Some of my favorite memories of the holidays from when I was a kid of course revolve around food. Whether it was me putting my foot (literally) in my grandmother’s homemade pumpkin pie while sitting on my grandfather’s lap in the front passenger seat of my mom’s car on the way to a holiday dinner, or eating (literally) two Thanksgiving meals, anti-pasta, manicotti and then the turkey with all the “fixin’s”, within a two-hour time span, because I was such a glutton, the first one came up as soon as it went down, the Holidays, for this Italian, were more about the food than about the family or the gifts.
And, believe it or not, one of my favorite members of the “anti-pasta round”, as my brother Anthony and I would refer to what is more commonly known as the hor dourves or appetizers (ho-hum), were the olives. Not because they were better than the roasted peppers, homemade clam dip or mounds and mounds of prosciutto (prozute), capicola (gabagool) and mozzarella (mutzadel) (if you are an Italian from Northern New Jersey), but because they were fun to eat; especially the green ones with the pimentos in the middle. We’d put each olive between our teeth, inhale the pimento out and leave the bitter shell for the adults. As you can imagine, that never went over too well with the drinkers in our family.
Anyway, that all brings me to today’s topic. That’s right, if you haven’t guessed it yet, today’s secret ingredient is…olives.
It’s probably no surprise that olives, both green “unripe” and black, are full of sodium. Do you know how much? Four, that’s right, four, medium-sized black olives have 230 milligrams of sodium! And the green ones? Double, 460 milligrams! And while we all know that grinding these little ovals and extracting their “oil” is the process used to make that “Good Fat” so many of you love to douse on to everything you eat, did you know that the olives themselves, in their natural state, are practically all fat? Those same four black olives have a total of 25 calories (20 of which are from fat) and the green ones have 60 calories – all from fat.
However, as with olive oil, olives themselves are high in monounsaturated fat which means eating them can help improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease your risk of heart disease, and may benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes. Also, they do both contain anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in lowering pain associated with arthritis and other common physical ailments.
But, if you’ve been a client of mine for any length of time, by now I am sure you are aware that I am not a fan of eating these little tikes any longer. However, if you’re like my family, when putting out an assortment of “veggies” to nosh on before a meal, remember ripe, black olives, cured in water or sea salt, are the healthiest. Canned black olives do not have the same high nutritional value as their jarred cousins because, usually, those in cans are not ripened naturally. Instead, the process is expedited by the additives used during the actual canning process. As for the “green” ones with the pimento, due to the fact that they are unripe, they too do not at all measure up nutritionally. And in order to make them edible, some varieties are even treated with lye! Besides, if you have kids around, who knows, you might just end up with a dish full of bitter shells.