Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Olive oil is shown to improve brain health and memory in individuals with mild cognitive impairment

Adapted from an article by Matt Crouch, Auburn University (, March 6, 2023

Extra virgin olive oil may have positive effects on individuals with mild cognitive impairment, according to a recently completed study published in the journal Nutrients. The study’s findings suggest that compounds found in olive oil positively affect brain health and help improve the blood-brain barrier.

In the study, 25 adult participants experiencing mild cognitive impairment consumed 30 ml (about three tablespoons) of olive oil per day for six months. Thirteen of the participants consumed extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and 12 consumed refined olive oil (ROO), as a control group. EVOO is rich in phenols, while ROO has been purified of phenols.

Study participants took several tests before and after consuming olive oil, including MRI scans, cognitive tests, and blood analysis to measure biomarkers related to Alzheimer’s disease.

This study evaluated the blood-brain barrier and its permeability—the degree to which it protects the brain. The blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels and tissue made up of closely spaced cells, plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy brain by protecting the brain from exposure to blood-related neurotoxins and in the clearance of brain waste products.

The study also measured levels of beta-amyloid and tau, two proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. In people with Alzheimer’s disease, levels of beta-amyloid and tau are increased.

The benefits of olive oil consumption were more pronounced in the EVOO group, but participants in the ROO group experienced improvements as well: Both EVOO and ROO improved cognitive function, as determined by the improved clinical dementia rating and other behavioral scores. Additionally, “our findings showed that EVOO and ROO altered two major biomarkers related to Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kaddoumi. “These alterations collectively could have played a role in improving the blood-brain barrier and improving function and memory.”

This study in individuals with mild cognitive impairment is the first to evaluate what happens to the human brain as a result of consuming olive oil.

“These results are exciting because they support the health benefits of olive oil against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Kaddoumi. “Based on the findings of this study and previous preclinical studies… we can conclude that adding olive oil to our diet could maintain a healthy brain and improve memory function.”

Reference: Kaddoumi A, Denney TS, Deshpande G et al. Extra-virgin olive oil enhances the blood-brain barrier function in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2023;14(23):5102.

The Olive Oil Hunter News #120

Pasta with Garlic and Olive Oil Recipe, Protecting Brain Health Through Diet: More Benefits of the Olive Oil Lifestyle

More and more research is linking certain diets to better brain health and the possibility of warding off various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. It’s encouraging to read about variations on the Mediterranean diet, all of which deliver the benefits of olive oil. The study I’m sharing owes a huge debt to its participants who were willing to not only keep food diaries, but also allow scientists to examine their brains after they passed, thereby enlightening the rest of us. One clear message I like to communicate is that “good for you” foods also taste great—there doesn’t need to be a trade-off, as the following pasta recipe proves.

Pasta With Garlic and Olive Oil

  • Pasta with Olive oil and garlic Pasta With Garlic and Olive Oil

    This recipe hails from one of my favorite regions in one of my favorite countries—Lazio, Italy. Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club members recently got to savor a bold Canino olive oil from a wonderful producer, an agricultural cooperative of small local farmers who carry on their respective family traditions and passion for growing olives. I’m happy to say that this classic pasta dish is divine with any of the Club’s extra virgin olive oils! You probably have the ingredients in your kitchen already, so you can be enjoying it tonight. For an even healthier meal, choose whole wheat pasta or an alternative made with legumes, such as black beans or yellow pea protein.


    • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
    • 1 pound pasta, any variety, fresh or dried
    • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 fresh pepperoncini or red chile pepper, thinly sliced, or crushed red pepper flakes to taste 
    • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley


    Step 1

    Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil over high heat and add the salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 7 or 8 minutes. 

    Step 2

    While the pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet and, when very warm, add the olive oil, garlic, and pepper (if using crushed flakes, add them later, as noted below). Cook over medium heat until the garlic softens and starts to turn color, about 5 minutes. 

    Step 3

    Use tongs to transfer the pasta to the skillet along with a 1/4 cup of its cooking water. Toss well to coat the pasta in the oil and continue cooking for another 2 minutes until the pasta water is just about fully absorbed (if using pepper flakes, add them now). Sprinkle with the parsley, drizzle with more olive oil, and serve.

    Yields 4 servings

Fitness Flash: Get Help for Tech Neck

Protecting Brain Health Through Diet

More Benefits of the Olive Oil Lifestyle

The Study: “Association of Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and Mediterranean Diets With Alzheimer Disease Pathology,” Neurology, March 8, 2023.

The Findings: People who eat diets rich in green leafy vegetables as well as other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, and fish may have fewer amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their brain—signs of Alzheimer’s disease—than people who do not consume such diets.

The Report: According to an American Academy of Neurology report on the study, researchers looked at how closely people followed the Mediterranean diet and a variation called the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet. Although similar, the Mediterranean diet recommends vegetables, fruit, and three or more servings of fish per week, while the MIND diet prioritizes green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens, along with other vegetables and berries over other fruit, and recommends one or more servings of fish per week. Both the MIND and Mediterranean diets recommend small amounts of wine.

“These results are exciting—improvement in people’s diets in just one area, such as eating more than six servings of green leafy vegetables per week, or not eating fried foods, was associated with fewer amyloid plaques in the brain similar to being about four years younger,” says study author Puja Agarwal, PhD, of RUSH University in Chicago. 

The study shows an association between regularly consuming these diets and fewer Alzheimer’s disease plaques and tangles, although it doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship. “While our research doesn’t prove that a healthy diet resulted in fewer brain deposits of amyloid plaques, also known as an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease, we know there is a relationship, and following the MIND and Mediterranean diets may be one way that people can improve their brain health and protect cognition as they age,” explains Dr. Agarwal.

The study involved 581 people with an average age of 84 at the time of their diet assessment who agreed to donate their brains at death to advance dementia research. Participants completed annual questionnaires asking how much they ate of food items in various categories. The participants died an average of seven years after the start of the study. Right before death, 39 percent had been diagnosed with dementia. When examined after death, 66 percent met the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease.

At autopsy, researchers examined participants’ brains to determine the amounts of amyloid plaques and tau tangles (both are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease but may also be found in the brains of older people with normal cognition). They then looked back at the food questionnaires and ranked the quality of diet for each person.

For the Mediterranean diet, there were 11 food categories. Participants were given a score of zero to 55, with higher scores if they adhered to the diet in these categories: whole grain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, fish, and potatoes. They were given lower scores if they ate red meat, poultry, and full-fat dairy products.

For the MIND diet, there were 15 categories. Participants were scored one point each for eating from 10 brain-healthy food groups: green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. They lost a point if they ate greater than recommended amounts of foods in five unhealthy groups: red meats, butter and margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried and fast food.

Researchers then divided participants into three groups for each diet and compared those in the highest groups to those in the lowest groups. For the Mediterranean diet, people in the highest group had an average score of 35, while those in the lowest group had an average score of 26. For the MIND diet, the highest group had an average score of nine while the lowest group had an average score of six.

After adjusting for age at death, sex, education, total calorie intake, and whether people had a gene linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers found people who scored highest for adhering to the Mediterranean diet had average plaque and tangle amounts in their brains similar to being 18 years younger than people who scored lowest. Researchers also found people who scored highest for adhering to the MIND diet had average plaque and tangle amounts similar to being 12 years younger than those who scored lowest.

When looking at single diet components, the researchers found that people who ate the highest amounts of green leafy vegetables—seven or more servings per week—had plaque amounts in their brains corresponding to being almost 19 years younger than people who ate the fewest (one or fewer servings per week). “Our finding that eating more green leafy vegetables is in itself associated with fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain is intriguing enough for people to consider adding more of these vegetables to their diet,” says Agarwal. “Future studies are needed to establish our findings further.”

Note: A limitation of the study was that participants were mostly white, non-Hispanic, and older, so the results cannot be generalized to other populations.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #116

Roasted Pears Recipe, How to Adopt the Mediterranean Diet, Plus Discover the Easy Ways to Get the Benefits of Olive Oil and Other Healthful Foods

Many issues of The Olive Oil Hunter Newsletter have been devoted to sharing the science behind the health benefits of olive oil and how you can reap them by adopting the well-known Mediterranean Diet. Still, changes to your diet—especially the permanent ones that can add up to longer life—are hard to make. Problem solved: this issue contains suggestions from two of the country’s leading health institutions, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Health, on how to adopt and adapt the most important parts of the diet. And to start, here’s a delicious recipe that doesn’t sacrifice anything in the way of taste.

Roasted Pears

  • Roasted Pears Roasted Pears

    A quick trip to the oven intensifies the flavor of pears—no added sweetener needed. Labneh, a Middle Eastern cultured yogurt with the thickness of sour cream, enhances the pears when plated for dessert. For a hearty breakfast, enjoy them with plain Greek yogurt or its even-thicker cousin from Iceland, skyr.


    • 4 Anjou or Bosc pears, ripe but still firm
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup labneh
    • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
    • Cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice blend, to taste


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Halve the pears and use a melon baller or small spoon to remove the seeds; cut out any stem with a sharp paring knife. Cut each half lengthwise into 2–3 slices. Place the pear slices on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pears are slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

    Step 2

    Fan the pear slices on each of four plates and top with a large dollop of labneh, chopped nuts, and a light sprinkle of your chosen spice. 

    Yields 4 servings

Reaping the Benefits of Olive Oil

How to Adopt the Mediterranean Diet

You likely know about its benefits, which range from heart health to brain health, but chances are you haven’t fully adopted it. It can seem more overwhelming at first than it really is. Rather than being a diet with hard-and-fast rules, it’s about taking a thoughtful approach to eating: have more of the healthy foods and fewer of the less healthy ones. 

Mediterranean Diet

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Helpful kitchen tips for a healthier lifestyle

Master the Principles

Here are the food emphasized on the Mediterranean Diet, according to the Cleveland Clinic: 

  • Lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, and nuts
  • Lots of whole grains, like whole-wheat bread and brown rice
  • Plenty of extra virgin olive oil as a source of healthy fat
  • A moderate amount of fish, especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
  • A moderate amount of cheese and yogurt
  • Little or no red meat—choose poultry instead
  • Little or no sweets, sugary drinks, or butter
  • A moderate amount of wine with meals (but if you don’t already drink, don’t start)

Fitness Flash: Health Tips for healthier lifestyle

Get Motivated 

Why is the Mediterranean Diet so good for you? Again, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

  • It rebalances the types of fat Americans typically eat. The focus is on healthy unsaturated fats because they promote healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, support brain health, and fight inflammation. You limit saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol and, in turn, the risk of plaque buildup in arteries (it’s also been linked to excess inflammation).
  • It prioritizes foods high in fiber and antioxidants. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation, the foundation of many types of diseases. Fiber helps to not only keep you regular but also sweep cholesterol out of your system.
  • It limits salt, sugar, and refined carbs. Too much salt is a high blood pressure risk. Refined foods, including sugary ones, can cause blood sugar spikes and usually deliver a lot of calories with little nutritional benefit. 

Together, these tenets of the diet translate to important health benefits: a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight. It improves the quality of the gut microbiome, which is important because a diversity of good bacteria promotes good health. It slows cognitive decline and, overall, helps promote longer life. 

Researchers believe these protective benefits are partly due to the healthy fats you eat on the Mediterranean Diet. These come from foods like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and fish. Speaking of olive oil, here’s how the Cleveland Clinic distinguishes between extra virgin olive oil and lesser types:

“A crucial fact to know before starting the Mediterranean Diet is that not all olive oils are the same. The Mediterranean Diet calls for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), specifically. That’s because it has a healthy fat ratio. This means EVOO contains more healthy fat (unsaturated) than unhealthy fat (saturated). Aside from its fat ratio, EVOO is healthy because it’s high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect your heart and reduce inflammation throughout your body. Because it’s manufactured differently, regular olive oil doesn’t contain these antioxidants.”

Get Started

Now that you know more about the Mediterranean Diet and why it’s so helpful, you probably want to know where to begin. Experts from Harvard Health offer steps for an easy and gradual transition. Try to incorporate a new one every week or two, and soon they’ll all be second nature:

  • Switch to extra virgin olive oil in cooking, as the base for salad dressings, and in place of butter on crusty bread.
  • Have a handful of raw nuts every day instead of processed snacks and candy. Olives are great, too.
  • Go for whole-grain bread and other whole grains at meals—try bulgur, barley, farro, couscous, whole-grain pasta, and pasta made from legumes.
  • Have a dark, leafy green salad plus seasonal veggies at every meal. In all, aim for three to four vegetable servings a day, and have fun by trying a new vegetable every week.
  • Discover the world of legumes—try the many varieties of lentils, beans, and dried split peas, plus chickpeas and peanuts. Aim for at least three servings a week.
  • Include three servings of fruit a day. Save high-fat, high-sugar desserts for special occasions.
  • Think fish first when choosing proteins. Aim for two to three servings a week. When you choose lean poultry, keep portions to 3 or 4 ounces. Use meat as a supporting player in dishes where you can maximize veggies, like stews, stir-fries, and soups. 
  • If you drink alcohol, substitute wine for other alcoholic beverages, but still stay within healthy guidelines: no more than two 5-ounce glasses per day for men, and one glass per day for women.

Harvard also offers these practical mealtime ideas to put their guidelines into action: 

At Breakfast

Have oatmeal or an ancient grain, like quinoa or farro, topped with yogurt, fruit, and honey. Or start with plain Greek yogurt and build on that with fresh berries and a sprinkle of nuts.

At Lunch

Have a grain- or legume-based salad, hot or cold, with a variety of vegetables and a fresh cheese like feta, and with a drizzle of a homemade vinaigrette.

At Dinner

Replace meat dishes with fish, especially wild-caught salmon and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Expand meatless Mondays to two or three nights a week with dishes like lentil soup, veggie-stuffed acorn squash, and meatless lasagna. 

There are two more aspects of the Mediterranean Diet that I love and get to enjoy on my trips to Italy and Spain for the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club: its emphasis on conviviality—cooking and sharing meals with family and friends—and eating locally sourced foods, which tend to maintain higher levels of nutrients than foods trucked across the country—it’s also better for the environment.

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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. 


    • 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


    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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