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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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

Apparently gargling with salt water really does help fight colds

So this obviously not a recipe-related post, but if your winter has gone anything like mine, chances are you might find it useful!

I have been sick way too often this winter, and I’ve been looking for every possible way to fight back against this trend.

I’d always heard the advice about gargling with salt water to kill germs, but does it really work?

Well, yes, according to this Gawker article which cites the Mayo Clinic:

“A randomized study of 400 people during cold and flu season… found that salt water gargling three times a day, with or without a cold actually being felt, reduced respiratory infections up to 40 percent.”

Wow.  40%?!?  That boggles the mind.

Basically, gargling draws excess fluid out of inflamed tissues, and helps to loosen thick mucus, which can have germs trapped within it.  And once it’s looser, the easier it is for the body to expel it.  (Sorry, I know that’s gross!).

I feel like I should resolve to now gargle salt water 3x a day for the rest of the winter.  I’m not sure I’ll actually live up to this, but at the rate things have been going, it couldn’t hurt.

 

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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Sauteed Beet Greens

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In my quest to save money and try new things, I decided to try out cooking beet greens.

I scanned a few different recipes and just came up with this really quick method:

I separated the leaves from the stems, leaving about a half inch of stem at the bottom of each leaf, and then chopped the leaves finely.

I sauteed one clove of garlic:img_0851

And then added the chopped greens:

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I then sauteed the greens over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they cooked down. I found the experience to be more or less identical to the experience of cooking swiss chard.

Frankly, the amount of greens I was left with after cooking, which had come with my $4 bundle of 4 organic beets, was not particularly impressive.  It really just came down to two servings.  Still, it was a nice little extra freebie.

If one were to have a significant amount of beet greens to cook, here’s a recipe which looked really good:

Simply Recipes: Beet greens with garlic, bacon, brown sugar, red pepper flakes

That’s all for now!

“I Inherited My Anorexic Mom’s Obsession With Food” (Taylored Training and Fitness)

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Somehow, while I was doing research for my SI joint site, I stumbled across this really great article from Coach Whitney at Taylored Training and Fitness.  It’s about how we can inherit negative patterns, in terms the way we see food and the way we treat our bodies, from our parents.

I haven’t written very much about my own history with food and eating yet, so it’s probably a bit too soon to for me to leap to talking about my own family.

But I do want to say that, if there’s anything all the psychology classes I’ve taken as taught me, it’s that we do pick up way more from our parents than we consciously realize as children.  Coach Whitney writes:

Although my mom did try, I witnessed, learned and inherited her obsession with food. She lived in a world of black and white: food was either good or bad. It would either make you skinny or make you fat.

Every day was a new chance to lose weight. Since having a piece of cake or a cookie was “bad” food, low-fat options were a better choice; it was the ’80s and we owned every Snackwell’s product that was ever made! If it wasn’t low-fat, then exercising to “burn it off” was the strategy of preference for my mom, and then in turn for me.

Her story really resonated with me, because I grew up in a somewhat similar situation.  My mother was not anorexic, but we were all definitely still influenced by the calorie-counting and “low-fat” mentality of the 80’s and 90’s.

I so want to write more about my own story, but I don’t think I am ready to yet.  For now, I just wanted to share this article, and particularly the above quote, on my blog.

I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the article, as well as the other posts from Taylored Training and Fitness!

Out with the old: Saying goodbye to 90’s nutrition advice

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In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and goals, I thought I’d share this really great article I found recently on nutrition “myths.”

Fitness Magazine interviewed registered dietitians on how their perspectives on healthy eating have changed over time.  These RD’s talk about some of the conventional wisdom regarding nutrition coming out of recent decades, how it influenced them, and how a lot of it turned out to be wrong.

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As a teenager struggling with body image issues in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I encountered much of these same nutrition trends myself from magazines and books, as well as from the nutritionist I saw for help with my eating disorder.

I remember– I was terrified of fat.  When I went out to eat, I insisted that I found mayonnaise and salad dressing “gross,” because I had read that cutting those things out was the best way to cut calories.

Each day, I only ate a certain number of calories at set times, and carefully adjusting the amount depending on the number of calories I had burned through exercise.  My treat at the end of the day would be some kind of “low-fat” dessert or “snack pack” of cookies.  Most of the food I ate was low fat– Healthy Choice ham for my sandwich at lunch, with low fat cheese.  Lean Cuisines for dinner.

It is so strange, now, to realize that so many of the “rules” I based my life around were, in fact, actually all wrong.

One of the quotes I related to the most in the article came from Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Nutrition Starring You.  She says:

“When I became a dietitian in the mid 1990s, we were in the middle of the fat-free craze. Bagels, fat-free frozen yogurt, and Snackwell cookies were all the rage. Our hospital diet materials recommended limiting nuts because of their fat content and limiting shellfish because of their cholesterol. Now, we know much more about the health benefits of fats derived from nuts and seeds, and we’ve also learned that high-sugar, fat-free foods are not nutritious choices. Unfortunately, people have long memories and to this day, so many of my patients are afraid to eat shrimp if they have elevated cholesterol. It’s exciting to work in a field with ever-evolving research.”

Yes– it absolutely was a fat-free craze.  Fat-free dressing, fat-free cheese.  Sometimes I’d even come across bread that was labeled fat free.  I always thought I was doing something great for myself when I reached for that label, not understanding that my body actually needed fat in order to function.

I also really related to this quote from Emily Cope, M.S., R.D.N., Owner & Consulting Dietitian at Emily Kyle Nutrition:

“When I was in college, I remember being obsessed with those ‘100-calorie packs’ of cookies and crackers. I thought they were a great option—less than 100 calories for all of those tiny wafers!! Little did I know those calories were being replaced with chemicals and unnatural ingredients. These days, now that I am older and wiser, I am less concerned with calories and more concerned with the quality of my food—whole fruit and nuts are my current go-to snacks!”

Yes.  Unfortunately, that was so me as well.  I felt comfortable with pre-packaged, processed foods because they were marketed for weight-loss, and it was easy to know how many calories were in them.

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These days, I have come so far in terms of my outlook to food that sometimes I almost forget that I ever had a problem.  (After all, I’ve had to deal with so much else with my body over the intervening years!).

I will talk more about how I overcame my eating and body image issues in future posts.  But for now, let me say that these days I think I live and eat pretty holistically.  I don’t get caught up on the idea of depriving myself of something if I really want it; I don’t count calories.

And the funny thing is, now that I allow myself to eat whatever I want, I find that most of the time, I generally tend to crave pretty healthy choices.  Now that I’m actually well-nourished, I find myself more in touch with how my body responds to different foods, and I tend to gravitate towards the foods that make me feel best.

I’m sharing this with you for a few reasons:

A) There’s some really good advice contained in this article, and

B) It serves as a reminder to me– and maybe to you– that things can get better.  Even if you have a problem that goes on for years; if you feel trapped and you truly seem stuck, things can change when you don’t expect it.

I truly hope this post was helpful to you.  Happy New Year!