I think the first thing that children do with black olives is stick them on their fingers and eat them one by one. That's quite an introduction to a small fruit that's packed with a variety of beneficial vitamins and minerals. The olive is also a main ingredient in what is known as the Mediterranean Diet.
Francesco Visioli, Ph.D., a visiting scientist at the Linus Pauling Institute, wrote an article about the Mediterranean Diet and edited a book about the Mediterranean diets. Dr Visioli says, "The populations in the Mediterranean area have different cultures, religions, economic prosperity, and education, and all these factors have some influence on dietary habits and health. Yet, a common dietary pattern can be identified that includes a high consumption of plant food (including carbohydrates and non-digestible fiber) rich in antioxidants, including vitamins, and the use of olive oil as the principal-or even exclusive-source of fat."
Olives contain vitamin E and vitamin A. Vitamin E acts as a powerful lipid-soluble antioxidant, which protects cell membranes and other tissues from harmful free radicals. Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones and skin. And like vitamin E, vitamin A also serves as an antioxidant to protect cells against the effects of free radicals.
Olives are a good source of iron and zinc and also contain small amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are additional antioxidant compounds.
There are many different versions of the Mediterranean Diet, but at the heart of all of them is the tiny little fruit, the olive.
Dr. Visioli reveals, "A close analysis of the different Mediterranean diets confirms that they share a common pattern that includes a high proportion of plant foods, a moderate consumption of wine, and the use of olive oil as the predominant source of fat. Although this diet does not appear to affect the traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as high plasma cholesterol levels and high blood pressure, a large number of epidemiological studies and one clinical trial have demonstrated its effectiveness in reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease and certain cancers."
I've eaten green and black olives (just different stages of ripeness) many ways. I like them in salads or filled with cheese, pimentos, onions, garlic, and almonds, but my favorite way to eat them is in a tapenade.
A classic tapenade consists of roughly ground olives, olive oil, capers, onions, and fresh basil all mixed together with a little salt and cracked pepper to taste and then spread on crackers or toothy bread. For a little extra kick, sardines or anchovies can be added for the Omega 3 health benefits. I like a tapenade spread over a toasted whole grain bread, like those from Roman Meal. Any left-overs can be used for pizza topping or in pasta sauce served over whole wheat linguine.
You can buy olives in jars, cans or by the pound at gourmet food counters in many grocery stores. Whenever I see a jar of green olives at a dollar store I buy several and keep them in the pantry for snacks and parties. I understand they are a great finger food, as our children and grandchildren have demonstrated.
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