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Should I Eat Olives?

Jul 16, 2015
TIME Health
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5/5 experts say yes.

How many of our experts love olives? Olive them!

Olives are a fruit borne of the olive tree, and when they're not pressed for olive oil, they're delicious as a snack. A typical serving of four large olives has 20 calories, and about two grams of fat—the good kind, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, a registered dietitian and manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “ Olives are one of the most nutrient-dense fruits around, and although they are mostly fat, that fat is a healthy monounsaturated kind which translates into benefits to the heart, brain and waistline,” she says.

In addition to all that healthy fat, olives are packed with antioxidants, says Parthena Kotzekidou, PhD, p rofessor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. “M y research shows that olives are a good source of biophenols,” a kind of antioxidant that prevents the accumulation of bad cholesterol in artery walls, she says, making them a heart-healthy snack.

The phenolic compounds found in olives are also anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and can help prevent some diseases, say José Alberto Pereira, PhD, professor in the school of agriculture at the Polytechnic Institute of Bragança in Portugal, and his colleague Dr. Ricardo Malheiro, PhD, a researcher in the school of agriculture at the same institute. The pair previously looked at table olives in Portugal and found that their extracts can inhibit certain disease-causing pathogens.

It's easy to forget that olives are a fermented food, but that also means they're rich in Lactobacillus, a kind of gut-friendly bacteria. Antonio Bevilacqua, PhD, a microbiologist at the University of Foggia in Italy, says he has isolated some probiotic strains from the fruits and used them in olives and other foods. The probiotic potential of olives may be one of the more compelling reasons to eat them, he says.

Alas, the way that most of us eat olives—cured and fermented—can also be quite salty. “ If you eat a diet of mostly real, minimally processed foods, enjoy olives along with it, being sure to sample the great variety of them,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “But if not—well then, fix that first.” In other words, the slightly higher amount of salt that comes with eating olives may be worth it if you cut out some of your other salty snacks.

Olives Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME 

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