Spanish olives--more properly called Spanish-style olives--are olives that are picked young, briefly cured in lye and then fermented in a brine solution for up to 12 months before being bottled in a diluted brine. Food processors most often stuff these green olives with pimiento, although onion, garlic, or almonds might also be used. Spanish-style olives are small, but they contain an impressive array of nutrients that deliver significant health benefits.
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Rich in Heart-Healthy Fats
Spanish olives, like olive oil, are a rich source of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, and vitamin E. Monounsaturated fats help to keep low-density lipoprotein, the so-called bad cholesterol, down while increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein, which promotes overall health, most notably cardiac health. The World’s Healthiest Foods website says that the relative stability of the monounsaturated fats found in olives helps to bolster cell membranes, protecting them from invasion by free radicals and other forces antithetical to good health.
The monounsaturated fats in Spanish olives, working in tandem with vitamin E, a powerful fat-soluble antioxidant, sharply reduce the risk of cellular damage or inflammation, according to WHFoods.com. The website explains that monounsaturated fats and vitamin E, in combination, provide cells with an extra layer of protection that allows the performance of normal cellular functions, including energy production, without undue exposure to free radical damage. As an unwelcome--but inevitable--byproduct, the energy metabolism process creates large amounts of potentially damaging free radicals.
Olives and olive oil lie at the very heart of the Mediterranean diet, the heart-healthy eating habits typical of Spanish, Italian, Greek and other peoples living around the Mediterranean Sea. These closely related food products are believed to be responsible for many of the health benefits that are ascribed to the diet, according to Robert Wayne Hutkins, author of “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods.” He explains that some of the phenolic compounds responsible for the color development and bitter taste of unprocessed olives also have antimicrobial and other medicinal properties that account, in part, for the health benefits of olives and olive-based products. Hutkins cites a 2000 study by Soler-Rivas et al. that concluded “the main biological activities associated with oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol, tryosal and verbascoside...are related to their antioxidant properties.”
Other Healthful Attributes
Spanish olives make a healthy snack, because they are low in calories—fewer than 150 calories in 25 olives—and loaded with minerals, including calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, according to the Olives from Spain website. Since ancient times, the oil from olives has been valued for its skin-healthy properties.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- The World’s Healthiest Foods: Olives
- “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods”; Robert Wayne Hutkins; 2006
- Olives from Spain: The Best Olives Under the Sun: Health Benefits
- Health Benefits of Spanish Olives (Aceitunas)
- UC Davis Olive Center
- The Cook's Thesaurus: Olives