Olives are one of the world’s most widely enjoyed foods although attention is mostly placed on its delicious oil. The fruit is classified as fruit from the Olea Europa tree which is known to live for up to a century. Olives are normally green when unripe and turn black once they ripen. However, some are green when unripe and remain green when they do ripen.
About 80 to 85% of calories from the olives come from fat. These fruits are highly unusual as almost three-quarter of the fat is the oleic acid which is a monounsaturated fatty acid. They also provide, in small quantities, the essential fatty called Linoleic acid, alpha-Linoleic acid and Omega-3 fatty acids, all of which are associated with the reduction of cardiovascular disease. Eating olives help decrease LDL cholesterol helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Olives are jam-packed with an astounding range of phytonutrients, some of which are unique to olives. This anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrient richness extend to the respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, musculoskeletal, immune, inflammatory and digestive systems.
The most and best-studied antioxidant phytonutrient in olives is Oleuropein and is exclusive olives. It has been shown to decrease the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, lowers several of the many markers of oxidative stress and is a scavenger of nitric acid. It also helps protect nerve cells from oxygen-related damage.
These same phytonutrients also act as anti-inflammatories. Extracts taken from whole olives have shown anti-histamine properties at a cellular level by blocking special histamine receptors called H1 receptors. Extracts from whole olives also help lower the risk of unwanted inflammation as it lowers the levels of leukotriene B4 (LTB4) which is a common pro-inflammatory messaging molecule. Oleuropein decreases the activity of inducible nitric acid oxide synthase. This is an enzyme whose over-activity causes inflammation.
With their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, olives make for natural protection against cancer. The reason for this is because chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation are key factors in the development of cancer. The triterpene phytonutrients in olives including erythrodiol, uvaol, and oleanolic acid have been found to slow down the life cycle of breast cancer cells. The same has been shown for gastric cancer as well.
Olives are a remarkable source of flavonoids, phenols as well as iron, copper, and dietary fiber. Oil pressed from olives, which the ancient Greeks referred to as “liquid gold”, has moisturizing properties for the hair and skin, helps with a nagging cough or scratchy throat and is great as a lip balm too.
This symbol of peace and happiness is also a great medicine which mankind has been using since time immemorial.
Amna Sheikh is a medical doctor with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), Bachelors in Economics and Statistics. She is also a medical writer working as a freelancer for 10+ years and she is specialized in medical, health, and pharmaceutical writing, regulatory writing & clinical research. All her work is supported by a strong academic and professional experience.