Olives 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Olives are small fruits that grow on olive trees (Olea europaea).
They belong to a group of fruit called drupes, or stone fruits, and are related to mangoes, cherries, peaches, almonds, and pistachios.
Olives are very high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants. Studies show that they are good for the heart and may protect against osteoporosis and cancer.
The healthy fats in olives are extracted to produce olive oil, one of the key components of the incredibly healthy Mediterranean diet.
Olives are often enjoyed in salads, sandwiches, and tapenades. The average olive weighs about 3–5 grams (1Trusted Source).
Some immature olives are green and turn black when they ripen. Others remain green even when fully ripe.
In the Mediterranean region, 90% of olives are used to make olive oil (2Trusted Source).
This article tells you everything you need to know about olives.
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Nutrition facts

Olives contain 115–145 calories per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), or about 59 calories for 10 olives.
The nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of ripe, canned olives are (3Trusted Source):
  • Calories: 115
  • Water: 80%
  • Protein: 0.8 grams
  • Carbs: 6.3 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 3.2 grams
  • Fat: 10.7 grams 

    • Saturated: 1.42 grams
    • Monounsaturated: 7.89 grams
    • Polyunsaturated: 0.91 grams

Fat

Olives contain 11–15% fat, 74% percent of which is oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fatty acid. It is the main component of olive oil.
Oleic acid is linked to several health benefits, including decreased inflammation and a reduced risk of heart disease. It may even help fight cancer (4Trusted Source5Trusted Source6Trusted Source7Trusted Source).

Carbs and fiber

Carbs comprise 4–6% of olives, making them a low-carb fruit.
Most of these carbs are fiber. In fact, fiber makes up 52–86% of the total carb content.
The net digestible carb content is therefore very low. However, olives are still a relatively poor source of fiber, since 10 olives only provide about 1.5 grams.
Vitamins and minerals
Olives are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, some of which are added during processing. This fruit’s beneficial compounds include:
  • Vitamin E. High-fat plant foods usually contain high amounts of this powerful antioxidant.
  • Iron. Black olives are a good source of iron, which is important for your red blood cells to transport oxygen (8Trusted Source).
  • Copper. This essential mineral is often lacking in the typical Western diet. Copper deficiency may increase your risk of heart disease (9Trusted Source10Trusted Source).
  • Calcium. The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium is essential for bone, muscle, and nerve function (11Trusted Source).
  • Sodium. Most olives contain high amounts of sodium since they’re packaged in brine or saltwater.
Other plant compounds
Olives are rich in many plant compounds, particularly antioxidants, including (12):
  • Oleuropein. This is the most abundant antioxidant in fresh, unripe olives. It is linked to many health benefits (13Trusted Source).
  • Hydroxytyrosol. During olive ripening, oleuropein is broken down into hydroxytyrosol. It is also a powerful antioxidant (14Trusted Source15).
  • Tyrosol. Most prevalent in olive oil, this antioxidant is not as potent as hydroxytyrosol. However, it may help prevent heart disease (16Trusted Source17Trusted Source).
  • Oleanolic acid. This antioxidant may help prevent liver damage, regulate blood fats, and reduce inflammation (18Trusted Source19).
  • Quercetin. This nutrient may lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
Processing of olives
The most common varieties of whole olives are:
  • Spanish green olives, pickled
  • Greek black olives, raw
  • California olives, ripened with oxidation, then pickled
Because olives are very bitter, they’re not usually eaten fresh. Instead, they’re cured and fermented. This process removes bitter compounds like oleuropein, which are most abundant in unripe olives.
The lowest levels of bitter compounds are found in ripe, black olives (13Trusted Source20).
However, there are some varieties that don't need processing and can be consumed when fully ripe.
Processing olives may take anywhere from a few days up to a few months depending on the method used. Processing methods often rely on local traditions, which affect the fruit’s taste, color, and texture (13Trusted Source).
Lactic acid is also important during fermentation. It acts as a natural preservative that protects the olives from harmful bacteria.
Currently, scientists are studying whether fermented olives have probiotic effects. This could lead to improved digestive health (21Trusted Source22).
Health benefits of olives
Olives are a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They’re associated with many health benefits, especially for heart health and cancer prevention.

Antioxidant properties

Dietary antioxidants have been shown to reduce your risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.
Olives are rich in antioxidants, with health benefits ranging from fighting inflammation to reducing microorganism growth (23Trusted Source).
One study showed that eating a pulpy residue from olives significantly increased blood levels of glutathione, one of the most powerful antioxidants in your body (24Trusted Source25Trusted Source).

Improved heart health

High blood cholesterol and blood pressure are both risk factors for heart disease.
Oleic acid, the main fatty acid in olives, is associated with improved heart health. It may regulate cholesterol levels and protect LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation (26Trusted Source27Trusted Source).
Furthermore, some studies note that olives and olive oil may reduce blood pressure (28Trusted Source29Trusted Source).

Improved bone health

Osteoporosis is characterized by decreased bone mass and bone quality. It can increase your risk of fractures.
The rates of osteoporosis are lower in Mediterranean countries than in the rest of Europe, leading to speculation that olives might protect against this condition (30Trusted Source31Trusted Source).
Some of the plant compounds found in olives and olive oil have been shown to help prevent bone loss in animal studies (30Trusted Source32Trusted Source33Trusted Source34Trusted Source).
While human studies are lacking, animal studies and the data linking the Mediterranean diet to decreased fracture rates are promising (31Trusted Source).

Cancer prevention

Olives and olive oil are commonly consumed in the Mediterranean region, where rates of cancer and other chronic diseases are lower than in other Western countries (35Trusted Source).
Thus, it’s possible that olives may help reduce your risk of cancer.
This may be partly due to their high antioxidant and oleic acid contents. Test-tube studies reveal that these compounds disrupt the life cycle of cancer cells in the breast, colon, and stomach (6Trusted Source7Trusted Source36Trusted Source37Trusted Source38Trusted Source).
However, human studies are needed to confirm these results. At this point, it’s unclear whether eating olives or olive oil has any effect on cancer.
Potential downsides
Olives are well tolerated by most people but may harbor high amounts of salt due to their packaging liquid.

Allergy

While allergy to olive tree pollen is common, allergy to olives is rare.
After eating olives, sensitive individuals may experience allergic reactions in the mouth or throat (39Trusted Source).

Heavy metals

Olives may contain heavy metals and minerals like boron, sulfur, tin, and lithium.
Consuming a high quantity of heavy metals may harm your health and increase your risk of cancer. However, the amount of these metals in olives is generally well below the legal limit. Therefore, this fruit is considered safe (40Trusted Source41Trusted Source).

Acrylamide

Acrylamide is linked to an increased risk of cancer in some studies, although other scientists question the connection (42Trusted Source43Trusted Source).
However, authorities recommend limiting your acrylamide intake as much as possible (44).
Some olive varieties — especially ripe, California black olives — may contain high amounts of acrylamide as a result of processing (45Trusted Source46Trusted Source47Trusted Source).
The bottom line
Olives are a savory and delicious addition to meals or appetizers.
They’re low in carbs but high in healthy fats. They’re also linked to several health benefits, including improved heart health.
This stone fruit is very easy to incorporate into your routine and makes a great addition to a healthy, whole-foods-based diet.
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