Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #86

Crab-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers Recipe, Spotlight on Crabmeat, Pickling Peppers, Block Out Light for Better Sleep and the Importance of Moving Now to Be Able to Keep Moving Later

Stuffed peppers are always a huge hit at gatherings. The small ones used in this recipe make a perfect finger food, and the crabmeat filling makes them decadently delicious as well as healthy. Speaking of health, I’m continually amazed at the variety of research published on a near-daily basis. The two articles I’m sharing this week are on topics that often fly under the radar: the underappreciated health consequences of too much light in the bedroom while sleeping and the underappreciated benefits of lifelong leisure activities for muscle function in older age.

Crab-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

  • Crab-stuffed piquillo peppers Crab-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

    Piquillo means “little beak” in Spanish, and piquillo peppers get their name from that shape, though, ironically, they don’t have the “bite” of many other pepper varieties. Grown in the Navarra region ofnorthern Spain near the town of Lodosa, they’re very mild.After harvest, they’re fire-roasted for a sweet and smoky flavor, peeled and seeded by hand, then packed in brine. You can purchase them from many online purveyors. For a variation on the crabmeat, try flaked Spanish tuna. 

    Ingredients

    • Extra virgin olive oil, about 3 tablespoons in all
    • 6 ounces goat cheese or cream cheese, at room temperature
    • 1 tablespoon dry Spanish sherry
    • 1 cup crabmeat, shredded
    • 3 tablespoons finely chopped pitted black olives, preferably Spanish 
    • 3 tablespoons finely minced scallion tops (green parts only) 
    • Kosher or coarse sea salt 
    • Freshly ground black pepper 
    • 12-ounce jar of brined whole piquillo peppers, drained 

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 425°F. Drizzle the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil and set aside. Use a wooden spoon to combine the cheese and sherry in a bowl. Fold in the crabmeat, olives, and scallions, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Step 2

    Transfer the cheese-crab mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1/2-inch donut filler tip, or use a sturdy resealable plastic bag and snip off one of the lower corners to make a 1/2-inch opening. (In a pinch, you can use a small spoon.) Gently pipe about a tablespoon of the cheese-crab mixture into each pepper, being careful not to overstuff and risk tearing the walls of the peppers.

    Step 3

    Arrange the stuffed peppers in a single layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the top of each pepper. Bake until the cheese is bubbling, about 12 minutes. 

    Yields 6 to 8 appetizer servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Chives

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

A primer on crabmeat

Buying crabmeat can be confusing, with many different types at many different price points. Here are the varieties you’re most likely to see at stores, according to the experts at Phillips Seafood, the 100-year-old Baltimore, Maryland-based company specializing in high-quality crabmeat.

Jumbo lump crabmeat comes from the two large muscles attached to the crab’s swimming fins. These nuggets have an impressive size, bright white color, and delicious crab taste. Use this crabmeat in recipes when the crabmeat will be visible and you want to make a wow statement. It’s usually the most-expensive option.

Lump crabmeat combines broken pieces of jumbo lump and special crabmeat (see below). It’s ideal for crab cakes, dips, salads, casseroles, and filling the peppers in this week’s recipe. 

Special crabmeat is made from smaller pieces of meat taken from the body of the crab, and it works well in many recipes, from crab balls and dips to salads, wraps, and soups.

Claw meat comes from the swimming fins of the crab. It’s brown in color and has a stronger flavor. Use it in dishes with heavy sauces or in dips and soups—the flavor of the crab will come through without being overpowering. It’s usually the least-expensive option. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Get dedicated kitchen shears

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Pickling peppers

Pickling your own peppers is quick and easy, and you can do it with almost any peppers you grow yourself or buy at a farmers market. Here’s a simple method: Carefully remove the stems and seeds of the peppers—a grapefruit knife does a neat job—and pack the peppers in a lidded jar. Prepare a pickling solution and bring it to a boil A good starting point is to use equal amounts of vinegar and water, a few smashed garlic cloves, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of salt, but have fun experimenting with additional aromatics, like herbs. Pour the hot liquid over the peppers, being sure that they’re completely submerged and that the liquid goes to the top of the jar; this will discourage any mold. Screw on the lid, and once the jar has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate it. You can start to enjoy the peppers in a few days, but the flavors will intensify over time. The peppers will last for a few months in the fridge.

For Your Best Health: Tapping into creativity

For Your Best Health

Tapping into creativity

A famous episode of Seinfeld centered on the havoc wrought on Kramer’s sleep when the neon light of a roasted chicken franchise shined into his apartment. Turns out this is no laughing matter. A new study from Northwestern University found that even moderate light exposure during sleep—whether from streetlights, your own beside lamp, or a TV that stays on—can harm heart health and cause insulin resistance the next morning. Insulin resistance is when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin and can’t effectively use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin. Over time, your blood sugar level rises.

“The results from this study demonstrate that just a single night of exposure to moderate room lighting during sleep can impair glucose and cardiovascular regulation, which are risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome,” says senior study author Dr. Phyllis Zee, chief of sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine physician. “It’s important for people to avoid or minimize the amount of light exposure during sleep.”

“We showed your heart rate increases when you sleep in a moderately lit room,” says Dr. Daniela Grimaldi, study co-first author and research assistant professor of neurology at Feinberg. “Even though you are asleep, your autonomic nervous system is activated. That’s bad. Usually your heart rate together with other cardiovascular parameters are lower at night and higher during the day.”

Here are Dr. Zee’s tips for reducing light during sleep.

Don’t sleep with any lights on. If you need to have a light on for safety, make it a dim light that is close to the floor.

Color counts: Amber or a red/orange light is less stimulating for the brain than white or blue light. Keep it as far away from you as practical.

Blackout shades or eye masks are good if you can’t control the outdoor light even after moving your bed so that the light isn’t shining on your face.

“If you’re able to see things really well, it’s probably too light,” Dr. Zee says.

Fitness Flash: Why “use it or lose it” is real

Fitness Flash

Keep moving now to be able to keep moving later

Ever wonder why it seems that the less exercise you do, the harder it is to exercise at all? New research offers one possible explanation. Doing less exercise could deactivate the body’s vital Piezo1 protein, according to scientists from the UK’s University of Leeds. Piezo1 is a blood flow sensor. Deactivating it reduces the density of capillaries carrying blood to the muscles, and that restricted blood flow means activity becomes more difficult and can limit the amount of exercise you’re able to do.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, was carried out using mice, but because the Piezo1 protein is also found in people, the same results could occur. As lead author Fiona Bartoli, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Leeds’ School of Medicine, says, “Exercise protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer. Unfortunately, many people fail to exercise enough, for reasons such as injury and computer usage. This puts people at more risk of disease. The less people exercise, the less fit they become, often leading to a downward spiral.

“Although many responses to exercise are known, how the benefits of exercise are initially triggered at a molecular level is mysterious. Our study highlights the crucial link between physical activity and physical performance made at this level by Piezo1. Keeping our Piezo1s active by exercising may be crucial in our physical performance and health.”

During the experiment, mice who had their Piezo1 levels disrupted for 10 weeks showed a dramatic reduction in activities like walking, climbing, and running on a wheel activity. Specifically they did fewer wheel revolutions per exercise session and had slower running speeds. The mice didn’t have less desire to exercise but rather less ability.

Adds David Beech, PhD, the study’s supervising author, “Our work sheds new light on how Piezo1’s role in blood vessels is connected to physical activity. A lot was already known about its role in blood vessel development, but far less was known about its contribution to vessel maintenance in adults. Our discovery also provides an opportunity to think about how loss of muscle function could be treated in new ways: If we activate Piezo1, it might help to maintain exercise capability.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #85

Penne with Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette Recipe, Spotlight on Chives, Importance of Dedicated Kitchen Shears, Tapping Into Your Creativity and Why Use It or Lose It Is Real

Not every great tomato sauce needs hours of simmering! My warm cherry tomato vinaigrette does double duty—equally delicious over hot noodles and cold salads. And it takes less time to make than boiling the pasta. I’m also sharing the essentials on chives, a delicate yet underused herb, and the best way to chop them. You can also read about how to become more creative and why the exercise adage “use it or lose it” holds true.

Penne with Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

  • Penne with Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette Penne with Warm Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

    This vinaigrette is also delicious as a topping for bruschetta or pizza. And you can let it cool to room temperature and use it as a dressing on cold dishes as well as salads.

    Ingredients

    • 1 pound farfalle
    • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
    • 4 cups cherry tomatoes
    • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
    • 4 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

    Directions

    Step 1

    Cook the pasta as directed. While it’s cooking, heat a sauté pan over medium heat, and add two tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallots, and cook until softened, stirring frequently. 

    Step 2

    Add in the cherry tomatoes, and cook until they blister, about 5 minutes, pressing down on them with a wooden spoon to release their juices and smash them a bit. Add the vinegar and the rest of the olive oil, and stir. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat.

    Step 3

    Drain the pasta, top with the mozzarella and the cherry tomatoes, and toss well. Garnish with the chives and serve. 

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Chives

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Let’s chop up more chives

Consider chives the mild-mannered relative in the allium family of onions, scallions, garlic, and more. Because their flavor is delicate and easily lost, they’re primarily added after any cooking has been done. But there are different types of chives, some more flavorful than others. 

Common chives are the ones you’re most likely to find at the market. They have slender bright green and hollow stalks, sometimes with flowers attached, and their flavor is quite mild.

Chinese or garlic chives are deep green and have flat blades, with a stronger flavor very reminiscent of garlic. They, too, may have flowers attached. 

Siberian or blue chives have exceptionally tall blades yet are almost as mild as common chives yet harder to find. 

Experiment, and consider growing your own to have chives at your fingertips. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Get dedicated kitchen shears

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Why you need dedicated kitchen shears

For some kitchen tasks, shears actually work better than a knife, and that’s why you should have at least one pair in your tool drawer. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Magazine, kitchen shears are different from scissors. The blade’s pivot point is farther from the handle, making the shears very strong, perfect for cutting up a whole chicken, for instance. The blades are usually longer and should be removable for easy cleaning, the same safety step you’d take after using a cutting board—but using shears means you may not need to dirty a cutting board as often. 

Use shears to snip chives right over a dish, cut bacon into pieces, and even trim dough after you’ve lined a pie plate. Once you see how versatile they are, you’ll be tempted to buy a variety of shears—dedicated poultry shears, herb shears, and shears with offset blades for cutting at an angle. When possible, choose professional-grade carbon steel blades for durability and coated handles, including a large and oblong bottom handle, for the most comfortable grip. 

For Your Best Health: Tapping into creativity

For Your Best Health

Tapping into creativity

Researchers at The Ohio State University (OSU) have developed a new method for helping people bring out their creativity by, in part, helping them think like kids again. It’s based on narrative theory and works by recognizing that we’re all innately creative. According to English professor and member of the OSU Project Narrative Angus Fletcher, PhD, who developed the narrative method of training for creativity, “We as a society radically undervalue the creativity of kids and many others because we are obsessed with the idea that some people are more creative than others. But the reality is that we’re just not training creativity in the right way.” 

The method is an alternative to the standard creativity training technique called divergent thinking, which treats the brain as a logic machine, relies on data and information about the problems and successes of the past … and has less-than-optimal results, Dr. Fletcher says. “What it can’t do is help prepare people for new challenges that we know little about today. It can’t come up with truly original actions,” he says. “But the human brain’s narrative machinery can.” 

His method draws on many of the techniques that writers use to create stories, such as developing new worlds in your mind, and perspective-shifting, which is thinking like another member of your work team, for instance. It’s not that the scenarios you dream up will actually happen, Dr. Fletcher says, explaining, “Creativity isn’t about guessing the future correctly. It’s about making yourself open to imagining radically different possibilities. When you do that, you can respond more quickly and nimbly to the changes that do occur.”

The creativity seen in young children is often unintentionally taught out of them by the time they get to middle school, where the focus is on logical, semantic, and memory training. The narrative approach to creativity can help people unlock the creativity they may have stopped using as they progressed through their education, Dr. Fletcher says.

He and Project Narrative’s Mike Benveniste have worked on the narrative method of training for creativity with the United States Army Command and General Staff College, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the OSU College of Engineering, and several Fortune 50 companies to teach creativity to their staffs and students. For a more formal evaluation, they’re conducting randomized controlled trials of the creativity curriculum on more than 600 US Army majors at the Command and General Staff College and working with new organizations, such as the Worthington Local School District in Ohio. “Teaching creativity is one of the most useful things you can do in the world, because it is just coming up with new solutions to solve problems,” he says. And you’re never too old to let your imagination run wild.

Fitness Flash: Why “use it or lose it” is real

Fitness Flash

Why “use it or lose it” is real

Ever wonder why it seems that the less exercise you do, the harder it is to exercise at all? New research offers one possible explanation. Doing less exercise could deactivate the body’s vital Piezo1 protein, according to scientists from the UK’s University of Leeds. Piezo1 is a blood flow sensor. Deactivating it reduces the density of capillaries carrying blood to the muscles, and that restricted blood flow means activity becomes more difficult and can limit the amount of exercise you’re able to do.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, was carried out using mice, but because the Piezo1 protein is also found in people, the same results could occur. As lead author Fiona Bartoli, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Leeds’ School of Medicine, says, “Exercise protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer. Unfortunately, many people fail to exercise enough, for reasons such as injury and computer usage. This puts people at more risk of disease. The less people exercise, the less fit they become, often leading to a downward spiral.

“Although many responses to exercise are known, how the benefits of exercise are initially triggered at a molecular level is mysterious. Our study highlights the crucial link between physical activity and physical performance made at this level by Piezo1. Keeping our Piezo1s active by exercising may be crucial in our physical performance and health.”

During the experiment, mice who had their Piezo1 levels disrupted for 10 weeks showed a dramatic reduction in activities like walking, climbing, and running on a wheel activity. Specifically they did fewer wheel revolutions per exercise session and had slower running speeds. The mice didn’t have less desire to exercise but rather less ability.

Adds David Beech, PhD, the study’s supervising author, “Our work sheds new light on how Piezo1’s role in blood vessels is connected to physical activity. A lot was already known about its role in blood vessel development, but far less was known about its contribution to vessel maintenance in adults. Our discovery also provides an opportunity to think about how loss of muscle function could be treated in new ways: If we activate Piezo1, it might help to maintain exercise capability.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #84

Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salmoriglio Recipe, Spotlight on Parsley, How Accurate is Your Calorie-Counting App and Are You Wired for Shorter Sleep? ?

Got your grill primed and ready for the warmer months? Then I’ve got a zesty tuna recipe to start the season with a bang. My tuna primer will cue you into the differences in tuna varieties so you know what to keep an eye out for at the fish counter. If you like to track your meals on an app, you’ll be surprised at the results of a study on their accuracy. Plus, I’m sharing the latest research on how genes influence sleep patterns.

Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salmoriglio

  • Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salmoriglio Grilled Tuna Steaks with Salmoriglio

    With origins in Sicily, this simple yet zesty sauce is also excellent with grilled salmon, beef, poultry, or vegetables. 

    Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the fish
    • Juice from 1 lemon
    • 2 tablespoons hot water
    • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced 
    • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano 
    • 1 tablespoon brined capers, drained (optional)
    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 4 tuna steaks, each 6 to 8 ounces and 1-inch thick 

    Directions

    Step 1

    Make the salmoriglio: Put the 1/2 cup olive oil in a small saucepan and warm over low heat. Whisk in the lemon juice and hot water. Stir in the garlic, parsley, oregano, capers if using, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste (go easy on the salt if you’re using capers). Keep warm. 

    Step 2

    Set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high (450ºF). Lightly brush the fish with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on the grill grate, and grill until the fish is opaque and easily flakes when pressed with a fork—about 12 minutes, turning once with a spatula. (If you prefer your tuna on the rare side, cook the steaks for less time.) 

    Step 3

    Transfer the tuna to a platter or plates, and drizzle with the salmoriglio. Serve the remaining sauce on the side. 

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Tuna

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Reeling in the right tuna

According to the National Fisheries Institute, of all the varieties of tuna in the oceans, you’ll most likely find only five at fish stores and on menus:

  • Albacore is the tuna you know best packaged in cans or pouches. It has a mild flavor and white to light pink flesh.
  • Bigeye (ahi in Hawaii) is the favorite for sashimi and is also mild in flavor.
  • Bluefin, used almost exclusively for sushi, is the darkest, fattiest, and arguably the most expensive variety, with a taste that gets more pronounced as the fish reaches adulthood. Overfishing has made it a priority for conservation efforts.
  • Skipjack is the tuna type you’re now most likely to see in cans and pouches. Considered “light tuna,” it’s high in nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Yellowfin, sometimes sold as ahi, has pale pink flesh and is slightly more flavorful than albacore.
Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Flat or Curly parsley

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Flat or curly: picking parsley

Fresh parsley is a lot more than a plate garnish, especially when you choose flat-leaf, or Italian, parsley over its curly cousin. Flat-leaf parsley has a more herbal taste compared to the crunchy and bland grassy taste of the curly variety, due to different proportions of some of parsley’s natural compounds. Chopped or minced, flat-leaf parsley adds bright color as well as flavor to a dish—people who aren’t fans of cilantro can use it instead. 

For Your Best Health: How accurate is your calorie counting app?

For Your Best Health

How accurate is your calorie-counting app?

That’s the question researchers from Northwestern and Benedictine Universities set out to answer. They compared nutrient data on the 50 most frequently eaten unprocessed or minimally processed foods from four commercial nutrition apps against a leading research-based food database, Nutrition Data System for Research (NDSR). They looked at calorie counts, macronutrients, total sugars, fiber, saturated fat, cholesterol, calcium, sodium, and more. Here’s what they found: “CalorieKing and Lose It! had mostly excellent agreement with NDSR for all investigated nutrients. Fitbit showed the widest variability in agreement with NDSR for most nutrients, which may reflect how well the app can accurately capture diet.” The study also found some flaws with MyFitnessPal, such as fiber accuracy and poor agreement with NDSR on calories in particular. The findings were published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Fitness Flash: Are you wired for shorter sleep?

Fitness Flash

Are you wired for shorter sleep?

According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), some people have genes that allow them to thrive on just four to six hours of restorative sleep each night. What’s more, these elite sleepers also have psychological resilience and resistance to neurodegenerative conditions. Of course, not everyone is wired this way, but uncovering what enables some people to stay healthy despite getting little sleep can provide answers for those who need more and can’t seem to get it.

“There’s a dogma in the field that everyone needs eight hours of sleep, but our work to date confirms that the amount of sleep people need differs based on genetics,” says neurologist Louis Ptacek, MD, one of the senior authors of a study published iniScience on March 15, 2022. “Think of it as analogous to height; there’s no perfect amount of height, each person is different. We’ve shown that the case is similar for sleep.”

For more than a decade, Dr. Ptacek and Ying-Hui Fu, PhD, both of the UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences, have studied people with Familial Natural Short Sleep (FNSS), the ability to function fully on four to six hours of sleep a night, which runs in families. To date, they’ve identified five of the genes that play a role in FNSS. These genes may help in the development of future drugs to ward off sleep disorders, protect against brain disorders, or slow down their progression. 

“Sleep problems are common in all diseases of the brain,” says Dr. Fu. “This makes sense because sleep is a complex activity. Many parts of your brain have to work together for you to fall asleep and to wake up. When these parts of the brain are damaged, it makes it harder to sleep or get quality sleep.”

Their latest work tested Dr. Fu’s hypothesis that, for people with FNSS, elite sleep can be a shield against neurodegenerative disease rather than speed up its development as it seems to do in people who need closer to seven to nine hours and fail to get it. They bred mice that had both short-sleep genes and genes that predisposed them to Alzheimer’s and found that their brains developed much less of the hallmark signs linked to dementia.

Identifying more special sleep genes will take time, and the researchers liken their work to solving a jigsaw puzzle. “Every mutation we find is another piece,” says Dr. Ptacek. “Right now, we’re working on the edges and the corners, to get to that place where it’s easier to put the pieces together and where the picture really starts to emerge.”

“This work opens the door to a new understanding of how to delay and possibly prevent a lot of diseases,” says Dr. Fu. “Our goal really is to help everyone live healthier and longer through getting optimum sleep.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #83

Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and Cancer Prevention

We know from a wealth of studies that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent various types of cancer, notably colon cancer, thanks to the abundant fiber in many of its foods. Equally exciting research now highlights the benefits of olive oil in particular in helping with cancer prevention, and it’s thanks to a very specific nutrient, oleocanthal. 

Fitness Flash: Gut Health and Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and Cancer Prevention

The Research: “Olive oil intake and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” PLoS One (2021).

“(-)-Oleocanthal and (-)-oleocanthal-rich olive oils induce lysosomal membrane permeabilization in cancer cells,” PLoS One (2019).

“(-)-Oleocanthal rapidly and selectively induces cancer cell death via lysosomal membrane permeabilization,” Molecular and Cellular Oncology (2015).

For the PLoS One review, done at the University of Athens in Greece, scientists analyzed 45 studies and found that the “highest olive oil consumption was associated with 31 percent lower likelihood of any cancer, breast, gastrointestinal, upper aerodigestive, and urinary tract cancer. Significant overall effects spanned both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean participants.” They concluded:  

“Olive oil consumption seems to exert beneficial actions in terms of cancer prevention.”

Studies done at Hunter College in collaboration with scientists from other New York area institutions help explain what might give extra virgin olive oil or EVOO, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, this cancer-fighting ability. For the Molecular and Cellular Oncology study, Hunter professor David A. Foster, PhD, and his coauthors, identified the role of oleocanthal (OC), a phenolic compound in EVOO, already credited for the health benefits linked to diets rich in EVOO. The team “investigated the effect of OC on human cancer cell lines in culture and found that OC induced cell death in all cancer cells examined as rapidly as 30 minutes.” 

It turns out that oleocanthal damages cancer cells’ lysosomes, cell components that contain enzymes used to break down larger molecules like proteins. As explained in a news report from Hunter College, “The oleocanthal degrades the integrity of the lysosomal membrane, releasing the enzymes into the cells’ cytoplasm, which leads to cell death. Cancer cells often have larger and more numerous lysosomes, making them more vulnerable to oleocanthal than other cells.” 

According to the scientists, different olive oils have different oleocanthal concentrations due to their origin, harvest time, and processing methods. For the 2019 PLoS One study, the researchers, including scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine, Rutgers University, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, along with Hunter, tested a variety of olive oils to determine their respective concentrations of oleocanthal, ranging from very low to very high. The olive oils with high oleocanthal content completely killed cancer cells in a manner similar to purified oleocanthal. The olive oils with average oleocanthal content reduced their viability, but to a lesser extent. Those with no oleocanthal had no effect.

The researchers also tested oleocanthal’s effects by injecting it into mice engineered to develop pancreatic tumors. The oleocanthal injections extended the lives of the mice by an average of four weeks. If it were to have the same effect in humans, which is as yet unknown, that could translate to over 10 years. 

“Whether oleocanthal can be used as a magic bullet to target cancer cells is not clear,” says Dr. Foster. “However, the data provided in this article validate studies indicating that extra virgin olive oils can prevent cancer.”

“Today, there are no brands of olive oil sold at grocery stores in the United States that mention ‘oleocanthal’ or other polyphenols on their label, and this might change as producers of olive oil catch up with the scientific research, and consumers become more savvy,” says Limor Goren, PhD, research associate at Hunter College and lead author of the 2019 study. She adds that consumers can also do their own taste test for oleocanthal: “Taste a small amount of an extra virgin olive oil; if there is a signature stinging sensation felt at the back of the throat, that is an indication of oleocanthal. It should feel peppery.”

Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

  • Pumpkin Seed Pesto Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

    This South American-inspired olive oil-rich pesto elevates simple roasted chicken and packs an herby punch. 

    Ingredients

    • 1 3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken 
    • 2 tablespoons, separated, plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
    • 1/2 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), unsalted 
    • 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and patted dry
    • 1/2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, rinsed and patted dry
    • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped 
    • 2 tablespoons water, more as needed
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lime, more to taste
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the chicken on a rack in a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Rub the chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the inside and outside generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 60 to 70 minutes or until the internal temperature in the thickest part of a thigh is 165°F. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving.  

    Step 2

    While the chicken is roasting, prepare the pesto. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium-hot skillet, and add the pumpkin seeds. Sauté until the seeds begin to pop, about 2 minutes, but don’t let them burn. Cool, and then transfer the seeds to the bowl of a food processor. Add the cilantro, parsley, garlic, water, lime juice, and cumin, and pulse several times. With the machine running, slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil until you get a purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add more lime juice if needed. (If it’s too thick, add additional water, one tablespoon at a time.) Serve with the chicken. Refrigerate any leftover pesto to use as a dip. 

    Yields 2-3 servings

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