Olives are delicious and salty small fruits that grow on the olive tree. Their extracted oil, olive oil, is commonly used in weight-loss protocols, but eating whole olives for weight loss can also be effective.
The key to consuming olives for weight loss is to eat them in moderation. Unlike green leafy vegetables, the calories in olives add up quickly, even in smaller portion sizes. They are also known to be high in sodium. It may be advantageous to opt for certain types of olives over others if weight loss is your goal.
Olives are not just weight-loss foods. They are also associated with other health benefits. Aside from being a healthy fruit, olives are delicious and can be incorporated into many dishes. If you are following a calorie deficit and still want to enjoy olives, try cutting them into small pieces and sprinkling them on your meals.
Types of Olives
There are dozens of olive varieties to choose from, but most American grocery stores carry canned black olives and green olives in jars. While they seem similar, you may wonder what the difference is and which are the healthiest olives.
The color and type of olive depend largely on the ripeness. For example, black olives get their dark hue from being picked at peak ripeness. Green olives, on the other hand, are picked before ripening. Depending on the manufacturer and the type of processing they use, olives may be picked before ripening and then processed after picking by using a solution. Greek-style black olives (aka Kalamata olives) are ripened for the longest period of time — up to nine months.
Olives are naturally bitter when freshly picked, so both black and green olives are processed before they hit the grocery store shelves. They are thoroughly cooked to remove bitter compounds, and some ingredients are added for natural flavors and preserved freshness.
These bitter compounds, though undesirable to some because of the flavor, are believed to have health benefits. According to a February 2018 study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Greek-style black olives are believed to contain the highest amount of phenols, which are antioxidants. The study also looked at Spanish-style olives and California-style black olives.
Calories in Olives
While one can consume olives for weight loss, the serving size is generally considered very small. In fact, some manufacturers list 3-5 olives per serving.
According to the USDA, five Kalamata olives have 35 calories, 4 grams of fat and 210 milligrams of sodium. In comparison, the USDA reports that five standard black olives have 9 calories, 1 gram of fat and 100 milligrams of sodium.
While this may not seem like a lot, especially for toppings on a salad, it is unrealistic for most people to eat just five olives at a time if eating as a snack. Calorie counting may be important if you are eating olives for weight loss. Despite the calories seeming low at this small serving size, the calories and sodium both add up when consuming more than the recommended serving size of five olives.
The sodium content is also something to be mindful of. According to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, adult men and women should not consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Consuming just 15 olives would account for more than 25 percent of your daily sodium intake. High salt intake from olives may counteract your weight loss goals and contribute to sodium-induced water weight gain instead.
Read more: Nutritional Value of Stuffed Green Olives
Health Benefits of Olives
Olive oil is commonly associated with heart health benefits, and so is the food it's derived from. Olives are rich in a fatty acid called oleic acid, which is proven to help lower cholesterol and prevent cardiovascular disease.
According to a July 2018 study published in Open Heart, monounsaturated fat like oleic acid was found to improve blood lipid levels, while high saturated fat negatively impacted blood lipid levels. The study used olive oil for its source of monounsaturated fat.
The antioxidants and oleic acid content in olives may also prevent cancer. However, many of the studies linking the antioxidant compounds in olives to cancer prevention are conducted on animals. More human studies are needed to confirm this benefit of olives.
Eat Olives for Weight Loss
Olives and olive oil are a staple in the Mediterranean diet, which is known for being heart-healthy and encouraging weight management. It is also high in monounsaturated fats from sources like olives, olive oil, nuts and fatty fish.
The Mediterranean diet is popularized by its emphasis on healthy fats and unprocessed foods while still encouraging flexibility, nutrition, social eating and overall wellness. Because the Mediterranean diet is based on the eating patterns of real people, it is meant to encourage a healthy, long-term lifestyle change rather than a short-term fad diet.
Since carbs account for less than five percent of olives' total calorie composition, olives can also be consumed on low-carb diets. According to Mayo Clinic, people who follow a low-carb diet may lose weight if the diet is calorie-restricted. They also note that low-carb diets are associated with greater short-term weight loss results.
To lose weight with olives, make sure they are worked into your targeted number of calories. You can calculate how many calories you should consume in order to lose weight with the MyPlate Calorie Calculator.
Read more: Does Olive Oil Make You Fat?
Healthiest Olives for Weight Loss
When choosing your olives, avoid canned olives that are high in sodium. Excess salt intake can lead to water retention or stomach bloat, which may give the appearance of weight gain.
You should also look for olives that say "Greek style" or were processed using Greek-style methods, as they have been found to contain high amounts of antioxidants. Consuming healthy fats, such as various types of olives, is also part of the Mediterranean diet, which is known for encouraging weight loss and promoting overall health.
If tracking your caloric intake is part of your weight loss program, be cautious of the calories in olives. Though the number of calories in a serving size seems small, the serving size is also small. When eaten in moderation or as part of the Mediterranean diet, olives for weight loss can be a delicious way to consume healthy fats and encourage long-term weight management.
- Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry: “Quantitation of Oleuropein and Related Phenolics in Cured Spanish-Style Green, California-Style Black Ripe, and Greek-Style Natural Fermentation Olives”
- USDA Dietary Guidelines: “Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations”
- Open Heart: “Effects of Dietary Fats on Blood Lipids: A Review of Direct Comparison Trials”
- Mayo Clinic: “Low-Carb Diet: Can it Help You Lose Weight?”
- USDA FoodData Central: "Black Olives"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Kalamata Olives"