We know olives are healthy—especially olive oil—but exactly what are the health benefits of olives on their own? We took a look at the research and here's what we found.

Brierley Horton, M.S., R.D.
June 23, 2020
Advertisement

We know olives are healthy. After all, they're the basis of olive oil and a core component of the Mediterranean Diet. But what are the known health benefits of an actual olive? We took a look at the nutrition facts for olives and the research around how healthy they are. Here's what we found.

Olive Nutrition

And how do the olive varieties differ nutritionally?

In 2 to 3 green olives:

  • Calories: 23
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 2.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 0.5g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 0.5g
  • Sodium: 249mg

In 2 to 3 black olives:

  • Calories: 17
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 1.5g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 1g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 0.5g
  • Sodium: 118mg

In 2 to 3 castelvetrano olives:

  • Calories: 40
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 3g
  • Saturated fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sodium: 360mg

In 2 to 3 kalamata olives:

  • Calories: 35
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat: 2.5g
  • Saturated fat: n/a.
  • Carbohydrate: 2g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sodium: 320mg

Looking at the nutrition numbers, it's obvious olives are salty. Very salty, with just a few black olives delivering 5 percent of your daily limit for sodium and castelvetranos giving you 16 percent of your daily allotment. The good news is that they're mostly made of those good-for-you unsaturated fats—which isn't all that surprising when you consider the good rap that olive oil has. But there's a benefit to olives that you don't get with olive oil: olives deliver a decent amount of fiber, even in a small serving size—a ¼ cup of some varieties delivers as much as 2 grams fiber.

What does the nutrition research on olives say?

Turns out, there aren't many studies. One study in animals suggests that the compounds in olives (particularly hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol) may help prevent the loss of bone mineral density that leads to osteoporosis. And because black olives contain more hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol, it's thought that black olives are more beneficial for bones than green olives.

Beyond bone health, there doesn't seem to be much—if any—research on olives specifically. Instead, there are ample studies on the Mediterranean Diet, which includes a lot of olives and olive oil, as well as olive oil itself. For instance, olive oil is good for your heart, and some of its compounds appear to have anti-cancer properties, and potentially could slow cognitive decline.

The Mediterranean diet was voted "The Best Diet Overall" by U.S. News & World Report for its numerous health benefits and easy-to-follow principles. And even though olives do contain sodium, as long as you're making it a priority to eat plenty of fruits and veggies, whole grains and other whole foods, over processed foods packed with added salt (some is okay), you shouldn't need to worry.