8 Surprising Benefits of Olives

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Olives are nutritious and delicious fruits with a range of health benefits including their ability to protect against antioxidant damage, heart disease, reverse bone loss, prevent various cancers, reduce inflammation and arthritis and improve digestion. They help to soothe allergic reactions, improve blood circulation, boost cognitive function, defend against infections, and lower blood pressure.

What are Olives?

Olives are oval-shaped fruits, botanically known as Olea Europaea. Olives are native to the Mediterranean region, tropical and central Asia, warmer regions of South America and various parts of Africa. They have been used for their culinary value and medicinal benefits for thousands of years, way back to ancient Greece and Rome. They are a staple ingredient in the Mediterranean diet and are enjoyed in salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pesto, or tapenade. Table olives (the ones which are not grown for extracting oil) can be consumed as a salty snack or appetizer. [1] [2]

There are close to 2,000 varieties of olives grown across the world, and each of them has more or less of the important components that add to your health. The two main types of olives are black olives and green olives. [3]

A wooden bowl of fresh olives on a wooden plank

Olives are a delicious snack, and they make a great addition to many popular dishes. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutritional Value of Olives

The health and medicinal benefits of olives mainly come from iron, calcium, fiber, copper, vitamin E, vitamin K, choline, sodium, phenolic compounds, and oleic acid present in them. Olives are a rich source of antioxidants like oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, tyrosol, oleanolic acid, and quercetin. They also have a low glycemic index (GI). [4]

Nutrition Facts

Olives, ripe, canned (small-extra large)
Serving Size :
Water [g]79.99
Energy 116
Energy [kJ]485
Protein [g]0.84
Total lipid (fat) [g]10.9
Ash [g]2.23
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]6.04
Fiber, total dietary [g]1.6
Calcium, Ca [mg]88
Iron, Fe [mg]6.28
Magnesium, Mg [mg]4
Phosphorus, P [mg]3
Potassium, K [mg]8
Sodium, Na [mg]735
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.22
Copper, Cu [mg]0.25
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.02
Selenium, Se [µg]0.9
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]0.9
Thiamin [mg]0
Niacin [mg]0.04
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.02
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.01
Choline, total [mg]10.3
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]17
Carotene, beta [µg]198
Vitamin A, IU [IU]330
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]510
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]1.65
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]1.4
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]2.28
16:0 [g]1.73
17:0 [g]0.15
18:0 [g]0.32
20:0 [g]0.06
22:0 [g]0.02
24:0 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]7.65
16:1 [g]0.15
18:1 [g]7.47
20:1 [g]0.03
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.63
18:2 [g]0.63
Threonine [g]0.03
Isoleucine [g]0.03
Leucine [g]0.05
Lysine [g]0.03
Methionine [g]0.01
Phenylalanine [g]0.03
Tyrosine [g]0.02
Valine [g]0.04
Arginine [g]0.07
Histidine [g]0.02
Alanine [g]0.04
Aspartic acid [g]0.09
Glutamic acid [g]0.09
Glycine [g]0.05
Proline [g]0.04
Serine [g]0.03
Sources include : USDA [5]

Health Benefits of Olives

Let’s explore the health benefits in greater detail below.

Antioxidant Properties

Olives are antioxidant powerhouses, which work right from reducing inflammation to fighting bad bacteria. Studies have shown that eating olives can raise levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, in the blood. These fruits also act as a defense against bacteria that cause airway and stomach infections. [6] [7] [8]

Improve Heart Health

Olives possess a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid, which has been linked to preventing heart diseases like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, plaque build-up, and strokes. The oil of olives is where this oleic acid is located, and it is responsible for lowering the blood pressure and cholesterol, which reduces the chances of cardiovascular complications and general stress on the system. [9]

Furthermore, olives are rich in antioxidants which are commonly linked to cancer prevention, but also protect the heart. Phenolic compounds like hydroxytyrosol are antioxidants that act as anticoagulants to thin the blood, which reduces the chances of developing blood clots that block the flow of blood. It further eases the blood vessel tension and dilates the blood vessels, which reduces the strain on the heart and increases blood flow. This ensures proper functioning and oxygenation of the various organ systems. Also, the fiber present in olives boosts heart health by eliminating excess cholesterol in the blood. [10]

Anticancer Properties

The mystery surrounding the “cure for cancer” remains a major problem in the world today. There are many alternative ways to treat, slow down, or even prevent cancer from occurring. First of all, olives contain anthocyanins, which are positively connected to cancer prevention as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory substance. Antioxidants defend the body against free radicals, which mutate healthy cells into cancerous ones, so adding as many antioxidants as you can is the best way to protect yourself.

Secondly, olives have oleic acid as mentioned earlier, which inhibit certain growth factor receptors that trigger the development of breast cancer. Lastly, hydroxytyrosol comes into play for a third time, working to prevent DNA mutation and abnormal cell growth. In other words, it acts as a second type of antioxidant. Even the skin of the olive contains maslinic acid, which has been connected to programmed cell death (apoptosis) in colon cancer cells. [11] [12]

Lower Bone Loss

People eating a traditional “Mediterranean diet” have been found to have lower instances of bone loss and osteoporosis, but the definite explanation behind this phenomenon was only discovered recently. The compound mentioned earlier, hydroxytyrosol, as well as oleuropein, have been positively linked in research studies to increased calcium deposition and bone growth, leading to a distinct drop in osteoporosis. Add a healthy amount of olives or olive oil to your diet if you are already at a risk for bone degeneration, or if you have some family history of it. [13] [14]

Reduce Inflammation

Various compounds in olives function not only as antioxidant compounds but also as anti-inflammatory ones. These reduce the inflammation from the body, which includes a reduction in pain and irritation in the joints, muscles, injuries, tendons, and other extremities. Particularly in terms of arthritis, gout, and other rheumatic conditions, olives can be a major benefit and it alleviates the associated pain. [15]

Aid Digestion

Olives are a healthy source of fiber, supplying almost 20% of the daily requirements for fiber in a single cup. High fiber content ensures proper functioning of your digestive system. It stimulates peristaltic motion in the intestines, ensuring smooth bowel movements. Fiber also makes you feel full, so ghrelin, the hunger hormone, doesn’t get released, and therefore, overeating can be controlled. Not only can fiber increase your digestive and gastrointestinal health, but it can also help you lose weight. Fiber also boosts heart health by working to eliminate excess cholesterol in the blood. [16]

Fights Allergies

In relation to their anti-inflammatory activities, olives can also help to reduce the intensity or frequency of allergic reactions. Certain components of olives function as anti-histamines by blocking the receptor sites for histamines, which induce allergic reactions. By adding olives to your diet, you may reduce the signs of seasonal allergies, as well as specific allergic reactions. This is a powerful and beneficial aspect of olives that is often overlooked. [17]

Improve Circulation

Olives are a rich source of both iron and copper, two essential components for the creation of red blood cells. Without these two minerals, red blood cell count in the body will diminish, resulting in anemia. It is characterized by fatigue, upset stomachs, headaches, cognitive malfunction, and a general decline of organ health and functionality. [18]

Antibacterial Qualities

Oleuropein, a valuable chemical component of olives, also functions as an antimicrobial and antibacterial agent for the body. Eating plenty of olives increases the presence of this chemical, which defends against bacterial infections throughout the body, both internally and externally. [19]

Skin Care

Intake of olives helps reduce signs of aging such as wrinkles and other skin-related diseases. Olives can be used as an effective skin cleanser. The presence of copper, iron, fiber, and vitamin E along with other nutrients in them aid in keeping skin soft and healthy. [20]

Side Effects of Olives

Olives are generally extremely healthy food. However, there are some seasonal allergies associated with olive tree pollen, which can sometimes get into the olives so allergic reactions are not unheard of.

Also, consider the potent acids and organic compounds in olives and olive oil. It is not recommended to eat too many olives while pregnant or breastfeeding, as insufficient studies have been done on the transference of material from the mother to the child.

Finally, olives do contain high levels of sodium. If you already suffer from high blood pressure or cardiovascular disorders, you should limit the consumption of olives, rather than exacerbating your body with more sodium.

Other than these, enjoy olives in their different forms and see how healthy they can make you feel!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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