Health Benefits of Olives

My summer vacation was spent traveling Austria and Italy — or, rather, eating my way through these two beautiful countries. So you’ll notice over the next few weeks, many of my recipes are inspired by the European cuisine I feasted my taste buds on.

While in Venice, Italy, my daily pre-siesta snack almost always included fresh olives. I realize it’s hard to get olives that delicious and juicy in Canada. But there’s one store in Toronto on Ronscesvalles Avenue — called Thin Blue Line — which serves up the best olives in the city, in my opinion.

Their advice on selecting the best kind? Avoid bruised and soggy olives — this is a sign they’ll spoiler sooner. I tend to avoid olives in a jar, but I have, from time-to-time, purchased them in a pinch. My favorite brand is Silver Leaf. Make sure you save the leftover olive oil, too, to add to pasta or to spread on toast!

A bit of history on the olive: They’re one of the oldest foods known and are thought to have originated in Crete between five and seven thousand years ago. Their use quickly spread throughout Egypt, Greece, Palestine and Asia. They’re a symbol of peace and wisdom. Olives are depicted in ancient Egyptian art and played an important role in Greek mythology. Since ancient times, the olive tree has provided food, fuel, timber and medicine for many civilizations. Olive oil has been consumed since 3000 BC.

Health benefits

In terms of their health benefits, olives are a wonderful snack because they contain monounsaturated fatty acids — aka: good fat. In fact, they are 75 per cent fat. This type of fat has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Olives are also a source of vitamin E, an antioxidant important for heart health. The combination of good fat and vitamin E make olives protective at a cellular level.

In addition to vitamin E, olives contain a variety of beneficial active phytonutrient compounds including polyphenols and flavonoids, which also appear to have significant anti-inflammatory properties.

How many olives should you feast on? Five to six olives as a snack or appetizer is ideal. The good fat keeps you fuller longer, so you’ll notice you feel more satisfied when you snack on a few olives as opposed to carbs like crackers or chips.

Joy McCarthy, registered holistic nutritionist and health coach of Joyous Health, loves to inspire others to eat well and live well. She also teaches an array of wellness workshops and co-creator of Eat Well Feel Well, a six-week nutrition and yoga course in Toronto.

Please note: All of these recipes are created in my joyous kitchen with the healthiest ingredients. I’m not a calorie counter or a professional chef — I’m a nutritionist who loves to cook and bake, and I’m delighted to share my creations with you.