DEAR DR. BLONZ: We all know how healthy extra-virgin olive oil is for us.
Do we get the same health benefit from eating olives?
– J.T., Olean, N.Y.
DEAR J.T.: Olives are quite bitter coming off the tree. When used as eating olives, they need to undergo a curing process to remove this bitterness. The process usually involves a salt solution or one using lye (sodium hydroxide). Both processes leave the olives high in sodium: 15 grams of olives (three to five olives, depending on size) contains about 115 milligrams of sodium. In pimento-stuffed olives, the sodium content can be double. When olives are used for oil, the harvested olives go directly to the presses without treatment. The fatty-acid profile and types of phytochemicals are similar in eating olives and extra-virgin olive oil, but you would have to eat many olives to equal a comparable amount of oil.
A tablespoon of olive oil, for example, contains 120 calories. It would take about 22 large, black-pitted olives to match that amount of oil, but 22 olives contains 644 milligrams sodium. I enjoy eating olives, and there are countless varieties and flavors, but keep in mind that it’s a high-sodium food. If you are interested in learning more about olives, the University of California (Davis) Cooperative Extension offer an excellent visual of different types. The document is available online at tinyurl.com/rkktd, and you’ll need a program that can read PDF files to read it.
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