Today we say “olive you” to a heart-healthy, antioxidant-rich, and versatile fruit. To celebrate National Olive Day, and one of the world’s most widely enjoyed foods, we've compiled five lesser-known fun facts about this pitted delight!
1. Olives can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and glucose levels.
The fats in olives and olive oil are monounsaturated fatty acids which are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, the FDA states that two tablespoons of olive oil a day can be beneficial in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. About 50% of the fat consumed in the Mediterranean region comes from olives or olive oil—this is one of the major reasons Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher, Dr. Andrew Weil lauds anti-inflammatory diets, like the Mediterranean diet.
2. All olives are green while they’re young.
It is only when they ripen that some olives progress to darker colors, including purple and later black. In many cases, the darker the olive, the later it was picked. The exception: canned black olives which darken as a result of processing. As for the briny taste? That’s from the curing process, which removes bitterness from the fruit.
3. Olives have been linked to cancer prevention.
While high in fat and calories, olives and olive oil contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants responsible for reducing inflammation and cell damage. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of olives help us avoid chronic oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, while protecting DNA from oxygen damage. Buyers beware! It’s important to note that treatment of the fruit, processing, and storage all play a role in how many polyphenols remain in your olive oil, so be sure to follow our tips below to ensure you’re getting the good stuff.
4. Olives are actually a fruit that are grown on, you guessed it, olive trees!
These trees can live to be hundreds (sometimes even thousands) of years old. The fruit is traditionally removed by hand picking (or “milking”) from the branch, which results in the highest quality fruit and oil, although modern methods involve shaking the branch or tree using machine-run vibrators.
5. Olive oil isn’t just for eating!
Integrative Nutrition visiting teacher Dr. Mehmet Oz, refers to olive oil as “youth in a bottle,” and demonstrates how you can use it as a lubricant for shaving and as a hair moisturizer. It can also be used as a remedy for excess earwax, dry skin, and even diaper rash! Watch this video on the topical uses of olive oil.
How to Shop for Olive Oil
While olives and olive oil can be found at any supermarket, it’s important to know that not all choices are high quality or even authentic.
When buying a good product here’s what to look for:
- The harvest date is less than a year ago
- Choose a darker bottle which protects the product from light damage
- Pick out “extra-virgin” varieties, which are notably higher quality than standard “olive oil” or “pure oil.”
The North American Olive Oil Association also places its quality seal on certain brands that agree to random laboratory testing. Find out which brands have been given the seal of approval here.
How do you use olives or olive oil? Share in the comments below!