Thought to have originated from the island of Crete some five to seven thousand years ago, olives are one of the oldest known foods.  Since the ancient times, the olive tree has been a source of food, timber, fuel, and medicine in many civilizations.  Olive oil, a by-product of olives, has been consumed since 3000 BC.  Olives were depicted in ancient art in Egypt, mentioned in the Bible, and played a vital role in Greek mythology.  Olives were generally regarded as a symbol of wisdom and peace.

Olives are fruits of the olive tree or Olea europaea.  In Latin, “Olea” means “oil” and the name itself reflects the high fat content of olives.  The 75% of olive’s fat content is oleic acid, a type of monosaturated fat that has been proven to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood.  The “europea” in its scientific name indicates that olives are native to Europe’s Mediterranean region.

Olives figure in many Mediterranean diet recipes.  They are great addition to many salads and poultry and meat dishes in the Mediterranean diet plan.  They come in many delicious varieties and they vary in appearance and size.  The flavors of these varieties of olives range from smoky to sour to bitter to acidic.  You can have them either as whole olives or pitted olives.  Though they are available whole year round, they are best when they are harvested in September.

Due to their intrinsic bitterness because of the glycoside oleuropein concentrated in their skin, olives need to undergo special processing so they cannot be eaten right off the olive tree.  The kind of processing method may vary according to the variety of olives, the cultivation region, and the desired texture, color, and taste to be created.  Here are the other benefits to health that olives are known to give:

Protects Cells Against Free Radicals

Concentrated amounts of monosaturated fats can be found in olives.  Unlike polysaturated fats, monosaturated fats are less easily damaged. Due to the stability of monosaturated fats, they have protective effects on the cell. Combines with vitamin E, the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant found in olives, monosaturated fats can help lower the risk of cell damage and inflammation.  Ailments that can be caused by damage from free radicals will be prevented.

Helps Protect Against Colon Cancer

Free radicals can damage the cellular DNA of colon cells for these cells to mutate into cancer cells.   The nutrients, vitamin E and monosaturated fats, found in olives can help prevent this by neutralizing the free radicals in the body.  Lower rates of colon cancer have been associated with the higher intake of both monosaturated fats and vitamin E, both found in olives.

Heart Disease Protection

Damage from free radicals can lead to many ailments and diseases.  If unchecked, these free radicals can cause cholesterol to oxidize and oxidized cholesterol is known to damage blood vessels and cause buildups in the arteries.  These conditions can lead to heart attack or stroke.  The nutrients found in olives prevent the oxidation of alcohol so that they, in effect, help prevent heart disease.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Aside from monosaturated fats and olives, some phytonutrient compounds contained in olives, including flavonoids and polyphenols, also have anti-inflammatory properties.  These nutrients can help reduce the severity of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.  These said conditions are said to be caused by high levels of free radicals in the body.  Moreover, the vitamin E found in olives can help reduce the intensity and frequency of hot flashes experienced by women who undergo menopause.

I personaly think I’m addicted to olives…:-)

Ray Baker