Olives: A Historical Perspective

by Dr. Graham


The olive's roots can be easily traced to the Middle East. This relatively barren land is almost completely devoid of trees, being mostly bleak desert. Historically, it was difficult to eek out a living on this land, and in most places, it still is. Farmers who worked without the assistance of internal combustion engines to till land and move water could only produce minimal crops. Without wood, people were forced to live primarily in caves. Without electricity, darkness was a real issue.

Oil from the olive has provided fuel for light to the people of the Middle East for the entire 6,000 years of their written history. Cave paintings dating back to before the advent of the written word depict both the milling of olives and the use of their oil for fueling lanterns. The Jewish Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, recounts the time that a single day's supply of olive oil (used to fuel the Hebrew's Eternal Light) burned for eight days, until a new supply could be obtained.

After the oil is extracted from the olive for lamp fuel, what is done with the pulp? Historically, as today, olive pulp has been used as animal fodder, to feed sheep and other livestock.

In fact, it can safely be said that the pulp left over after extracting the oil from all plant sources corn, seeds, nuts, legumes, palms, and so forth is used to feed livestock. Understand this connection and you will instantly see that using oils of any kind directly supports the growth and development of the livestock industries and is not an ethical, environmental, or moral best choice.

Whole Foods Are Always Nutritionally Best For Us

All whole plant foods supply the three caloronutrients carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, along with a wide range of other nutrients, both macro and micro. Extracts such as olive oil are highly refined. They are stripped of their protein, carbohydrates, and fiber, leaving 100% fat. All impurities must be removed as well, or else the oil rapidly goes rancid.

Consuming such a dense calorie source of pure fat, one that supplies neither carbohydrates nor proteins, poses many health problems and brings to mind one of the most commonly asked nutritional questions, Where do you get your protein?

Some people claim, "I get my fat from bottles of oils, my protein from cans of powder, and my water separate from my food." This approach may satisfy our needs for protein and fat (leaving valid questions of bioavailability aside), but our largest caloronutrient need is for carbohydrates. The only way to obtain carbohydrates in an equally concentrated form would be as refined sugars, either in the form of confections, alcohol, or refined complex carbohydrates.

This extremely myopic view of nutrition has repeatedly been shown to be ineffective. There are thousands of nutrients to be considered, and the best source for all of them is whole foods. Relying on refined concentrates such as oils will invariably throw our total nutritional balance out of kilter and inevitably lead to malnutrition.

By consuming fruits and vegetables, we ensure that we are obtaining a balanced amount of all of our essential nutrients. When we resort to the use of oils, we cast aside needed nutrients in favor of pure fat.

Guidelines for Determining Optimum Foods

Many guidelines can be used for determining which foods are optimum for us to eat. Nature has set these guidelines and demonstrates them in the eating habits shown by almost all creatures. If you can answer yes to all of the following questions, you have found a near-perfect food source.

Would you find it in nature?

There are many so-called "foods" that humans would just never naturally find. Tubers, for example, are a food source that you might never know existed, even if you walked directly above them, as they grow completely underground. Fruit hanging from a tree is easy to spot; in fact fruit draws attention to itself. But tubers might very well remain hidden from you for a lifetime, unless someone were to point them out to you. Olives, of course, are easy to spot on the tree; this is one criterion that they easily pass.

Is it easy to obtain, requiring no tools?

Food that requires serious effort or time to collect and that requires tools, gear, etc., cannot be considered our natural fare. We were born with, or develop as we reach adulthood, all of the necessary physical attributes for obtaining our food. No human was ever born with fishing, hunting, or beekeeping equipment. In contrast, we come packaged with everything we need (fingers and an opposable thumb) to pick olives.

Can you make a meal of it?

Most fruits make quite the acceptable meal, complete in and of themselves. Bananas, papayas, melons, mangoes – any of these foods would be delicious as a mono meal. Can you imagine a meal comprised solely of olives, straight from the tree? In fact, have you ever seen or even heard of olives being sold fresh? There is a reason you have not. Fresh, this fruit is terribly bitter. Are they edible? Yes. Are they delicious? No, they are bitter as can be.

Does it provide for our nutritional requirements?

The more closely that a food's nutritional package mimics our nutritional needs, the more easily it will digest and be absorbed. Foods whose nutrient components most closely match our needs must be considered the healthiest for us. Nutritionists and health experts worldwide agree that our caloronutrient mix (protein, fat, carbohydrate) should be skewed to greatly favor carbohydrates while minimizing fats and proteins. The caloronutrient ratio of the olive is approximately 80% fat, 4% protein and 16% carbohydrate, almost the opposite of our needs.

Can it be eaten fresh, in an as is condition?

Bananas, grapes, carambola, and practically all fruits can be eaten exactly as you find them, fresh off of the tree, bush, or vine. Olives cannot be consumed in this fashion; they require drying, salt curing, and often other processing in order to make them palatable. I have asked hundreds of olive growers and vendors around the world if they know of an olive variety that can be eaten with gusto directly off of the tree. All have agreed that there is no such fruit. This factor alone casts huge doubt on the use of olives as an often used human food source.

Does it leave you thirsty?

Thirst is an indicator that the toxins within your body are being concentrated to dangerously high levels. The sensation of thirst is a bodily induced symptom designed to make us aware that our need for water to maintain bodily homeostasis is becoming acute. Adding water does not detoxify us; it simply dilutes the toxic load of our body while ensuring that sufficient water is available for all essential cellular and systemic functions. Those foods that result in a sensation of thirst are dehydrating to us and should be avoided by the health seeker.

The use of any type of inorganic, extracted, or refined salt cannot be considered a health practice, as salt is one of the greatest dehydrators known to man. Drinking sea water will kill us via dehydration in a matter of days. Consuming one ounce of salt is the standard method of committing suicide in many Eastern cultures. The fact that olives are cured with salt takes them totally out of contention as an optimum food for any true health seeker.

The discriminating raw-fooder shuns olives

Simply put, olives are not a primary choice as a people food. While it is true that they are edible, and that their caloric density is extremely high, there is no way to consider them an optimum food. Almost every guideline for evaluating food quality exposes the fact that olives are lacking. They are never eaten fresh, rarely eaten ripe or organic, and often consumed only as a refined oil rather than as a whole food.

Too many fresh foods are available to avid health seekers to necessitate resorting to noxious bottled salted foods. If you still use olives on more than the most infrequent of occasions (a few times per year, tops), it is probably time for you to reconsider and reevaluate the quality of your raw diet. Perhaps it is time to do the experiment of dropping olives completely from your regimen and increasing the amount of whole, fresh, ripe, raw, organic fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Fruits and vegetables are food, the rest are simply condiments.