Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #91

Endive with Pears and Gorgonzola Recipe, Spotlight on Endive, How to Vet Vinegar, Improving Your Emotional Outlook and Exercise and Knee Arthritis

I love creating dishes that have distinctive flavors yet are easy and quick to assemble. Pairing endive and mild Gorgonzola with pears is just that. I’m also sharing important news about exercise—often called “free medicine”—which studies show has even more wide-ranging benefits than we thought!

Endive with Pears and Gorgonzola

  • Endive with Pears and Gorgonzola Endive with Pears and Gorgonzola

    If you’ve shied away from strong blue cheeses in the past, Gorgonzola dolce, sweeter than regular Gorgonzola, is a great introduction! The walnuts and pears add to the sweetness, a great counterbalance to the endive

    Ingredients

    • 1/2 cup walnut halves
    • 2 tablespoons plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
    • 6 ripe Seckel pears or another small variety, halved through the stem ends 
    • 1/2 cup pear nectar
    • 1/4 cup pear balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
    • 2 teaspoons honey, or more to taste
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 heads endive or radicchio di Treviso, or 3 of each
    • Six 1-ounce wedges of Gorgonzola dolce or your favorite blue cheese

    Directions

    Step 1

    Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts until fragrant, and then transfer them to a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and heat the oil. Use a small melon baller to remove any seeds from the pears and then place them, cut sides down, in the oil and cook until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and reserve. 

    Step 2

    To make the vinaigrette for the salad, use the same pan, increasing the heat to medium high. Add the pear nectar and vinegar and bring to a boil. Boil until the mixture is reduced by half, then whisk in the honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let cool slightly, then whisk in the 1/3 cup of olive oil. Taste, adding more vinegar, honey, salt, and/or pepper as needed. 

    Step 3

    Trim the endive and remove the leaves from two of the heads; arrange them on 6 salad plates. Slice the 4 remaining heads crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces and divide among the plates. On each plate, arrange 2 pear halves, a wedge of Gorgonzola, and a few of the walnuts. Lightly drizzle each dish with the vinaigrette. 

    Yields 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Endive

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Excellent Endive

Native to Belgium and typically referred to as Belgian endive, this slightly bitter green is now cultivated in the US, notably in California. Its unique growing process makes it available almost year round. 

Endive is part of the chicory family of greens and actually starts from chicory seeds under typical field conditions. But once it grows into a plant, the leafy part is cut off and the deep roots are dug up and put in cold storage for a dormant period. Those roots then undergo forcing in a dark environment, somewhat like mushrooms, during which the oval-shaped heads with yellow-tipped leaves are formed.

Other relatives in the chicory group include red-purple radicchio, which can either be a small cabbage-shaped head or the endive-shaped radicchio di Treviso with distinctive color striations along the leaves; escarole, which has broad leaves with wavy edges; and curly endive or frisée.

When you’re selecting endive, the heads should be tight and feel heavy in your hand for their size. The leaves should be crisp and white at the base, with pale yellow edges and tips. Store them in your fridge’s crisper drawer for up to a week. 

When lightly brushed with extra virgin olive oil and grilled, whole endive make a great accompaniment to any protein. Besides using the leaves raw in salads, you can gently separate them and use them instead of chips to scoop up dips. The leaves also make a healthy alternative to crackers and bread slices when you’re making canapés—just pipe or spoon your favorite fillings down the center of each leaf. 

Tons of research has done little to settle the debate over whether it’s better to reach for full-fat, fat-free, or something in between when it comes to dairy. What we do know is that dairy has many important nutrients and that yogurt is especially good for you, thanks to its beneficial bacteria. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: How to Vet Vinegar

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

How to Vet Vinegar 

As with extra virgin olive oil, you have to do your due diligence before buying vinegar, especially flavored types. You want to avoid commercial brands that have been produced on a mass scale. They’re likely to be nothing more than artificially flavored distilled vinegar and contain a host of ingredients that you’d never find in finely made and often well-aged varieties. 

Fruit vinegars in particular should have as their base the actual fruit in their name, fruit that has been allowed to ferment and turn into alcohol before special bacteria are added to turn it into vinegar. Such artisanal vinegars typically cost more, but to be sure you’re getting what you’re paying for, always read the fine print to know exactly what’s in the bottle. (The first vinegar selection from the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club was so well received that we’ll be announcing the second one in late summer!)

I love using vinegar to enhance a primary ingredient in a recipe, which is why I suggest pear balsamic for the endive and pear salad above. 

For Your Best Health: Improving Your Emotional Outlook

For Your Best Health

Improving Your Emotional Outlook

It’s no secret that depression rates soared during the pandemic. Among Americans adults, they tripled from 8.5 percent before the pandemic to a staggering 27.8 percent in 2020. Research done at the Boston University School of Public Health showed that this high rate not only persisted into 2021, but even worsened, climbing to 32.8 percent. The truth is that depression can affect people for any number of reasons and at any time, and it’s a challenge to treat. That’s why taking lifestyle steps that help prevent it is so important. 

Research has already shown that exercise reduces depression risk, one of the many reasons it’s called free medicine. Recently, an international team of scientists sought to identify the right dose to get the strongest protection. They reviewed 15 different studies and found that the greatest preventive effect was seen in people who get the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise every week—they lowered their depression risk by 25 percent. Their analysis, published in JAMA Psychiatry, also found thatthere are benefits even for people who exercise lessFor instance, those who got half the recommended amount of exercise had an 18 percent lower risk of depression. The researchers deemed these results as significant mental health benefits and concluded that “health practitioners should therefore encourage any increase in physical activity to improve mental health.”

Fitness Flash: Exercise and Knee Arthritis

Fitness Flash

Exercise and Knee Arthritis

Researchers in Denmark have added to what we know about the benefits of exercising to improve the symptoms of arthritis. Their study, published in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, looked at knee osteoarthritis in particular and the advantages of following an 8-week program of exercises and education. Program participants reported less pain on the Knee Injury and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score questionnaire compared to a group of participants who had a placebo treatment. 

According to the American College of Rheumatology, exercise is an important part of osteoarthritis treatment because it can ease joint pain and improve function. If you’re in pain and unsure how to get started, or have let an exercise program lapse, work with your doctor to get moving again.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #88

Creamy Tortellini with Spring Peas Recipe, Spotlight on Peas, Grating Nutmeg, Exercise to Combat Cravings plus Managing Back Pain

Warm weather means more time spent outdoors and less time in the kitchen, but I still want to enjoy delicious meals that tap into wonderful seasonal foods. My quick and creamy tortellini with peas recipe fit the bill and take only about 10 minutes after the water boils! You’ll also find results of two studies that looked at common problems for so many people—how to curb cravings that stand in the way of a healthier diet and how to ease low back pain that can stop you in your tracks.

Creamy Tortellini with Spring Peas

  • Creamy Tortellini with Spring Peas Creamy Tortellini with Spring Peas

    This simple dish makes for a fast and fresh spring meal. The creaminess of the mascarpone combined with the delicate pop of the peas is a fan favorite in our house.

    Ingredients

    • 16 ounces cheese tortellini, fresh or frozen
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1 cup freshly shelled peas (about 1 pound in the shell)
    • 8 ounces mascarpone 
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste 
    • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or to taste
    • Coarse salt to taste 
    • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano 

    Directions

    Step 1

    Bring four quarts of salted water to a boil and cook the tortellini according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat a small sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Sauté the peas over low heat for 3 minutes until tender and bright green and then transfer to a large mixing bowl. 

    Step 2

    When the tortellini are done, use a large strainer to transfer them to the bowl with the peas. Immediately fold in the mascarpone—the heat of the pasta will melt it, creating a sauce—and mix well to distribute the peas. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, to thin it. Season liberally with black pepper and nutmeg (use a microplane to grate it right over the bowl), and add salt to taste. 

    Step 3

    Transfer to a serving platter, top with the grated Parmigiano, and drizzle on the final tablespoon of olive oil. Serve at room temperature. 

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Peas

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Three Peas in Pods

Sweet peas, sugar snap peas, and pea pods are all members of the legume family and good sources of vitamins A, C, and K; folate; potassium and magnesium; and fiber. They can all be eaten raw or cooked, but there are some differences among them. Sweet peas are the only ones that need shelling—the pods aren’t edible. Pea pods, best known as an ingredient in Asian cuisines, are primarily pods with small or no peas inside—they’re picked before the peas have a chance to develop. Sugar snap peas are a cross between the two other varieties—edible pods filled with edible peas—and give you all the flavor of sweet peas plus the crunch of the pods. With pea pods and sugar snap peas, you may need to remove the strings along the edges before eating. Because all peas can quickly become overcooked, make them separately and fold them into the rest of a dish or add them at the very end of the cooking process. 

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Grating Nutmeg

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Get Grating

Nutmeg is a sweet and fragrant spice that comes from the Banda Islands in Indonesia. Marble-sized whole nutmegs are the inner parts of the seed of an evergreen tree called Myristica fragrant. Though nutmeg is sold ground, you’ll get the best flavor by grating whole nutmeg as needed, either with a microplane or on the box grater side with the smallest holes. You might think of nutmeg only for spice-rich fall baking, but it’s also a popular ingredient in filled Italian pastas, so it adds the perfect note to this week’s tortellini recipe.

For Your Best Health: Exercise to combat cravings

For Your Best Health

Intense Exercise Combats Cravings 

A provocative lab study from researchers at Washington State University and the University of Wyoming could hold the secret for curbing cravings. Their experiment tested a way to resist “incubation of craving,” a phenomenon first identified by scientists at Western Washington University that postulates that the longer you deny yourself something you crave, the harder it is to ignore the craving signals. 

Their results showed that lab rats that did high-intensity treadmill running for 30 days exhibited less desire for their high-fat food, which they’d been denied during that period. This shows that exercise can shore up restraint when it comes to certain foods, says Travis Brown, PhD, a physiology and neuroscience researcher and associate professor at Washington State and corresponding author of the study published in the journal Obesity. Dr. Brown adds, “A really important part of maintaining a diet is to have some brain power—the ability to say ‘no, I may be craving that, but I’m going to abstain.’ Exercise could not only be beneficial physically for weight loss but also mentally for gaining control over cravings for unhealthy foods.”

We still don’t know whether food can be addictive in the same way as drugs are—and certainly not all foods spark cravings. As Dr. Brown points out, “No one binge eats broccoli.” But many people seem to respond to cues, such as fast-food ads, encouraging them to eat foods high in fat or sugar, and those cues may be harder to resist the longer they diet. The ability to disregard these signals may be yet another way exercise improves health.

In future studies, the research team plans to investigate the effect of different levels of exercise on this type of craving as well as how exactly exercise works in the brain to curb the desire for unhealthy foods. 

Fitness Flash: Back pain management

Fitness Flash

Help for That Aching Back

Sometimes constant lower back pain that has no apparent cause can have a mental component. Fear of pain keeps people from moving, and not moving can make pain worse and even create a vicious cycle that leads to anxiety and depression. Finding the best way to address both the physical and the mental consequences of back pain was the goal behind a research review led by Emma Ho and Paulo Ferreira of the University of Sydney in Australia.

They looked at 97 studies that evaluated the effects of various types of psychological interventions—cognitive behavioral therapies, mindfulness, counseling, pain education programs, and two or more combined approaches—when given along with physiotherapy, or a structured exercise regimen, for chronic lower back pain. 

They found that, compared with physiotherapy alone, adding a psychological intervention was more effective for improving physical function and pain intensity. Some interventions had different effects than others. For instance, both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and pain education delivered with physiotherapy led to noticeable improvements in physical function up to 2 months after treatment, with the clinical benefits of pain education lasting up to 6 months.

In terms of lessening pain intensity, behavioral therapy, CBT, and pain education delivered with physiotherapy each led to improvement up to 2 months after treatment, with the effects of behavioral therapy lasting up to 12 months. CBT also helped lessen the fear of exercise for up to 2 months after treatment, but the most sustainable effects in this area came from pain education programs.

Though there were differences in the ways the various studies that the researchers reviewed were conducted and longer term results are unknown, they did conclude that their findings “can be used to inform clearer guideline recommendations regarding the use of specific psychological interventions for managing chronic, non-specific low back pain and support decision making for patients and clinicians.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #87

Figs Alla Modena Recipe, Spotlight on Figs, Cutting Calories for Longevity and A Fun Rehabilitation Alternative for Back Pain

Simplicity is a wonderful thing when it comes to food. Dishes with more emphasis on presentation than preparation mean treats for the eyes with little time or effort. I love letting the real flavors of foods shine through, and this week’s fig and cheese antipasto is a classic example. I’m also giving you all the fig facts you need to encourage you to try this delectable fruit if you’ve shied away from it until now! You’ll also find provocative results from a study that shows the life-extending benefits of a small calorie restriction, plus a fun alternative to traditional forms of rehab for back pain.

Figs Alla Modena

  • Figs alla Modena Figs alla Modena

    There are many vinegar bottles labeled “balsamic,” but the real thing must come from Modena, Italy. Just a few drops of a true balsamic will bring out the flavors of all the other ingredients in this dish. When figs aren’t available, substitute berries, pears, or peaches.

    Ingredients

    • 8 slices of prosciutto
    • 8-ounce log of fresh goat cheese, sliced into thin medallions
    • 8 fresh figs, halved
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon best-quality balsamic vinegar di Modena

    Directions

    Step 1

    Arrange the slices of prosciutto around the perimeter of a serving platter or charcuterie board. Moving toward the center, make a ring of goat cheese slices and then place the fig halves in the center.

    Step 2

    Drizzle everything with the olive oil and balsamic.

    Yields 8 appetizer or 4 luncheon servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Figs

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Fabulous figs

When it comes to sweet fresh fruit, figs are overlooked in the US. But they’re a staple in Mediterranean countries and a wonderful way to dress a salad. On their own, they make a delicious yet simple snack or dessert. 

One fig has between 25 and 40 calories depending on size, plus fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and calcium. The minerals are concentrated in dried figs, which you can keep in your pantry. (If you’re sensitive to sulfites, look for figs dried without this preservative.)

You’re most likely to see American-grown figs at market starting in late summer, with dried varieties available year-round:

  • Brown Turkey figs have copper-flecked golden-yellow skin when ripe and mostly pink flesh. 
  • Celeste figs are purplish-brown when ripe and have dark-purple flesh.
  • Calimyrna figs have yellow-green to golden skin that deepens when dried and a golden-brown center. 
  • Mission figs have a deep-purple skin that turns black when dried, which explains why they’re often called Black Mission figs. The fresh flesh is deep pink.
  • Kadota figs have yellow-green skin and deep-pink flesh. 
Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Storing figs

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Storing figs

One reason for the reluctance around figs might be their short shelf life—just-picked figs are fresh for a week or less. But you can extend their freshness by storing them in the fridge for up to two weeks. Just be careful not to buy overripe figs unless you’ll be eating them immediately. Ripe figs are tender, like a ripe peach, but should not feel mushy.

For Your Best Health: Consider cutting calories for longevity

For Your Best Health

Consider cutting calories for longevity

A study led by Yale researchers and published in the February 10, 2022, issue of Science confirms the health benefits of moderate calorie restrictions. The research was based on results from the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) clinical trial, the first controlled study of calorie restriction in healthy people. One group of participants reduced their calorie intake by 14%, while the others continued to eat as usual. The researchers analyzed the long-term health effects of calorie restriction over the following two years.

“We know that chronic low-grade inflammation in humans is a major trigger of many chronic diseases and, therefore, has a negative effect on life span,” said Vishwa Deep Dixit, DVM, PhD, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Pathology, Immunobiology, and Comparative Medicine, senior author of the study, and director of the Yale Center for Research on Aging. “Here we’re asking: What is calorie restriction doing to the immune and metabolic systems and if it is indeed beneficial, how can we harness the endogenous pathways that mimic its effects in humans?”

Dixit and his team analyzed the thymus, a gland that sits above the heart and produces T cells, an essential part of the immune system. The thymus ages at a faster rate than other organs. By the time healthy adults reach the age of 40, said Dixit, 70% of the thymus is already fatty and nonfunctional. And as it ages, the thymus produces fewer T cells. “As we get older, we begin to feel the absence of new T cells because the ones we have left aren’t great at fighting new pathogens,” said Dixit. “That’s one of the reasons why elderly people are at greater risk for illness.”

MRIs on study participants found the thymus glands of those restricting calories had less fat and greater functional volume after two years of calorie restriction—they were producing more T cells than at the start of the study. None of these changes were seen in participants not restricting calories. “The fact that this organ can be rejuvenated is, in my view, stunning because there is very little evidence of that happening in humans,” said Dixit. “That this is even possible is very exciting.”

The researchers also found that changes were happening within fat cells. Body fat is very important, Dixit said, because it hosts a robust immune system. There are several types of immune cells in fat, and when they are aberrantly activated, they become a source of inflammation.

“We found remarkable changes in the gene expression of adipose tissue after one year that were sustained through year two,” said Dixit. “This revealed some genes that were implicated in extending life in animals but also unique calorie restriction-mimicking targets that may improve metabolic and anti-inflammatory response in humans.”

A specific gene, PLA2G7, was significantly inhibited following calorie restriction. Based on a separate lab study, it turns out that inhibiting PLA2G7 protects against inflammation.

“These findings demonstrate that PLA2G7 is one of the drivers of the effects of calorie restriction,” said Dixit. “Identifying these drivers helps us understand how the metabolic system and the immune system talk to each other, which can point us to potential targets that can improve immune function, reduce inflammation, and potentially even enhance healthy lifespan.”

“There’s so much debate about what type of diet is better—low carbohydrates or fat, increased protein, intermittent fasting, etc.—and I think time will tell which of these are important,” said Dixit. “But CALERIE is a very well-controlled study that shows a simple reduction in calories…has a remarkable effect in terms of biology and shifting the immuno-metabolic state in a direction that’s protective of human health. So, from a public health standpoint, I think it gives hope.”

Fitness Flash: Back pain? Get into the pool

Fitness Flash

Back pain? Get into the pool

A study published in JAMA Network Open found that three months of therapeutic water exercise for 60 minutes twice a week was even more effective than physical therapy treatments using TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) and infrared thermal therapy in helping ease chronic low back pain. The water exercise lessened the participants’ pain and improved their functioning, quality of life, sleep quality, and mental state. What’s more, the benefits could still be felt at the 12-month mark. The researchers suggest this could be because water exercises are active therapy, whereas the PT treatments are passive. If you’re looking for low back pain relief, ask your doctor if water therapy could be right for you.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #86

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

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

Crab-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

  • Crab-stuffed piquillo peppers Crab-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers

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

    Ingredients

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

    Directions

    Step 1

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

    Step 2

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

    Step 3

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

    Yields 6 to 8 appetizer servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Chives

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

A primer on crabmeat

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

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

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

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

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

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: Get dedicated kitchen shears

Healthy Kitchen Nugget

Pickling peppers

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

For Your Best Health: Tapping into creativity

For Your Best Health

Tapping into creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fitness Flash

Keep moving now to be able to keep moving later

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

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

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

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

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

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