Although we sing the praises of olive oil and its topical and internal benefits for healthy skin, olives themselves are somewhat of a forgotten fruit. Just like their precious oil, the flesh of the fruit nourishes and protects skin from the inside out. However, not all olives offer equal skin nutrition—and they are not without controversy.

Olives for skin health

Olives are an excellent source of healthy, plant-based fat—including antioxidant vitamin E and the monounsaturated fat oleic acid— that’s similar in quality to that of avocados. The skin benefits from these fats through its cell membranes, which retain moisture and keep your skin healthy and well-hydrated. Olives are also a good source of the minerals copper and iron, fiber, and many anti-aging phytochemicals

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “Oleuropein, a compound only found in olives, decreases the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol by scavenging nitric oxide, a reactive oxygen-containing molecule. This lowers the markers of oxidative stress, which simply means the cells don’t have enough protection from potential oxygen damage. Eating foods containing antioxidants, like olives, can help change that.”

Olives are also a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, which continues to reign in popularity.  Despite all the back and forth over dietary theories, the Mediterranean Diet is one that’s been consistently backed by scientific research both for longevity and for anti-aging, as well as being beneficial for the skin health. It’s also a diet that’s accessible and considered pleasurable to most people because of its allowance of foods like small amounts red wine, pasta, and cheese.

The best olives for your skin

olivesOlives are typically cured, as they are naturally bitter when freshly picked off the tree. Their preparation (lye-cured, water-cured, or brine-cured vs pickled; canned vs fresh) affects their resulting nutritional profiles, since the lengths of time and levels of fermentation vary depending on their preservation method. Watch out for BPA-containing cans, and high sodium (dependent on preparation), both of which have a negative impact on skin and overall health. Be careful to read labels carefully, since ”handpicked” does not mean fresh or healthier than other varieties, as many commercial olives are still handpicked; even machine-picked olives may be labeled as handpicked.

So what’s the healthiest olive to toss into your salad or serve at your next cocktail party? It depends on your health goals. Overall, the healthiest olives are freshly cured varieties, rather than canned. Some are higher in certain minerals (black is tops for iron), while others offer better varieties of fats and antioxidants (green olives tend to have more vitamin E). There are more than 30 varieties of olives from the Mediterranean region alone, and they offer differing colors, flavors, and nutrient profiles. We suggest enjoying a variety, to benefit from their spectrum of flavors and varied nutritional benefits.

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Olive image via Colm Britton