Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: For a year and a half I've been craving green olives, usually eating four to six 7-ounce jars a day. My doctor and a nutritionist both think it's because I'm lacking something nutritionally—what do you think?
— Maggie Gross, Streamwood, Illinois
A: It's tempting to believe that a craving is a message from the body, but I don't buy it. Our bodies require much more physical activity than we typically get, for example, but that hasn't translated into widespread exercise binges.
In times of famine, we instinctively seek out life-sustaining savory substances like salt, sugar, and fat, which is why our cravings tend to concentrate in these areas.
Your craving is probably salt based, but at least it isn't without redeeming qualities: Olives are nutritious, providing a concentrated dose of healthful monounsaturated fat, along with a decent amount of fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, and antioxidants. But a 7-ounce jar of green olives contains nearly 300 calories, which means six jars can deliver an entire day's worth of calories. And it takes only one jar to go over your day's limit of sodium. So at the very least, this obsession may lead to weight gain and high blood pressure.
There really isn't anything unique in the nutritional profile of olives that could explain your craving. To start weaning yourself off the olives, try mixing in something with a vaguely similar texture, such as diced cucumber or mushrooms. Then, little by little, shift the proportion from mostly olives to mostly cucumbers (or mushrooms). Once you get down to a reasonable number of olives per day, the snack habit can be maintained permanently. Eating a handful of olives daily would be fine, as would several servings of diced cucumber.