I enjoy food. To me, eating isn’t just about getting enough calories. It’s about nourishing my body, taking time to relax and even connecting with others over a great meal. That’s why, as part of an ongoing series, I’ll be focusing a different food in the Mediterranean diet each month. This month, we’ll start with one of my favorites: olives, and especially olive oil.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest dietary options available. Consisting of foods found along the Mediterranean Sea, the diet includes fresh fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, olive oil, herbs and spices, and red wine in moderation. Processed foods, butter, salt and sugar are rarely found on the Mediterranean plate.

This month’s focus is olives and olive oil. Why are they so healthy? The answer might surprise you: they’re full of fat.


Olives Are Full of Good Fats

The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean basin, and approximately 97 percent of the world’s olive cultivation comes from this area of the world. Since the diet consists mostly of fresh fruits, vegetables, and other naturally low-fat foods, olive oil makes up a large portion of the fats consumed in the diet.

Many food manufacturers put an emphasis on low-fat foods, so it can be easy to assume anything with fat is bad. But that’s not the case with olives and olive oil. It contains good-for-you fats known as monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), or Omega-9s.

A journal article published in Nutrition Research Reviews explained that the health benefits from olive oil may be due to antioxidant activity, which supports heart health, healthy inflammatory response and other aspects of general wellness. According to the Mayo Clinic, MUFAs support healthy cholesterol levels. The Omega-9 fatty acids may also support healthy insulin and blood sugar levels.


Does the Type Matter?

When selecting olive oil, it’s best to choose extra virgin. The term “extra virgin” refers to a process of pressing and collection that uses no chemicals, and temperatures must be low enough so as not to harm the oil. This process yields the highest quality oil with the most health benefits.

When selecting olives, the type can matter, but most research suggests that all olives have some health benefits. One study found that olives that do not go through the Spanish brining process may contain more health benefits. Brining is a process of curing that involves salt. In addition to potentially removing some nutrients, the olives cured in brine may contain high amounts of sodium—something best to avoid if you’re looking to support heart health. Be sure to check the sodium content of any olives you purchase.



Heart-Healthy Mediterranean Foods

Food: Olives and olive oil

Contain: Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), or Omega-9s

Health benefits: Supports heart health, inflammatory response, cholesterol levels, insulin levels, blood sugar levels and general wellness