For 5 months, Flourish with Food has focused on the Mediterranean Diet (Med approach), an overall healthy way of eating.  

There are 16 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, each with their own traditional eating styles based on culture, economy, agriculture, etc. However, there are common factors which are depicted in the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.

The Med approach series started with eat-less-often foods at the tip of the pyramid.  The series has now reached the pyramid’s foundation: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans/lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices - Base every meal on these foods.

For this month, let’s look at olive oil, olives and avocados. 

The distinctive flavor of olive oil is considered by some to be its best attribute.  However, its nutrition and health strengths come from the high percentage of monounsaturated fat.  Also, olive oil is rich in polyphenols, a phytonutrient, which offer potential health benefits. 

A few olive oil needs: (1) dark, airtight bottle or tin, (2) cool dark storage like a pantry with a door, and (3) use within about a year since olive oil can go rancid. Fresh olive oil has a fruity, olive-like smell; rancid olive oil smells “off”, some describe as smelling like crayons or stale peanuts. 

Olive oils can be described as light, extra virgin, EVOO, domestic, imported, cold-pressed, late or early harvest, filtered and unfiltered.  Too many characteristics to write about here. Three favorite articles on choosing and using olive oil:

Did you know olives and avocados are fruits? While most fruits are fat-free, olives and avocados are rich in healthy monounsaturated fat, along with fiber and numerous phytonutrients. Since rich-in-fat tags along with higher-in-calories, being portion conscious is advised.

Olives are green when unripe and grow darker as they mature.  Olives off the tree are bitter, which is “cured” through curing.  The salt in the resulting brine bumps up the sodium content, which can be reduced by soaking in water before eating.

While fresh olives are a standard on the antipasto bar, jarred and canned olives are healthy, generally less expensive and have a longer shelf life.  There are hundreds of olive varietals that olive connoisseurs appreciate. Check out this article if you’re ready to explore beyond the standard green jarred or black canned olives.

Creamy, smooth, yummy, nutrient-dense avocados are also called alligator pears! The major barrier to using - the need to ripen at home for several days. The brown bag and apple trick effectively hastens ripening. Soft, ripe avocados will hold for 1-2 days when refrigerated. To learn how to choose, ripen, safely cut and peel:

No-fuss ideas to include olives:

  • Toss into green salads along with blueberries or dried cranberries
  • Add chopped to tuna, egg or chicken salad
  • Mix into cooked pasta along with parmesan cheese and basil
  • Jazz up jarred pasta sauce
  • Add to a quick homemade pasta sauce of sauteed (in olive oil) cutup vegetables, petite diced tomatoes and shakes of Italian seasoning
  • Top a ready-to-bake pizza
  • Assemble a small snack pack:  few olives, crackers, cheese and grapes 

No-fuss ideas for mashed, sliced or chunks of avocados:

  • Spread on toast and top with an egg or on favorite crackers with soup
  • Use as mayo substitute or mix ½ and ½ for a sandwich spread or an egg salad binder
  • Add chunks to scrambled eggs ½ way through cooking
  • Replace sour cream on a baked potato
  • Buy prepared guacamole for a veggie dip
  • Mix with favorite hummus 

Quick Skillet Chicken with Olives

4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)

1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed

½ tsp. pepper

¼ tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. olive oil

½ c. pimiento-stuffed olives, coarsely chopped (or more for olive lovers)

¼ c. white wine or chicken broth

1 Tbsp. drained capers, optional

  1. Sprinkle chicken with rosemary, pepper and salt.  In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.  Brown chicken on both sides.
  2. Add olives, wine and, if desired, capers.  Reduce heat; simmer, covered 2-3 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in chicken reads 170-degrees.

MLH preference:  Pitted kalamata olives, cut in half


About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically-managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.