The Healthy Snack You Never Considered: Pickles and Olives

pickles and olives

Today, on this week of episodes focusing on power snacks that are equal parts easy, delicious and nutritious, I’m talking about a couple of snacks that are especially great for those times you’re not crazy hungry but you’re more looking for a party in your mouth–something to break up the day. As fermented foods, they are also good–and unexpected–sources of probiotics. Specifically, I’m talking about pickles and olives. 

It’s part of a week of episodes designed to support you in those moments when you’re hungry but meal time is still a ways away, and part of you would like to just reach for a bag of chips. I mean, hey, there’s a time and a place for everything, including eating potato chips, but while you may mix up your dinners and lunches by trying new recipes, I’m guessing your snack routine may be getting a little old. Let’s infuse your non-meal nibbles with some great tastes and some excellent nutrition.

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So olives and pickles aren’t exactly your typical snack.

They’re often more of a side dish–a pickle with a burger or a sandwich–or maybe an ingredient–like olives on a pizza or a salad. But these two foods can absolutely stand on their own, especially when you just need a little pick me up. In addition to delivering big flavors, these two foods deliver a ton of health benefits. 

Let’s start with olives

Which are technically a fruit–a stone fruit, to be exact, like an apricot or a peach. 

Olives are just exceptional sources of healthy fats. They are, after all the only ingredient in olive oil. While they contain some saturated fat, and some polyunsaturated fat, they are richest in the monounsaturated fat oleic acid, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory and appears to have benefit on genes related to cancer. Olives, and olive oil, are integral parts of the Mediterranean diet, which has an impressive body of research to support it as one of the healthiest eating patterns on the planet. Most people could stand to eat more olives and olive oil. Snacking on olives helps you eat more of them than slicing up a few and throwing them in a salad. 

Olives are high in vitamin E, iron, copper, and calcium. 

Plus, olives are a fermented food

Something I didn’t learn about until recently–which means they are a source of beneficial bacteria that boosts gut health, digestion, immunity, and even mental health, as your friendly bacteria produce a lot of neurotransmitters, including serotonin. 

A little bowlful of olives is an awesome little snack on its own. You can buy them pitted or with the pits still in them. There are so many different types of olives, I’m willing to bet you can find a kind that speaks to you. You can also get an olive tapenade, usually in the refrigerator case near the fancy cheese and have a little olive schmear on your favorite piece of cheese, or some flax seed crackers. 

I know olives aren’t everyone’s thing, but you can get a similar taste explosion and health benefits from pickles–which includes but are not limited to pickled cucumbers, which is what we usually think of when we hear the word ‘pickle. 

Pickles are kind of like the rodney dangerfield of the food world

. They dont get a lot of respect. Usually, they get stuck on a plate beside a hamburger or maybe sliced up and put on a sandwich. But pickles are a legitimate snack in their own right. And your pickle options extend way beyond your typical pickled cucumber. There are pickled beets, pickled green beans, pickled okra, pickled radishes. I mean, hold me. So many yummy pickles that get you snacking on veggies but feeling like you’re eating a novel delicacy.

Let’s answer the question, WHY do you want to snack on pickles. 

Well, pickled veggies are veggies. Which means they have a decent amount of fiber and a lot of phytochemicals that are antioxidants. That means they fill you up and help your body combat inflammation. 

Also, if they are fermented–meaning, the vegetables are ‘pickled’ using only salt, water, and naturally occurring bacteria and time, and not with vinegar–then pickles are a probiotic food. Which, again, support digestive, immune system, and mental health. Having a little bit of fermented foods every day is a great way to shore up your overall health, and pickles help you do that. 

How do you know how a pickle was made? 

Look for the word probiotic on the label. They will probably be in the refrigerator case and be more expensive than your typical vinegary pickle; but, just consider that you’re paying for a probiotic supplement in addition to a food. It’s like a BOGO deal. 

I don’t think I need to tell you how to snack on pickles. BUT, I can suggest a wonder of the snack world–the pickle plate. 

My in-laws always, ALWAYS have a pickle plate before Thanksgiving dinner. I looked at it a little side-eyed when I was new on the scene but now…I love it. I even got a special pickle plate plate that has a few compartments for various pickles, pickled veggies, and olives. Throw a couple of slices of mellow cheese, like gouda or monterey jack, to cut the tartness, and you’ve got a snack smorgasborg. 

Set a pickle plate out on the counter in the hour before dinner and anyone who wanders in wondering when the food will be ready will get a little nibble of probiotics without ruining their appetite. 

Are you game to put pickles and/or olives on your grocery list?

Ready to try a new kind of pickled vegetable? Green beans are my favorite–they have an excellent snap. And pickled okra is, in my opinion, the best way to eat okra. Go have a little pickle treasure hunt on your next grocery run, and spice up your snack routine. 

Tomorrow I’m talking about a category of snack foods that offer dozens of new snack options that are about as nutrient-dense as they come. Come on back. 

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