Olives are a staple of the Mediterranean diet and olive oil is a staple of most kitchens these days. This isn't just because of their great taste -- olives are full of health-providing compounds that make them worth adding to your diet.
A Little Olive History
There are several unique species of olive trees (Olea europea), native to areas like the Mediterranean and the Middle East as well as Asia and Africa. They all provide a unique fruit, the olive, which has been cultivated for eating and the production of olive oil for more than 5,000 years. The olives these trees produce are just as unique, with different colors, sizes and flavors. Olives are hard and bitter when harvested and have a pit at the center. In order to be eaten, they must be brined.
Olives can be pressed to produce olive oil, which is used for cooking and even as a skin and hair care product. Cold pressing is the best method to keep the nutritional value of the olives intact. When olive oil is cold pressed and unrefined, which leaves the lowest amount of free oleic acid, it's considered extra virgin. The more processing it undergoes, the less virgin the oil becomes and the taste is lighter and less fruity. The color will also be lighter.
Olive oil is used for cooking in many ways, including sauces and for roasting. But its nutritional value isn't to be overlooked. Olives and olive oil are great sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are considered healthy fats that may benefit the heart and brain. These fats have anti-inflammatory benefits that may promote healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well, which reduces your risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Olive products also contain phenolics, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, preventing cellular damage.
A 2009 study published in the journal Critical reviews in food science and nutrition affirmed the presence of these compounds and that too much processing could reduce their effects. A previous study, conducted in 2004 and published in the European journal of cancer prevention identified the presence of anticancer agents within olives and olive oil. This in no ways suggests olives and olive oil are cures for cancer, but suggests a connection between the high consumption of these foods and the low cancer rates among people who follow the Mediterranean diet. However, olive oil can be high in calories – about 100 calories for 1 tbsp – so it's important to use it sparingly to avoid turning a healthy meal into an indulgence.
Olive oil is sometimes applied directly to the body to treat ear issues and skin conditions like psoriasis. Because of its nourishing properties, olive oil is also added to topical products like shampoos, conditioners or body lotions to hydrate and help repair the skin. If using oil as a moisturizer for the skin, be sure to apply it right after bathing, when the pores are open, to make sure it's thoroughly absorbed. For your hair, try applying olive oil to the hair from the middle of the hair shaft to the roots and let soak in for 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure the hair is dry when you apply the oil and then shampoo to remove it. The oil will provide valuable moisture and help repair split ends or other damage caused by coloring and styling.
Olive Leaf Extract
The leaves of the olive plant are also widely used, but for the production of medicine instead of food. The leaves are said to possess properties similar to antibiotics, which help fight infection within the body to speed up recovery. The compound behind its healthy benefits is known as oleuropin, a polyphenol. Polyphenols are the phenolic compounds previously mentioned and are antioxidants that protect the body's cells from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals, among other benefits. Oleuropin is also found in the flesh of the olive and is what gives olives their distinct flavor.
Because of its antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, olive leaf is recommended for anyone suffering from the common cold, an upper respiratory infection, the flu and other infections. A 2003 study published in Mycoses found a solution of 0.6 percent olive leaf extract in water was able to completely destroy E. coli cells. Olive leaf extract may also benefit the blood pressure, digestion, cholesterol, kidney function and blood sugar levels.
As with all supplements, speak with your doctor before taking olive leaf, especially if you're currently being treated for a medical condition or are pregnant or nursing. Don't stop taking any prescribed antibiotics without first consulting with your physician.
There are so many reasons to add more olives to your life. Get all your olive products at eVitamins Canada to help you stay well. Have a great day!