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Olive Oil Hunter News #175

Mixed Berry Buckle Recipe, Spotlight on Blackberries, Pastry Cutters, Vitamin D Needs Vary and How Incentives Help You Move More

Whether you’re hosting a 4th of July party or need a dish to bring to a celebration, berry buckle checks all the boxes. It has the essential red, white, and blue look, thanks to its abundance of berries, can be made early in the day (or even the night before), and travels with ease if it’s to bring to a BBQ or picnic. While such outdoor activities can offer a boost of vitamin D, a new research review points out that how much you need is very individualized, and a one-size-fits-all approach to taking supplements probably isn’t effective for everyone. Need more motivation than being in sunshine to move more? Another study I’m sharing found that incentives can really make a difference. 

Mixed Berry Buckle

  • Mixed Berry Buckle Mixed Berry Buckle

    When it comes to cobblers versus cakes, a buckle is the best of both worlds—a rich batter heavily studded with fresh fruit and topped with a crunchy crumble. As it bakes, the batter rises, or buckles, over the berries as the crumble crisps and browns. This version uses three berries for a red, white, and blue theme (the cake itself counts as the “white”!). The following proportions are for a large cake that will feed a crowd or provide delicious leftovers for breakfast the next day.


    For the crumble topping:

    • 4 ounces unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 2/3 cup flour
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 

    For the cake:

    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
    • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
    • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
    • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 8 ounces unsalted butter at room temperature 
    • 2 cups granulated sugar 
    • 8 large eggs
    • 6 cups assorted berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries


    Step 1

    Make the topping: Use your hands or a pastry blender to turn the butter, sugar, flour, and cinnamon into small bits, ranging from the size of peas to beans. Set aside.

    Step 2

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 13-inch by 9-inch baking dish with olive oil; set aside. To make the batter, in a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, and baking powder. In a large bowl or standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition to combine, then add the olive oil and briefly beat again. Gradually add to the wet ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.

    Step 3

    Transfer the batter to your baking dish and use a large offset spatula to smooth the top. Arrange the berries evenly over the top, being sure to get some into the corners of the dish. Crumble the topping evenly over the fruit.

    Step 4

    Bake until the tip of a sharp knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about an hour. Serve while still warm.

    Yields 12 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Blackberries

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight



Plump, deep-purple blackberries are the unsung heroes of the berry patch. So sweet when ripe, they’re packed with vitamins C, K, and E, fiber (8 grams per cup), and a bounty of health-boosting phytochemicals, including anthocyanin, which gives them their unique color. Like blueberries, they hold their shape well when baked. Look for them at your farmers’ market or try growing them yourself.


Quick Kitchen Nugget: Pastry cutters

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Pastry Cutters

Pastry cutters

Also called a dough or pastry blender, a pastry cutter is a handy tool for cutting butter into flour thanks to its stainless steel blades. When making crumble and streusel toppings as well as pastry dough, it can be easier on your hands than using your fingers for the job, especially if you choose a style with an ergonomic cushioned nonslip handle. You simply press down with the pastry cutter, then lift and repeat, moving around your bowl until you get pieces the size that you need.  

For Your Best Health: Vitamin D Needs

For Your Best Health

Vitamin D Needs Vary

A new study from scientists at Trinity College Dublin, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, sheds light on the complexities of achieving optimal vitamin D status for different population groups, a mystery that is becoming increasingly important to unravel because the incidence of vitamin D deficiency remains high. More than helping to build strong bones, vitamin D regulates many cellular functions in your body, according to the Mayo Clinic. It has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties that boost your immune health, your brain cell activity, and how well your muscles function.

The authors analyzed data from half a million participants from the UK and calculated an individualized estimate of each person’s ambient ultraviolet-B (UVB) level, which is the wavelength of sunlight that induces vitamin D synthesis in the skin.

Their comprehensive analysis revealed novel insights. The first is that ambient UVB is a critical predictor of vitamin D status, even in a place like the UK, which receives relatively little sunlight. The second is that your age, sex, BMI, cholesterol level, and vitamin D supplementation significantly influence how you respond to UVB. For example, when BMI and age increase, the amount of vitamin D produced in response to UVB decreases.

“We hope this work can highlight the significant differences in vitamin D levels among different ethnic groups at northern latitudes and contribute to efforts to address the long-standing population health issue of vitamin D deficiency,” said study first author Dr. Margaret M. Brennan, research assistant in the department of public health and primary care in the School of Medicine at Trinity College.

Principal investigator Dr. Lina Zgaga, associate professor of epidemiology at Trinity, added, “We believe our findings have significant implications for the development of tailored recommendations for vitamin D supplementation. Our study underscores the need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach towards personalized strategies for optimizing vitamin D status.”

Talk to your doctor about assessing your vitamin D status and what you might need to do to boost it.

Fitness Flash: Incentives Help You Move More

Fitness Flash

Incentives Help You Move More

Adults with heart disease risks who received daily reminders or incentives to become more active increased their daily steps by more than 1,500 after a year, and many were still sticking with their new habit six months later, according to a study supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published in the journal Circulation. 

The improvements, which also resulted in an extra 40 minutes of moderate exercise each week, correlated with a 6% reduced risk of premature death and a 10% reduced risk of cardiovascular-related death, compared to data from prior studies. As a reminder, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that most adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, like fast cycling, or a combination of the two, paired with twice-weekly strength sessions.

Researchers found that while a simple daily reminder was effective in helping people move more, offering financial incentives or point-based rewards from playing a game was even more effective…and combining the two incentives was the most effective. Participants who got both were still logging improvements in activity levels six months after the rewards stopped.

“Even moderate exercise can drastically reduce cardiovascular risk, so finding low-cost ways to get people moving and stay[ing] in a fitness program that they can do at home is a huge win for public health,” said Alison Brown, PhD, RD, a program officer at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH.

The study took place between 2019 and 2024. Researchers followed more than 1,000 adults at elevated risk for major cardiovascular events. All participants received a wearable fitness tracker, which connected to an online health portal and enabled researchers to count their baseline daily step count. Participants then set a goal to increase their daily steps by 33%, 40%, 50%, or any amount greater than 1,500 steps from their starting point. (Before the study began, participants in all groups logged an average of about 5,000 daily steps, or 2.4 miles.)

After they set their goals, participants were randomly placed into one of four groups. People in three of the groups were offered incentives: game-like rewards, financial rewards, or a combination of the two. The fourth group was the control group; participants received no incentives but got the fitness tracker, along with daily messages that noted their step count. 

In the game group, each participant received points every week and kept them by meeting their daily step goals. On days they failed to meet their goals they lost points. Participants with enough points moved up a level, and participants who failed to meet goals moved down a level. A family member or friend could act as a participant’s “support crew” and receive weekly updates about their progress. At the end of the study, adults who reached the highest levels by meeting their daily step goals received trophies. In the financial group, each participant received $14 each week, but lost $2 a day if they did not meet their step targets. The third group received both game-like and financial incentives. 

Compared to the control group, the game-incentive group walked an extra 538 steps per day from their baseline amount, while those who received financial incentives walked an extra 492. The group who received both incentives averaged 868 extra steps and maintained an average of 576 more daily steps six months later. 

“The interventions created immediate benefits for participants, and they worked,” said Alexander C. Fanaroff, MD, one of the study authors, an expert in behavior change, and an interventional cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “Research shows it’s easier to think about today instead of the future, whether it’s exercising more to support long-term heart health or saving for a future goal, like college or retirement.”

Researchers said people wanting to change their behavior, especially around exercise, can focus on the same principles used in the study, which created immediate benefits or rewards for movement. For example, there are exercise apps that provide daily reminders and rewards for meeting personal health goals, or people could enlist family and friends for support, and even create scenarios where they lose money by giving it away if they don’t meet their targets. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #158

Ribollita Tuscan Peasant Soup Recipe, Spotlight on Tuscan Kale, Soaking Beans, A Surprising Benefit of Flaxseed and Alternating Cardio with Resistance Exercise is Heart-Healthy

Tuscany is the land of legumes, notably beans, and Tuscans have a centuries-old tradition of cooking simple bean-based soups that make the most of whatever ingredients are on hand. Ribollita is a perfect example. Meaning “reboiled,” it’s a soup that can be reheated and even enhanced by adding in leftovers as your week moves along. Speaking of moving along, there’s interesting research on the role of resistance exercise in heart health. And another study I’m sharing provides food for thought: Flaxseed could play a role in reducing breast cancer risk.


  • Ribollita Ribollita

    While you can make Ribollita your own by adding in other vegetables, three ingredients define this soup: cannellini beans, hearty (and stale) Tuscan bread, and Tuscan kale. If you’ve been saving your Parmigiano-Reggiano rinds, now is the perfect time to use two of them!


    • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
    • 2 medium onions, diced 
    • 4 large carrots, diced
    • 3 celery stalks, diced
    • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
    • 1 large bunch Tuscan kale
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, more to taste
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1/4 cup fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
    • 6 cups vegetable stock or water 
    • One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
    • 2 pieces of Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, if available
    • 3 cups cooked cannellini beans, homemade or two 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained  
    • 2 or more cups of hand-torn stale Tuscan bread
    • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


    Step 1

    Heat a Dutch oven or stockpot, and when hot, add the olive oil, onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat to soften but not brown the vegetables. Sprinkle on the salt to help them release their liquid. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the black and red pepper and the herbs; stir and then add the water or stock, the canned tomatoes with all their liquid, and the cheese rinds if available. Bring to a simmer and add the beans. Simmer for 30 minutes, and then add the bread. Cook for another 10 minutes to break down the bread a bit.

    Step 2

    To serve, ladle into bowls, drizzle on a generous amount of olive oil, and finish with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

    Serves 10

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Kale

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

All Hail (Tuscan) Kale

If you’re not a huge kale fan, it could be that you’ve never tasted Tuscan kale. Also known as lacinato kale, black kale (cavolo nero), and even dinosaur kale, deeply colored Tuscan kale is not as bitter as curly kale, the more common option. So you get all the benefits of dark leafy greens that you don’t have to massage to make tender. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Soaking Beans

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Soaking Beans

It’s hard to beat the convenience of canned beans, but there are many more varieties to choose from when you use dried beans. Even the same variety that’s available canned will be more flavorful when made from scratch. One pound of dried beans will yield about 7 cups when soaked and cooked.

There’s very little active time needed—place your beans in a bowl that can hold at least three times their volume, cover them with cold water, and come back 4 hours later (or overnight). 

You can shorten the soaking time with a quick hack: Rinse the beans and place them in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover them by 2-3 inches and bring the water to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, then take the pot off the heat and let it sit for an hour. 

For Ribollita, the beans must be fully cooked before adding to the soup because of its limited cooking time. To do this, rinse your soaked beans, return them to your pot, cover them again with cold water, and bring them to a boil. Simmer for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender but not overly soft and they’re ready to add.

For Your Best Health: A Surprising Benefit of Flaxseed

For Your Best Health

A Surprising Benefit of Flaxseed

A new animal study demonstrated how the gut microbiome could be a factor in breast health. In the study, flaxseed components called lignans were shown to influence the relationship between gut microorganisms and the expression of mammary gland microRNAs or miRNAs (short, noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression). A subset of these miRNAs regulates the genes involved in breast cancer, including genes that control cell proliferation and migration. 

“The gastrointestinal microbiota plays an important role in modifying many components of our diet to impact human health,” said Jennifer Auchtung, PhD, assistant professor in the Food Science and Technology Department at the University of Nebraska Lincoln and the editor who coordinated the review of the paper. “In this study, we found correlations between diets enriched in flaxseed, cecal microbiota composition, and miRNA profiles in the mammary gland that regulate many pathways, including those involved in cancer development. This preliminary study supports further research into the role that the microbiota plays in dietary approaches to reduce risk factors associated with disease.”

For this study, the researchers studied the effects of flaxseed lignans on the microbiota of young female mice. Lignans, fiber-associated compounds found in many foods and particularly plentiful in flaxseed, are associated with reduced breast cancer mortality in postmenopausal women. The researchers found that lignan components generate specific miRNA responses in the mammary gland. 

To determine whether the relationship between the microbiota and mammary gland miRNAs could be manipulated to reduce the risk of breast cancer, the researchers fed flaxseed lignan components to female mice to see whether gut cecal microbiota profiles are related to miRNA expression in the mammary gland. The cecum, the first part of the colon, located in the right lower abdomen near the appendix, is believed to have a role in production of short-chain fatty acids and has been proposed to serve as a reservoir of anaerobic bacteria.

One flaxseed oil lignan requires microbial processing to release bioactive metabolites, small-molecule chemicals produced during metabolism that influence physiology and disease—in this case, having antitumor effects. The researchers found that the microbiota and mammary gland miRNA are related and that flaxseed lignans modify the relationship to be non-cancer-causing.

“If these findings are confirmed, the microbiota becomes a new target to prevent breast cancer through dietary intervention,” said Elena M. Comelli, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, the corresponding author on the paper. The study was published in Microbiology Spectrum, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

Fitness Flash

Alternating Cardio with Resistance Exercise is Heart-Healthy

A robust body of evidence shows aerobic exercise can reduce heart disease risks, especially for people who are overweight or obese. But few studies have compared results with resistance exercise, also known as strength or weight training, or with workout regimens that are half aerobic and half resistance. Researchers at Iowa State University led one of the longest and largest supervised exercise trials to help fill this gap.

Their results, published in European Heart Journal, indicate that splitting the recommended amount of physical activity between aerobic and resistance exercise reduces cardiovascular disease risks as much as aerobic-only regimens. However, resistance exercise on its own for the same amount of time did not provide the same heart health benefits.

“If you’re bored with aerobic exercise and want variety or you have joint pain that makes running long distances difficult, our study shows you can replace half of your aerobic workout with strength training to get the same cardiovascular benefits. The combined workout also offers some other unique health benefits, like improving your muscles,” said Duck-chul Lee, PhD, lead author and professor of kinesiology at Iowa State. That’s a huge plus because we tend to lose muscle mass, and consequently mobility and independence, as we age. 

“One of the most common reasons why people don’t exercise is because they have limited time. The combined exercise with both cardio and strength training we’re suggesting is not more time-consuming,” Dr. Lee underscored. Performing a certain number of sets and repetitions with weight machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight through push-ups or lunges, all count as resistance exercise.

How the study was done: 406 participants between 35 and 70 years of age enrolled in the one-year randomized controlled exercise trial. All met the threshold for being overweight or obese with body mass indexes between 25 and 40 kg/m2 and had elevated blood pressure. The researchers randomly assigned participants to one of four groups: no exercise, aerobic only, resistance only, or aerobic plus resistance. Those who were in one of the three exercise groups worked out under supervision for one hour three times a week for one year.

Every participant in the exercise groups received a tailored workout routine based on their individual fitness levels, health conditions, and progression. Those assigned to resistance training were given a certain number of sets, repetitions, and weights for weight-lifting machines. With aerobic exercises, participants wore a heart rate monitor and inserted a unique exercise program key into a treadmill or stationary bike. Sensing the participant’s heart rate, the machine automatically adjusted the speed and grade to match the prescribed intensity.

All participants wore pedometers to measure daily steps and met every three months with registered dietitians at Iowa State for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” education, which is promoted by the National Institutes of Health. On three random days per month, participants were asked to record what they had consumed in the last 24 hours with an online dietary assessment tool developed by the US National Cancer Institute.

At the start of the yearlong clinical trial, six months in, and at the end, the researchers measured each participant’s systolic blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting glucose, and body fat percentage, all well-established cardiovascular disease risk factors. “Many previous studies only looked at one of these four factors, but it’s really multiple factors combined that increase cardiovascular disease risk,” explained Dr. Lee. The researchers used a composite score to fairly quantify changes across all four factors since each uses a different unit of measurement. A lower composite score indicated less risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

At the end of the yearlong trial, the percentage of body fat in all three exercise groups had decreased significantly compared to the no-exercise control group. The authors found that “every -1% body fat reduction is associated with -3%, -4%, and -8% lower risks of developing [cardiovascular disease] risk factors of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and metabolic syndrome.” Taking all four cardiovascular disease risk factors into account, the aerobic and combined exercise groups had lower composite scores than the control group, with results consistent across gender and age.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #153

Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce Recipe, Spotlight on Pears, How to Avoid Curdling Eggs and Protect Against the Biggest Heart Disease Risk Factors, Go Green to Clean

If you thought olive oil was only for savory dishes, you’ll want to try this delectable dessert right away! Roasting brings out even more of the pears’ natural sweetness and the custard is as creamy as the best pudding—and both are enhanced with olive oil. This issue’s research topics have to do with preventing health issues—avoiding toxic VOCs in cleaning products to protect your lungs and the greater environment and preventing or mitigating the five most damaging threats to heart health. The good news: We each have it within our control to make lifestyle changes that make a significant difference.

Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce

  • Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce Recipe Baked Pears with Olive Oil Custard Sauce

    Separately, roasted pears and rich vanilla custard are delicious. Together, they’re simply sublime. This dish can be served warm, with the pears just out of the oven and the custard right off the stovetop, or both can be chilled and served cold—the sauce will get thicker in the fridge.


    For the pears:

    • 4 pears, such as Anjou, Bosc, or Concorde, ripe but still firm
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    • 1/2 cup water

    For the custard sauce:

    • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • Pinch of sea salt
    • 2 egg yolks
    • 2 whole eggs
    • 1-1/2 cups whole milk 
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
    • 1/3 teaspoon almond extract


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Halve the pears and use a small spoon to scoop out the seeds; there’s no need to peel them. Lightly coat a baking dish large enough to hold the pear halves with the olive oil. Place the pears cut side down in the baking dish and drizzle them with the 2 tablespoons olive oil, then sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour the water into the baking dish and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the pears cut side up, carefully spooning the juices from the bottom of the dish over them and into the cavities. Bake for another 20 minutes or until tender—check with the tip of a knife (if they start to brown before they’re done, cover the dish with foil). 

    Step 2

    While the pears are baking, make the custard. In a heat-safe bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, sugar, and salt. Add the yolks and the whole eggs and whisk until the mixture is light yellow and slightly thick.

    Step 3

    Place the milk in a saucepan and scald it—it should start to form a light skin but not come to a rapid boil. Vigorously whisk 1/4 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then slowly whisk in the rest. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and bring to a low boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let it boil for 60 seconds until it thickens enough to coat a spoon (it should be the consistency of a cream soup). Remove from the heat. (If it looks at all lumpy, put it through a strainer.) Whisk in the olive oil and the extracts. Transfer to a 2-cup pitcher for pouring over the pears. Note: If you want to chill the sauce, press a small round of parchment paper over the surface to prevent a skin from forming as it cools down.

    Step 4

    To serve, plate two pear halves on each of four dishes and pour on generous amounts of the sauce and the juices from the baking pan.

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Pears

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Pears: A Powerhouse of Nutrients

A medium pear has only about 100 calories, but packs a wallop of nutrients. At the top of the list are its 6 grams of fiber—be sure to leave on the skins to get all of them. Rich in antioxidants, pears have potassium, magnesium, and even some vitamin C. They make a great dessert, a filling snack—try a slice on a cracker spread with goat cheese, and a sweet addition to salads. 

Because of that sweetness and their smooth, often buttery flesh, puréed ripe pears can add a sweet note to creamy vegetable soups or be the star of a dessert like a tart, but only the firmer varieties can stand up to cooking, whether poaching, baking, grilling, roasting, or sautéing. Enjoy Bartlett, Starkrimson, and Forelle varieties raw.

Store pears at room temperature. Refrigerate only to slow the ripening process. For instance, if you bought a bushel at the farmers’ market, you can delay ripening by putting some in the fridge and take them out a few days before you want to eat them. Some pears change color as they ripen—green Bartletts, for instance, become yellow. For varieties that don’t typically change color, test for ripeness by gently pressing your thumb near the stem end or on the neck, not the body. The surface should just barely give when ripe. If you want softer flesh for a purée or smoothie, wait for the wider bottom half to become soft to the touch—the inside will actually be overripe. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: How to avoid curdling eggs

Quick Kitchen Nugget

How to Avoid Curdling Eggs

The reason to slowly add hot liquid to eggs for custards and pastry cream is to keep the eggs from curdling, the inevitable result of pouring in a large amount of scalded milk all at once. The cornstarch adds yet another layer of protection, which is why you can finish the cooking in the same pan you use to heat the milk rather than using a traditional double boiler. Still, it’s a must to whisk vigorously through every stage to avoid lumps and create a smooth texture. The cornstarch itself needs to be brought just to a boil and cooked for about a minute or else your custard will taste chalky—vigorously whisking during this stage and turning down the heat as needed are especially important steps to avoid burning. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Go Green to Clean

A peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group scientists published in the journal Chemosphere detailed new information about the potential health risks of common household cleaning products. Their analysis of 30 products, including multipurpose and glass cleaners and air fresheners, showed that these everyday products may release hundreds of hazardous volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, into the air we breathe. 

Researchers tested both conventional products and “green” cleaning products and detected a total of 530 unique VOCs in the 30 products. Of these, 193 VOCs were hazardous, meaning they’ve been identified as having the potential to cause health harms such as respiratory system damage, increased cancer risk, and developmental and reproductive impacts. VOCs in cleaning products affect the quality of air both indoors and outdoors, but they contaminate indoor air two to five times more than outdoor air, with some estimates as high as 10 times more. Some products emit VOCs for days, weeks, or even months. 

“This study is a wake-up call for consumers, researchers, and regulators to be more aware of the potential risks associated with the numerous chemicals entering our indoor air,” said Alexis Temkin, PhD, a senior toxicologist at EWG. ”Our findings emphasize a way to reduce exposure to hazardous VOCs – by selecting products that are ‘green,’ especially those that are ‘green’ and ‘fragrance free.’” 

Products labeled green emitted fewer VOCs than did conventional products—about half the number, on average. The green products categorized as “fragrance free” also produced the fewest VOC emissions, nearly eight times fewer than conventional and four times fewer than green products that included fragrance on their label. 

That pattern also held true for the number of VOCs considered hazardous in the products. The green products emitted just four chemicals classified as hazardous, on average, compared to about 15 in green products with fragrance and 22 for conventional products. This suggests that choosing green or green and fragrance free cleaning products could be prudent for those concerned about indoor air quality and potential health risks, such as an increased risk for asthma.

“These cleaning products may hurt our health, but they may also harm the environment,” said Samara Geller, EWG senior director of cleaning science. VOCs emitted by consumer products can contribute to outdoor air pollution, adding to existing environmental concerns. 

“Going green with your cleaning products is an easy way to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. This may be especially important for women’s and children’s health,” said Geller.

Fitness Flash

Protect Against the Biggest Heart Disease Risk Factors 

Scientists of the Global Cardiovascular Risk Consortium under the auspices of the department of cardiology at the University Heart & Vascular Center of the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) and the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) have shown that the five classic cardiovascular risk factors—excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes mellitus—are directly connected to more than half of all cardiovascular diseases worldwide.

Specifically, the numbers are 57.2% and 52.6% of cases of incident cardiovascular disease among women and men, respectively, and 22.2% and 19.1% of deaths from any cause among women and men, respectively. Their work, “Global Effect of Modifiable Risk Factors on Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality,” was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August 2023.

They came to their conclusions after assessing data on 1.5 million people who took part in 112 different studies done in North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia, North Africa and the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Australia. Their objective was to gain a better understanding of the global distribution, the significance of the individual risk factors and their effects on cardiovascular diseases, and overall mortality in order to derive targeted preventive measures.

Cardiovascular diseases cause approximately a third of all deaths worldwide. They often develop silently over decades. Frequently, without being recognized, the vascular walls change, giving rise to arteriosclerosis, in the wake of which coronary heart disease may occur, including complications such as heart attacks, acute cardiac death, or strokes. But there’s a silver lining—you can do something about each of those five risk factors.

“Our study clearly shows that over half of all heart attacks and strokes are avoidable by checking and treating the classic risk factors. These results are of the highest significance for strengthening prevention in this area. At the same time, approximately 45% of all cardiovascular cases cannot be explained with these risk factors; they should motivate us and the academic funders to further research efforts,” said Stefan Blankenberg, MD, professor and medical director of the University Heart & Vascular Center at the UKE.

“In principle, the five classic risk factors that we examined are modifiable, and thus responsive to preventive measures. So far, the proportion of preventable risk attributed to these five risk factors is still matter of debate,” lead author Christina Magnussen, MD, associate professor in the department of cardiology at the University Heart & Vascular Center of the UKE, explains.

The study shows that we can learn how to avoid cardiovascular diseases or reduce their effects for at-risk persons, or people with cardiovascular diseases, by improving their lifestyles and by lowering blood pressure or cholesterol. It also shows a linear relationship between high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases. “High systolic blood pressure accounts for the largest share of cardiovascular risk. We should place a particular focus on the therapy of patients with high blood pressure to avoid cardiovascular diseases as much as possible,” said Dr. Magnussen. The scientists also identified a remarkable connection between cholesterol levels and overall mortality: Very low as well as high cholesterol levels increase overall mortality.

With the exception of BMI, which remains equally significant at any age, the significance of risk factors decreases with age. High blood pressure, for instance, is more damaging to a 40 year old than to an 80 year old. “This raises the question to what extent the target values for treating cardiovascular risk factors for the most elderly should be identical with those for the middle to older age bracket,” said Dr. Blankenberg.

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Phenols in EVOO are the primary source of its heart-health benefits

Reference: Flynn MM, Tierney A, Itsiopoulos C. Is extra virgin olive oil the critical ingredient driving the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet? Nutrients. 2023;15:2915.

A recent scientific review, published in the journal Nutrients, provides strong evidence that the phenols in EVOO—which are not present in lower grades of olive oil—play a primary role in the heart-health benefits associated with olive oil and the Mediterranean diet. 

Phenols are bioactive compounds in plant-based foods. EVOO is rich in phenols, whereas refined olive oils are stripped of these health-promoting compounds by chemical production processes. 

Study Objectives

Dr. Mary Flynn, PhD, registered dietician, and associate professor of medicine at Brown University, identified 34 randomized, controlled trials published between 2000 and 2022 that evaluated the effects of EVOO on risk factors for heart disease: blood pressure, levels of LDL (“bad”) and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, blood sugar, and body weight. 

A main aim of the review was to isolate the effects of the phenols in EVOO from the potential effects of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are present in all grades of olive oil and other vegetable oils. Flynn hypothesized that the MUFA content is not responsible for the many health benefits of EVOO. 

Another objective was to identify a minimum daily amount of EVOO required to experience its health benefits and the timing for improvements in heart-health risk factors to be observed.


Across the 34 studies, EVOO improved multiple risk factors for heart disease as compared to other grades of olive oil, other plant oils, and low-fat diets: 

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Lowered LDL and increased HDL
  • Improved insulin sensitivity
  • Proved effective in weight-loss diets and improved long-term weight management

Daily dose of EVOO

According to Flynn and colleagues, “Daily use of EVOO starting at approximately two tablespoons a day will improve a plethora of risk factors in as few as three weeks.”

Phenomenal phenols

It is the phenols in EVOO that confer its heart-health benefits, the authors concluded. In order to obtain optimal levels of phenols, they recommend consuming the freshest olive oil: “The phenol content of extra virgin olive oil is highest in olive oil made close to the harvesting of the olive and will decrease with age and storage. Thus, for maximum health benefits, the EVOO should be produced and consumed as close to harvesting the fruit as possible.” 

The authors noted some limitations of this review: most studies did not include the specific phenolic content of the EVOO used, and many were conducted in the EU, where EVOO has been a part of the diet for centuries. More investigation, especially studies that identify the specific levels of phenols, is needed to confirm and build on these findings.