Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #134

Taste of Summer Salad Recipe, Spotlight on Burrata, How to Rinse Lettuce and Break the Chronic Stress-Comfort Food Link, Get Moving for Better Quality of Life

When the temp nears 90, the last thing I want to do is to cook, yet at the same time I want to savor a delicious meal. This salad checks off all the boxes. If you haven’t yet tried burrata, this is a wonderful introduction. I’m also sharing findings from two new studies, one on the link between stress and weight gain and the other on yet more benefits of exercise, a known stress-buster. 

Taste of Summer Salad

  • Burrata and Fresh Peach Salad Taste of Summer Salad

    The perfect summer salad has seasonal ingredients that can be enjoyed whole, or as is, no cooking required. I love a blend of sweet and savory ingredients, like juicy peaches and slightly bitter greens. This dish takes just a few minutes to put together but offers exquisite flavors and textures in every bite. Get creative if the exact ingredients aren’t available at your famers’ market—nectarines, cantaloupe, or honeydew chunks are excellent swaps for the peaches, and walnuts or pine nuts can sit in for the pistachios. 


    • 4 cups mixed lettuces
    • 8 ounces whole burrata or four 2-ounce minis
    • 4 ripe peaches
    • 4 ounces shelled pistachios
    • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
    • Balsamic vinegar of Modena, to taste
    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


    Arrange equal amounts of the lettuce on four dishes. If using a whole burrata, cut it into four equal slices or wedges and arrange on top of the greens; if using minis, center a whole one on the greens. Slice the peaches (leave the skins on) and fan out the sections. Top with the pistachios and liberally drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle on a few drops of the balsamic and some black pepper.

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Bravo, Burrata

When burrata first hit our shores—its Italian origins can be traced back to Puglia—it was a taste sensation most easily found at restaurants. Now that its popularity has grown, it’s readily available in grocery stores, often from the same fine cheese companies that produce mozzarella.

Burrata looks very much like mozzarella, but the ball-shaped pouch is filled with a luscious, runny mix of cream and cheese. It can weigh anywhere from 8 ounces to 2 pounds. Mini burratas are typically 2 ounces apiece, and are handy for creating individual plates and for snacking—add a drizzle of fresh-pressed olive oil and a few drops of balsamic vinegar from Modena.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Rinsing Lettuce

Rather than spraying lettuce leaves with water from the faucet, try giving them a bath in a large bowl of cool water. Swirl the leaves in the water and then wait 10 minutes for gravity to draw all the dirt to the bottom of the bowl. Then lift out the leaves without agitating the water and pat them dry. If you want to finish with a lettuce spinner, don’t overfill the basket, or it won’t work well. 

For Your Best Health: Break the Chronic Stress-Comfort Food Link

For Your Best Health

Break the Chronic Stress-Comfort Food Link

When you’re stressed, a high-calorie treat may seem like the soothing go-to. But according to scientists from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, stress combined with comfort food creates changes in the brain that drive more eating, boost cravings for sweets in particular, and lead to excess weight gain. That’s a lot of downside!

“Our findings reveal stress can override a natural brain response that diminishes the pleasure gained from eating—meaning the brain is continuously rewarded to eat,” says Herbert Herzog, PhD, a professor and visiting scientist at the Garvan Institute and senior author of the study “Critical role of lateral habenula circuits in the control of stress-induced palatable food consumption” published in the journal Neuron. 

To understand what drives eating habits, the team used a mouse model to investigate how different areas in the brain respond to chronic stress under various diets. “We discovered that an area known as the lateral habenula, which is normally involved in switching off the brain’s reward response, was active in mice on a short-term, high-fat diet to protect the animal from overeating. However, when mice were chronically stressed, this part of the brain remained silent, allowing the reward signals to stay active and encourage feeding for pleasure, no longer responding to satiety regulatory signals,” explains first author Kenny Chi Kin Ip, PhD. “We found that stressed mice on a high-fat diet gained twice as much weight as mice on the same diet that were not stressed.”

The researchers discovered that at the center of the weight gain was the molecule NPY, which the brain produces naturally in response to stress. When the researchers blocked NPY from activating brain cells in the lateral habenula in the stressed mice on a high-fat diet, the mice consumed less comfort food, resulting in less weight gain.

The researchers next performed a sucralose preference test, allowing mice to choose to drink either water or water that had been artificially sweetened. “Stressed mice on a high-fat diet consumed three times more sucralose than mice that were on a high-fat diet alone, suggesting that stress not only activates more reward when eating, but specifically drives a craving for sweet, palatable food,” says Dr. Herzog. “Crucially, we did not see this preference for sweetened water in stressed mice that were on a regular diet.”

“In stressful situations it’s easy to use a lot of energy, and the feeling of reward can calm you down—this is when a boost of energy through food is useful. But when experienced over long periods of time, stress appears to change the equation, driving eating that is bad for the body long term,” says Dr. Herzog. “This research emphasizes just how much stress can compromise a healthy energy metabolism. It’s a reminder to avoid a stressful lifestyle, and crucially if you are dealing with long-term stress, try to eat a healthy diet and lock away the junk food.”

Fitness Flash: Exercise: Get Moving for Better Quality of Life

Fitness Flash

Get Moving for Better Quality of Life

We know that moderate intensity physical activity that raises your heart rate is known to reduce the risk of a number of diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. But it has the potential to do even more.

As part of a University of Cambridge (UK) study on exercise habits among 1,433 participants aged 60 and above, the team of scientists looked at the link between exercise and health-related quality of life—a measure of health and well-being that includes pain level, the ability to care for oneself, and anxiety/mood level. Lower quality of life scores are linked with an increased risk of hospitalization, worse outcomes following hospitalization, and early death.

Study participants were given a score between 0 (worst quality of life) and 1 (best) based on their responses to a questionnaire and then followed by the researchers so that they could look for changes in behaviors and quality of life. On average, six years after their first assessment, both men and women were doing about 24 minutes less moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day. At the same time, the total sedentary time increased by an average of around 33 minutes a day for men and around 38 minutes a day for women. 

For every minute a day less of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity measured, quality of life scores dropped by 0.03. This means that an individual who spent 15 minutes less a day engaged in such activity would have seen their score drop by 0.45. Increases in sedentary behaviors were also associated with poorer quality of life—a drop in the score of 0.012 for every one minute a day increase in total sedentary time six years after the first measurement. This means that an individual who spent 15 minutes a day more sitting down would have seen their score drop by 0.18 over the six years.

People who did more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and spent less time sedentary at their first assessment had a higher quality of life later on. An hour a day spent more active was associated with a 0.02 higher quality of life score. To put the results into context, just a 0.1 point improvement in quality of life scores was linked to a 6.9% reduction in early death and a 4.2% reduction in risk of hospitalization.

“Keeping yourself active and limiting—and where you can, breaking up—the amount of time you spend sitting down is really important whatever stage of life you’re at,” says Dr. Dharani Yerrakalva of the University’s Department of Public Health and Primary Care. “This seems to be particularly important in later life, when it can lead to potentially significant improvements to your quality of life and your physical and mental well-being.”

Because the team measured physical activity and sedentary behavior at different points of time, they say they can be reasonably confident that they have shown a causal link—that is, that quality of life improves because people remain more physically active, for example. As Dr. Yerrakalva explains, “There are several ways in which improvements in our physical behaviors might help maintain a better quality of life. For example, more physical activity reduces pain in common conditions such as osteoarthritis, and we know that being more physically active improves muscle strength, which allows older adults to continue to care for themselves. Similarly, depression and anxiety are linked to quality of life, and can be improved by being more active and less sedentary.” 

Remember that staying active can be a lot more than just going to the gym—dancing, gardening, hiking, and bike riding all fit the bill and are fun. Also, universal guidelines are to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. Older adults are also encouraged to break up prolonged periods of being sedentary with light activity, or at least with standing, when physically possible.

The research paper “Associations between change in physical activity and sedentary time and health-related quality of life in older English adults: the EPIC-Norfolk cohort study” was published in Health and Quality of Life Outcomes.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #117

French Onion Soup with Cheesy Croutons Recipe, Spotlight on Onions, A Better Beef Broth, Vegetables that Lower Diabetes Risk and Breakfast for Better Sleep

It’s one of the mainstays of fine French dining—classic soupe à l’oignon, or onion soup. You might think it’s hard to recreate at home, but if you have the patience to caramelize the onions, you can be enjoying it tonight! It’s a great way to get in more veggies, which may help you avoid type 2 diabetes, according to a new study I’m sharing here, too.

French Onion Soup with Cheesy Croutons

  • French Onion Soup with Cheesy Croutons French Onion Soup With Cheesy Croutons

    This simple adaptation of the classic French onion soup is a meal in itself—perfect for lunch or dinner. If you’ve got a free afternoon, making your own rich beef stock is a slow-food pleasure, but a store-bought brand will still deliver rich taste. Take the time to fully caramelize the onions at the start of this recipe—that’s where most of the active cooking time is needed and where the deep flavor develops. You’ll be well rewarded for the effort. This recipe is for a very large batch, enough for two or three meals, depending on how many people you’re serving. For the melted cheese topping, this twist on bread rounds is fun and easier to eat with a spoon! 


    For the soup:

    • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 5 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced into roughly ½” rounds
    • Coarse salt
    • Sugar
    • 1/2 cup cognac
    • 8 cups beef stock
    • 1 cup dry vermouth
    • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

    For the croutons:

    • 10 baguette slices, about ½” thick, cut into cubes
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese


    Step 1

    Caramelize the onions: Heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Note: Depending on the size of your skillet, you may need to work in batches or use two skillets at once. Add one tablespoon of the oil for every pound of onions you sauté at a time. As you place the onions in the pan, separate each slice into rounds. Toss the onions in the oil and then cover the pan to sweat the onions for about 10 minutes over low-medium heat, taking care not to burn them. Take off the cover, sprinkle the onions with large pinches of salt and sugar, and continue cooking until they become soft and browned, up to 50 minutes (the liquid in the pan will evaporate; add a tablespoon of water as needed to prevent burning). At the end of the cooking time, add the cognac to deglaze the pan and then transfer everything to a large stockpot.

    Step 2

    To finish the soup: Add the beef stock and vermouth to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for another hour. Taste and add black pepper, if desired.

    Step 3

    For the croutons: Just before serving the soup, turn on your oven to broil. Spread out the bread cubes on a cookie sheet and toast under the broiler, watching closely, as it should take only a few seconds. Very carefully, take the sheet out of the oven and use tongs to push the toasted croutons together. Sprinkle on the grated cheese and put back under the broiler until the cheese melts, again for only a few seconds.

    Step 4

    To serve, ladle soup into bowls or wide mugs and, using tongs, top each with some cheesy croutons.

    Yields 10-12 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: The Color of Onions

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

The Color of Onions

Onions are wonderful flavor enhancers and can impart different degrees of sweetness based on the variety:

The most popular and easy-to-find onion is the yellow onion, a great option when the onions will be cooked. You might also see Spanish yellow onions, which are a bit sweeter. 

Even sweeter are varieties such as Vidalia, Walla Walla, and Maui, though they’re not usually available year round. When caramelized, they add exceptional flavor to dishes like French onion soup.

Occasionally, you’ll see white onions, milder in flavor than yellow onions and with a great crunch that makes them perfect for eating raw.

Red onions add bright color to dishes, and a more noted, spicy flavor to go with it. The taste is sweeter right after summer harvest, but can turn sharp as they age, so you might find that they taste different depending on the time of year (they will always be milder when cooked). They’re a great choice for pickling and for boldly flavored recipes, but they can overpower a mild dish. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: A Better Beef Broth

Quick Kitchen Nugget

A Better Beef Broth

Supermarket shelves are filled with options from thick pastes you dilute to ready-to-go cans. New, more authentically made broths, often labeled bone broths (though meaty bones are at the heart of any broth) are now available. Some come frozen, others in pouches or milk-like containers. Not always at the corner grocery, many are available online. Bonafide Provisions, Brodo, and Pacific Foods brands are some flavorful choices. 

Be aware that many store-bought broths get a lot of their taste from added salt, sometimes a lot of it—anywhere from 350 to 700 mg a cup, a big chunk of the 1500 mg recommended maximum daily intake. For the salt conscious, it’s worth noting that Pacific Foods organic low sodium beef broth has just 125 mg sodium per serving. When using prepared broth, you may not need to add any additional salt to a recipe—reach for black pepper first to avoid sodium overload.

For Your Best Health: Vegetables to Lower Diabetes Risk

For Your Best Health

Vegetables to Lower Diabetes Risk

According to an Edith Cowan University analysis of the long-term “Danish Diet, Cancer and Health” study, eating your veggies can translate to lowering diabetes risk. Comparing dietary intake records from 54,000 people, the scientists found that those who consumed the most vegetables were 21 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who consumed the least amount. 

At the top of the list were leafy greens and cruciferous veggies such as spinach, lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower. Interestingly, white potatoes, often thought of as unhealthy, were actually neutral…as long as they were boiled rather than mashed with butter and cream or deep fried. People who ate potatoes prepared with unhealthy fats were also more likely to consume more butter, red meat, and soft drinks, foods known to increase type 2 diabetes risk. The researchers also pointed out that plain potatoes shouldn’t be lumped in the same category as certain other high-carb foods such as white rice and pasta because the potatoes have fiber, minerals, and good nutrients, which make them a higher-quality carb.

The study, “Vegetable, But Not Potato, Intake Is Associated With a Lower Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Cohort,”was published inDiabetes Care.

Fitness Flash: Breakfast for Better Sleep

Fitness Flash

Breakfast for Better Sleep

Tired of waking up groggy? “Many of us think that morning sleepiness is a benign annoyance,” said Matthew Walker, PhD, UC Berkeley professor of neuroscience and psychology and senior author of the study, “How people wake up is associated with previous night’s sleep together with physical activity and food intake,” published in Nature Communications. “From car crashes to work-related accidents, the cost of sleepiness is deadly. As scientists, we must understand how to help society wake up better and reduce the mortal cost of society’s current struggle to wake up effectively each day.”

He and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, teamed up with other researchers, including those in the UK and Sweden, to learn how to avoid that sluggish feeling. By analyzing data culled from more than 800 people over a two-week period, they were able to predict individualized metabolic responses to foods based on a person’s biological characteristics, lifestyle factors, and the foods’ nutritional composition. 

The participants were given a variety of breakfast meals; wore wristwatches to record their physical activity and sleep quantity, quality, timing, and regularity; kept diaries of their food intake; recorded their alertness levels from the moment they woke up and throughout the day; and wore continuous glucose monitors.

The researchers found that the secret to alertness is a three-part prescription: getting the right amounts of exercise and sleep and eating the right breakfast, one that won’t spike blood glucose. “All of these have a unique and independent effect,” said UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Raphael Vallat, PhD, first author of the study. “If you sleep longer or later, you’re going to see an increase in your alertness. If you do more physical activity on the day before, you’re going to see an increase. You can see improvements with each and every one of these factors.”

Here are the specifics:

Breakfast. The participants were given preprepared meals with different amounts of nutrients:  moderate amounts of fat and carbohydrates; high protein; high carbohydrate; or high sugar. The worst type of breakfast, on average, was high in sugar; it was associated with an inability to wake up effectively and maintain alertness. The high-carbohydrate breakfast, without simple sugars and with only a modest amount of protein, was linked to individuals revving up their alertness quickly in the morning and sustaining that alert state.

“We have known for some time that a diet high in sugar is harmful to sleep, not to mention being toxic for the cells in your brain and body,” Dr. Walker said. “However, what we have discovered is that, beyond these harmful effects on sleep, consuming high amounts of sugar in your breakfast, and having a spike in blood sugar following any type of breakfast meal, markedly blunts your brain’s ability to return to waking consciousness following sleep.”

Sleep. Sleeping longer and/or later than usual resulted in individuals ramping up their alertness very quickly after awakening. According to Dr. Walker, between seven and nine hours of sleep is ideal for ridding the body of “sleep inertia,” the inability to transition effectively to a state of functional cognitive alertness upon awakening. Most people need this amount of sleep to remove a chemical called adenosine that accumulates in the body throughout the day and brings on sleepiness in the evening, something known as sleep pressure.

“Sleeping later can help with alertness for a second reason,” Dr. Walker said. “When you wake up later, you are rising at a higher point on the upswing of your 24-hour circadian rhythm, which ramps up throughout the morning and boosts alertness.”

Exercise. “It is well known that physical activity, in general, improves your alertness and also your mood level, and we did find a high correlation in this study between participants’ mood and their alertness levels,” Dr. Vallat said. ” Participants who, on average, are happier also feel more alert.”

It’s not completely clear what physical activity does to improve alertness the following day. “It may be that exercise-induced better sleep is part of the reason exercise the day before, by helping sleep that night, leads to superior alertness throughout the next day,” Dr. Vallat said.

“How you wake up each day is very much under your own control, based on how you structure your life and your sleep. You don’t need to feel resigned to any fate, throwing your hands up in disappointment because ‘it’s my genes, and I can’t change my genes,’” said Dr. Walker. “There are some very basic and achievable things you can start doing today, and tonight, to change how you awake each morning, feeling alert and free of that grogginess.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #113

Broccoli Cheddar Soup Recipe, Spotlight on Broccoli, Immersion Blender 101, How to Overcome Excuses for Not Exercising and Mastering Functional Fitness

Winter is a time of year when a thick and hearty broccoli soup can easily be dinner. Make a large batch, and you’ll have enough for a lunch or two as well. Winter is also when most of us need a little extra motivation to exercise. I’m sharing ideas as well as one aspect of fitness that may be new to you.

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

  • Brocoli Cheddar Soup Broccoli Cheddar Soup

    This is a popular item at restaurants and the soup station at supermarkets, yet so often tastes gummy. My recipe is chunky and creamy at the same time, thanks to a simple roux technique and not over-blending.  


    • 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for drizzling
    • 1 large sweet onion, about 12 ounces, finely chopped
    • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • Coarse salt 
    • 2 pounds broccoli, trimmed and cut into small florets (slice stems into discs)
    • 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
    • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
    • 2 cups milk
    • 10 ounces sharp or very sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
    • Freshly ground black pepper to taste


    Step 1

    Heat a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat. When hot, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil, the onions, and garlic. Add a pinch of salt to help the onions sweat. Sauté until soft, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook until it turns a brighter green, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Use a large slotted spoon to transfer all the veggies to a large bowl next to your cooktop.  

    Step 2

    Add the rest of the olive oil to the pot along with the flour and stir vigorously for 2 minutes to make a roux and cook the flour. Whisk in the broth, a half-cup at a time, letting the mixture come to a boil before adding the next half-cup. Repeat the technique with the milk and then stir in 8 ounces of the cheese. When smooth, add back in the vegetables. Continue to cook, partly covered, at a low simmer for 30 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Stir occasionally to make sure all the broccoli gets submerged.

    Step 3

    Using an immersion blender or working in batches with a standard blender, blend the soup, stopping short of a full purée. Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper. Garnish servings with the rest of the grated cheddar and a drizzle of olive oil.

    Yields 8 to 10 servings

Food Pairings: The Power of Purple Potatoes

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Broccoli’s Bounty

Broccoli is on nearly every top 10 list of healthy foods, and science is still uncovering more of its benefits. Beyond its impressive list of vitamins and minerals, broccoli, like other cruciferous vegetables, has a phytochemical—or plant-based compound—called sulforaphane. Since the early 1990s, over 3,000 lab studies and over 50 clinical trials have looked at sulforaphane’s role in cancer prevention and even in cancer treatment. According to a review of research on broccoli and broccoli sprouts published in the journal Molecules, sulforaphane’s anti-inflammatory properties also show promise for easing arthritis and asthma, managing diabetes more effectively, and improving fatty liver disease. 

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Sweet spices for savory dishes

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Immersion Blender 101

I love a handheld cordless immersion blender for puréeing foods without having to transfer them to a standing blender or food processor. But not all models have the same power as those countertop workhorses. To make yours more effective, try these tips:

  • Precut any solid foods you’ll be blending into 2″ pieces or smaller.
  • Be sure any cooked foods are tender before blending.
  • The food to be blended should come at least an inch above the blade, and the blade should always be submerged, even when working it up and down. 
  • When using the immersion blender to homogenize small amounts of liquids for salad dressings or sauces, use a tall measuring cup if your appliance didn’t come with a special container.
Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

How to Overcome Excuses for Not Exercising 

As many benefits as exercise has, people find even more excuses for not working out. Here’s some motivation from NIH’s National Institute on Aging:

No time? Get up a few minutes earlier and exercise first thing or combine physical activity with a task that’s already part of your day, like starting to walk to work.

Too boring? The only way to stick with a plan is to do activities you really enjoy. Also, try new types of exercise to keep it interesting.

Too expensive? All you need is a pair of comfortable, nonskid shoes to start walking and, for upper body strength training, your own body weight for moves like pushups or a pair of filled water bottles.

Too tired? That’s another reason to exercise early in the day when you have more energy. Plus, regular, moderate physical activity can help reduce fatigue.

Not convinced? Take a few seconds to read this list of exercise benefits whenever you need a little impetus to get going:

  • A lower risk of chronic conditions, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers
  • Easier weight control
  • Better cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
  • A lower risk of falling and better bone density
  • A lower risk of depression
  • Improved cognitive function and sleep quality
Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Value of Variety

Fitness Flash

Mastering Functional Fitness

Your fitness and mobility levels are important signs of independence. They’re often assessed by what’s called functional fitness, the ability to carry out activities of daily living, or ADLs—being able to care for yourself, go shopping, get on and off the sofa with ease, and so on. Building and maintaining functional fitness is key to moving with ease now and staying mobile as you age. 

There are seven important movements we all draw on for those ADLs: pushing, pulling, squatting, lunging, hinging, rotating, and balancing. Doing exercises that use those movements will make it easier to handle all your daily tasks. Many common strength training moves, like pushups and chest presses, pullups and rows, squats, wall sits, and lunges, replicate them exactly. Kettlebell swings and twists mimic hinging. Some core exercises, like the woodchopper and working with a medicine ball, help with rotation. And there are many moves to improve balance, like sidestepping and heel-to-toe walking. If you’re new to any of these exercises or want tailored guidance, consider scheduling a session with a personal trainer.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #111

Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Capers Recipe and What Makes Olive Oil a Good Fat

As members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club know, the vibrant pepperiness of extra virgin olive oil comes from its polyphenols, important antioxidants that foster good health in so many ways. But there’s more to the story. EVOO’s main nutrient and the source of its calories is monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, which confer special benefits as well. That’s why many health authorities recommend them over saturated fats (those solid at room temperature, like butter). In this edition of the Newsletter, we’ll look at the one-two punch of MUFAs and polyphenols—and how together they can help staunch a very serious health epidemic, metabolic syndrome. But first, a wonderful winter recipe sure to become a favorite.

Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Capers

  • Pork chops with tomatoes and capers Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Capers

    This Mediterranean-style dish is cooked on the stovetop in a single pan and creates a rich, tomato sauce. 


    • 1/4 cup white whole-wheat or all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon each coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 pork chops, each about 1/2-inch thick
    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
    • 1/3 cup chicken stock, homemade or low-sodium store-bought
    • 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with its juice
    • 4 tablespoons capers


    Step 1

    Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a pie plate. Heat a frying pan large enough to hold the chops (if necessary, you can cook the chops in batches). Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil and quickly coat both sides of each chop in the flour mixture, shake off any excess, and add to the pan. Sauté 5 minutes on each side or until browned. 

    Step 2

    Transfer the chops to a dish. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté slightly, then deglaze the pan with the vinegar. Add the tomatoes along with their juice, the broth, and the capers, and briefly bring to a boil.

    Step 3

    Add back the chops, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the chops are cooked through and register 145°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes more. 

    Yields 6 servings.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

What Makes Olive Oil a Good Fat 

The study making news: “The clinical impact of an extra virgin olive oil enriched Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome: Lights and shadows of a nutraceutical approach,” a research review published in Frontiers in Nutrition (2022).

Most research on the benefits of olive oil and the Mediterranean diet centers on the healthful properties of its polyphenols, but its fatty acids deliver benefits of their own. What’s more, the polyphenols and fatty acids seem to work in synergy to do even more. 

As stated in this research review, one component of the Mediterranean diet “believed to contribute a strong beneficial effect is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), high in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and with variable concentrations of phenols. These not only determine EVOO’s main organoleptic qualities (oxidative stability, specific flavor, and taste features) but make it a source of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, insulin-sensitizing, cardioprotective, antiatherogenic, neuroprotective, and immunomodulatory activity.” (Antiatherogenic means that it fights against dangerous plaque buildup, or atherosclerosis, along artery walls.)

Why are MUFAs considered good fats?

According to the National Library of Medicine, monounsaturated fats are good for your health in several ways. They can help lower your LDL or bad cholesterol level. Keeping your LDL level low reduces your risk for heart disease and stroke. Also, MUFAs help develop and maintain your cells. Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent source of MUFAs. Olive oil also has the other preferred alternative to saturated fat, PUFAs, or polyunsaturated fatty acids, but to a lesser extent. (Some of the best sources of PUFAs are walnuts, flax, and sunflower seeds.)

For the Frontiers in Nutrition review, the researchers took a deep dive into how EVOO may help with the condition known as metabolic syndrome, one that has become more prevalent as people have become more overweight. According to the review, it’s “an increasingly pressing global health problem, affecting about 31 percent of the world’s population but predicted to increase over 50 percent in the next 15 years.” Metabolic syndrome is typically diagnosed when someone has at least three of these five conditions: abdominal obesity (belly fat), high triglyceride levels, low HDL or good cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and impaired fasting glucose (blood sugar). Each one is a risk factor for various metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, from diabetes to heart disease; having three or more creates a heightened risk.

As the report pointed out,

“The only established, effective treatment is lifestyle modification through increased physical activity, weight loss, and dietary intake high in fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, and low-fat dairy products: i.e., the Mediterranean diet (MD). Several studies have shown a direct correlation between MD adherence and overall reduction in mortality and morbidity.…

“The Mediterranean diet is a cornerstone in treating [metabolic syndrome] and preventing cardiovascular risk. Literature data indicate that an essential component is EVOO which, with high MUFA and polyphenol content, constitutes a food with excellent organoleptic properties and a substance with surprising nutraceutical abilities. EVOO, by activating multiple metabolic pathways, could optimize glycemic control and lipid metabolism, reduce endothelial damage and blood pressure, and provide systemic anti-inflammatory activity.”

Based on the studies that the researchers reviewed, they found that, in particular, “Extra virgin olive oil, due to its high MUFA content, significantly reduces concentrations of total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol, decreasing TC/HDL and LDL/HDL ratios. In this context, polyphenols act synergistically with MUFAs.Overall, EVOO seems to play an antiatherogenic and CVD risk reduction role, improving the overall health status of [metabolic syndrome] patients.” 

The researchers also mentioned that, in addition to helping counteract the inflammation that accompanies overweight, EVOO might indirectly help with weight loss by enhancing the way food tastes and perhaps helping people feel full sooner, thus preventing overeating. 

They did note that there are still unanswered questions. Since most studies don’t spell out the specific varietals of EVOO consumed by participants or their exact polyphenol levels, the researchers can’t say what concentration of polyphenols is needed or which olive varieties are best—things that future studies might tell us. One thing we do know: in general, the fresher the olive oil, the higher its polyphenol content.  

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