Olive oil is often recommended as a source of healthy unsaturated fat, but finding pure, unadulterated olive oil can sometimes be difficult. Olive oil sold in the US is often refined, which removes most of the beneficial polyphenols. Many oils are also diluted with other, lower-quality oils, which may not be listed on the label.

But there is another way you can get the same beneficial fats and polyphenols of olive oil without the additives: by eating the olives themselves. Olives are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and can be added to many dishes or simply eaten as a snack. Few other foods have been found to be so rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, some of beneficial polyphenols in olives aren’t found in any other foods.

Here are 4 ways eating olives can benefit your health:

  1. Olives are high in oleuropein, a powerful antioxidant with anticancer, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Oleuropein has been found to have protective benefits for the heart and the brain, and may help boost memory. High concentrations of oleuropein and other phytonutrients are responsible for the bitter taste of olives, which is offset by pickling or curing. Look for olives cured in water, which removes less oleuropein than other brining methods, such as lye. However, if you’re sensitive to bitter flavors, you may find olives brined in water to be too bitter.
  2. Olives are a good source of monounsaturated fat. About 80-85 percent of the calories in olives come from fat, most of which is monounsaturated. Diets high in monounsaturated fat have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Olives also contain a small amount of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. The healthy fats in olives may help lower blood pressure, reduce belly fat, improve insulin sensitivity, aid with digestion, and help trigger hormones related to satiety, so you’ll feel full with less food.
  3. Olives contain vitamin A, an antioxidant that’s essential for maintaining eye health and protecting the cornea. Vitamin A helps ward off age-related eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.
  4. Olives have been found to boost levels of glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant. Glutathione helps maintain the immune system, protects against DNA damage, combats free radicals, reduces inflammation, and protects against age-related diseases such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer. The body naturally produces glutathione, but production slows down after the age of 20, so most adults don’t make enough. Low levels of glutathione can lead to low energy and a weakened immune system. In a 2009 study, olive consumption significantly increased glutathione levels in healthy volunteers. Exercise also triggers glutathione production, as does eating foods such as garlic, onions, asparagus, kale, and avocados.

How to buy olives

As with any other food, quality matters when you’re selecting olives. If possible, buy from small-batch, artisanal vendors rather than large-scale producers, which are more likely to use pesticides and harsh chemicals. Many health food stores have an olive bar where you can buy fresh olives, which allows you to experiment with different types and flavors of olives. Make sure the store has good turnover and that the olives are immersed to retain freshness and moisture. Avoid any olives with a mushy texture.

When buying olives in jars, pay attention to these factors:

  • Curing method: Look for organic brands that have been cured with water rather than olives that have been cured with lye. Water cured olives will have a higher polyphenol content.
  • Source: Where the olives are grown also plays a role in their nutritional value. Olives grown in mineral-rich soil will have a higher mineral content. Spanish Manzanillo olives have the highest polyphenol content, and are the only olives used in the ProLon fasting mimicking diet.
  • Processing: Whole olives will have a higher polyphenol content than olives that are pitted or stuffed.

Learn how you can further improve your health with the ProLon fasting mimicking diet — a plant-based, five-day program clinically proven to reduce symptoms and risk factors associated with biological aging.