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Top 5 health benefits of olives

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Registered nutritionist Nicola Shubrook explores the health benefits of olives, from their healthy fat content to their protective phytonutrients.

What are olives?

Olives are small, oval fruits with a hard, inedible stone that are traditionally grown across the Mediterranean, but also in California. They come in varying shades of green and black, depending on when they are picked – green being unripe and black, fully ripe.

Once picked, olives are either pressed and made into oil, or they are cured and then marinated – otherwise they taste very bitter. They can be consumed whole (with the stone removed, or pitted) or they can be used in cooking.

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Olives vary in taste and size depending on their variety, region, and marinade or stuffing. You may find olives labelled by country – such as Spanish or Greek – or you may be more familiar with their specific variety name, such as Kalamata.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides or try a selection of our olive recipes such as our spaghetti with lemon and olives or read more about the health benefits of olive oil.

Nutritional profile of olives

One tablespoon (8g) of olives (in brine) provides:

  • 9Kcal/35KJ
  • 0.1g Protein
  • 0.9g Fat
  • 0.3g Fibre
  • 8mg Potassium
  • 5mg Calcium

Olives are typically high in salt due to the fact that they are cured or packaged in brine or salt water, containing about 0.6g salt per five olives. The NHS recommends no more than 6g salt for adults, and between 2g-5g a day for children depending on their age.

A bowl of black olives

Top health benefits of olives

1. Rich in antioxidants

Olives are rich in plant compounds called polyphenols which have effective antioxidant properties. The beneficial effects of these compounds include reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis and cancer.

2. Are anti-inflammatory

One of the polyphenols in olives is called oleocanthal. This compound appears to share the same pharmacological activity as ibuprofen, and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. Interestingly, this useful property has been associated with positive changes in those with rheumatoid arthritis.

3. Supports heart health

Although high in fat, the majority is a beneficial mono-unsaturated variety called oleic acid. This fatty acid is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Oleic acid may help in this way by regulating cholesterol balance and reducing blood pressure.

4. May support bone health

Animal studies suggest the plant compounds in olives helps prevent bone loss, although these findings look positive human evidence remains wanting. That said, those that follow a Mediterranean diet do appear to have a lower incidence of fracture.

5. Are a fermented food

Olives are one of the most popular fermented foods, by consuming such foods you are adding beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your intestinal flora, which increases the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and may enhance your immune function.

Are olives safe for everyone?

A dietary staple for many of the world’s healthiest populations, olives are considered a good choice for the majority of people. That said, rare reports of allergy have been recorded, although these are typically to the pollen of the olive tree rather than the fruit.

The curing process to which olives are subjected increases their salt content, so if you follow a low-salt diet you may need to moderate the amounts you eat.

Read more health benefits guides:

Is halloumi healthy?
Is hummus healthy?
Is pasta healthy?
Health benefits of grapes


This article was updated on 12November 2021 by Kerry Torrens.

Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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