New study finds that extra-virgin olive oil can help preserve memory and prevent dementia

In a study published online June 21 in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology, the researchers show that the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil protects memory and learning ability and reduces the formation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain — classic markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Temple team also identified the mechanisms underlying the protective effects of extra-virgin olive oil. “We found that olive oil reduces brain inflammation but most importantly activates a process known as autophagy,” explained senior investigator Domenico Praticò, MD, Professor in the Departments of Pharmacology and Microbiology and the Center for Translational Medicine at LKSOM. Autophagy is the process by which cells break down and clear out intracellular debris and toxins, such as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.”

Read more: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170621103123.htm

I thought this study was super interesting.  We’ve known for a long time that there are health benefits to the Mediterranean diet, which is high in olive oil.

As the lead study author, Dr. Pratico, explains, the Mediterranean diet is believed to be healthy mainly due to its high monounsaturated fat content (“good” fat).  However, previous researchers have tended to focus on its positive effects on the heart and cardiovascular system.

This study, on the other hand, shows there is a completely different dimension to why olive oil may be so healthy–  not in relation to the heart, but to the brain.

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As someone who eats a lot of olive oil herself, I thought this was great news!  I would love to explore Mediterranean cooking a bit more, so here is another reason to.

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Homemade Peanut Sauce

This is a peanut sauce recipe that I modified, after following the recipe that came in this Hello Fresh kit.  (It goes over a great lime-marinated beef and broccoli stir fry).  I thought their version came out a little too thin and heavy on the soy sauce flavor, so here how I’ll make it if and when I make it again in the future:

(This will give you enough sauce to go over 2-3 servings of a stir-fry dish).

Start with 2 bulbs of scallions:

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Separate the white tips from the green stems– the greens can be used later as a garnish.

To start, lightly pan fry the scallion whites in oil, along with one chopped glove of garlic, until slightly browned.

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Then stir in:

5-6 tbsp of creamy peanut butter

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp soy sauce

Then, while gently stirring over low-medium heat,  add approximately 1/2 cup water (or until sauce reaches desired consistency.

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When I followed their recipe, it came out a little too watery for my liking.  But still tasted good!

End product:

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All in all, not a bad recipe, though one I would definitely tweak in the future.

Other peanut sauce ideas:

This one from Epicurious calls for lime juice and red pepper flakes.

I’m slightly skeptical– but curious– about this simple-looking one using crunchy peanut butter and hot sauce.

Last, this authentic recipe from She Simmers Thai Cooking that calls for coconut milk and curry paste.  (I think I’m the most excited to try out this one).

Happy cooking!

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic

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Broccoli rabe (also known as “rapini”) is one of those vegetables I’ve been meaning to learn to cook for a long time.  I finally tackled it the other day before incorporating it into a dish with tortellini and goat cheese (that recipe is coming next!).

I have to be honest, it didn’t come out perfect on my first try, but I think I know what to do differently next time.

So here’s what I did, more or less following this recipe from Serious Eats (I omitted the chili flakes).

First, you trim off the stalks, before cutting the broccoli rabe into 3-4″ long pieces.

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Then, you blanch it– you quickly submerge it in boiling water for 2-3 minutes before transferring it to a skillet.  This helps soften it without making boiling the primary cooking method.

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Then, you just chop up one clove of garlic, brown it in a skillet with olive oil, and then add the broccoli rabe and saute until wilted:

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I left mine in the boiling water for a little longer (about 5 minutes) because I was skeptical about it becoming soft enough.  It ended up too soft, so next time I will definitely limit it to 2-3 minutes.

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By the way, here’s an interesting article from the Kitchn on the differences between broccoli, broccoli rabe, and Chinese broccoli.  Although they’re all technically part of the cabbage family, they aren’t as closely related as you’d think.  Broccoli rabe is actually more closely related to turnips than these other two veggies.  Hmm, strange.

And here is a recipe I might try next from the New York Times: Spaghetti With Broccoli Rabe, Toasted Garlic and Bread Crumbs

Kale salad: avocado, bacon, apple & pomegranate (a little b. good inspiration!)

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I think it must be a well-known fact by now that I am officially obsessed with this healthy, “fast” food chain we have on the East Coast called b. good.

Pretty much everything on the menu is super healthy, and they have a really interesting way of combining ingredients in a way you wouldn’t expect, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

To top things off, they source many of their ingredients from local farms and vendors.  When you go in to a store, you can see they actually have really pretty bulletin boards up listening where the food came from.  I just love it.

Any time I go to b. good, I just have to try something new.  Today was the “Local Apple & Bacon” Kale & Grain Bowl.

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Somehow, they actually made the kale taste really good.  It was raw, but it had been marinated in some kind of lemony vinaigrette, which made it soft.

The combo of avocado, bacon, and pomegranate was over the top!

Full disclosure: the person who made the bowl apparently left out some of the other ingredients, such as dried cranberries, scallions, and sunflower seeds.  Oh well– it was still pretty good, and filling.

I’ll just add those in when I inevitably try to make this at home!

Chicken, Bacon & Wild Rice Soup (from Pinch of Yum)

Pinch of Yum is a really great food blog I’ve been following a long time.  In addition to their wide range of recipes, Lindsay and Bjork also offer a lot of great advice on topics such as food photography and making an income with your blog.

Yesterday I followed their recipe for Chicken Bacon Wild Rice Soup.  Obviously I can’t give you the whole recipe here, but I just wanted to save a few notes for myself (and you, if you’re interested) about what it was like to make this recipe.

One thing: This recipe makes a creamy soup with a lot of liquid.  I ended up increasing some of the ingredients because I wanted more of a stew/one-pot meal.   I used:

  • 1.5 cups uncooked rice instead of 1/2 cup
  • an entire 1.25-lb package of chicken

It came out really, really good.

I really liked how easy it was to follow this recipe.  As I made it, I realized there were basically three main steps, which could be adapted to make all different kinds of soups: (Yep… definitely still a beginner here!).  Anyway: 

1. Cook chicken broth, scallions, and rice

2. Make the creamy bechamel-inspired sauce

3. Combine everything at the end.  For me, using pre-cooked chicken and bacon makes the recipe a little bit easier to follow, since I don’t have to worry about the meat getting fully cooked in the broth.

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It came out great, and I’d definitely make it again.  (I think next time I might add some chopped carrots in at step 3).

Anyway, that’s all for now!  If you want to know more, be sure to check out the original recipe!  Bon Appetit!

Coffee: a great tool for dealing with chronic pain

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Coffee is probably my favorite substance on earth.  It makes me feel amazing, helps me wake up on a morning when I haven’t had enough sleep, and even takes away some of my pain.

For a long time I felt a little bit guilty about drinking it because there is so much written about the evils of coffee within the world of alternative health.  People blame it for triggering anxiety, for worsening pain, and for causing digestive problems and insomnia.  The way some writers phrase it, abstaining from coffee is almost like a measure of one’s moral fiber.  If you really want to get better, you have to stop drinking coffee.

I once did a trial period of weaning myself off of coffee/caffeine and then went a few weeks without drinking it to see if I had any less trouble sleeping at night.  I didn’t, and I missed the productivity boost it gave me during the day.  When I drink coffee, it’s not as if my pain suddenly disappears.  But the caffeine seems to give me a rush of optimism and energy that temporarily relegates the pain to the back of my mind and makes it easier to get things done in spite of it.

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Like so many claims floating around the alternative medicine world, I have come to consider the anti-coffee chorus to be as much of a fad as anything else.  True, there are some people who don’t react well to caffeine, but it’s not necessary for so many alternative health practitioners/writers/self-promoters to be putting articles on the Internet claiming that everyone needs to stop drinking coffee.

The fact of the matter is that scientific studies have shown that drinking coffee has several health benefits.  I’m going to outline what I’ve learned about some of those benefits here.

Coffee as a pain-reducer

When I read that scientific studies were finding coffee reduced people’s levels of pain, I wasn’t surprised.  I love working out within a few hours of my morning coffee.  Here is some of the evidence thus far:

  • A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that runners who first ingested caffeine were able to complete a 1500-meter run more quickly than runners who’d ingested the placebo.  The caffeinated runners also had higher readings for V02 max, an indicator of the body’s ability to transport oxygen in the bloodstream.
  • Another study at the University of Illinois compared the pain-relieving effects of caffeine among male cyclists.  Not only did they find that caffeine reduced the cyclists’ perception of pain, but they also found it appeared to reduce pain equally among those who were regular coffee drinkers and those who were not.  This shows that people who drink coffee regularly do not need to worry about building a tolerance and needing to drink more coffee to get the same pain-relieving effects.
  • A study conducted in Norway found that coffee could reduce the back and neck pain among office workers who worked at computers all day.

This is not to say that coffee is some kind of magical painkiller, and there are definitely risks to having too much.  Once in a very long while I get heart palpitations if I accidentally have too much caffeine, and the idea of combining exercise and heart palpitations doesn’t sound great to me.  But if you always make your coffee the same way or buy it at the same place, drink it slowly, and stick to having one cup over the course of a few hours, you should be fine.  Everything in moderation– exercise in moderation, preceded by coffee in moderation.

Coffee has a ton of antioxidants

Antioxidants are amazing substances found in food that help protect your body’s cells from cancer-causing agents called free radicals.  Multiple studies have shown that coffee is high in antioxidants.

  • A 2005 study at the University of Scranton in Pennslyvania showed that coffee has one of the highest concentrations of antioxidants out of all of the foods in the “standard” American diet.  Granted, this is probably in part a measure of how terrible the standard American diet actually is, but I’ll take it.
  • Although most studies focus on other antioxidants, there is some evidence to suggest that caffeine itself can act as an antioxidant, too.

If you’re like me, you probably could be better about including fruits and vegetables in your diet.  As the author of the Scranton study points out, fruits and vegetables are still better than coffee from an “overall nutritional point of view” because of their vitamins, minerals and fiber.  But still, it’s nice to know that on the days when eating well doesn’t end up happening, coffee is there to pick up some of the slack.

Coffee may reduce your risk of developing many different health problems

At this point, most of these claims are still in the research stages, but it all sounds promising.  I’m looking forward to reading more on the following topics as more studies are done:

  • It may also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, although the major study that was done showed you needed to have three cups of coffee to get the most benefit.  I’m personally not sure I can handle that much, but I’m sure a some coffee is better than nothing.

Again, most of these studies are in the preliminary stages, but when you look at all of them in total, I think it’s pretty clear that something awesome is going on here.  Assuming you react well to caffeine, it can be a great tool to help you get to the gym on a day when you’re not feeling great but know you should go.  I’m not an advocate of forcing yourself to work out, but after having a cup of coffee you might find you actually want to.

If you still don’t like coffee, I understand.  I’m not going to tell you you have to drink it.  But I will tell you that you’re missing out. 🙂

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Oven-Roasted Butternut Squash, Carrots, and Parsnips

Just a veggie “roasting kit” from Whole Foods.  It came out to about 3 servings, which is perhaps not the best value for $5.99, however, in the interest of time and convenience and not having to chop things, it was worth it.

I know… this is probably a somewhat boring post.  I know.  But one of my goals for this blog was to establish a routine/pattern/knowing good things to buy, so in that light,  I present you with this post.

You just spread the raw veggies out on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and salt.

Then bake at 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes, stirring occasionally towards the end.

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When they look like this, they’re done!

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