Are Olives Good for You? Here’s What the Science Says
By now, you’ve most likely heard of the multiple health benefits associated with the Mediterranean Diet, which is said to help reduce inflammation, improve your cognitive function, and help you have a healthier heart. And while the diet consists of many different types of foods, two of the most popular ingredients people indulge in while following this diet are olives and olive oil.
Despite being known as a fatty food, olives are still a mainstay in this health-supporting diet. You may be wondering, how are olives good for you if they’re so high in fat? What nutrients make them so beneficial?
To better understand the possible health benefits of olives, we spoke with a handful of nutrition experts and took a deep dive into the data, in hopes of finding out whether or not green and black olives are actually good for you. Read on to learn more about olives’ nutrition, and for more healthy eating tips on your fave produce, check out 11 Science-Backed Benefits of Bananas.
What are olives?
Contrary to popular belief, olives are not considered vegetables! In fact, they are a type of fruit that belongs to the stone fruit family, alongside cherries, peaches, and plums. After being picked and harvested, olives are cleaned and cured in ways that modify their naturally bitter flavoring. The natural brine they are cured in typically involves brine, dry salt, water, oil, and other flavorings. However, sometimes olives are cured artificially with lye.
“Snackable and bite-sized, olives are a real thrill for your taste buds,” says Amy S. Margulies, RD, CDCES, LDN, NBC-HWC, founder of the Rebellious RD. “Plain black olives can give you that salty rush you crave while Kalamata olives give you an exotic Mediterranean kick—all while supplying you with healthy fats, a healthy dose of vitamin E, and other antioxidants.”
Olives nutrition information
Nutrients per 100 grams (3.5-ounce) serving of green olives:
- Calories: 145
- Fat: 15.3 grams
- Saturated Fat: 2.03 grams
- Sodium: 1,056 milligrams
- Carbs: 3.84 grams
- Sugar: 0.54 grams
- Fiber: 3.3 grams
- Protein: 1.03 grams
Nutrients per 100 grams (3.5-ounce) serving of black olives:
- Calories: 116
- Fat: 10.9 grams
- Saturated Fat: 2.28 grams
- Sodium: 735 milligrams
- Carbs: 6.04 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fiber: 1.6 grams
- Protein: 0.84 grams
Whether adding to a delicious sub or munching on a handful straight-up as a snack, Margulies suggests keeping your portion sizes to about “10 green olives or 8 black olives,” as this will amount to roughly 4 grams of healthy fats and one gram of saturated fat.
5 health benefits of eating olives
They give a boost of healthy fats.
Olives are made up largely of healthy fats, 74% of which is a specific fat called oleic acid. Oleic acid is a monounsaturated fat and has been known to help with inflammation. Getting more of these “healthy” fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet, especially when they replace fats like saturated and trans fats, can significantly help your overall health. You’ll see more specific health benefits related to these fats below.
They may lead to healthier aging.
One of the main benefits of getting more healthy fatty acids in your diet is that they can help you improve your brain health and functioning. Olives and olive oil also contain phenolic compounds, which studies show can help with protecting against age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia. According to an article published in Psychology Today, people who eat plenty of monounsaturated fats often have higher levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which we need for functions like memory retention and learning.
Some studies have even suggested that the compounds found in olives may have anti-inflammatory properties, which can be beneficial in lowering the risk of age-related chronic health issues.
They’ll give you a nice dose of fiber.
While olives and olive oil have many of the same health benefits, one of the specific effects of eating olives is that they contain dietary fiber! In fact, three ounces of canned olives contain around 3.2 grams of fiber, which is a helpful amount for a small snack. Getting enough fiber in your diet is one of the main keys to a healthy heart, healthy cholesterol levels, good digestion, and longevity as a whole, and olives can play a helpful role in fulfilling your daily dietary fiber needs.
They can help support your heart health.
Olives are one of the best heart-healthy foods you can snack on because of their high levels of monounsaturated fats. According to a report published in Lipids in Health and Disease, monounsaturated fats were found to help reduce the overall risk of mortality, stroke, and cardiovascular disease in the study’s participants. Monounsaturated fats can also help you lower “bad cholesterol” (LDL) and raise “good cholesterol” (HDL), which in turn can help you maintain a healthy heart.
Olives promote quality cellular health.
Olives are rich in antioxidants, including vitamin E and phenolic compounds. These antioxidants are a deterrent against the cell damage caused by the free radicals that can do your body harm. Another way olives support your cellular health is by being a great source of iron, which your body needs in order to create and generate red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body.
Are olives good for you? Can eating too many olives be bad for you?
While olives have many health benefits, the curing process does up the sodium content of this fruit before they are taken to market.
“Overall, while olives can be a healthy addition to your diet when consumed in moderation, it’s important to be mindful of your sodium intake and limit your consumption of high-sodium foods,” warns Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, at Balance One Supplements. “Excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems.”
“A serving of olives (about 5-6 medium-sized olives) contains around 230–250 mg of sodium,” adds Best. “The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults. Eating too many olives can quickly add up to a significant amount of sodium, especially if you are consuming other high-sodium foods.”
In addition to concerns related to sodium, portion control with olives is key. These bite-sized stone fruits are easy to overindulge on, but don’t let their small size fool you! Olives can provide a cornucopia of calories. And while this food can be included in a healthy diet and you don’t need to take any caloric concerns around olives to the extreme, it is something to consider and be aware of before popping a handful into your mouth.
“Olives are relatively high in calories, so consuming large quantities may contribute to weight gain,” says Best. “A serving of olives contains around 35–50 calories, depending on the size and type of olive.”
“Their calories will still add up,” adds Margulies. “They are perfect on a salad or as part of a tasty topping on your chicken or fish, as well as a snack—just be mindful of how much.”