Health food of the month - Olives
For most of us, olives have become a normal food only in our lifetimes. 40 years ago or more olives would have been quite unusual but today olives are just an ordinary food found everywhere: whether you eat them on pizzas or in a salad; or nibble them with various fillings as a snack.
The olive is a species of small tree in the family Oleaceae, native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean Basin as well as northern Iraq.
They have of course been extremely popular in these countries for centuries; and olives are a key component in the “healthy” Mediterranean diet. But what is it that makes them healthy?
To begin with, they are a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats; an essential part of a good diet. These fats can help lower harmful LDL cholesterol, raise the good HDL cholesterol and help to prevent heart disease and stroke.
Olives also contain a compound called oleocanthal which can help prevent a body from making inflammatory enzymes. This anti-inflammatory property works in the same way as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs helping to diminish pain and sensitivity. Interesting, the strongly flavoured olives from Tuscany have especially high levels of olecanthals.
Olives also contain a substantial amount of iron. This is a key factor in the formation of haemoglobin, a protein that helps carry oxygen around the body via the bloodstream. Iron also helps to build the enzymes responsible for regulating the immune function and cognitive development.
Olives are also a useful snack food for people with allergies - they are free of all wheat, soy, lactose and most of the other allergy-causing ingredients.
They are also fairly low in calories, with around five calories an olive, meaning a serving of 20 medium olives still comes in at only 100 calories.
However, there is a downside to Olives - and that is sodium. Each olive naturally contains a large level of sodium. One large black olive for instance, contains around 32 milligrams of sodium; half a cup of green olives contains around 1,556 milligrams of sodium, or think around two thirds of a teaspoonful of salt.
The trick today is to seek out reduced sodium or low salt canned or jarred olives. They can now be found in many supermarkets and are a healthier option than traditional olives, while still offering all the key benefits.
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