Small but tasty, olives are a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen, added to salads or sauces or enjoyed alone. In general, the oil obtained from olives is the focus of studies and discussions for its undoubted beneficial properties, but in reality even the olives themselves, once processed, are a small, but powerful, source of health, as emerges from a recent review published in the Journal of Nutritional Science by a Portuguese team (Rocha et al, J Nutr Sci, 2020).
The processing of the olives
The olives appear bitter. Therefore, before being consumed, olives undergo a process that aims to remove the bitter taste. Afterwards, the olives are treated to ensure a long shelf life, for example, they are immersed in a brine. At this point the olives are ready to be tasted and thus bring their benefits. But what are the properties of olives?
The antioxidant properties of olives
Olives contain phenols, which are antioxidant substances. The phenols of olives are mainly flavones, flavonols and anthocyanins. Not only that, olives also contain vitamin E, another antioxidant. Antioxidants fight free radical damage, cellular degeneration and aging processes, as well as counteract chronic inflammation. Inflammation, when it acts continuously, can cause, in the long term, damage such as an increased risk of cancer, depression, obesity and a weakening of the immune system. Not to forget, then, the role of vitamin E on the nervous system and its ability to help prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.
Olives and Muscles
Vitamin E also has other important functions. For example, vitamin E protects muscles and improves their functionality, also counteracting their natural decline associated with aging. It is believed that the latter effect is due to the anti-radical and anti-inflammatory properties of vitamin E, but also to its action to increase the ability of muscles to regenerate and to use glucose for energy.
Olives and heart
Olives provide monounsaturated fatty acids, including oleic acid. These precious fatty acids are protective for the heart as they help reduce cardiovascular risk. In fact, a greater intake of monounsaturated fatty acids in the diet has allowed, as shown by scientific studies, to increase good cholesterol and at the same time reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Not only that, more monounsaturated fatty acids have been able to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Olives and visceral fat
The monounsaturated fatty acids of olives have also been shown to change the distribution of body fat, reducing central adiposity or visceral fat.
So, given these properties, green light to table olives. But, as always, care must be taken not to overdo it as olives contain salt and too much salt in the diet can increase the cardiovascular and hypertension risk, thus nullifying the benefits. Therefore, a good choice is to include olives in your diet in moderation.