has anti-ageing properties and anti-inflammatory properties and is said to help control asthma and hot flashes related to menopause.

Women who regularly consume olive oil have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

It’s such a paradox that olives are not recommended for hypertensives but olive oil is. Consuming 1 – 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil per day helps reduce hypertension. Limiting one’s total fat intake and eliminating saturated fats, corn and vegetable oils as well as hydrogenated fats from the diet help accelerate the benefits of olive oil.

However, for cooking, choose organic ‘extra virgin’ olive oil as it is the most stable form of oil. Extra virgin olive oil is considered the best grade of oil that is fresher, tastier, and richer with better health benefits. Those who aren’t comfortable cooking in olive oil can use it as marinade, sprinkle over steamed vegetables or fish or use it as dipping oil.

This was first published in the September 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Payal Ahuja
Payal Ahuja is a Mumbai-based dietician and consultant. She conducts workshops on lifestyle management and weight management programmes on TV. Ahuja is also IPC-certified auditor for ISO-9001:2000, and author of the book, Combating Childhood Obesity.


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