Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Olive Oil Hunter News #170

Horiatiki Salad

Horiatiki Salad Recipe and The MIND Diet for Brain Health: More Benefits of Olive Oil

I’m a huge fan of both Greek and Middle Eastern salads, the ingredients of which are not only delicious but also mainstays of the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, a way of eating designed for brain health. It’s an offshoot of the super-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Why the distinction? Because the latest research on the MIND diet shows it can slow aging as well as reduce dementia risk. Add this to the list of the benefits of olive oil—it’s one of the super foods that MIND suggests including every day.

Horiatiki: The Sequel!

  • Salmon Poke Bowl Olive Oil Hunter News #172

    Salmon Bowl Recipe (Made Simple), Spotlight on Sesame Seeds, Thawing Frozen Fish, Why Wild Seafood is Best, and Counting Your Biological Age

    Americans still don’t eat enough fish, and the challenge of finding quality fresh seafood is one of the reasons. My DIY salmon bowl recipe is a great way to get the goodness of salmon plus as many veggies as you’d like to include. Read on to see why frozen is actually preferred—unless of course you live near a fishing dock! Then find out about advances in measuring biological aging, a metric that makes your chronological age less important.

    Salmon Bowl Made Simple

    Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Black and White Sesame Seeds

    Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

    Black and White Sesame Seeds

    Sesame seeds are more than a colorful and crunchy garnish—they can be pressed to make the Asian staple sesame oil, both the plain and toasted varieties, and whipped into the Middle Eastern treats tahini and halvah. Importantly, these little seeds pack a big punch when it comes to nutrients, so consider sprinkling them on more than poke bowls and sushi rolls.

    Sesame seeds are rich in fat; protein; minerals like iron, calcium, copper, potassium, and manganese; vitamins like A and E and B vitamins; and fiber. Among their phytochemicals are lignans, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Because more of these nutrients, including their lignans, are in the hull, always choose unhulled sesame seeds. Black ones almost always come with the hull intact, but you’ll have to look carefully to find unhulled white ones. 

    Black and white sesame seeds have some taste differences, with the black ones being slightly crunchier and more bitter. I like to mix the two because this creates visual appeal and different taste sensations.

    Quick Kitchen Nugget: Thawing Frozen Fish 

    Quick Kitchen Nugget

    Thawing Frozen Fish 

    Frozen tuna steaks

    Fish that’s caught in faraway waters and flash-frozen at sea often retains more of its nutrients and flavor—you’ll often see the words “previously frozen” on thawed fish at markets, a potential good sign. If you’re buying fish still frozen, make sure it’s frozen solid when you purchase it. Let it thaw overnight in the fridge, not on a countertop, to preserve that freshness—defrosting it in a cold fridge also helps inhibit the growth of any harmful bacteria. To do it properly, take it out of its packaging and put it on a plate or tray lined with a few sheets of paper towels or on a rack over the plate with paper towels. Just before cooking, rinse under cold water and pat dry. 

    For Your Best Health: Seafood: Why “Wild” Wins Hands Down

    For Your Best Health

    Seafood: Why “Wild” Wins Hands Down

    Research done at the University of Cambridge in the UK offers more insight into why farmed salmon isn’t as nutritious as wild salmon or other wild-caught fish, like mackerel, anchovies, and herring—even though these same varieties are often used in farmed salmon feeds. These oily fish contain essential nutrients including calcium, B12, and omega-3s, but they don’t transfer over in the same amounts when fed to farmed salmon.

    By analyzing the flow of nutrients from the edible species of wild fish used as feed, which also included sprat and blue whiting, to the farmed salmon they were fed to, scientists found that farmed salmon production leads to an overall loss of essential dietary nutrients. Quantities of calcium were over five times higher in wild feed fish fillets than in farmed salmon fillets; iodine was four times higher; and iron, omega-3s, vitamin B12, and vitamin A were over 1.5 times higher. Wild feed species and farmed salmon did have comparable quantities of vitamin D. Zinc and selenium were actually higher in the farmed salmon than in the wild feed species due to other salmon feed ingredients—a real mark of progress in the salmon sector, said the researchers.

    Another interesting point is that you can get key nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, in smaller portion sizes of wild fish than in farmed Atlantic salmon. 

    “What we’re seeing is that most species of wild fish used as feed have a similar or greater density and range of micronutrients than farmed salmon fillets,” said lead author David Willer, PhD, of the zoology department at Cambridge. “While still enjoying eating salmon and supporting sustainable growth in the sector, people should consider eating a greater and wider variety of wild fish species like sardines, mackerel, and anchovies, to get more essential nutrients straight to their plate.” He goes on to say that eating more wild feed species directly could benefit our health while also reducing aquaculture demand for finite marine resources.

    “Marine fisheries are important local and global food systems, but large catches are being diverted toward farm feeds. Prioritizing nutritious seafood for people can help improve both diets and ocean sustainability,” said senior author James Robinson, PhD, of Lancaster University, also in the UK.

    Fitness Flash: Forget the Calendar: What Counts Is Your Biological Age

    Fitness Flash

    Forget the Calendar: What Counts Is Your Biological Age

    University of Pittsburgh researchers have uncovered blood-based markers that allow them to predict a person’s biological age—how fast a person’s cells and organs age regardless of their birthdate. The new research, published in Aging Cell, points to pathways and compounds that may underlie biological age, shedding light on why people age differently and suggesting novel targets for interventions that could slow aging and increase health span, the length of time a person is healthy.

    “Age is more than just a number,” said senior author Aditi Gurkar, PhD, assistant professor of geriatric medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine and member of the Aging Institute, a joint venture of Pitt and UPMC. “Imagine two people aged 65: One rides a bike to work and goes skiing on the weekends, and the other can’t climb a flight of stairs. They have the same chronological age, but very different biological ages. Why do these two people age differently? This question drives my research.”

    To answer it, Dr. Gurkar and her team compared 196 older adults whom they classified as either healthy or rapid agers by how easily they completed simple walking challenges. Because walking ability is a holistic measure of cardiovascular fitness, physical strength, and neurological health, other studies have shown that it’s the single best predictor of hospitalization, disability, functional decline, and death in older adults. Healthy agers were 75 years or older and could ascend a flight of stairs or walk for 15 minutes without resting, and the rapid agers, who were 65 to 75 years old, had to rest during these challenges.

    According to Dr. Gurkar, this study is unique because the rapid agers were chronologically younger than the healthy agers, allowing the researchers to home in on markers of biological, not chronological, aging, unlike other studies that have compared young adults with older people.

    To define a molecular fingerprint of biological aging in blood samples from participants, they performed metabolomics, the analysis of metabolites, or molecules that are produced by chemical pathways in the body, with blood samples from the two groups.

    “Other studies have looked at genetics to measure biological aging, but genes are very static: the genes you’re born with are the genes you die with,” said Dr. Gurkar. “We chose to look at metabolites because they are dynamic: They change in real time to reflect our current health and how we feel, and we have the power to influence them through our lifestyles, diet, and environment.” Healthy and rapid agers showed clear differences in their metabolomes, indicating that metabolites in the blood could reflect biological age.

    Healthy couple climbing stairs

    Dr. Gurkar and her team next identified 25 metabolites that they termed the Healthy Aging Metabolic (HAM) Index. They found that the HAM Index was better than other commonly used aging metrics, such as the frailty index, gait speed, and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, at distinguishing healthy and rapid agers. To validate their new index, the researchers analyzed a separate cohort of older adults from a Wisconsin-based study. The HAM Index correctly predicted whether individuals could walk outside for 10 minutes without stopping with accuracy of about 68%.

    “We took a very different cohort of people from a different geographical region, and we saw the same metabolites were associated with biological aging,” said Dr. Gurkar. “This gives us confidence that the HAM Index can truly predict who is a healthy ager versus a rapid ager.”

    Using an artificial intelligence model that can predict potential drivers of biological traits, the team identified three main metabolites that were most likely to promote healthy aging or drive rapid aging. In future research, they plan to delve into how these metabolites and molecular pathways that produce them contribute to biological aging and explore interventions that could slow this process. Dr. Gurkar is also planning more research to evaluate how the metabolome of younger people shifts over time. Eventually, she hopes to develop a blood test that could estimate biological age in young adults or predict those who might go on to develop diseases of aging.

    “While it’s great that we can predict biological aging in older adults, what would be even more exciting is a blood test that, for example, can tell someone who’s 35 that they have a biological age more like a 45-year-old,” Dr. Gurkar said. “That person could then think about changing aspects of their lifestyle early—whether that’s improving their sleep, diet or exercise regimen—to hopefully reverse their biological age. Today, in medicine, we tend to wait for a problem to occur before we treat it. But aging doesn’t work that way—it’s about prevention. I think the future of medicine is going to be about knowing early on how someone is aging and developing personalized interventions to delay disease and extend health span.”

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  • Salmon Poke Bowl Salmon Bowl Made Simple

    Poke bowls are still very popular, but it’s not always easy to buy the sushi-grade tuna needed to make your own. This variation includes sautéed chunks of salmon instead of ahi. The technique is also great if you like tuna but prefer it cooked. I’ve suggested many veggies to fill up your bowl, but have fun choosing other ingredients—be guided by what’s most fresh at your market.

    Ingredients

    For the fish:

    • 1 pound skinless salmon fillet, wild caught if possible
    • 1 tablespoon regular or reduced-sodium soy sauce 
    • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
    • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use

    For the spicy mayo:

    • 1/4 cup best-quality mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon sriracha, or to taste

    For the spicy bowls:

    • 3 cups cooked quinoa or brown or white rice
    • 1 large cucumber, diced
    • 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced into small pieces on the diagonal
    • 1 cup shelled edamame 
    • 2 large avocados, cubed or cut into thin slices
    • 2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds or a mix
    • Optional: red onion rings, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots, chopped red cabbage, enoki mushrooms, and other fresh veggies of your choice

    Directions

    Step 1

    Using a sharp knife, cut the salmon into 1-inch chunks. Add to a glass bowl with the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss well and set aside for 30 minutes.

    Step 2

    Make the spicy mayo: In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise and the olive oil until well blended, then mix in the sriracha; set aside.

    Step 3

    Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the rest of the olive oil and the salmon chunks. Sear on all sides, using tongs to turn the pieces. When cooked through, remove the pan from the heat.

    Step 4

    Assemble the ingredients in four deep bowls: Center equal amounts of the cooked grains, then top with the vegetables and then the salmon chunks. Use a fork to drizzle on the spicy mayo, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds.

    Makes 4 servings

  • Wilted Spinach and Mushrooms Olive Oil Hunter News #171

    Wilted Spinach Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette Recipe, Spotlight on Spinach, The Great Egg Debate Continues, and How Sleep Patterns Influence Health

    Spinach salad is a perennial favorite, simple to prepare, satisfying, and chock-full of nutrients. Wilting the spinach before composing the salad was a foodie trend back in the 1970s (the fixings included mandarin orange segments, a nod to the value of eating a food containing vitamin C at the same meal as spinach to better access the green’s iron). My update adds the tasty crunch of hazelnuts. You’ll be intrigued by a new report that suggests fortified eggs may not pose the cholesterol risks of regular eggs. I’m also sharing the latest research on the perils of poor sleep—motivation to improve the quality of your shut-eye.

    Wilted Spinach Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

    Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Spinach-maximizing its nutrients

    Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

    Spinach: Maximizing Its Nutrients

    Fresh spinach

    It’s no secret that, as a leafy green, spinach is a healthy food. What is less well known is that your body will better process two of its key nutrients, iron and calcium, when the spinach is cooked. That’s because it also contains oxalic acid, which blocks the minerals’ absorption unless the oxalates are broken down under high-heat cooking. If your recipe doesn’t include sautéing, another option is to plunge the spinach into boiling water for 60 seconds and then right into a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the cooking process and keep it a brighter green. 

    To get more of the iron when eating spinach raw, add a vitamin C food, like orange segments, to your meal. 

    Your body absorbs more folate and lutein when eating spinach raw, so varying your prep is a good idea.

    More reasons to eat spinach: It’s also rich in vitamins K, C, A, E, and B6 as well as folate and riboflavin and in the minerals manganese, magnesium, copper, and potassium. It has many carotenoids, among other antioxidants, to protect cell health and guard against inflammation. 

    Quick Kitchen Nugget: A better type of frozen spinach

    Quick Kitchen Nugget

    A Better Type of Frozen Spinach

    When fresh isn’t available, frozen can be a good substitute. The key to more flavorful frozen spinach is to select leaf spinach rather than chopped spinach. The leaves go through a lot less processing, translating to better taste and less freezer burn. Of course, look for pure spinach—no added salt or any other ingredients.

    For Your Best Health: An Avocado a Day…

    For Your Best Health

    The Next Round in the “Are Eggs Healthy?” Debate

    Because eggs contain some saturated fat, which is linked to higher cholesterol levels, there’s been much research on finding the right number of eggs to eat per week to help keep cholesterol in line. Results from a prospective controlled trial presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session offer positive news for egg lovers. One hundred and forty patients with or at high risk for cardiovascular disease were enrolled in the PROSPERITY study and divided into two groups to assess the effects of eating 12 or more fortified eggs a week versus a non-egg diet (fewer than two eggs a week) on HDL and LDL cholesterol and other key markers of cardiovascular health, including lipid, cardiometabolic, and inflammatory biomarkers and levels of vitamins and minerals. At the end of the four-month study period, cholesterol levels were similar in the two groups.

    “We know that cardiovascular disease is, to some extent, mediated through risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased BMI, and diabetes. Dietary patterns and habits can have a notable influence on these, and there’s been a lot of conflicting information about whether or not eggs are safe to eat, especially for people who have or are at risk for heart disease,” said Nina Nouhravesh, MD, a research fellow at the Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina, and the study’s lead author. “This is a small study, but it gives us reassurance that eating fortified eggs is OK with regard to lipid effects over four months, even among a more high-risk population.”

    Dr. Nouhravesh and her team looked specifically at fortified eggs as they contain less saturated fat and have additional vitamins and minerals such as iodine; vitamins D, B2, 5, and 12; selenium; and omega-3 fatty acids. All the participants were 50 years of age or older (the average age was 66 years), half were female, and 27% were African American. All had experienced one prior cardiovascular event or had two cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased BMI, and/or diabetes. 

    Participants had in-person clinic visits at the start of the study and visits at one and four months to take vital signs and have bloodwork done; phone check-ins occurred at two and three months. People in the fortified egg group were asked about their weekly egg consumption, and those with low adherence were given additional educational materials.

    Fresh eggs

    Results showed a -0.64 mg/dL and a -3.14 mg/dL reduction in so-called good HDL cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol, respectively, in the fortified egg group. While not statistically significant, the differences suggest, according to the researchers, that eating 12 fortified eggs each week had no adverse effect on blood cholesterol. In terms of secondary endpoints, researchers observed a numerical reduction in total cholesterol, LDL particle number, another lipid biomarker called apoB, high-sensitivity troponin (a marker of heart damage), and insulin resistance scores in the fortified egg group, while vitamin B increased.

    “While this is a neutral study, we did not observe adverse effects on biomarkers of cardiovascular health and there were signals of potential benefits of eating fortified eggs that warrant further investigation in larger studies as they are more hypothesis generating here,” Dr. Nouhravesh said, explaining that subgroup analyses revealed numerical increases in HDL cholesterol and reductions in LDL cholesterol in patients 65 years or older and those with diabetes in the fortified egg group compared with those eating fewer than two eggs.

    Note that what you eat with your eggs counts: buttered toast and bacon and other processed meats are not heart-healthy choices. As always, Dr. Nouhravesh said, it’s a good idea for people with heart disease to talk with their doctor about a heart-healthy diet.

    It’s important to point out that this was a single-center study with a small size and reliance on patients’ self-reporting of their egg consumption and other dietary patterns. It was also an unblinded study, which means patients knew what study group they were in, which can influence their health behaviors, and it was funded by Eggland’s Best, a company that offers eggs from cage-free and pasture-raised/free-range hens.

    Fitness Flash: How your sleep pattern influences your health

    Fitness Flash

    How Your Sleep Pattern Influences Your Health

    Poor sleep habits are strongly associated with long-term chronic health conditions, according to decades of research. To better understand this relationship, researchers led by Soomi Lee, PhD, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, identified four distinct patterns that characterize how most people sleep and how they correlate to overall health. Results were published in Psychosomatic Medicine.

    Using a national sample of adults from the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) study, they gathered data on approximately 3,700 participants’ sleep habits and chronic health conditions across two time points 10 years apart. The data included self-reported sleep habits, including sleep regularity and duration, perceived sleep satisfaction, and daytime alertness, as well as the number and type of chronic conditions they had.

    With that information, the researchers identified these four different sleep patterns:

    • Good sleepers with optimal sleep habits across all data points
    • Weekend catch-up sleepers with irregular sleep, specifically short average sleep duration, but longer sleep times on weekends or non-workdays
    • Insomnia sleepers with sleep problems related to clinical insomnia symptoms, including short sleep duration, high daytime tiredness, and a long time to fall asleep
    • Nappers with mostly good sleep but frequent daytime naps

    The MIDUS study may not represent the entire population, researchers said, as it primarily comprises healthy adults, but they still found that more than half the participants were insomnia sleepers or nappers, both suboptimal sleep patterns. Additionally, being an insomnia sleeper over the 10-year period was associated with a significantly higher likelihood of chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Results also showed that people were unlikely to change their sleep pattern over the course of the 10 years, especially the insomnia sleepers and nappers. 

    “These results may suggest that it is very difficult to change our sleep habits because sleep health is embedded into our overall lifestyle. It may also suggest that people still don’t know about the importance of their sleep and about sleep health behaviors,” Dr. Lee said. “We need to make more efforts to educate the public about good sleep health. There are sleep hygiene behaviors that people could do to improve their sleep, such as not using cell phones in bed, exercising regularly and avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon.”

    While the sleep patterns were seemingly not age-related, researchers found that older adults and retirees were more likely to be nappers. They also found that those with less education and those facing unemployment were more likely to be insomnia sleepers.

    According to Dr. Lee, the fact that phase of life and economic conditions can influence long-standing sleep patterns suggests that societal and neighborhood influences—including economic stressors and access to health resources—may have significant effects on individual health and, in this case, sleep habits.

    The researchers added that their findings strongly suggest the need for programs and interventions to promote healthy sleep and sleep habits and that such programs should not be one-size-fits-all but rather should be targeted based on a variety of factors, including the risk of chronic conditions and socioeconomic vulnerability.

    “Sleep is an everyday behavior,” Dr. Lee said. “Sleep is also modifiable. So, if we can improve sleep almost every day, what outcomes might we see after several months, or even several years? Better sleeping habits can make many significant differences, from improving social relationships and work performance to promoting long-term healthy behaviors and healthy aging.”

    According to the CDC, these good habits can help improve sleep health:

    • Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, weekends included.
    • Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a cool, comfortable temperature.
    • Keep all electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones, out of your bedroom.
    • Skip large meals, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol before bed.
    • Get some exercise during the day—it should 
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  • Wilted Spinach and Mushrooms Wilted Spinach Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette

    Fast-forward 50 years from wilted spinach salad’s debut to this version that offers all the benefits of olive oil in the dressing and the prep. Rather than bothering with croutons, try toasted slices of whole-grain bread for its hearty appeal.

    Ingredients

    For the vinaigrette:

    • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, plus more to taste
    • 1 tablespoon shallot, peeled and finely chopped
    • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
    • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

    For the salad:

    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 small red onion, chopped 
    • 4 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, thickly sliced 
    • 8 ounces baby spinach, rinsed and patted dry
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
    • 2 medium- or hard-boiled eggs (your preference) quartered
    • 1 ounce hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
    • Optional: 2 slices whole grain bread, toasted and brushed with olive oil

    Directions

    Step 1

    Make the vinaigrette: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallot, and thyme. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Step 2

    Heat a large frying pan or wok over medium heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the red onions; sauté over medium heat until soft. Push them to the outside of the pan and add the mushrooms in one layer; cook until the edges have browned, then flip and brown on the other side. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl. 

    Step 3

    Add the last tablespoon of olive oil to the hot pan along with the garlic and the spinach, adding the spinach by handfuls—as one batch starts to wilt, push it to the side and add another, stirring quickly. It should only take 2-3 minutes to do it all. 

    Step 4

    Arrange the spinach in two large bowls and top with equal amounts of onions, mushrooms, eggs, and hazelnuts. Drizzle with the vinaigrette. If desired, add a slice of toast to one side of each bowl.

    Makes 2 servings

  • Horiatiki Salad Olive Oil Hunter News #170

    Horiatiki Salad Recipe and The MIND Diet for Brain Health: More Benefits of Olive Oil

    I’m a huge fan of both Greek and Middle Eastern salads, the ingredients of which are not only delicious but also mainstays of the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, a way of eating designed for brain health. It’s an offshoot of the super-healthy Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Why the distinction? Because the latest research on the MIND diet shows it can slow aging as well as reduce dementia risk. Add this to the list of the benefits of olive oil—it’s one of the super foods that MIND suggests including every day.

    Horiatiki: The Sequel!

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

    For Your Best Health

    The MIND Diet for Brain Health: More Benefits of Olive Oil

    According to a new study from researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center, a very specific brain-boosting diet has been linked to reduced dementia risk and a slower pace of aging. The study, “Diet, Pace of Biological Aging, and Risk of Dementia in the Framingham Heart Study,” published in the Annals of Neurology, also explains how the diet helps slow down the processes of biological aging.

    “Much attention to nutrition in dementia research focuses on the way specific nutrients affect the brain,” said Daniel Belsky, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and a senior author of the study. “We tested the hypothesis that healthy diet protects against dementia by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging.”

    The researchers used data from the second generation of the Framingham Heart Study, the Offspring Cohort. Participants were 60 years of age or older and free of dementia and had available dietary, epigenetic, and follow-up data. Follow-up was done at nine examinations, approximately every 4 to 7 years, which included a physical exam, lifestyle-related questionnaires, blood sampling, and, starting in 1991, neurocognitive testing. Of 1,644 participants included in the analyses, 140 developed dementia. 

    To measure the pace of aging, the researchers used an epigenetic clock called DunedinPACE developed by Dr. Belsky and colleagues at Duke University and the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The clock measures how fast a person’s body is deteriorating as they grow older, “like a speedometer for the biological processes of aging,” explained Dr. Belsky.

    “We have some strong evidence that a healthy diet can protect against dementia,” said Yian Gu, PhD, associate professor of neurological sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the other senior author of the study, “but the mechanism of this protection is not well understood.” Past research linked both diet and dementia risk to an accelerated pace of biological aging. “Testing the hypothesis that multi-system biological aging is a mechanism of underlying diet-dementia associations was the logical next step,” explained Dr. Belsky.

    The research determined that higher adherence to the MIND diet slowed the pace of aging as measured by DunedinPACE and reduced risks for dementia and mortality. Furthermore, slower DunedinPACE accounted for 27% of the diet-dementia association and 57% of the diet-mortality association.

    “Our findings suggest that slower pace of aging mediates part of the relationship of healthy diet with reduced dementia risk, and therefore, monitoring pace of aging may inform dementia prevention,” said first author Aline Thomas, PhD, of the Columbia Department of Neurology and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain. “However, a portion of the diet-dementia association remains unexplained, therefore we believe that continued investigation of brain-specific mechanisms in well-designed mediation studies is warranted.”

    “We suggest that additional observational studies be conducted to investigate direct associations of nutrients with brain aging, and if our observations are also confirmed in more diverse populations, monitoring biological aging may indeed inform dementia prevention,” noted Dr. Belsky.

    Exactly What Is the MIND Diet?

    MIND is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, tailored to reflect key findings from nutrition and dementia research. It details serving sizes of specific foods to focus on and which to limit, primarily those high in saturated fat, which is known to negatively affect brain health. 

    Foods and portions to eat every day: 1/2 to 1 cup green leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup other vegetables, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and three 1-ounce servings of whole grains. 

    Foods and portions to eat over the course of each week: 5 ounces nuts, 2-1/2 cups berries, 1-1/2 cups legumes, two 3-to-5-ounce servings of skinless poultry, and 3-to-5 ounces fish.

    Foods to limit to these weekly totals: three or fewer 3-to-5-ounce servings of red and processed meats, 1 ounce whole-fat cheese, 1 fried or fast food, and 4 sweet servings. If desired, no more than 1 teaspoon of butter or stick of margarine a day.

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  • Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich 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

    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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  • Gourmet Grilled Cheese Sandwich Elevated Grilled Cheese Sammies

    Even finicky eaters rush to the kitchen when grilled cheese sandwiches are on the menu. With a few ingredient upgrades, this lunch or dinner mainstay tastes even more delicious.

    Ingredients

    • Extra virgin olive oil, as needed
    • 2 ounces Manchego cheese, shredded
    • 1 ripe avocado, cut into thin slices
    • 1 ripe pear, cut into thin slices
    • 1 tablespoon fig jam
    • 1-2 cups arugula
    • 4 thin slices crusty whole wheat bread

    Directions

    Step 1

    Brush one side of each slice of bread with olive oil. Build the sandwiches on two of the slices, layering the ingredients equally in this order: a sprinkling of cheese, avocado slices, pear slices, fig jam, arugula, the rest of the cheese, and the top slice of bread. 

    Step 2

    If using a panini press, brush the outsides of the bread with olive oil and heat the press and grill the sandwiches as directed. If using a griddle, heat over medium heat; when hot, add two tablespoons of olive oil in two separate pools and place a sandwich over each pool. Press down on the sandwiches with a large spatula or an empty cast iron skillet (see “Quick Kitchen Nugget” below). When the bottoms have browned, flip the sandwiches and repeat.

    Makes 2 servings

  • Horiatiki Salad Horiatiki: the Sequel!

    This super-easy, super-tasty Greek salad includes the top MIND foods and comes together in minutes. Bulgur is a wonderful whole grain that still flies under the radar. Mix up a batch and enjoy it throughout the week—it also makes a great hot breakfast cereal and a tasty side dish when served with sautéed onions.

    Ingredients

    For the vinaigrette:

    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • 1 garlic clove, finely minced 
    • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    For the salad:

    • 2 large tomatoes, diced
    • 1 large cucumber, cut into spears, then diced
    • 1 small red onion, cut into a small dice
    • 1 cup cooked bulgur
    • 4 ounces Kalamata olives 
    • 4-ounce block of feta cheese, cut into 16 chunks
    • 4 ounces walnut halves
    • 4 sprigs fresh parsley with some stems, rinsed and chopped 

    Directions

    Step 1

    Make the vinaigrette: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. Gradually whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified; set aside.

    Step 2

    Arrange all the salad ingredients on a large platter and drizzle with the vinaigrette. 

    Makes 4 servings

  • Iced Blueberry Scones 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

    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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  • 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

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

For Your Best Health

The MIND Diet for Brain Health: More Benefits of Olive Oil

According to a new study from researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and The Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center, a very specific brain-boosting diet has been linked to reduced dementia risk and a slower pace of aging. The study, “Diet, Pace of Biological Aging, and Risk of Dementia in the Framingham Heart Study,” published in the Annals of Neurology, also explains how the diet helps slow down the processes of biological aging.

“Much attention to nutrition in dementia research focuses on the way specific nutrients affect the brain,” said Daniel Belsky, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and a senior author of the study. “We tested the hypothesis that healthy diet protects against dementia by slowing down the body’s overall pace of biological aging.”

The researchers used data from the second generation of the Framingham Heart Study, the Offspring Cohort. Participants were 60 years of age or older and free of dementia and had available dietary, epigenetic, and follow-up data. Follow-up was done at nine examinations, approximately every 4 to 7 years, which included a physical exam, lifestyle-related questionnaires, blood sampling, and, starting in 1991, neurocognitive testing. Of 1,644 participants included in the analyses, 140 developed dementia. 

To measure the pace of aging, the researchers used an epigenetic clock called DunedinPACE developed by Dr. Belsky and colleagues at Duke University and the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The clock measures how fast a person’s body is deteriorating as they grow older, “like a speedometer for the biological processes of aging,” explained Dr. Belsky.

“We have some strong evidence that a healthy diet can protect against dementia,” said Yian Gu, PhD, associate professor of neurological sciences at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the other senior author of the study, “but the mechanism of this protection is not well understood.” Past research linked both diet and dementia risk to an accelerated pace of biological aging. “Testing the hypothesis that multi-system biological aging is a mechanism of underlying diet-dementia associations was the logical next step,” explained Dr. Belsky.

The research determined that higher adherence to the MIND diet slowed the pace of aging as measured by DunedinPACE and reduced risks for dementia and mortality. Furthermore, slower DunedinPACE accounted for 27% of the diet-dementia association and 57% of the diet-mortality association.

“Our findings suggest that slower pace of aging mediates part of the relationship of healthy diet with reduced dementia risk, and therefore, monitoring pace of aging may inform dementia prevention,” said first author Aline Thomas, PhD, of the Columbia Department of Neurology and Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain. “However, a portion of the diet-dementia association remains unexplained, therefore we believe that continued investigation of brain-specific mechanisms in well-designed mediation studies is warranted.”

“We suggest that additional observational studies be conducted to investigate direct associations of nutrients with brain aging, and if our observations are also confirmed in more diverse populations, monitoring biological aging may indeed inform dementia prevention,” noted Dr. Belsky.

Exactly What Is the MIND Diet?

MIND is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH diets, tailored to reflect key findings from nutrition and dementia research. It details serving sizes of specific foods to focus on and which to limit, primarily those high in saturated fat, which is known to negatively affect brain health. 

Foods and portions to eat every day: 1/2 to 1 cup green leafy vegetables, 1/2 cup other vegetables, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and three 1-ounce servings of whole grains. 

Foods and portions to eat over the course of each week: 5 ounces nuts, 2-1/2 cups berries, 1-1/2 cups legumes, two 3-to-5-ounce servings of skinless poultry, and 3-to-5 ounces fish.

Foods to limit to these weekly totals: three or fewer 3-to-5-ounce servings of red and processed meats, 1 ounce whole-fat cheese, 1 fried or fast food, and 4 sweet servings. If desired, no more than 1 teaspoon of butter or stick of margarine a day.

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