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.

***

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.

Advertisements

Zucchini, Onion & Chickpea Side Salad with Arugula (Hello Fresh)

I thought this was a creative little side salad idea from Hello Fresh.  It actually came out super tasty.

IMG_2506

I can’t give you the whole recipe here, but just so you get the idea:

You start out by sauteeing the chopped onion and zucchini in olive oil, because they take the longest to cook:

IMG_2502

Then you stir in garlic, vegetable stock, and paprika:

IMG_2503

Before ultimately adding the chickpeas and chopped arugula:

IMG_2504

I was really impressed by this dish; the flavors really came together.

It was served a side dish to the Spanish-style cod, which was very easy to make– you pop it in the oven at 500 degrees for about 8 minutes.

IMG_2509

My only real criticism of Hello Fresh, after having tried it a few times, is that the meals just don’t end up being very filling.  After eating a serving of this, I was hungry again within about two hours.

However, I just wanted to remember this dish because the favors came together really well, and it has the potential to really complement a larger dish.  If I was going to make it gain, I think I would try to mix in some couscous or something, along with some extra olive oil, to bulk it up.

So, that is my somewhat mixed review, but rest assured– this salad itself was incredibly tasty!

Cheese Tortellini with Melted Goat Cheese & Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

IMG_1808

In my last post, I described a pretty easy way to cook broccoli rabe (blanching it in cold water, and then sauteing it in olive oil).

IMG_1803

You can then use that broccoli rabe to make this dish.

It’s super simple:

You just boil the tortellini (I used an 8 oz package of fresh Bertoli tortellini, in the three cheese flavor):

IMG_1804

Then you drain the pasta in a colandar.

Next, slice a log of goat cheese into thin medallions and then spread them out evenly, stirring gently so that they begin to melt.

Then add the broccoli rabe, and voila!  You’re done.  Easy side dish.

IMG_1807

Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic

IMG_1793

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.

IMG_1795

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.

IMG_1796

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:

IMG_1803

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.

***

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

Healthy Baked Broccoli Bites

This is a quick, easy, and tasty way to prepare broccoli!  Chop into bite-size pieces:

img_0829

Then coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper:

img_0831

Spread the pieces out on a baking tray, making sure they aren’t touching each other too much (you want them to bake, not steam each other).

Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes.  (Start checking periodically after the 10-minute mark).

When the pieces begin to turn brown and crispy, they’re done! Enjoy!

img_1131

The simplest recipe for baked sweet potatoes.

You guys, I just made myself the most amazing snack, and it was so, so easy:

I came home from the most beautiful hike, and I was hungry.

IMG_1236.JPG

I rinsed off a sweet potato, cut it in half, and then coated both sides lightly in olive oil.

I then wrapped it in tinfoil, and tossed it in the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

When I took it out, I simply added a little Country Crock butter spread and let it melt all over (it’s a good choice because it’s made with vegetable oil and no trans fats).

So delicious.  Gonna remember this one.

IMG_1239.JPG

 

Coffee: a great tool for dealing with chronic pain

photo12280915

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.

Photo12280914_1

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. 🙂

Photo12280914