Olives are fruits of the tree known as Olea europaea. 'Olea' is the Latin word for 'oil,' reflecting the olives very high fat content, of which 75% is oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels. 'Europaea' reminds us that olives are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe.
Olives cannot be eaten right off of the tree; they require special processing to reduce their intrinsic bitterness, caused by the glycoside oleuropein, which is concentrated in their skin. These processing methods vary with the olive variety, cultivation region, and the desired taste, texture and color to be created.
Health Benefits of Olive
Olives are concentrated in monounsaturated fats and a good source of vitamin E. Because monounsaturated fats are less easily damaged than polyunsaturated fats, it's good to have some in our cells' outer membranes and other cell structures that contain fats, such as the membranes that surround the cell's DNA and each of its energy-producing mitochondria. The stability of monounsaturated fats translates into a protective effect on the cell that, especially when combined with the antioxidant protection offered by vitamin E, can lower the risk of damage and inflammation. In addition to vitamin E, olives contain a variety of beneficial active phytonutrient compounds including polyphenols and flavonoids, which also appear to have significant anti-inflammatory properties.
Cellular Protection Against Free Radicals
Vitamin E is the body's primary fat-soluble antioxidant. It goes after and directly neutralizes free radicals in all the fat-rich areas of the body. In combination, stable monounsaturated fats and vitamin E add a significant safety factor to cellular processes like energy production, a process that generates free radicals even when things are running smoothly.
When cellular processes such as mitochondrial energy production are not well protected, the free radicals produced can interact with and damage any nearby molecules?a process called oxidation. When a cell's mitochondria become damaged, the cell cannot produce enough energy to supply its needs and dies. If a cell's DNA becomes damaged, the cell may mutate and become cancerous.
Protection From Heart Disease
Free radical damage can lead to numerous ailments. For example, when free radicals cause the oxidation of cholesterol, the oxidized cholesterol damages blood vessels and builds up in arteries, and can eventually lead to heart attack or stroke. So, by preventing the oxidation of cholesterol, the nutrients in olives help to prevent heart disease.
Support Gastrointestinal Health
If free radicals damage the cellular DNA in colon cells, the cells can mutate into cancer cells. By neutralizing free radicals, the nutrients in olives help prevent colon cancer. A higher intake of both vitamin E and the monounsaturated fats in olives is actually associated with lower rates of colon cancer.
Beneficial Anti-Inflammatory Effects
The anti-inflammatory actions of the monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and polyphenols in olives may also help reduce the severity of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, three conditions where most of the damage is caused by high levels of free radicals. The vitamin E in olives may even help to reduce the frequency and/or intensity of hot flashes in women going through menopause.