5 Olives A Day Keeps The Doctor Away?

07/08/2016 07:49 am ET Updated Feb 23, 2017

You’ve got to be kidding - right?

Organic Kalamata Olives
Sakellaropoulos Estates Photo
Organic Kalamata Olives

When it comes to illness, pharmaceuticals may have their place, but when speaking of prevention of illness – or better yet long-life vitality – well, Nature has her own pharmacopoeia. Berries, spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables are the medicines that Hippocrates prescribed over two thousand years ago. A body well supported in daily nutrition, proper rest and adequate exercise has a natural defence against many of the modern illnesses this culture seems to think of as inevitable. Thank goodness researchers are getting turned on about finding out what Nature has so abundantly provided – bioavailable functional foods. So here is another little treasure – often overlooked in the appetiser dish.

The first cause of death worldwide is cardiovascular disease and mostly coronary artery diseases, mainly affected by cholesterol. The daily consumption of high phenolic EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) is widely known and proven to help prevent those diseases and reduce their symptoms. Phenolic compounds in EVOO have health protective benefits with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, cardio-protective and neuroprotective action. But could the consumption of olives also affect the development and progression of heart diseases? Can olives keep the heart healthy just like high phenolic extra virgin olive oil? The answer may surprise you.

At the recently concluded OIS (Oleocanthal International Society) conference which took place at the ancient city of Olympia on June 2-3, Dr. Martha Spyridoula-Katsarou, post-doc researcher at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, presented the latest research on the health benefits of olives. Spyridoula-Katsarou explained how olive consumption could affect cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart diseases. The phenolic analysis of olives was conducted by Dr. Magiatis using the NMR method (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) along with a team of researchers led by Dr. Melliou; Vlahakou, Liaskonis, Kalogridis, Demertzis and Drakoulis

First here is what you need to know about cholesterol:

“Bad” cholesterol (LDL) sticks to the artery walls and contributes to plaque build up.“Good” cholesterol (HDL) is stable and carries away “bad” cholesterol (LDL) away from the arteries.

The 60 day study was composed of 20 healthy subjects aged 22-65 not currently on any medication.

After testing 30 types of Greek organic olives, for this study they selected the Kalamata type olives produced by the Sakellaropoulos Family because they were found to contain 5 times higher concentration of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol than the other commercially available varieties. The organic olives selected for this study contained 1300mg per kg of hydroxytyrosol and 560mg per kg of tyrosol. Daily consumption of only 5 of these olives provides 25mg of hydroxytyrosol and 10 mg of tyrosol. This is significant because, just like EVOO, not all olives are created the same. The key to health benefits of olives and EVOO is the type and amount of phenolic compounds they contain.

Peloponnese, Greece
Sakellaropoulos Estates Photo
Peloponnese, Greece

Sakellaropoulos Estates is a small family run business with strong traditional values and organic farming methods. The main producer is George Sakellaropoulos, whose aim and dedication has been the harvesting and production of olive oil and olives that offer high beneficial health qualities. The olives, which come exclusively from their own olive groves are rigorously selected and handpicked. They are not pasteurized but naturally fermented for over a 9 month period with no use of chemicals and pesticides. There are 10 different types, each combined with various fruits and herbs of the local area.

With the help of his son, Nick, who is a chemical engineer, they have managed to produce the Kalamata type olives which were used for the study as explained by Dr. Martha - Spyridoula Katsarou at the Oleocanthal International Society.

Nick, when asked how he felt about being a part of this ground breaking study said, “We are very proud and honored to be a part of this study and for the achievement of our efforts to produce functional foods. My family’s main objective over the last 20 years, has been in retaining and improving the high phenolic compounds of the olive oil and olives we produce, with much work and dedication, and the emphasis being on the health benefits and not the mass production.” The proof is in the olives themselves.

Results: “A significant increase in HDL and the ratio of total LDL cholesterol, and significant reductions in total cholesterol HDL and LDL/HDL in 95% statistical correlation were observed.” “In conclusion, daily consumption of these Kalamata type olives can positively influence the lipid profile and may contribute to reducing the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”

The average content of hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol generally in olives produced in Greece and which have been analysed at the University of Athens is as follows: 244mg per kg of hydroxytyrosol and 134 mg per kg of tyrosol. The secret to the health benefits of EVOO and olives is the same; it all depends on the type and amount of phenolic compounds they contain, which in turn are contingent on the variety and method of production.

Kalamata Variety Olives
Sakellaropoulos Estates Photo
Kalamata Variety Olives

Why is the study of one Greek producer’s olives good news for you? It’s this: Many producers are following this and other research and adjusting production methods to optimise the healthy compounds in their products. It shows the emerging trend for conscientious food producers to choose quality over quantity and to serve the growing demand of health conscious and informed individuals who want to know where they can find these functional foods. As we all know, economics is based on supply and demand. When demand shouts, supply will answer and farms like Sakellaropoulos Estates will multiply and respond with increased distribution around the world. And that’s very good news.

Read your labels and demand the best foods for your health. You are what you eat – so eat well to be well.

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