Are Canned Olives Healthy Food?

Canned olives with bay leave organic bio food
An opened can of black olives. (Image: AdrianHancu/iStock/Getty Images)

A staple in Mediterranean cuisine, olives offer essential nutrients and provide a healthful source of fat in a balanced diet. Canned olives have a long shelf life, which reduces spoilage and offers an economical way to incorporate more olives into your diet. However, pickled varieties can come loaded with sodium, so they're best consumed in moderation.

Nutritional Basics

A quarter-cup serving of canned olives contains just 39 calories, which helps add flavor to your diet without expanding your waistline. Most of these calories come from fats and carbohydrates -- each serving contains 3.6 and 2.1 grams, respectively. Olives' fat content comes from healthful unsaturated fats, which reduce harmful cholesterol in your bloodstream. Some of the carbs in olives provide energy to fuel your active lifestyle, while the fruit's 1.1 grams of fiber promote healthy digestion. Canned olives contain a minute amount of protein -- 0.3 grams per serving.

Source of Iron

Canned olives offer nutritional value thanks to their iron content. Each quarter-cup serving offers 1.11 milligrams of iron, which translates to 6 percent of the daily needs for women and 14 percent for men. As a part of hemoglobin -- a protein found in your red blood cells -- iron helps transport oxygen in your bloodstream. It aids in oxygen sensing, so your body can detect low oxygen levels and fix the problem before you suffer tissue damage. Iron also offers other health benefits -- it's important for immune function and aids in energy production.

Drawbacks: Sodium

The major nutritional drawback of canned olives is their sodium content. Each quarter-cup serving contains 247 milligrams of sodium, which is 11 percent of the daily sodium intake limit. Pickled olives, which have been cured in a brine solution, contain more sodium -- 523 milligrams per serving. Because of their moderate to high sodium intake, you should consume canned olives in moderation. Too much sodium increases your blood pressure and contributes to a range of chronic diseases, including kidney disease and heart disease.

Serving Tips and Suggestions

Use canned olives sparingly to add bursts of flavor to your meal without consuming too much sodium. Start your day with Mediterranean scrambled eggs; this mixture of whole eggs, egg whites, diced tomatoes, chopped spinach and sliced black canned olives makes for a filling and flavorful breakfast. Combine sauteed red pepper, chopped, canned kalamata olives, diced tomatoes and olive oil for a healthful sauce that works well as a topping for grilled chicken or whole wheat pasta. Alternatively, marinate large canned green olives in a mixture of orange juice, orange zest, olive oil, garlic and fresh rosemary and serve warm for a decadent treat.

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