When we meet someone for the first time and share what we do, it often seems to open the gateway to a game of 20 questions. “What do you think about the Paleo diet?” “It’s a good thing to give up gluten, right?” “Is a banana bad for me?” “So, do you always eat healthy?” When we’re asked these kinds of questions, we’re happy to answer them. We feel grateful that people feel comfortable enough to ask. Here's a recent question we were asked...and here's the answer!
Question: Are olives healthy, even though they are high in sodium?
Answer: Although olives seem to get most of their attention for their heart-healthy oil, olives by themselves offer important health benefits. Whether they’re Greek-style black olives, Spanish-style green olives, Kalamata, French, or Californian, olives are a plant food rich in phytonutrients that exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Two particular phytonutrients found in olives— hydroxytyosol and oleuropein—appear to reduce oxidative stress, and help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease. The heart-protective benefits of olives may also be due to their high monounsaturated fatty acid content, a type of fat well-touted for its ability to improve cholesterol levels. Additionally, olives are a good source of fiber, iron, copper, and vitamin E. Despite these substantial benefits, some varieties of olives do pack in a significant amount of sodium. One large black olive contains 32 - 72 milligrams of sodium, depending on the size and preserving technique. To help offset the naturally bitter taste of fresh-picked olives, many undergo brine curing (submersion in a salt solution) for several months. Because the olives are preserved in the solution and absorb the sodium content, rinsing them prior to eating will do little to lessen the sodium. However, you can reap the benefits of olives without overloading on sodium by letting olives provide the central flavoring—no additional salt is needed—in pastas, sandwiches, dips and spreads.
—McKenzie Hall, RD
This Q & A was written by McKenzie for the April 2014 issue of Environmental Nutrition.