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“Extra olives, please!” is a direct quote from my regular life. Those who know me well also know of my borderline addiction to olives…and I use the term “borderline” loosely haha. I love how they taste, and how their flavors seem to enhance anything that they are in or on. I also love their delicious oil, especially as a yummy salad dressing base. I especially fell in love with them after learning about all of the amazing health benefits they possess. People tend to forget about olives when considering “super foods”, so that’s why I’d like to take some time to shed some light on the nutritional content of olives…

What ARE olives?

I always find it interesting when I overhear debates about just what an olive even is to begin with – is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? Is it a nut? Well, let me just clear the air right now…olives are fruit. Yes, by definition, an olive is a fruit because it is the section of the plant that contains the seed(s) - or in this case, the olive pit. The other plant components we see are what we consider to be the vegetables (i.e. the leaves, the roots, the stems, etc.).

Just like many “super fruits”, olives carry an abundance of health benefits! Full of fiber? Check! Essential vitamins and minerals? Yes! Powerful antioxidants? Absolutely! The best way to consume all of these nutrients is via cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, however, grabbing a handful of yummy stuffed or cured olives is the next best thing!

Green vs. Black?

The next olive confusion I often hear involves understanding the difference between the green ones and the purple or black ones. Olives range in color from light green (unripe/immature) to very deep purple and black (ripest form). After growing on the tree, olives are usually harvested and then immediately pressed into olive oil (or cured/stuffed for us to eat whole). Why cured? Well, directly from the tree, olives are extremely bitter.

Health Benefits? 

As I mentioned above, olives are LOADED with antioxidants! We all know that antioxidants are the star players in the fight against disease-causing free radicals on the loose in our bodies. Vitamin E is a highly important antioxidant in olives, along with minerals like selenium and zinc.

It's also true that olives contain a certain amount of fat, but it's the type of fat that's important! About three-fourths of the fat in olives is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid linked to reduced blood pressure, blood sugar, cardiovascular disease risk and inflammation risk.

Also, when applied topically, its oil is a great skin moisturizer (improving the skin’s elasticity and regenerative properties), a great scalp moisturizer (relieving dry, flakey scalp or dandruff) and a great hair moisturizer (improving frizzy hair or split ends).

So, next time you’re served a delicious Greek salad, or any other dish with olives in it, remember…“Extra olives, please!” 



Katherine Igah-Phillips, MD, MHA

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