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JACK SIMPSON: The skinny on another 'health' food

My friend Frank and I worked together for years at the Newton County Judicial Center. Our lunch periods frequently fell at the same time, and we got into the habit of having lunch together. After his retirement, we continued meeting for lunch several times a week.

Being health conscious, I have been eating salads frequently and enjoy black olives with them instead of onions and hot peppers. Frank asked me why I ate so many olives and wanted to know, “Are they good for you?”

Well, for years I’ve enjoyed olives, but whether or not they good for me took a bit of research. My conclusion is “sure enough.” I’m not the only person eating black olives. They are widely enjoyed. If you eat them off the tree, as I did in World War II in Italy, they are bitter. Cure them and they are better.

Olives are grown primarily in the Mediterranean. Spain, Greece, Syria, Turkey and Italy are well-known producers. Here in the United States, we get olives from California. Olives are fruit and part of the same family as peaches, apricots, plums, almonds, pistachio and mangos. So we know those foods are good for us. Olives are a healthy fruit and have been eaten by our ancestors for more than 8,000 years.

Besides enjoying the taste, I’m told that when I eat black olives I am getting needed iron, vitamin E, copper and fat that is nonsaturated. In moderation, and in average serving sizes, black olives can reduce the risks of strokes and heart attacks. Eaten with a varied diet, I can answer my friend, Frank, telling him that in my opinion olives contain properties that are good for me and they do add flavor and nutrition to my salad.

I can also tell him that they are not tasty and contain too much sodium if not cured and washed. Those eaten right off the tree were far different from those that come in my salad. Off the tree, olives are too bitter to really enjoy.

Eating the right kind of fat can cut the risk of heart attacks. Olive oil is described as a “knight in shining armor.” People in the Greek Islands have long felt they have fewer heart attacks eating their Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil.

Once in awhile you might encounter one of those gourmet olive bars at a local grocery store. Here is your chance to try out some of the many varieties offered. It seems these fresh olives taste better than the canned varieties.

So, Frank, the answer to your question is, after a bit of research, that in moderation, black olives are good for the diet. Maybe you should try a few yourself and make your own assessment. You might find you like them as much as I do.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, a veteran, an author and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.