Start the New Year with Spanish olives

Posted on: 29 December 2009 by Mark O'haire

Since ancient times, sun-ripened Spanish olives and their oil have been highly valued for their medicinal benefits.

Traditionally cured Spanish olives are low in calories, high in antioxidants, minerals and healthy fat and are a great source of fibre, so whether you eat them straight from the bowl or combine them with your evening meal for a deliciously subtle Mediterranean flavour, you can be assured that they are doing you good.

The recommended daily intake is seven olives (or approximately 25g) per day, and with numerous health benefits on offer why not give you health a boost by trying one of the many varieties on Spanish olives available at your local supermarket this January?

Low in calories

Spanish table olives are a tasty alternative to traditional high calorie snack foods such as crisps so are a great alternative if you’re looking to cut down your calorie intake after an indulgent Christmas. 25g of olives contain just 37 kcal, almost four times as little as the 140 kcal contained in 25g of crisps.

Nutritional benefits

Olives promote good health because they contain a high amount of antioxidants and minerals such as polyphenols, calcium and magnesium, all needed for the healthy functioning of our bodies.

Different Spanish olives contain different nutritional qualities, for example, black olives contain less salt and more iron, yet fewer calories than green olives; Manzanilla olives contain more salt and vitamin E; and Hojiblanca olives boast more fibre. However all Spanish olives offer the following:

  • Monounsaturated fats – Spanish olives are fruits of the tree known as Olea europaea. Olea is the Latin word for oil, reflecting the olives very high fat content. However, 75% of this is oleic acid, an incredibly healthy omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid that has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.

Research has also shown that it is the type of fat consumed that determines the risk of developing conditions such as atherosclerosis (a condition where which an artery wall thickens as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol), colon cancer, arthiritus and asthma. Regions such as the Mediterranean area consume large amounts of olives and olive oil and have a lower risk of developing those conditions.  

  • Vitamin E – Spanish olives are a good source of vitamin E, known for its antioxidant properties, because they contain mixed tocopherols.
  • Fibre – with 100 grams containing 2.6 grams of fibre, Spanish olives are high in fibre and so are easily digested.

Spanish olives are also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and iodine.

Health benefits

  • Anti-inflammatory properties - Spanish olives contain a variety of beneficial active phytonutrient compounds (plant compounds which are thought to have health-protecting qualities) including polyphenols and flavonoids, known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Interestingly polyphenols also give the olive its taste and aroma.
  • Protection against cell damage - however, it is the combination of a number of nutrients in Spanish olives that work in synergy to provide great health benefits. As outlined above, Spanish olives are a good source of monounsaturated fats, rich in vitamin E - a fat-soluble antioxidant that neutralizes damaging free radicals, and also contain polyphenols and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.

It is these three health-boosting compounds that work hand-in-hand to provide a protective an anti-inflammatory effect on cells that can lower the risk of cell damage and inflammation which in turn helps:

  1. Reduce the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis - three conditions where most of the damage is caused by high levels of free radicals
  2. Prevent heart disease
  3. Prevent colon cancer - by neutralizing free radicals, the nutrients in olives help prevent colon cancer. A higher intake of both vitamin E and the monounsaturated fats in olives is also associated with lower rates of colon cancer1.
  • Menopause – clinical studies have shown the effect Vitamin E has on reducing hot flushes, so Spanish olives are a great snack for women looking to up their vitamin E intake during the menopause. 
  • Alzheimers – a recent study of thousands of civil servants (Whitehal II trail) showed people with low level of HDL (high density lipids) or bad cholesterol were 53% more likely to have memory loss as compared to those with high level of HDL (high density lipids) or good cholesterol. As olives have high levels of oleic acid which helps increase good cholesterol, an olive rich diet may also help prevent Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease2.
  • Sore throat - olive soup is a good remedy for a sore throat, according to traditional Chinese medicine (it's also the only time olives are used in Chinese cuisine).

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