On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Olives OK, Just Watch the Sodium

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Our new home has some olive trees that are bearing fruit. We all know how healthy extra-virgin olive oil is for us, but do we get the same health benefits from eating olives? -- J.T., San Jose, California

DEAR J.T.: As you may have inadvertently discovered if you sampled the fruit, olives are quite bitter coming off the tree. To be eaten, they need to undergo a curing process to remove this bitterness, caused primarily by a phytochemical called oleuropein.

Curing typically involves a solution of salt or lye (sodium hydroxide). Both of these leave the olives quite high in sodium: 15 grams of olives (three to five of them, depending on size) contains about 115 milligrams of sodium -- not surprising given that the olives are stored in salty pickling brine before purchase. In a pimento-stuffed olive, the sodium can be twice that amount.

By contrast, when olives are used for oil, the harvested fruit goes directly to the presses without treatment. The fatty acid profiles are similar between eating olives and extra-virgin olive oil. The phytochemicals are mostly similar, with one exception being the intentional decrease of the bitter oleuropein in the eating olive.

It takes a lot of olives to equal a comparable serving of oil. For example, a tablespoon of olive oil (about 14 grams) would contain 120 calories. It would take about 22 large black-pitted olives to match that amount of oil, but that number of olives would contain 644 milligrams of sodium.

I do enjoy eating olives, and there are countless varieties and flavors, but you have to keep in mind that it’s a high-sodium food. You can give your olives a series of fresh-water rinses before serving to reduce the level of sodium.

If you are interested in this topic, there is excellent information from the University of California at Davis (tinyurl.com/zeqp2lh). This page provides reading on different olive types, the curing process, and information on curing with water, which would certainly make a dent in the level of sodium.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I’ve been having a strange reaction to all dairy, including lactose-free products. I react as if I’ve had three cups of coffee or other caffeine products. I cannot sleep, and sometimes I get a headache. What am I allergic to? -- T.M., via email

DEAR T.M.: Get this checked out with your health professional at your earliest opportunity. It could be a reaction to the protein or some other substance found in dairy products -- but whatever the issue might be, this is NOT something you should let slide. Until it is all sorted out, it’s best to keep dairy products off the menu. This includes reading the ingredient statements of any processed foods you use. There are many dairy ingredients aside from the obvious; see the hidden dairy “cheat sheet” at tinyurl.com/y9tmbw75.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.