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Olive Oil Hunter #169

Elevated Grilled Cheese Sammies Recipe, Spotlight on Arugula, Avocado and Cast Iron Skillets, and How to Manage Chronic Pain with Exercise

Comfort foods are oh so yummy but often don’t have the best health profile. My version of the classic grilled cheese packs high-nutrient foods that deliver on taste, too. One of them is avocado, a food that’s not only good for you on its own but also seems to encourage healthier eating in general, according to a study I’m sharing. You’ll also read about a healthy therapy to help forestall or ease chronic pain. 

Elevated Grilled Cheese Sammies

  • Iced Blueberry Scones Iced Blueberry Scones

    If you’ve ever had a store-bought scone, chances are it was dry and crumbly. My recipe is flaky yet still tender, thanks to the olive oil in the pastry flour dough. A light icing drizzle balances out the tartness of blueberries. 

    Ingredients

    For the Scones:

    • 2 cups pastry flour, plus more for the cookie sheet and shaping the dough
    • 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour 
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 2/3 cup half-and-half
    • 1 extra-large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
    • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry

    For the Glaze:

    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it liberally with flour.

    Step 2

    Place the 2-1/4 cups flour (pastry and whole wheat), sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk the olive oil, half-and-half, egg, and vanilla. Using a large spatula, fold in the blueberries and then the flour mixture. Be careful not to overmix, which can cause too much gluten development and a dense scone.

    Step 3

    Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper. Heavily flour your hands and use them to pat the dough into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle (do not use a rolling pin). If the dough is extremely wet, sprinkle on a tablespoon of additional flour. Use a bench scraper to help even out the edges, cut the dough into 12 triangles or squares, and then move the pieces as needed to leave about two inches between them.

    Step 4

    While the scones are cooling, mix the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, thinning if needed with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a spoon to drizzle on the icing in a crisscross pattern.

    Step 5

    Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

    Yields 12 scones

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Amazing Arugula

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Amazing Arugula

Arugula, pear and manchego salad

We often talk about sensing the spiciness of arugula when doing our fresh-pressed olive oil tastings—the tender greens are full of zesty flavor. If arugula isn’t already on your shopping list, it’s time to add it. The cool weather of spring and fall is its ideal growing environment. Young, or “baby,” arugula is milder in taste—though still peppery—than more mature or late-season harvests.

Though often found in bagged lettuce mixes, arugula (Eruca vesicaria) is actually a cruciferous vegetable, part of the same family as broccoli, cabbage, and kale—and just as packed with nutrients, including antioxidants. In addition to vitamins A, C, K, and folate and the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium, arugula has glucosinolates, natural substances that offer some protection from certain types of cancer, such as cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, and lung (glucosinolates are also responsible for that spicy bitterness). 

Arugula makes a great addition to hot and cold sandwiches, focaccia, and pizzas—just be sure to add it after your pizza is cooked, or the high temperature of the oven will burn it quickly. 

Baby arugula tends to come prerinsed, but when growing your own or buying a bunch from the greengrocer, just before eating submerge the leaves in a large bowl of cool water and agitate them to remove any dirt. Wait two minutes, then scoop out the leaves with a spoon strainer, pat dry, and enjoy. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Cast Iron Skillet: A Makeshift Panini Press

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Cast Iron Skillet: A Makeshift Panini Press

The value of a panini press is that it grills both sides of a sandwich at once and compacts the contents for better cheesy goodness. But you can achieve a similar effect by placing a cast-iron skillet on top of your sandwich on a griddle or grill. You’ll still have to flip the sandwich, but the skillet’s weight will compress it as it toasts on each side. If you use this method, don’t brush the top outer piece of bread with oil until you’re ready to flip it, to keep the oil from transferring to the skillet. 

For Your Best Health: An Avocado a Day…

For Your Best Health

An Avocado a Day…

A group of researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Tufts University, the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, Loma Linda University, and Penn State University examined how the food-based intervention of eating one nutrient-dense avocado per day could impact overall diet quality. Surprisingly, only 2% of American adults eat avocados on a regular basis, even though they’re high in fiber and healthy fats, among many other nutrients. The study was published in the journal Current Developments in Nutrition  

“Previous observational research suggests avocado consumers have higher diet quality than non-consumers. So, we developed this study to determine if there is a causational link between avocado consumption and overall diet quality,” said Kristina S. Petersen, PhD, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State. 

For the research, 1,008 participants were split into two groups. One group continued their usual diet and limited their avocado intake during the 26-week study, while the other group incorporated one avocado per day into their diet.

Researchers conducted phone interviews with participants before the study began and at a few points throughout to determine what their dietary intake was like in the previous 24 hours and evaluated their diets using the Healthy Eating Index to see how well they adhered to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which was used as a measure of overall diet quality.

“We found that the participants who had an avocado per day significantly increased their adherence to dietary guidelines,” Dr. Petersen said. “By improving people’s adherence to dietary guidelines, we can help to reduce their risk of developing chronic conditions and prolong healthy life expectancy.…In our study, we classified avocados as a vegetable and did see an increase in vegetable consumption attributed to the avocado intake, but also participants used the avocados to replace some unhealthier options…as a substitute for some foods higher in refined grains and sodium.”

Dr. Petersen has conducted similar studies investigating the impact of food-based interventions, including the relationship between pistachios and diet quality. She added that more research is needed to determine what other food-based strategies and behavioral strategies could also be used to improve adherence to dietary guidelines.

Fitness Flash: Physical Activity for Chronic Pain Protection

Fitness Flash

Physical Activity for Chronic Pain Protection

Researchers from UiT The Arctic University of Norway, the University Hospital of North Norway (UNN), and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health knew from an earlier study of  more than 10,000 adults that those who were physically active had a higher pain tolerance than those who were sedentary—and the higher the activity level, the higher the pain tolerance. They next wanted to understand how physical activity could affect the chances of experiencing chronic pain years later and whether this is related to how physical activity affects our ability to tolerate pain. So, they embarked on new research involving almost 7,000 people recruited from the large Tromsø survey, the Norwegian database that has collected data on people’s health and lifestyle over decades.

They obtained information about the participants’ exercise habits during their free time and whether they experienced pain that lasted for 3 months or more, including widespread or severe pain. 

“We found that people who were more active in their free time had a lower chance of having various types of chronic pain 7-8 years later. For example, being just a little more active, such as going from light to moderate activity, was associated with a 5% lower risk of reporting some form of chronic pain later,” said doctoral fellow Anders Årnes at UiT and UNN, one of the researchers behind the study. He adds that for severe chronic pain in several places in the body, higher activity was associated with a 16% reduced risk.

Exercise to manage chronic pain

The researchers found that the ability to tolerate pain played a role in this apparent protective effect. “This suggests that physical activity increases our ability to tolerate pain and may be one of the ways in which activity helps to reduce the risk of severe chronic pain,” said Årnes.

When it comes to exercising if you already have chronic pain, the researcher said: “Physical activity is not dangerous in the first place, but people with chronic pain can benefit greatly from having an exercise program adapted to help them balance their effort so that it is not too much or too little. Healthcare professionals experienced in treating chronic pain conditions can often help with this. A rule of thumb is that there should be no worsening that persists over an extended period, but that certain reactions in the time after training can be expected.”

The research, “Does pain tolerance mediate the effect of physical activity on chronic pain in the general population? The Tromsø Study,” was published in the journal Pain.

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Olive Oil Hunter News #168

Iced Blueberry Scones Recipe, Spotlight on Blueberries and Bench Scrapers, Managing Depression with Scents, and Resistance Training for Anxiety

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, first established in 1949 to increase our understanding of the vital role mental health plays in overall health and well-being and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. With all the stresses of daily living we face today, addressing mental health has never been as important. So, in addition to my recipe for scones, I’m including two different advances in mental health care that could impact how depression and anxiety are managed.

Iced Blueberry Scones

  • Iced Blueberry Scones Iced Blueberry Scones

    If you’ve ever had a store-bought scone, chances are it was dry and crumbly. My recipe is flaky yet still tender, thanks to the olive oil in the pastry flour dough. A light icing drizzle balances out the tartness of blueberries. 

    Ingredients

    For the Scones:

    • 2 cups pastry flour, plus more for the cookie sheet and shaping the dough
    • 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour 
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 1 tablespoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 2/3 cup half-and-half
    • 1 extra-large egg
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla 
    • 1 cup fresh blueberries, rinsed and patted dry

    For the Glaze:

    • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it liberally with flour.

    Step 2

    Place the 2-1/4 cups flour (pastry and whole wheat), sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, thoroughly whisk the olive oil, half-and-half, egg, and vanilla. Using a large spatula, fold in the blueberries and then the flour mixture. Be careful not to overmix, which can cause too much gluten development and a dense scone.

    Step 3

    Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper. Heavily flour your hands and use them to pat the dough into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle (do not use a rolling pin). If the dough is extremely wet, sprinkle on a tablespoon of additional flour. Use a bench scraper to help even out the edges, cut the dough into 12 triangles or squares, and then move the pieces as needed to leave about two inches between them.

    Step 4

    While the scones are cooling, mix the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, thinning if needed with 1 tablespoon of water. Use a spoon to drizzle on the icing in a crisscross pattern.

    Step 5

    Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

    Yields 12 scones

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Frozen Blueberries

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Frozen Blueberries

Blueberries are more than delicious—they’re at the top of many healthiest-foods lists because of their amazing nutrients. Along with vitamins C and K and the mineral manganese, they’re rich in anthocyanins, which give them their blue-purple color and protect cells from damaging molecules called free radicals. Their soluble fiber helps lower blood sugar, manage blood pressure, and sweep out cholesterol, which, in turn, can lower the risk for heart disease. 

Spring is the start of blueberry season, but when fresh ones aren’t available, frozen ones make a great stand-in (it’s also smart to freeze fresh berries you grow or buy throughout the summer so that you’ll have them for next fall and winter). Bakers are often disappointed by the bleeding frozen berries can cause, creating streaks of purple or even green in the finished baked goods. This doesn’t affect taste, but here’s a quick hack to avoid it: Just before adding them to your batter, rinse the frozen berries well in cold water and then thoroughly pat them dry between layers of paper towels. Quickly fold them into the batter using just a few strokes. Keep in mind that you are rinsing away some of the berries’ healthful anthocyanins, so if the streaks don’t bother you, simply pat defrosted berries with paper towels before adding them to the batter to avoid adding excess moisture.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: The Value of a Bench Scraper

Quick Kitchen Nugget

The Value of a Bench Scraper

This lightweight tool, designed to help you move dough when working on a countertop or “bench,” does more than its name indicates. Press the side against your dough to even its sides—this may eliminate the need for trimming the edges. Use the edge of the scraper to cut dough into scones, biscuits, bar cookies, or crackers. Also, the flat side works like a metal spatula to transfer dough pieces to your baking sheet. Available at most housewares stores and online, a good stainless steel bench scraper runs $10-$15.

Bench Scraper

For Your Best Health: Managing Depression: Using Scents to Unlock Memories 

For Your Best Health

Managing Depression: Using Scents to Unlock Memories 

A study done by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center social workers and published in JAMA Network Open has found that scents are more effective than words at calling up a memory of a specific event. Scents could even be used to help people experiencing depression get out of negative thought cycles and rewire thought patterns, aiding faster and smoother healing.

Early in her career, Kymberly Young, PhD, a neuroscience researcher who studies autobiographical memories, realized that engaging the amygdala, the part of the brain that not only controls the fight-or-flight response but also directs attention and focus to important events, helps with memory recall. 

She also knew of extensive evidence that people with depression have a hard time recalling specific autobiographical memories and that, in healthy individuals, odors trigger memories that feel vivid and real, likely because they directly engage the amygdala through nerve connections from the olfactory bulb.

“It was surprising to me that nobody thought to look at memory recall in depressed individuals using odor cues before,” said Dr. Young, senior author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry at Pitt. So, she decided to test whether engaging the amygdala could help depressed individuals access their memories more effectively. 

Rather than start with brain scanner tests, she decided to go low tech, presenting study participants with a series of opaque glass vials containing potent familiar scents including everything from oranges and ground coffee to shoe polish and even Vicks VapoRub.

After asking participants to smell a vial, Dr. Young asked them to recall a specific memory, good or bad. She was surprised to discover that memory recall was stronger in depressed individuals who received odor cues as opposed to word cues. Also, those who received odor cues were more likely to recall a memory of a specific event (for example, that they went to a coffee shop the previous Friday) than general memories (that they have been to coffee shops before). Memories spurred by odors were also a lot more vivid and felt more immersive. Even though Dr. Young did not direct participants to specifically recall positive memories, her results found that positive memories were more likely to be recalled.

Dr. Young will soon start more technologically advanced studies using a brain scanner, but she is excited about the progress already made. “If we improve memory, we can improve problem-solving, emotion regulation, and other functional problems that depressed individuals often experience,” she said.

Fitness Flash: Resistance Training for Anxiety

Fitness Flash

Resistance Training for Anxiety

Researchers Matthew P. Herring, PhD, of the University of Limerick (UL) in Ireland, and Jacob D. Meyer, PhD, of Iowa State University (ISU), recently published an article in the journal Trends in Molecular Medicine to review evidence supporting the positive effects that resistance exercise training can have on anxiety and depression.  

“There is a critical need for confirmatory, definitive trials that adequately address limitations [of existing research], but the limited evidence available to us provides initial support for the beneficial effects of resistance exercise training on these mental health outcomes, including increased insulin-like growth factor 1, cerebrovascular adaptations, and potential neural adaptations influenced by controlled breathing inherent to resistance exercise,” explained Dr. Herring, associate professor in the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, Health Research Institute, and department of physical education and sport sciences within the faculty of education and health sciences at UL, and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. 

Resistance training/exercise

“Notwithstanding the limitations of the limited number of studies to date, there is exciting evidence, particularly from our previous and ongoing research of the available studies, that suggests that resistance exercise training may be an accessible alternative therapy to improve anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depressive symptoms and disorders are prevalent and debilitating public health burdens for which successful treatment is limited,” Dr. Herring said. “A more exciting aspect is that there is substantial promise in investigating the unknown mechanisms that may underlie these benefits to move us closer to maximizing benefits and to optimizing the prescription of resistance exercise via precision medicine approaches.” 

“The current research provides a foundation for testing if resistance training can be a key behavioral treatment approach for depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Meyer, an expert on the neurobiological effects of exercise on depression and director of ISU’s Wellbeing and Exercise Laboratory, focused on understanding how exercise and sedentary activities are related to mental health and well-being. “As resistance training likely works through both shared and distinct mechanisms to achieve its positive mood effects compared to aerobic exercise, it has the potential to be used in conjunction with aerobic exercise or as a stand-alone therapy for these debilitating conditions. Our research will use the platform established by current research as a springboard to comprehensively evaluate these potential benefits of resistance exercise in clinical populations while also identifying who would be the most likely to benefit from resistance exercise.”

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Olive Oil Hunter News #167

Composed Salad with Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette Recipe, Spotlight on Salad Greens, A Monthly 5-day Modified Fast to Boost Longevity and A Surprising Advantage of Exercise 

Composed salad—only the name of this dish sounds tricky. It’s actually a simple technique to arrange ingredients in a beautiful display and let everyone pick and choose what to put on their own plate. I’ve provided suggestions, but you get to pick your culinary adventure! 

Club members know that I believe in nourishing the body with healthful foods (that’s why sourcing fresh-pressed olive oil brimming with polyphenols is so important to me!). And in turn, the body can enrich us in remarkable ways. Two studies provide astounding food for thought to prove that point. The first is a new approach to intermittent fasting, and the second shows how bookmarking learning something new with bouts of physical exercise can help you retain the new information. Enjoy these fascinating reads.

Composed Salad with Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • Composed Salad Composed Salad with Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette

    Sounds complicated and even more exotic in its original French—“salade composée”—but a composed salad is nothing more than an artful way to arrange your ingredients rather than tossing them together. Salade Niçoise and Cobb salad are two that are typically presented this way, but a composed salad can be made of any ingredients you choose—and it’s a great way to showcase fresh seasonal vegetables and even fruits. The following ingredients and directions are merely guidelines—let your imagination be your guide and remember that unusual combos can be delicious. Whatever you choose should have a flavorful dressing, so I’m including the recipe for one of my favorite vinaigrettes. It uses apple balsamic vinegar, a great change from classic balsamic of Modena.

    Ingredients

    For the vinaigrette:

    • 1⁄4 cup Apple Balsamic Vinegar
    • 1⁄4 teaspoon dried basil leaves, crushed 
    • 1 small shallot, minced 
    • 1 garlic clove, minced 
    • Pinch red pepper flakes
    • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    For the platter, choose any combination:

    • Protein: pick 1 or 2, such as sliced chicken, hard-boiled egg halves, or strips of prosciutto
    • Cheese: pick 1 or 2 such as cubes of fresh mozzarella or aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, or thin rounds of goat cheese
    • Greens: pick 1 lettuce or another leafy green, like arugula or baby spinach
    • Vegetables: pick 3 or 4, raw, steamed, or grilled, such as asparagus, cherry tomatoes, and string beans
    • Fruit and nuts: pick 1 or more, such as grapes, apple or pear slices, raisins or another dried fruit, avocado, and almonds or walnuts 
    • Legumes: pick 1, such as cooked beans or chickpeas

    Directions

    Step 1

    Make the vinaigrette: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, basil, shallot, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Step 2

    Compose your salad: Rinse and pat dry all raw ingredients. Cut all ingredients into bite-size pieces or thin slices. Lettuces and other greens can be sliced into ribbons. Choose a large platter and place one ingredient at a time, going from left to right. 

    Step 3

    Place the vinaigrette on the side so each person can add as much or as little as they want.

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Salad Greens 

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Salad Greens 

I’m a fan of varying the greens in my salads rather than sticking to one type every time. This choice goes beyond taste—each green has a different nutrient profile, so mixing it up means you get a wider range of vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. Here are some choices to put in your own personal rotation.

Iceberg is one of the few lettuces that comes in a very compact head; another is romaine. The leaves of the more delicate butterhead and Boston lettuces are more loosely held together. Red or green loose-leaf lettuce and escarole aren’t compact at all.  

Many greens are sold as leaves, bundled or loose, including watercress, Swiss chard, arugula, baby spinach, and dandelion greens. Some leaves, like kale, have rigid spines or stems that you might want to remove if eating raw but that soften when cooked. 

All greens are a good source of fiber and water. Romaine and spinach have the highest amounts of vitamin A and folate (a B vitamin), spinach and Swiss chard are highest in vitamin K and potassium, and kale and spinach take top honors for calcium.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Storing Salad Greens

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Storing Salad Greens

Salad greens

It’s frustrating to buy a box or package of greens—or even a loose head—only to find that some of the leaves have turned when you go to make a salad. These quick tips can help keep them fresh.

If possible, store greens by themselves (and definitely away from any fruit) in one of the crisper drawers of your fridge with the humidity set at high. Newer, more high-tech refrigerators offer very precise climate control, sometimes through an app on your phone.  

If your greens are bagged, you can try the puffing technique: blow into the bag to puff it up (like a balloon) and then seal in the air by closing the bag with a rubber band. Another option, especially if your greens are in a plastic clamshell or tight bag, is to spread them out in single layers between sheets of paper towels (discard any leaves that have wilted), roll up the paper towels, and store the roll in a reusable container. Rinse before eating, not before storing.

For Your Best Health: A Monthly 5-day Modified Fast to Boost Longevity

For Your Best Health

A Monthly 5-day Modified Fast to Boost Longevity

We’ve shared reports of studies showing that you may be able to reduce inflammation and better ward off diseases with intermittent fasting—eating fewer than 500 calories on two days of every week or limiting eating to an 8- or 10-hour daily window. Recently, a University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology-led study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that one five-day monthly cycle of a diet that mimics fasting, known as a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD), can reduce signs of immune system aging, as well as insulin resistance and liver fat, resulting in a lower “biological” age—a measure of how well your cells and tissues are functioning regardless of your chronological age.

The FMD, developed by Valter Longo, PhD, the study’s senior author and professor at the USC Leonard Davis School, is high in unsaturated fats and low in overall calories, protein, and carbohydrates. It’s designed to mimic the effects of a water-only fast while still providing necessary nutrients and making it much easier for people to complete. 

“This is the first study to show that a food-based intervention that does not require chronic dietary or other lifestyle changes can make people biologically younger, based both on changes in risk factors for aging and disease and on a validated method developed by the Levine group to assess biological age,” Dr. Longo said. (The Levine group, led by Morgan Levine, PhD, designs tools just to measure biological age.) 

Previous research led by Longo indicated that brief, periodic FMD cycles are associated with a range of beneficial effects, such as promoting stem cell regeneration, easing chemotherapy side effects, and reducing the signs of dementia in mice. Dr. Longo’s lab also had previously shown that one or two cycles of the FMD for five days a month increased the health span and lifespan of mice on either a normal or a Western diet, but the effects of the FMD on aging and biological age, liver fat, and immune system aging in humans were unknown until now. In addition, the FMD cycles can lower the risk factors for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other age-related diseases in people.

The study analyzed the diet’s effects in two clinical trial populations, each with men and women between the ages of 18 and 70. Patients who were randomized to the fasting-mimicking diet underwent 3-4 monthly cycles, adhering to the FMD for 5 days, then ate a normal diet for 25 days. The FMD is comprised of plant-based soups, energy bars, energy drinks, chip snacks, and tea plus a supplement providing high levels of minerals, vitamins, and essential fatty acids. 

An analysis of blood samples from trial participants showed that those in the FMD group had lower diabetes risk factors, including less insulin resistance and lower HbA1c results. Magnetic resonance imaging also revealed a decrease in abdominal fat as well as fat within the liver, improvements associated with a reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. In addition, the FMD cycles appeared to increase the lymphoid-to-myeloid ratio, an indicator of a more youthful immune system. Further statistical analysis of the results showed that FMD participants had reduced their biological age by 2.5 years on average.

“This study shows for the first time evidence for biological age reduction from two different clinical trials, accompanied by evidence of rejuvenation of metabolic and immune function,” Dr. Longo said. It lends more support to the FMD’s potential as a short-term periodic, achievable dietary intervention that can help people lessen their disease risk and improve their health without extensive lifestyle changes, he added.

“Although many doctors are already recommending the FMD in the United States and Europe, these findings should encourage many more healthcare professionals to recommend FMD cycles to patients with higher-than-desired levels of disease risk factors as well as to the general population that may be interested in increased function and younger age,” said Dr. Longo.

Fitness Flash: A Surprising Advantage of Exercise 

Fitness Flash

A Surprising Advantage of Exercise 

Looking to improve your fine motor skills? You can benefit from physical exercise both before and after practicing these skills, according to new research from the department of nutrition, exercise, and sports at the University of Copenhagen. This finding also can, among other things, make the way we rehabilitate more effective.

Before a violinist wants to learn a new piece or a surgeon stands at the training table to learn a new surgical technique, they might consider heading out for a bike ride or run. Once they’ve practiced the new skill, there’s good reason to put on their workout attire again. Indeed, being physically active and elevating one’s heart rate has the wonderful side effect of improving our ability to learn by increasing the brain’s ability to remember, stated the researchers. They showed that this effect also applies to the formation of motor memory, enabling us to recall and perform tasks such as riding a bike, driving a car, and lacing up our shoes, almost automatically.

Violinist playing violin

“Our results demonstrate that there is a clear effect across the board. If you exercise before learning a skill, you will improve and remember what you have learned better. The same applies if you exercise after learning,” said Lasse Jespersen, PhD, first author of the study. Specifically, the researchers found around 10% improvement in people’s ability to remember a newly learned motor skill when exercise is included either before or after the new skill. “But our research shows that the greatest effect is achieved if you exercise both before and after,” Dr. Jespersen added.

“This is probably because physical activity increases the brain’s ability to change, which is a prerequisite for remembering,” explained co-author Jesper Lundbye-Jensen, PhD, who heads the department’s movement and neuroscience section. Specific parts of the brain are activated when a person engages in motor practice that requires the acquisition of fine motor skills. If the task is an activity that one knows well, like riding a bicycle, the centers are less active, but that all changes when learning something new. The brain undergoes actual changes, something that is essential for our ability to learn and remember new skills, a phenomenon known as brain plasticity. These changes occur not only while the new skill is acquired through practice but also in the hours after, when the memory is consolidated. This is why it is meaningful to be physically active even after we’ve engaged in something new.

The effect applies to everyone, including children, adolescents, and older adults, and in particular anyone who regularly needs to learn new skills. Moreover, the effects may hold significance for individuals undergoing rehabilitation, aiming to recover mobility and lost motor skills. 

“Typically, rehabilitation is divided between two or three different disciplines. In practice, this may mean that Mr. Smith will have physical training with a physiotherapist on one day, work with an ergonomist the next, and train cognitive abilities with a psychologist on the third. Our research suggests that it could be wise to plan rehabilitation so that these areas are considered together, as doing so could have a synergistic effect,” explained Dr. Lundbye-Jensen. “Coming back often entails hard work, and even slight improvements in efficiency can mean a lot to people in that situation.”

Sixty-seven test subjects were involved in the research project. To ensure comparable data, all subjects were young men between the ages of 18 and 35 who were not physically or mentally impaired in ways that could limit their learning ability and physical performance.

The researchers examined the subjects’ behavior and performance while reviewing one of four possible scenarios. First, the subjects either rested or exercised moderately on a bicycle. After that, they were subjected to a fine motor task in the form of a simple computer game that, with a small device on their fingertips, challenged and practiced their motor dexterity.

Next, they either exercised intensely on a fitness bike or rested. That meant there was one group that rested both before and after, one that trained both times, and two that trained once, either before or after. Their skill level and memory were tested again after seven days to assess whether what they had learned stuck.

As a somewhat unusual criterion, professional musicians and gamers were excluded as possible participants. “People with extensive experience in practicing motor skills typically start at a different level. While the motor task used in the research study was unknown to all, involving experts would have changed the dynamic from the get-go. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit from the effects we’ve shown. To the contrary, in a future study, it could be exciting to investigate how exercise affects people with elite-level fine motor skills,” said Dr. Jespersen.

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Olive Oil Hunter News #166

Flourless Walnut Cake Recipe, Spotlight on Egg Whites and Springform Pans, The Mediterranean “Diet” and Brain Benefits of Exercise

Craving a delicious gluten-free cake but unsatisfied with alternative flours? This recipe breaks the mold, so to speak, with nutrient-packed walnuts and cocoa. What’s more, it can be part of a healthy way of eating, one that emphasizes lifestyle—yes, the Mediterranean diet. The importance of taking a holistic approach to the way you eat is the message of the latest research showing that yo-yo dieting is dangerous rather than being a helpful weight loss solution. I’m also sharing a positive consequence that comes from the release of dopamine during exercise beyond its feel-good mood boost.

Flourless Walnut Cake

  • Flourless Walnut chocolate cake Flourless Walnut Cake

    You don’t have to forgo dessert when you want to cut out flour. Ground nuts make a delicious and healthy alternative. I’ve included a luscious chocolate glaze, but this cake is delicious on its own or topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

    Ingredients

    For the cake:

    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
    • 3 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa, divided use
    • 8 ounces shelled walnuts 
    • 6 large eggs, separated
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Pinch fine sea salt

    For the glaze:

    • 8 ounces dark chocolate
    • ½ cup half-and-half
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F with a rack in the center position. Lightly brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil and then place a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, brush it with oil, and sprinkle it with 1 tablespoon cocoa; rotate the pan to distribute the cocoa on the bottom and sides. Shake out any excess.

    Step 2

    In a nut grinder or food processor, grind the walnuts until medium-fine (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of cocoa and set aside.

    Step 3

    In a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, whip the egg yolks until pale yellow and thickened, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar, then the vanilla and the remaining olive oil, and continue beating until very thick, about 3 more minutes. Use a spatula to fold in the walnut-cocoa mixture.

    Step 4

    In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add the salt and gradually increase the speed to high; beat until glossy and stiff. Working in two or three batches, gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture. Transfer to the cake pan and bake for 40-45 minutes until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the pan; the tip of a sharp knife inserted in the center should come out clean except for a few crumbs.

    Step 5

    Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes (it will sink a bit), then invert onto another rack. If the cake doesn’t turn out easily, run a spatula around the inner rim to release it from the sides of the pan. Peel off the parchment and invert it again onto a cake plate. Let it finish cooling.

    Step 6

    For the glaze, place 7 ounces of the chocolate in a small, microwave-safe glass bowl along with the half-and-half and melt at 50% power for 3 minutes, until the chocolate is almost fully melted (if needed, microwave in additional 1-minute increments). Add the last ounce of chocolate and let sit on the counter for 2 minutes to cool down, then stir until smooth. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Wait until the glaze cools to room temperature, then pour over the top of the cake and use a long offset metal spatula to spread it in an even layer. Let it set for about an hour before serving.

    Yields 8 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Salad Greens 

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Freezing Egg Whites

While it’s possible to freeze extra yolks and whites when a recipe calls for more of one than the other, yolks are not as forgiving as whites—better to use them in a custard or curd. Whites, on the other hand, not only freeze well but whip up perfectly after defrosting. The easiest way to freeze them is to place each white in a compartment of a large ice cube tray; when frozen, pop them out and into a freezer-safe bag, then back in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge the day before you’ll be using them.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Storing Salad Greens

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Springform Pans

While parchment paper is a great way to avoid having a cake stick to the bottom of a cake pan, a springform pan goes a step further. It’s invaluable when making a torte or cheesecake that’s so pliable it could break down the middle when trying to get it out of a regular baking pan.

Springform pans

Once you unlatch the springform pan’s removable ring, it’s easy to slide a cake lifter under the cake or simply cover the top of the cake with a large dish and flip it to remove the bottom and peel off your parchment—I like to think of the parchment as a double layer of protection. (If the sides of the cake happen to be sticking to the ring, slide a rubber or silicone spatula between the cake and the side to gently free the cake before unlatching the ring.) Always transfer your cake from the springform base as soon as it’s cool. Cutting a cake on the base will scratch it, and there’s also the chance that your dessert could pick up the taste of the pan’s material if left on it for too long.

The classic springform pan is metal, and many come with a nonstick coating. Like most other kitchen tools, springform pans are now available in silicone, which is good for sturdier bakes, but not always for soft or dense ones or when you want to build a crust up the sides because of the material’s flexibility. Good-quality silicone pans are also less likely to leak than metal ones (the possibility of leakage is why many recipes suggest wrapping a springform pan with foil).

Springform pans are available in many sizes, from 6 inches for a petite cake up to 12 inches. For a first pan, the 9-inch size will be the most versatile.

For Your Best Health: A Monthly 5-day Modified Fast to Boost Longevity

For Your Best Health

Think Twice Before You “Diet”

Diet is a word with different meanings. When we talk about diet at the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club, it’s in the context of the Mediterranean diet. Though it can help you lose weight, it’s a way of life, not something you go on and off of. And it offers a social dynamic, which makes people feel that they’re part of an inclusive group.

When most people use the word diet, they typically mean a weight-loss diet, something research has told us again and again doesn’t work. That’s because people follow such a diet for a set time and then, unfortunately, revert to old ways of eating, usually regaining the lost weight and then some…only to try another weight-loss diet in the future. A new study, done at North Carolina State University, found just how toxic yo-yo dieting, also known as weight cycling, is and how difficult it can be to break the cycle.

“Yo-yo dieting—unintentionally gaining weight and dieting to lose weight only to gain it back and restart the cycle—is a prevalent part of American culture, with fad diets and lose-weight-quick plans or drugs normalized as people pursue beauty ideals,” said Lynsey Romo, PhD, corresponding author of the study and an associate professor of communication at NC State. “Based on what we learned through this study, as well as the existing research, we recommend that most people avoid dieting, unless it is medically necessary. Our study also offers insights into how people can combat insidious aspects of weight cycling and challenge the cycle.”

For the study, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 13 men and 23 women who had experienced weight cycling during which they lost and regained more than 11 pounds. All the study participants reported wanting to lose weight due to social stigma related to their weight and/or because they were comparing their weight to that of celebrities or peers. “Overwhelmingly, participants did not start dieting for health reasons but because they felt social pressure to lose weight,” Dr. Romo said.

The study participants also reported engaging in a variety of weight-loss strategies, which resulted in initial weight loss but eventual regain. Regaining the weight left people feeling worse about themselves than they did before they began dieting. This, in turn, often led to increasingly extreme behaviors to try to lose weight again. “For instance, many participants engaged in disordered weight management behaviors, such as binge or emotional eating, restricting food and calories, memorizing calorie counts, being stressed about what they were eating and the number on the scale, falling back on quick fixes (such as low-carb diets or diet drugs), overexercising, and avoiding social events with food to drop pounds fast,” said Dr. Romo. “Inevitably, these diet behaviors became unsustainable, and participants regained weight, often more than they had initially lost.”

“Almost all of the study participants became obsessed with their weight,” says Katelin Mueller, co-author of the study and graduate student at NC State. “Weight loss became a focal point for their lives, to the point that it distracted them from spending time with friends, family, and colleagues, and reducing weight-gain temptations such as drinking and overeating.”

“Participants referred to the experience as an addiction or a vicious cycle,” Dr. Romo said. “Individuals who were able to understand and address their toxic dieting behaviors were more successful at breaking the cycle. Strategies people used to combat these toxic behaviors included focusing on their health rather than the number on the scale, as well as exercising for fun rather than counting the number of calories they burned. Participants who were more successful at challenging the cycle were also able to embrace healthy eating behaviors, such as eating a varied diet and eating when they were hungry, rather than treating eating as something that needs to be closely monitored, controlled, or punished.”

Fitness Flash: A Surprising Advantage of Exercise 

Fitness Flash

Your Brain on Exercise

Dopamine, the neurotransmitter and hormone tied to pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, is known to increase when you work out. Recent findings suggest it is also linked to faster reaction times during exercise. The researchers in the UK and Japan behind the discovery say it could lead to a new therapeutic pathway for cognitive health because of dopamine’s significant role in several conditions including Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, ADHD, addiction, and depression.

The study measured the release of dopamine in the brain using the scanning device called positron emission tomography (PET). It tracked the metabolic and biochemical activity of the cells in the body. Explained Joe Costello, PhD, of the University of Portsmouth School of Sport, Health & Exercise Science in the UK, “We know cardiovascular exercise improves cognitive performance, but the exact mechanisms behind this process have not been rigorously investigated in humans until now. Using novel brain imaging techniques, we were able to examine the role dopamine plays in boosting brain function during exercise, and the results are really promising. Our current study suggests the hormone is an important neuromodulator for improved reaction time. These findings support growing evidence that exercise prescription is a viable therapy for a host of health conditions across the lifespan.”

Women working out on exercise bikes

As part of the study, three experiments were carried out with a total of 52 men. In the first, individuals were asked to carry out cognitive tasks at rest and while cycling in the PET scanner so the team could monitor the movement of dopamine in their brain. The second used electrical muscle stimulation to test whether forced muscle movement to stimulate exercise would also improve cognitive performance. The final experiment combined both voluntary and involuntary exercise. In the experiments where voluntary exercise was carried out, cognitive performance improved. This was not the case when only forced electrical stimulation was used.

“We wanted to remove voluntary muscle movement for part of the study, to see if the process in which acute exercise improves cognitive performance is present during manufactured exercise. But our results indicate that the exercise has to be from the central signals of the brain, and not just the muscle itself,” said Soichi Ando, PhD, associate professor in the Health & Sports Science Laboratory at the University of Electro-Communications in Japan. “This suggests that when we tell our central command to move our body during a workout, that’s the process which helps the dopamine release in the brain.”

“These latest findings support our previous theory that cognitive performance during exercise is affected by changes to brain-regulating hormones, including dopamine,” added Dr. Costello. “There could also be a number of other psychophysiological factors, including cerebral blood flow, arousal, and motivation, that play a part.”

The paper, published in The Journal of Physiology, says further studies are needed and should include a range of participants, including women and older individuals, over a longer period of time to fully understand how dopamine release is linked to cognitive performance following exercise.

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