Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #110

Olive Oil-Marinated Feta Recipe, Spotlight on Feta, Using Dried Herbs, Boosting Gut Microbiome and the Advantages of Challenging Yourself

Delicious doesn’t need to be complicated. My marinated feta recipe takes five ingredients and five minutes to put together. Keep a batch in the fridge and you’ll always have a meze on hand—and what a perfect way to enjoy olive oil’s healthful polyphenols! Of course, good nutrition is a balance of many foods, so I’m excited to detail a food-centric study that highlights one improvement we can make every day to boost health now and in the future—more flavonoids.

Olive Oil-Marinated Feta

  • Olive Oil-Marinated Feta Olive Oil-Marinated Feta

    This recipe is simplicity itself, plus you can really make it your own by swapping your favorite fresh or dried peppers and herbs for the jalapeño and thyme. It will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks—just bring it to room temperature before serving. The marinated cheese cubes are delicious as is or served over a bed of greens. If they start to lose their shape, use it as a spread on crusty bread.

    Ingredients

    • 8-ounce block of feta
    • 1 jalapeño pepper, cut into rings
    • ½ lemon, sliced into rings
    • 1 sprig fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
    • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed

    Directions

    Step 1

    Cube the feta and place in a shallow glass bowl with a lid or a 2-cup mason jar. Tuck the pepper, lemon rings, and thyme in the spaces between the cheese cubes. Cover with the olive oil and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

    Step 2

    If not serving right away, cover the bowl or close the mason jar and refrigerate. The flavors will infuse the cheese over time.

    Yields 4 appetizer servings ​
Food Pairings: The Power of Purple Potatoes

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Fabulous Feta

I love indulging in feta when I’m in Greece to select the very best fresh-pressed olive oil for Club members. Traditionally, their feta is made from sheep’s milk, though sometimes it’s a blend with goat’s milk. Many stores in the US sell authentic Greek feta—it will say so right on the package. American-made feta is milder in taste as it’s made from cow’s milk. I suggest a home tasting to see which one you like better. Either way, feta is a fresh cheese that’s lower in fat than many other types of cheese and has great appeal and versatility—it will soften when baked, so it’s great on focaccia or pizza. If salt is a concern, read the nutrition panel to stay within your limits. Because packaged feta crumbles have a tendency to dry out quickly and lose their taste, always buy feta in block form, submerged in brine—it will keep for weeks.

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Sweet spices for savory dishes

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Using Dried Herbs

No fresh herbs? No problem! Dried herbs are a convenient substitute, and it makes sense to stock your pantry with your favorites. As a general rule, when using dried herbs in place of fresh, cut down the amount called for to just one-third, so as an example, you’ll need just 1 teaspoon of dried for 1 tablespoon of fresh. Start your dried herb collection with small quantities and see how much you use over a few months. Even though freshly dried herbs are potent, they will start to lose their strength over time. Regularly check with a sniff test—if you can’t smell any aroma, they’re past their prime.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

Boosting the gut microbiome

New research done at Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia shows that flavonoids, which are naturally occurring substances found in many common foods and beverages, may be even better for us than we thought.

The study looked at 881 elderly women with a median age of 80 and found they were far less likely to have extensive buildup of abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) if they consumed a high level of flavonoids. The abdominal aorta is the largest artery in the body, supplying oxygenated blood from the heart to the abdominal organs and lower limbs. Calcification is a predictor of cardiovascular risk, such as heart attack and stroke, as well as of late-life dementia.

ECU Nutrition and Health Innovation Research Institute researcher and study lead Ben Parmenter, PhD, said that, while there are many dietary sources of flavonoids, some foods have particularly high amounts: “The main contributors are usually black or green tea, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, red wine, apples, raisins/grapes, and dark chocolate.” Nuts and other citrus fruits and berries round out the list.

There are many different types of flavonoids, such as flavan-3-ols and flavonols. Study participants who had a higher intake of total flavonoids, flavan-3-ols, and flavonols were 36 to 39 percent less likely to have extensive AAC.

Black tea was the participants’ main source of total flavonoids and was also linked to significantly lower odds of extensive AAC. Compared with those who didn’t drink tea, participants who sipped 2 to 6 cups per day had a 16 to 42 percent less chance of having extensive AAC.

What if you’re not a “teatotaler”? You can still benefit if you consume high amounts of flavonoids from other sources. “Out of the women who don’t drink black tea, higher total non-tea flavonoid intake also appears to protect against extensive calcification of the arteries,” Dr. Parmenter said. “This implies flavonoids from sources other than black tea may be protective against AAC when tea is not consumed.”

The study, “Higher habitual dietary flavonoid intake associates with less extensive abdominal aortic calcification in a cohort of older women,” was published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Value of Variety

Fitness Flash

The advantages of challenging yourself ​

According to a study done at the University of Cambridge in the UK, up to 78 percent of people who like to walk would take a more challenging route featuring obstacles, such as balancing beams, stepping stones, and high steps, if available. This suggests that “active landscape” routes in cities could help tackle what the researchers termed an inactivity pandemic that threatens good health.

As much as walking can be good exercise, when done on flat surfaces on city streets, it’s usually mild, not intense, exercise—it doesn’t significantly increase heart rate or improve balance or bone density, said the researchers, unless it includes jumping, balancing, and stepping down. This study looked at whether adults would opt for routes with those fun elements—think of it as urban hiking—if given the choice.

According to lead author Anna Boldina, “Even when the increase in level and extent of activity level is modest, when millions of people are using cityscapes every day, those differences can have a major positive impact on public health. Our findings show that pedestrians can be nudged into a wider range of physical activities through minor changes to the urban landscape. We want to help policy makers and designers make modifications that will improve physical health and well-being…The human body is a very complex machine that needs a lot of things to keep working effectively. Cycling and swimming are great for your heart and for your leg muscles but do very little for your bone density. To improve cardiovascular health, bone density, and balance all at once, we need to add a wider range of exercises into our routine daily walks.”

Here in the US, it’s not likely that active landscapes will be popping up in every community anytime soon, but these findings might spur you to look for more interesting routes when you’re walking or to make some time for hiking on weekends.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #109

Rich and Hearty Chili Recipe, Grinding Your Own Meat, How to Boost the Gut Microbiome and The Risks of Shortchanging Yourself on Sleep

Cold winter nights demand soul-satisfying dishes, and this chili recipe really delivers. Rich spices and slow cooking give it depth of flavor—there’s also a health advantage of all those spices. While the answer to winter’s chill isn’t to hibernate, it pays to take a look at how much quality sleep you’re getting. Turns out the risks of poor-quality sleep are much greater than you might realize.

Rich and Hearty Chili

  • The Ultimate Tex-Mex Chili Rich and Hearty Chili

    A mix of rich spices takes run-of-the-mill chili to a whole new level. You’ll need a few hours for the flavors to develop, but not a lot of active effort. And the results are more than worth it! If you prefer to start with dried beans, soak a total of two cups of your favorite variety or varieties and add them to the pot when you add back the cooked beef. Made with beans, this chili is a good source of important fiber as well as other nutrients.

    Ingredients

    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 large onions, diced
    • 3 garlic cloves, minced
    • 16 ounces baby portobello or white button mushrooms, sliced thin
    • 2 pounds ground beef, chicken, or turkey
    • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
    • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes with liquid
    • 2 15-ounce cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained
    • 2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 2 cinnamon sticks
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
    • 2 tablespoons ancho chili powder
    • ½ teaspoon each cayenne, allspice, and coarse salt
    • 1 tablespoon apple cider or sherry vinegar
    • Optional toppings for serving: diced raw onions, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, and crushed corn or tortilla chips as desired

    Directions

    Step 1

    Heat a large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the oil and then the onions and garlic. Cook over medium heat until soft. Add the mushrooms and sauté until soft. Add the ground meat in batches and cook until browned. 

    Step 2

    Push everything to the sides of the pot and add the tomato paste. Cook it until it turns a deep, brownish red and then fold it into the vegetables and meat. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. 

    Step 3

    Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook for three hours, stirring every half hour. If the liquid is evaporating too quickly, place the lid ajar. Remove the bay leaves and serve with your choice of toppings. 

    Yields 8 hearty servings. 

Food Pairings: The Power of Purple Potatoes

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Grinding your own meat

Convenience rather than flavor is the reason to buy packaged ground meat at the market. Doing the grinding yourself allows you to choose your cut of beef (and fat content) or, in the case of chicken or turkey, your desired mix of light and dark meat. A home grinder, like the attachment made for the KitchenAid mixer, is great, but you can grind your own with the steel blade of a food processor using the pulsing function. The secret to a great grind is a chill-down for the meat and the grinder parts/processor blade. For meat in particular, this keeps more of the fat integrated and creates less fat smearing on the sides of the workbowl. 

Prep the meat by trimming as needed and then cutting it into 1-to-2-inch cubes. Place the cubes in a single layer on a sheet tray and pop it into the freezer along with your grinding blade for about 30 minutes—you want the meat cold and firm, but not frozen.

There’s no limit to how much meat you can run through a dedicated grinder. For the average size food processor, pulse about 8 ounces at a time; use a spatula to get out as much as possible before adding another batch. 

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Sweet spices for savory dishes

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Taking chili vegetarian

If you’d like to skip the meat, this chili recipe can easily adapt. For the same number of servings, increase the veggies and the beans by 25 percent and opt for the portobello mushrooms, prepping them into a ½-inch dice instead of slices. If you’d like to increase the protein content beyond what the beans offer, crumble 8 to 16 ounces of firm tofu into the pot when you add the beans. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

Boosting the gut microbiome

The human gut microbiome is a collection of trillions of microorganisms that live inside the intestinal tract. The bacteria there can affect nearly all systems of the body, including metabolism and the building and maintaining of the immune system.

In two separate studies done at Penn State, nutritional scientists looking at the effects of small changes to the average American diet found improvements to the gut microbiome when participants added a daily ounce of peanuts or about a teaspoon of herbs and spices to their intake.

“Research has shown that people who have a lot of different microbes have better health, and a better diet, than those who don’t have much bacterial diversity,” said Penny M. Kris-Etherton, PhD, Evan Pugh University Professor of Nutritional Sciences.

In the peanut study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Kris-Etherton and colleagues compared the effects of snacking on 28 grams (about 1 ounce) of peanuts per day to those of a higher-carbohydrate snack of crackers and cheese. At the end of six weeks, participants who ate the peanut snack showed an increased abundance of Ruminococcaceae, a genus of bacteria linked to healthy liver metabolism and immune function.

In the herbs and spices study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, scientists analyzed the impact of adding blends of herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, rosemary, oregano, basil, and thyme, to the controlled diets of participants at risk for cardiovascular disease. The team examined three doses: about 1/8 teaspoon per day, a little more than 3/4 teaspoon per day, and about 1-1/2 teaspoons per day. At the end of four weeks, participants showed an increase in gut bacteria diversity, including in Ruminococcaceae, most notably with the medium and high doses of herbs and spices.

“It’s such a simple thing that people can do,” said Dr. Kris-Etherton. “The average American diet is far from ideal, so I think everyone could benefit by adding herbs and spices. It’s also a way of decreasing sodium in your diet but flavoring foods in a way that makes them palatable and, in fact, delicious! Taste is really a top criterion for why people choose the foods they do.”

However, she pointed out that more research is needed to understand all the implications of diet and the workings of the gut microbiome itself. “We need a lot more research on the microbiome to see what its proper place is in terms of overall health,” she said.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Value of Variety

Fitness Flash

The risks of shortchanging yourself on sleep

According to a new study that involved 7,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 70, getting less than five hours of sleep in mid-to-late life could be linked to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Researchers from the University College London in the UK examined the relationship between how long each participant slept each night and whether they had been diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases (called multimorbidity), such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, over the course of 25 years.

People who reported getting five hours of sleep or less at age 50 were 20 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with a chronic disease and 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases over 25 years, compared to people who slept for up to seven hours. The researchers also found that sleep duration of five hours or less at age 50 was associated with 25 percent increased risk of mortality over the 25 years of follow-up: Short sleep duration increased the risk of chronic disease(s) that, in turn, increased the risk of death.

“Multimorbidity is on the rise in high income countries and more than half of older adults now have at least two chronic diseases. This is proving to be a major challenge for public health, as multimorbidity is associated with high healthcare service use, hospitalizations, and disability,” said Dr. Severine Sabia, lead author of the study. “As people get older, their sleep habits and sleep structure change. However, it is recommended to sleep for 7 to 8 hours a night as sleep durations above or below this have previously been associated with individual chronic diseases. To ensure a better night’s sleep, it is important to promote good sleep hygiene, such as making sure the bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature before sleeping. It’s also advised to remove electronic devices and avoid large meals before bedtime. Physical activity and exposure to light during the day might also promote good sleep.”

As part of the study, researchers also assessed whether sleeping for a long duration, of nine hours or more, affected health outcomes. There was no clear association between long sleep duration at age 50 and multimorbidity in healthy people. However, for participants already diagnosed with a chronic condition, long sleep duration was associated with around a 35 percent increased risk of developing another illness. Researchers believe this could be due to underlying health conditions impacting sleep.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #108

Roasted Butternut Bisque Recipe and the Connection Between the Vibrant Taste of Virgin Olive Oil and Its Higher Health Benefits

All olive oil is not created equal. If you’re a long-standing Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club member, you know that I’m preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. As your Olive Oil Hunter, I not only search for the best of the best olive oils for you, but I also share the latest research on EVOO. Thanks to ongoing studies, we know that there are differences between run-of-the-mill olive oil and fresh-from-the-mill extra virgin olive oil. The latest findings come from a decade-long Spanish study, and it connects the dots between the vibrant taste of virgin olive oil and its higher health benefits. For a delicious way to get these benefits, here’s the perfect dish for cold winter days—a silky butternut squash soup.

Roasted Butternut Bisque

  • Roasted Butternut Bisque Roasted Butternut Bisque

    This soup is hearty enough for a meal—just add salad and crusty bread. It’s equally delicious made with Hubbard squash when you can find it! You can also get creative with toppings—a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of pomegranate arils, and perhaps roasted and chopped nuts.

    Ingredients

    • One 2-pound butternut squash
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2 large carrots, trimmed and sliced
    • 1 apple, such as Macoun or Gala, cut into chunks
    • 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
    • 2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium, more as needed
    • 2 tablespoons sherry
    • 1 cup milk
    • ½ teaspoon curry powder (optional)
    • Freshly ground white pepper

    Yields 4 servings

    Directions

    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Slice the squash lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds (you may roast them separately for a crunchy snack). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drizzle it with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on the parchment and roast for one hour or until a knife tip easily pierces the flesh. Let the squash cool while you continue with the recipe.

    Step 2

    Heat a large skillet until hot—a few drops of water sprinkled on the pan will sizzle when it’s ready. Add the rest of the olive oil, the onions, carrots, apple, and scallions; slow-cook until soft but not browned. Add the sherry and cook for another 10 minutes.

    Step 3

    Peel the skin from the squash and cut the squash into chunks. Working in batches as needed, place the squash, the other cooked ingredients, and the broth in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer the soup to a large saucepan and heat through before serving. Season with the curry powder, if desired, and a few pinches of pepper.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

Make it extra virgin

From a taste perspective, we know that a peppery tickle is the key sign of fresh-pressed olive oil, oil is rich in polyphenols, the natural phytonutrients that impart olive oil’s health benefits. On the other hand, the more industrial an olive oil’s production, the less taste there is because, as a consequence, there are fewer polyphenols.

It’s interesting to note that quite a number of the studies that have been done on the Mediterranean diet, whose centerpiece is olive oil, didn’t qualify the type of olive oil in people’s diets when their eating habits were recorded or evaluated. The most recent study on olive oil’s benefits, conducted in Spain with 12,161 participants, confirms that this matters. 

This study: “Only virgin type of olive oil consumption reduces the risk of mortality: Results from a Mediterranean population-based cohort,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2022.

The background: “The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) represents the dietary pattern that was typically consumed among populations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This pattern has been strongly and consistently associated with healthy aging and with a reduced risk of mortality, in addition to other health outcomes, such as a deduction in developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes, and cancer. 

“The traditional MedDiet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil (OO), fruits, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and a moderate consumption of wine at mealtimes.

“OO is not only the main culinary and dressing fat in Mediterranean countries, but also sets the MedDiet apart from other healthy dietary patterns. There is some observational evidence that OO may play a major role in explaining the associations of the MedDiet with a lower incidence of several chronic diseases, especially CVD. Virgin OO (the highest-quality variety, obtained by mechanical processes and rich in phenolic compounds), has shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-atherosclerotic properties as well as beneficial effects on endothelial function and blood pressure control.”

What we know from past studies: “In the five-year PREDIMED clinical trial, which randomized 7,447 older adults, cardiovascular and total mortality were respectively 38 percent and 10 percent lower among those assigned to a MedDiet supplemented with virgin OO (the goal was to consume 50 g [just under four tablespoons] or more per day) when compared to those assigned to a reduced-fat diet. In a subsequent observational analysis of the PREDIMED population, total OO consumption at baseline was associated with reduced total and cardiovascular mortality, but no significant association was found with cancer mortality. Likewise, in the preceding EPIC-Spain cohort study, both common (processed and refined) and virgin OO (unprocessed and unrefined) varieties were associated with a decreased risk of total and cardiovascular mortality but not with cancer mortality.

“In recent decades, OO has become more popular outside the Mediterranean countries, even in US population. [A] recent study conducted among 60,582 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 31,801 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study has found an inverse association between OO consumption and risk of total and cause-specific mortality. Compared with those who never or rarely consume total OO, those in the highest category of OO consumption (>7 g/d) had 19 percent lower risk of total and CVD mortality and 17 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.

“In European cohorts, however, inconclusive results regarding OO consumption and mortality have been observed. Of note is that—except for the Spanish EPIC cohort and the PREDIMED trial—none of these studies reported the results broking down by main OO varieties. This distinction is important because refined OO has much lower levels of bioactive compounds than virgin OO and may therefore have fewer health benefits.

“Virgin OO contains much higher amounts of bioactive compounds like polyphenols, which have important biological properties. Thus, as interest grows in identifying the best source of fat for human health, studies on the impact of the main OO varieties on mortality as well as the consumption amount required to generate optimal protection are warranted.”

The aim of this study: “Evidence on the association between virgin olive oil and mortality is limited since no attempt has previously been made to discern about main olive oil varieties…we aimed to assess the associations between common and virgin OO consumption and long-term risk of death (all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality) in a large and representative sample of Spanish adults…recruited between 2008 and 2010 and followed up through 2019. Habitual food consumption was collected at baseline with a validated computerized dietary history.” 

The results: “In this representative sample of the Spanish adult population, while common OO was not associated with mortality, virgin OO was associated with a significant 34 percent reduction in all-cause and 57 percent cardiovascular mortality when comparing negligible consumption vs. ~20 g/day of consumption … This is the first study in which a clear benefit on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality has been observed for virgin OO but not for the common OO variety.” 

As the researchers concluded, “these findings may be useful to reappraise dietary guidelines” so that virgin olive oil is specifically suggested for better health. They also pointed out that their work did not find any effect from any type of olive oil on cancer mortality, though other studies, such as the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study they referenced, did find that virgin olive oil may have a protective effect lowering the risk for getting certain cancers. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #107

Short Ribs Dijon-style Recipe, Spotlight on Shallots, How Breathing Calms Stress and Gym-Free Weight-Lifting Exercises for Everyone

Looking for a hearty meal for cold winter nights? Short ribs, braised in a mustard-wine sauce until the meat falls off the bone, fits the bill and delivers a presentation fit for company. The secret ingredient is shallots. Read on to learn about them. You’ll also read about thought-provoking research on the calming effects of breathing, plus where to put the most effort when strength-training. 

Short Ribs Dijon-style

  • Short Ribs Dijon-Style Short Ribs Dijon-style

    This dish gets even better over time. Feel free to make it a day or two in advance and reheat slowly in the oven. 

    Ingredients

    • 1 bottle of good-quality red wine, such as Beaujolais Nouveau
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 8 beef short ribs, each measuring about 4″ by 3″
    • 2 tablespoons flour
    • 12 shallots, peeled 
    • ½ cup best-quality Dijon mustard
    • 1 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes 
    • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

    Directions

    Step 1

    In a nonreactive saucepan, reduce the wine by 75 percent and set aside. Heat a heavy skillet large enough to hold the short ribs. While the pan is getting hot, lightly dredge the ribs in the flour; shake off any excess. Add the olive oil to the hot pan and then the ribs, searing them on all sides.

    Step 2

    Transfer the ribs to a bowl next to your cooktop and add the shallots to the skillet; cook them over low heat until tender and slightly caramelized. Then transfer them to a separate bowl next to your cooktop. Deglaze the pan with the reduced wine and whisk in the mustard. Return the ribs to the skillet, lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for two hours.

    Step 3

    Drain the canned tomatoes, reserving the juice in case the sauce becomes too thick. Add the tomatoes to the skillet along with the shallots and simmer, partially covered, for another hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

    Yields 4 servings

Food Pairings: The Power of Purple Potatoes

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Say yes to shallots

A member of the Allium family, which also includes onions, scallions, garlic, and chives, shallots often have a pricier profile than their cousins, but it takes only a few of these nuggets to get sweet results. Shallots aren’t quite as sharp as onions or as intense as garlic. They grow in bulbs just like garlic, but are sold as individual cloves—you might find shallots barely bigger than a large garlic clove or nearly as large as an entire garlic bulb. Ounce for ounce, shallots can substitute for onions, and their thin peel makes for little waste when prepping them. From a health perspective, shallots are a great source of key minerals and are chock-full of antioxidants, including phenolic compounds like quercetin, according to the journal Antioxidants.

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Sweet spices for savory dishes

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Buying and storing shallots

Look for firm shallots that feel heavy in your hand. The peel should be a copper color and smooth, not shriveled. As with onions and garlic, skip any that have started sprouting at the tip and store them in the same way, in a dark cabinet. Use them within a week or two for optimal taste.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

How breathing calms stress

We’ve all experienced the calming effect of taking a few deep breaths, but did you ever wonder why the technique is so effective? Professor Micah Allen, PhD, and colleagues from the Department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University in Denmark have come a step closer to understanding the breath-brain connection. The researchers used results from more than a dozen studies with rodent, monkey, and human brain imaging to propose a new computational model that explains how breathing influences the brain.

“What we found is that, across many different types of tasks and animals, brain rhythms are closely tied to the rhythm of our breath. We are more sensitive to the outside world when we are breathing in, whereas the brain tunes out more when we breathe out. This also aligns with how some extreme sports use breathing; for example, professional marksmen are trained to pull the trigger at the end of exhalation,” explained Dr. Allen.

Breathing is more than just something we do to stay alive, the study found. “It suggests that the brain and breathing are closely intertwined in a way that goes far beyond survival to actually impact our emotions, our attention, and how we process the outside world,” detailed Dr. Allen. “Our model suggests there is a common mechanism in the brain which links the rhythm of breathing to these events.”

The findings have already prompted ideas for future studies in people with respiratory or mood disorders, for example. Aarhus PhD candidate Malthe Brændholt is conducting brain imaging studies to try to understand how different kinds of emotional and visual perceptions influence the brain while breathing. The team is also collaborating with the pulmonology group at Aarhus University Hospital, where tools developed in the lab are being used to understand whether people with long-COVID may have disruptions in their breath-brain alignment. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Value of Variety

Fitness Flash

Put down those weights…this way!

New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia, Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan, and Brazil’s Londrina State University shows that eccentric muscle contractions—in which activated muscles are lengthened while lowering weights—are most effective at increasing muscle strength and size compared with the action of lifting weights.

ECU professor Ken Nosaka, PhD, explained that the results reinforce previous research. “We already know only one eccentric muscle contraction a day can increase muscle strength if it is performed five days a week—even if it’s only three seconds a day—but concentric (lifting a weight) or isometric muscle contraction (holding a weight) does not provide such an effect,” Dr. Nosaka said. “In the case of a dumbbell curl, many people may believe the lifting action provides the most benefit, or at least some benefit, but we found concentric muscle contractions contributed little to the training effects.”

The study compared the results of a non-exercising control group to three groups who performed dumbbell curls twice a week for five weeks. One group did only eccentric-only muscle contractions, another group did concentric-only muscle contractions, and the third group did both concentric and eccentric muscle contractions (lifting and lowering weight alternatively). All three training groups saw improvements in concentric strength, but this was the only improvement for the concentric-only group. The eccentric-only and concentric-eccentric groups also saw significant improvements in isometric (static) strength and eccentric strength. “Understanding the benefits of eccentric-focused training can allow people to spend their time exercising more efficiently,” Dr. Nosaka said.

How can you lower a weight without lifting it first? With dumbbell exercises such as bicep curls, overhead extensions, front raises, and the shoulder press, he recommends using two hands to help with the concentric (lifting weight) phase before using one arm for the eccentric phase (lowering weight). You can apply the same technique with knee extensions, leg curls, and calf raises done on weight machines for the legs. 

Can’t get to the gym? Dr. Nosaka suggests home exercises that use the same principles. In each, gradually stretch the contracting muscles from the start to the end of the range of motion and, after each eccentric muscle contraction, minimize the effort to go back to the starting position; repeat each one 10 times.

  • Chair sit: From a half-squatting position, sit down slowly on a chair to a count of three (narrower and wider stances will create different effects).
  • Chair recline: Sit at the front of a chair to make a space between your back and the backrest; recline back slowly in three seconds (arms can be crossed at the chest or held at the back of a head).
  • Uneven squat: Stand behind a chair, lean to one side to put more weight on one leg, then squat down in three seconds.
  • Heel down: Still behind a chair, lean forward and raise your heels. Then, lift one leg off the ground and lower the heel of the other leg in three seconds.
  • Wall kiss: Stand before a wall with both arms fully extended in front of you. Bend the elbow joint slowly over three seconds until your face gets close to the wall.
  • Front lunge: Place one leg in front of the other and bend the knees deeper over three seconds.

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