Olive: A Blessed Fruit

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By: Zeenat Farooq

Olive tree belonging to Oleaceae family found in the Mediterranean basin, Arabian Peninsula and in parts of southern Asia. Oleaceae family derives its name from this plant itself which is cultivated in many parts of the world, primarily as a source of olive oil owing to the various health benefits associated with it.

Olives contain a spectrum of substances with important health benefits, ranging from infection prevention and weight loss to inflammation and cancer. Therefore the tree has always had a special significance in the history of human civilization and Islam, which dates back to the times of Prophet Moses (PBUH), and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and also in the present day world.

 Nutrients in olives

Fats: Olives have 11-15% fat, the most abundant of which is the monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid.

Vitamins and Minerals: Olives contain moderate amounts of vitamin D, iron, copper and calcium. Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant, iron increases haemoglobin levels in blood, copper plays role in enzyme activity whereas calcium is important for bone health.

Anti-oxidants: Olives contain a wide range of potent anti-oxidants like quercetin, vitamin E, oleuropein, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol.

S.No.     Nutrient              Amt per 100 gm

  1. Calories 115
  2. Water 80%
  3. protein 0.8 gm
  4. Fibre 6.3 gm
  5. Sugar 0 gm
  6. Total fat 10.7 gm
  7. Saturated fat 1.42 gm
  8. Monounsaturated fat (MUFA) 7.89 gm
  9. Polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) 0.91 gm
  10. Omega 3 0.06 gm
  11. Omega 6 0.85 gm
  12. Trans fats 0 gm

Health Benefits of olives

Olives are a staple food of the Mediterranean diet and are associated with a number of health benefits, most importantly heart health, cancer prevention and inflammatory conditions.

Olives and heart health: Increased blood pressure and increased cholesterol are the two most vital risk factors for cardiovascular damage. Olives are associated with improved heart health because of the presence of biphenols, anti-oxidants like tyrosol, hydroxytyrosol and various unsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid which are associated with decreased cardiovascular risk due to decreased LDL oxidation to keep cholesterol levels in check. This also decreases the risk of atherosclerosis, arterial plaque formation and thrombosis.  Also, some studies have shown that olives have a blood pressure lowering effect which is mainly due to the presence of the anti-oxidant quercetin.

Cancer prevention: Olives contain a wide range of powerful anti-oxidants which are associated with prevention of different forms of chronic diseases like cancer. In fact, some in vitro studies have shown that olive oil hampers the growth of gastric, breast and colon cancer because of the presence of compounds with anti-cancer properties like terpenoids and squalene. It is a common observation that demographic regions where olives form an important constituent of daily meals like Mediterranean have decreased rates of  cancer, heart attacks, inflammatory diseases, anemia and  bone disorders like osteoporosis.

Olives and Inflammation: Olives contain abundant anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, the most abundant of which is the monounsaturated fatty acid oleic acid, hence the name olive. It also contains other strong anti-inflammatory compounds like oleocanthal which are protective even against chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis. Another important anti-inflammatory compound  Oleuropein is present abundantly in fresh, unripe olives and is associated with many health benefits. During ripening, oleuropein is broken down into another powerful anti-oxidant hydroxytyrosol. Oleonalic acid prevents liver damage, regulates blood fats and reduces inflammation.  Olive oil should therefore be added to the diets of patients with inflammatory diseases to reduce the symptoms and pain of inflammation.

Immunity: Olives contain abundant iron which helps to make haemoglobin and aids in proper blood formation. Besides iron also helps in the function of certain enzymes which play role in immune activity.

Bone health: The people of Mediterranean region have lesser incidences of bone disorders than other ethnic groups which has long ago been associated with increased consumption of olives. In fact, some animal experiments performed in this direction have indeed shown that increased olive consumption is associated with lower chances of developing osteoporosis.

 

Weight loss: High amounts of unsaturated fats in olive oils make it a perfect choice for people aiming weight loss since it leads to decrease in bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, decreases belly fat accumulation and also increases insulin sensitivity which protects against diseases like type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Skin health: Olives contain reasonable amounts of vitamin E which is good for skin and hair health. Topical application of olive oil protects against harmful UV radiations. It therefore delays skin aging and also has a protective effect melanoma (skin cancer).

Pain neutralization: Olives contain a number of powerful anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory substances which in higher doses have a pain relieving effect because of the inhibition of cyclooxygenase activity, similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen.

Ulcers: Olive oil contains a number of anti-microbial substances which protect against a wide range of ulcer-causing bacteria, some of which are even resistant to antibiotics.

Olives and Ramadan

Olive is a blessed tree which is testified in the glorious Quran by Allah, the Exalted in Surah Teen where it is mentioned

“By the fig and the olive. By Mount Sinai. By this city of security (Makkah)”    (Soorah Al-Teen, 95:1-3)

Olives are an abundant source of vital natural health boosters, anti-oxidants, essential fatty acids and lots more. The fruit and oil of this tree can be consumed throughout the year, for it outnumbers the benefits of any other type of oil ever known to mankind. Therefore use of olive oil to cook Ramadan meals should be encouraged because:

It is light, easy to digest, can be taken by people of all age groups.

Foods cooked in olive oil are excellent in taste.

The anti-oxidants in olive oils boost immunity and revive metabolism.

The anti-oxidants in olives neutralize the effects of production of acetone bodies and free radicals after prolonged fasting and therefore restore proper cellular metabolism and relieve oxidant stress.

Olive oil contains essential fatty acids (EFAs) in abundance and hence replenish the body’s reserves of EFA (which are consumed during prolonged fasting to meet the energy demands of body) with only meagre amounts of saturated fatty acids. Hence it is an oil of choice for overweight people.

It can be taken by sick and elderly as well because in addition to being light, it is rich in healthy substances which can improve their health and metabolism.

Author is a research fellow at Department of Biotechnology, University of Kashmir.

 

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