News / Health

The Mediterranean way to a long life

Drink a glass of olive oil every day – the Mediterranean way to a long life

by Tim October 9 

I felt nauseous and dizzy. My attempted one week of following the intensive olive oil diet was not going well. It was eight in the morning and on an empty stomach I had only finished half of the small glass of golden liquid specially chosen by my Spanish friends as the smoothest Albequina variety of extra virgin olive oil. Dipping crusty warm bread into it before an evening meal is one thing. Drinking it neat in the morning was another.

For the sake of science and my book I was trying to emulate the diets of Cretan fishermen from the 1960s, who reportedly had a glass of olive oil for breakfast before a hard day of fishing or goat herding. These high intakes of oil had been suggested as a cause of their remarkable longevity, despite the large amounts of saturated fat they consumed as a result.

I decided to replace my usual yoghurt and fruit breakfast with the golden drink to test the story. Thirty minutes later I was lying on the floor after a faint in the hairdresser, which was unlikely to be a coincidence. Despite realising I maybe should have lined my stomach first, I abandoned my heroic attempt.

In Britain and the US, people consume on average around 1 litre of olive oil per person per year, but isn’t much compared to the Greeks, Italians and Spanish who all drink more 13 litres per person. Olive oil, with its high calories and mixed saturated and unsaturated fats, was once assumed by many doctors to be dreadfully unhealthy. But health surveys of European populations kept finding that southern Europeans lived longer and had less heart disease despite higher fat intakes. It turns out olive oil was the likely reason.

Mediterranean diet vs low-fat

Ten years ago an ambitious and unique research trial was started in Spain in 7,500 mildly overweight men and women in their 60s at risk of heart disease and diabetes. They were randomly allocated to two diets for five years: one a low-fat diet recommended by doctors in most western countries and the other a high fat Mediterranean diet supplemented with either extra olive oil or nuts.

The “PREDIMED” study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013 conclusively showed that the Mediterranean diet group had a third less heart disease, diabetes and stroke than the low-fat group. They also lost a little weight and had less memory loss. The most recent results showed that it also reduced chances of breast cancer, albeit in a small number of women.

Picking through the data, the researchers found that the extra olive oil group did slightly better than the extra nut group, but both were clearly superior to low fat diets. The research was also much more reliable than many diet studies because it was a randomised control trial that looked at a large group of people over a long period of time, rather than just monitoring people on one diet for a few days or weeks.

The benefits can’t be narrowed down to one single food or factor but to some general themes. Extra fibre, a diverse range of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, yoghurts and cheese, small amounts of fish and meat, red wine, nuts and seeds and good quality olive oil all played their part. However the authors believe that the olive oil itself was the most powerful single factor.

The cheaper forms of olive oil (those labelled regular or virgin) didn’t show any benefit – it had to be extra virgin. The difference between the grades of oil lies not just in the lower acidity, freshness and richer taste but in the number of chemicals released called polyphenols. High grade extra virgin oil, especially if cold extracted, has around 30 polyphenols that act as antioxidants, which reduce inflammation and also help reduce the effects of aging particularly on the heart and brain.

Until recently it was thought these antioxidant polyphenols acted directly on genes and blood vessels. But it turns out that they also work via our gut microbes that make up our microbiome. This is the community of trillions of diverse bacteria which live in our large intestine. They feed off the different polyphenols and produce other small chemicals (short chain fatty acids) that dampen down inflammation and help our immune system.

The more bugs the better

Complex high fat foods such as extra virgin olive oil, when eaten with a wide variety of other healthy polyphenol-dense foods, provide the basis for a rich and diverse community of gut microbes. This diversity is increasingly being shown to be important for our health. The original PREDIMED study didn’t measure gut microbes directly (although subsequent research is doing so) but the striking benefits of the Mediterranean diet and particularly extra virgin olive oil are that they are superb gut microbe fertilisers and improve gut health.

Critics of olive oil, who usually promote untested alternatives, suggest its lower burning temperature make make it more likely to produce potential carcinogens in cooking. But the Spanish participants in the trial regularly cooked with the oil, reassuringly with no obvious health consequences.

Eating extra virgin olive oil as part of a diverse Mediterranean diet is clearly beneficial in Spanish adults. And although genes partially control preferences, there is no reason to believe it won’t work in other cultures and populations. If we start educating people to use high-quality extra virgin olive oil early in life and change its stigma as a medicine or punishment, we could make our populations and our gut microbiomes healthier. Although we are unlikely to ever match the Greeks.


Courtesy  Tim October 9 

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Unlocking Sprouted Grains

A sprouted grain is the beginning of a grain seed's life cycle, before it becomes a mature plant. Given just the right temperature and moisture conditions, the outer layer will split open and a young shoot will sprout out of the grain, releasing vital nutrients and enzymes stored inside. Grain seeds are similar to long-term storage packages, designed to keep their goodness locked inside until conditions are right to grow a new plant.

According to the Whole Grains Council, the sprouting process can increase the amount and availability of some vitamins (notably vitamin C) and minerals, making sprouted grains a potential nutrition powerhouse. 

"With the attention paid to gluten-free, a dark cloud has been surrounding whole grains for several years," said registered dietitian, Kashi nutrition partner and author, Toby Amidor. "Unless you have celiac disease or other individual needs, whole grains - including sprouted grains - are an important part of a healthy diet."

"Sprouted grains are a delicious way to add fiber and essential minerals such as iron, zinc or magnesium to your diet," continued Amidor. "They aren't just for the serious health food aficionados anymore - many new packaged foods feature these unique and nutritious grains."

The scoop on whole grains

What are whole grains and what makes them so healthy? Simply put, they are small, edible seeds that come from grasses such as wheat and barley. Whole grains can be ground, cracked, or flaked, and still retain their benefits. Here are three ways whole grains have a positive impact:

  • Healthy Weight: Packed with nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and fiber, whole grains contain some of the best elements to keep you on track when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Research supports the notion that eating healthy amounts of fiber, which are found naturally in whole grains, helps people manage their weight.

  • Happy Heart: Consuming more plant foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, has been associated with reducing the risk of heart disease.

  • Positive Energy: Because whole grains are complex carbohydrates and they naturally contain fiber, they give you more nutrients per calorie than refined carbohydrates. It's a better way to fuel your day!

Nutrients unlocked

Sprouted grains are a great way to obtain the essential minerals and fiber that help you feel good:

  • Iron: Carries oxygen.

  • Zinc: Nourishes skin.

  • Magnesium: Helps support bones.

  • Fiber: Aids digestion.

Sprouted grains in your diet

The daily recommended intake of whole grains is 48 grams, and the nutritional advantages of sprouted grains make them a great option to achieve this daily goal. Here are some ways to incorporate sprouted grains into your positive eating routine: 

  • Sprinkle them into salads or stir fries.

  • Check grocery aisles for products with sprouted grains, like Kashi's new Organic Promise Sprouted Grains cereal. 

  • Use sprouted grain flours in your favorite baked goods or homemade pasta.

Our Favorite Chicken Wraps are made with Maria's Organic Sprouted Grain Wraps

Read the complete article by Willie Grace in Houston Style Magazine

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Real Food for Real People

We came across an interesting story in The Atlantic recently. It discusses vitamins versus vitamin supplements. It says what we've believed all along; you can get all of your nutritional needs if you eat whole, unprocessed foods. 

Read More from the Atlantic. . . 

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The last days of the low-fat diet?

The last days of the low-fat diet?

The low-fat trend finally appears to be on its way out. The notion that saturated fats are detrimental to our health is deeply embedded in our zeitgeist — but shockingly, the opposite just might be true. For over 50 years the medical establishment, public health officials, nutritionists, and dietitians have been telling the American people to eat a low-fat diet, and in particular, to avoid saturated fats. Only recently have nutrition experts begun to encourage people to eat “healthy fats.” A very interesting read:  Read more from Grist:
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Probiotics have been a hot topic, but have you heard about Prebiotics?

Probiotics have been quite the hot topic for some time now. But have you heard about Prebiotics? We are beginning to understand more about the importance of these beneficial bacteria, Probiotics, or microflora, in our guts — not only in maintaining digestive health, but also in boosting our immune systems.

Dietitian Jo Ann Hattner, coauthor, with Susan Anderes of  “Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics For Digestive Health and Well-Being” explains: "probiotics do not thrive on their own. They have to be replaced every few days, and they have to be nourished. Bacteria have to eat, too,” Hattner says, and it turns out there are certain foods they really love.

Read more from Martha Rose Schulman at Zester Daily

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"We are Healthy, if our Food is Nutritious"

Michael Ruhlman does great writing on food and cooking, but he also writes about our food system and healthy eating. His recent blog post about how our eating and cooking habits have changed in the last 100 years. His discussion with doctor Roxanne Sukol highlights several major changes in our food supply that have resulted in our current epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic illness. "Obviously the tidal wave of diet books and diet advice and fad diets hasn’t worked, since the problems have only increased. Indeed, he suggests that diet books and trend diets may be a part of the cause."


Read more from Michael Ruhlman

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Why Organic Is the Right Choice for Parents

by Anna Lappé via Time

Just in case you're undecided, we will make the case on why your kids should be eating organic
A poll out last week from the Organic Trade Association found a sharp decrease in parents who say price is a key factor limiting their organic purchases. “Parents in charge of the household budget recognize the benefits of organic,” said the trade group’s Laura Batcha. “And they’re willing to pay a little more to know that they are giving their families the highest-quality and most healthy products being offered in their local store.”
We can already hear the organic food naysayers: Highest quality? Healthy products? Hogwash — the organic industry just wants you buying more of its goods.
But the truth is choosing organic-certified foods — when you can and can afford to — is one of the best choices you can make for your children. We should know: as a mom of two girls and an author of books about sustainable food (Anna) and as a pediatrician and father of four (Alan), we have a handle on the research as well as firsthand experience.

We choose organic because we know, for example, that children fed an organic diet have much lower levels of metabolites of high-risk insecticides in their bodies. We also know that choosing organic food reduces the risk of exposure to toxic pesticides in our diet. The 2008–09 President’s Panel on Cancer report stated, “The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals.” Many of these chemicals are known or suspected to cause cancer or disrupt our hormones, mimicking testosterone or estrogen, its authors continued. “Nearly 1,400 pesticides … registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for agricultural and nonagricultural uses … have been linked to brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian cancers … as well as Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma” and more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also warned about the exposure to pesticides. “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” it wrote in 2012, and “chronic health implications from both acute and chronic exposure are emerging.”
While we can’t limit all of our children’s exposures to toxins in the environment, we do have a say in the food they eat. And one of the best ways to limit their exposure to these chemicals is to choose an organic diet. Because of the persistence of pesticides in the environment, no food is 100% residue-free, but Chuck Benbrook of the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources at Washington State University has found that organic food has significantly lower pesticide residues than conventional food.

Choosing organic meat and dairy for your kids is also the best way to ensure that they’re not exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like the synthetic hormones given to nonorganic livestock to speed growth and alter reproductive cycles. And choosing organic meat and dairy means your children are not fed meat that was raised on daily doses of antibiotics to speed growth, leading to dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Your kids will get more of the good stuff too. A recent study comparing organic and nonorganic dairy production, commissioned by the farming cooperative Organic Valley, found a medically significantly higher concentration of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids in organic products. “Organic Valley is proving what our farm families have known for a long time,” said George Siemon, a founding co-op member. “Not only is high-quality pasture and forage better for cows, it produces nutritionally superior whole milk.”

Organic food is a healthy choice for all of us but especially for kids. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to chemicals, in part because their immune systems are still developing and in part because, pound for pound, they’re exposed to more chemical residues than adults. Another reason is that children and babies tend to eat a lot more of certain foods than adults — think bananas or apples.
The developing fetus in the womb is perhaps most vulnerable of all: three studies by scientists at Columbia University, the University of California, Berkeley, and Mount Sinai Hospital tracked women exposed to higher amounts of organophosphate pesticides while pregnant and found that once those children reached elementary-school age, they had IQs averaging several points below those of their peers.
We make the choice for organic not just for the health and safety of our own children but also for the health and safety of all children, especially to help protect the children of the people who grow and harvest our food. We know, for instance, that children born to women exposed to pesticides in agricultural fields or communities have lower IQs and other troubling health outcomes.

What about that 2012 Stanford study that purportedly found that organic food is no better for you than conventional food? The metastudy — or study of studies — was reported widely in the media to have found little evidence of health benefits from organic foods. While it found that conventional produce is five times more likely than organic to contain pesticide residues, the authors dismissed this conclusion based only on the total number of pesticide residues in food, not their toxicity. Critics of the study stressed that toxicity — the health risk posed by a particular residue — is what matters. According to Benbrook, an assessment of the same data set based on the known toxicity of residues reveals a 94% reduction in health risk from these pesticides among those who eat organic foods.
This summer, you can join with families across the country in heading out to farmers’ markets or supermarkets and seeking organic food, knowing that when we can and can afford to, organic is one of the best choices we can make for the health of our families.

Lappé is the co-founder of the Small Planet Institute and a nationally best-selling author, most recently of Diet for a Hot Planet. Greene is a leading pediatrician and author of Feeding Baby Green, among other books. Story via

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Nutrient-Dense Foods

You may have heard this term thrown around lately. Nutrient dense foods contain the micronutrients; vitamins, minerals and trace elements that we need for optimal health. Consume these foods and they will help your body to acquire more: Vitamins A, E, K, C, B, Folate, Zinc, Magnesium, Omega 3 Fatty Acids, a wide range of antioxidants, and micronutrients to help support your liver and detoxification systems, as well as your immune system.

That's a lot to keep track of and most of us don't have the time. Basically you want to focus on food that is minimally processed and close to its natural state.  Here's a couple of links to nutrient dense eating from around the web:


Surf Nutrition: The Most Nutrient-Dense Foods


Micronutrients for good health

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The Downside of Eating Conventionally grown Potatoes

Potatoes, they're maligned, they're praised, they're bad for you, they're good for you. One of the most popular foods has a scary downside, and it's not the carbs. Conventionally grown potatoes are produced using lots of pesticides and chemicals. We source our potatoes from trusted sources and pay a premium for them.  This story from Max Goldberg highlights the problems with conventionally grown potatoes.  

Read More from Living Maxwel . . .

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6 Processed Foods You Should Always Buy Organic

We know that you try to eat right and buy organic whenever possible.  This story from Rodale News exposes the pervasiveness of pesticides in our food supply and explains which supermarket foods to avoid.

Read More from Rodale

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