Olives Are Mezze-Hour Heroes, According to Nutritionists


Whether pressed into an extra-virgin olive oil or draped against the rim of a martini glass, olives are delicious. But are olives good for you? According to nutritionists, they sure are. “Apart from being super delicious, olives are nutritious and are rich in antioxidants, which help to fight inflammation and disease in the body,” says the founder of wellness site Flourish Heights, Valerie Agyeman, R.D.

Olives and olive oil are packed with heart-healthy fats and are famed for their starring role in the Mediterranean diet, according to Alyssa Pike, R.D., nutrition communications manager at the International Food Information Council. The Mediterranean diet is considered to be one of the healthiest diets in the world and is listed as one of the recommended eating patterns within the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

We asked nutritionists, “Are olives good for you?” and let them count the ways.

Health benefits of olives

There are many health benefits to consuming olives. Whether you drizzle olive oil over a fresh dip or salad, or mix minced olives into a pasta, you’ll be treating yourself to a much-needed serving of nutrients your body needs.

1. Olives can reduce inflammation.

“Olives contain antioxidants, which have been associated with reducing one’s risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer and reducing inflammation in our bodies,” says Pike

2. Olives regulate cholesterol levels.

Olives offer a variety of health benefits, particularly in the realm of heart health. “Oleic acid is a type of fatty acid found in olives and they have been shown to improve heart health by regulating cholesterol levels,” says Agyeman. “So, whether you have high cholesterol or are looking for another rock-star addition to your eating routine for heart health, olives are the way to go.” 

3. Olives can help manage high blood pressure.

Due to their high oleic acid and antioxidant polyphenol content, olives have also been found to be the ideal fat to help manage hypertension (high blood pressure).

4. Olives may help prevent cancer.

Epidemiological studies have found that the rates of certain cancers are lower in the Mediterranean than in the U.S. This can be attributed to the olive-oil-rich diets there. One study found that oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid of olive oil, is linked to suppressing the growth of breast cancer cells.

5. Olives support skin health.

Olives are a great source of vitamin E, which helps to support cell function, the immune system, and skin health. Vitamin E has been found to protect skin from ultraviolet radiation, therefore helping to defend it against skin cancer and premature aging.

Olive nutrition

Olives are an unusual little fruit, in that they contain a high amount of fat. Says Pike: “Olives contain fat—primarily monounsaturated—vitamin E, vitamin A, copper, calcium, and several antioxidants, including oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, oleanolic acid, and quercetin,” many of which are key nutrients for women’s health.

According to the USDA, the nutritional content of 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of ripe, canned olives is 116 calories, 0.84 grams of protein, 10.90 grams of fat, 6.04 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.60 grams of dietary fiber. This means that while olives aren’t a fantastic source of dietary fiber, they’re relatively low in carbohydrates and contain a high amount of monounsaturated fat (oleic acid), which we know is supportive of heart health. Approximately 15 to 20 grams—about five olives—is considered to be the best choice for a balanced portion size.

Are olives a fruit or vegetable?

Now that we’ve covered the health benefits of olives, let’s back up a second. Olives are a fruit? You’d be forgiven for thinking they’re a vegetable, or simply an essential part of mezze, considering we consume them as a savory food, but olives are indeed a fruit. If we’re getting into it, olives are classed as a drupe, a fleshy fruit with a single seed inside, like cherries and apricots. 

Green olives versus black olives

So olives are indeed healthy, but you’ve got a few more questions. Are black olives good for you? Are green olives good for you? “There are numerous different types of olives, and some nutritional variations are bound to exist,”  says Pike. “However, most of the main nutrition components—monounsaturated fats, copper, vitamin E, calcium, vitamin A—remain consistent.”


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