Kathleen Purvis Q&A

Which is better: Olives or olive oil?

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comMarch 19, 2013 

Q: With the recent news on the Mediterranean diet’s positive effect on heart health, we hear that olive oil is good for us. What about olives? Is it more healthful to use olive oil or to eat an olive?

You know how dietitians say it’s better to eat an orange than to drink a glass of orange juice? The same logic may apply here, according to Elizabeth Racine, associate professor of public health at UNC Charlotte.

“Usually, the whole food is better than a part of the food,” she said. “The whole food usually has more nutrients.”

Still, because olives have to be cured in some way to make them edible, they are a little more complicated than other fruits (and yes, olives are fruits). On the plus side, both olives and olive oil are high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, plant phytosterols and vitamins K and E. Both are low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats.

But olives often are brined, which can make them high in sodium. “If you’re hypertensive, it would be good to stick with the oil,” Racine notes.

On the other hand, all oils are dense in calories, says Racine. A tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories, while 10 olives would have only 40 calories. That makes a difference, too.

Instead of trying to figure out which is better, it might be a good bet to use both, but be aware of what you’re getting.

Email food and cooking questions to Kathleen Purvis at kpurvis@charlotteobserver.com.

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