Olive Oil and Olives: Heart-Healthy Fat

by Berkeley Wellness

Olives are fruits that are enjoyed worldwide. They are grown primarily in Mediterranean countries, and in some parts of the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The olive tree is among the oldest known cultivated trees in the world. The allure of olives can be attributed to their texture, aroma, and a beguiling complexity in flavor that varies from sour to bitter to piquant to sweet. The delicate oil from the tiny olive fruit has been a principal source of dietary fat in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years.

Types of Olives and Olive Oil

There are many styles and flavors of olives and olive oil, based in part on where they grew and how they were processed.

Olives and olive oil: nutrition

A large percentage of the caloric content of olives and olive oil is monounsaturated fatty acids, which research shows may help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels when they replace saturated fat in the diet. And some research shows that this type of fat may help the body produce insulin and control blood sugars. Both olives and olive oil also contain the antioxidant vitamin E.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding the merits of the Mediterranean diet. Lower rates of certain chronic diseases in Mediterranean countries may possibly be attributed to a diet that includes 30 to 40 percent calories from monounsaturated fat, the type of fat found in olive oil. However, this is still an area of active research, and it is not yet clear how much of the credit should go to olive oil.

It is important to note that along with heart-healthy fat, cured olives also contain quite a bit of salt. Just one olive can contain 32 to 42 mg of sodium, depending on how it is cured.

For a full listing of nutrients, see Olives and Olive Oil in the National Nutrient Database.

How to Choose Olives and Olive Oil

These tips will help you make sure you’re buying good olives and olive oil.

How to pit olives

Some olives are easier to pit than others. If a recipe calls for pitted olives, choose a soft-fleshed variety and press it firmly with the flat side of a chef’s knife. This will crack the flesh and expose the pit, making it easy to remove.

7 recipe ideas for olives

  1. Chop olives and sprinkle them over pizza or pasta.
  2. Make an olive paste by pureeing olives with a little citrus zest, olive oil, and fennel seed. Serve on crostini or crackers.
  3. Roast chicken thighs with olives and wedges of lemon. Or stuff a leg of lamb with olives and roast.
  4. Stir chopped olives into fat-free or reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel) for a sandwich spread.
  5. Add olives to stuffings for vegetables, poultry, or fish.
  6. Top grilled bread with a mixture of chopped tomatoes and olives for an Italian-style appetizer.
  7. Add chopped olives to pilafs or baked rice dishes.

4 ways to serve olive oil

  1. Replace some or all of the melted butter in a quick bread recipe with a mild, extra-light olive oil.
  2. Marinate herbs in olive oil and use the seasoned oil to spread on bread in place of butter.
  3. Use extra-virgin olive oil in mashed potatoes instead of butter.
  4. Use extra-light olive oil to cook pancakes and waffles.
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