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Dr. Weil Recommends: The Healthiest Oil

Olive oil, once used in the U.S. primarily by immigrants from Mediterranean countries and adventurous gourmets, is now mainstream. In 2013, Americans consumed over 338 metric tons, about ten times the amount used in 1982. This is good news, as olive oil has multiple health benefits:

• It has the highest percentage of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat of any edible oil.

• Quality brands contain abundant antioxidants - substances that have been shown to provide cardiovascular and anti-cancer effects.

• If you're watching your weight, adding extra olive oil to your diet can help you feel full longer.

• Regular consumption of olive oil may help increase concentrations of a bone protective protein known as osteocalcin.

Plus quality extra-virgin olive tastes wonderful: the vibrant green treat has probably helped many Americans realize that there is no need to sacrifice sensory pleasure in pursuit of healthy eating. One easy way to get more olive oil is to use it instead of butter in low temperature cooking, on top of fresh vegetables or as a salad dressing.

When buying olive oil, choose small bottles of certified organic oil. Check the label for the ICEA (Istituto per la Certificazione Etica e Ambientale, which means Ethical and Environmental Certification Institute) logo, or that of another organic certification body such as the USDA's green-and-white ORGANIC logo.


Want To Get More From Your Workout?

If you want to make your workouts more effective, consider a workout partner. A study from Michigan State suggests that the best approach to developing a longer, better workout may be exercising with a partner who is stronger than you. Most people don't meet the goal of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week. But when paired with a partner, study participants exercised 200 percent longer than those without partners.

I have long recommended spending time in the company of those who practice habits that you wish to emulate. Exercising with a friend is a good way to maintain a commitment to a regular workout, and exercising with someone who is a bit more fit than you are may motivate you to ask more of yourself, as did the students in this study. While it's good to be a bit uncomfortable with a routine that requires effort, and your workout should challenge you, be careful of injury - competition can be a powerful motivator, but a competitive spirit shouldn't override your body's signals that you're overdoing it.


What Mushroom is Your Favorite? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the health benefits of some common mushrooms: Mushrooms for Good Health? Check out the article and let us know which mushroom is your favorite to eat.


Is Bad Cholesterol Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease?

Here’s another potential reason to watch your cholesterol levels. New research from the University of California, Davis, suggests that the cholesterol levels often associated with cardiovascular disease may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease as well. For the study, investigators measured the blood lipid levels of 74 seniors with normal to mildly impaired cognitive function. They also measured deposits of beta amyloid protein in their subjects’ brains with PET (positron emission tomography) scans and found that participants with higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol had higher levels of Alzheimer’s-related amyloid in the brain. High levels of LDL cholesterol have been considered a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease while high levels of HDL cholesterol are believed to protect the heart. Some earlier studies have suggested that drugs that lower LDL might protect against Alzheimer’s but results have been inconsistent. In the new study, no links were seen between amyloid levels and the use of cholesterol-lowering medication. The researchers wrote that the study doesn’t prove that cholesterol levels in the blood directly affect deposition of amyloid proteins. They suggested that high LDL levels could be predictive of vascular damage from small strokes that might play a part in amyloid deposition. In other words, high LDL could be an effect, rather than a cause, of another process that raises stroke risk. They concluded that their findings should be replicated in other studies to confirm the association between Alzheimer's and cholesterol.

Bruce Reed et al, “Associations between Serum Cholesterol Levels and Cerebral Amyloidosis,” JAMA Neurology, doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013.5390


Nutritional Yeast - Spices in the Kitchen (Video)

Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, providing all 18 amino acids, making it a good alternative to animal-based proteins. It is also a good source of fiber, and contains B-complex vitamins. It is sometimes fortified with vitamin B12, which is naturally obtained through red meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and dairy - another reason it is popular with vegans (and vegetarians). It is low in sodium and provides iron, selenium, folic acid and potassium.

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New Strategy to Prevent Cataracts

The more antioxidants in women’s diets, the lower the risk of developing cataracts as they age. This news comes from a Swedish study that looked at the diets of more than 30,000 middle aged and older women, and found those with the highest total intake of antioxidant nutrients were 13 percent less likely to develop cataracts than women whose diets were lowest in antioxidants. Cataract development may hinge on oxidative damage to the eye’s lens by free radicals, the study leader noted. Her team observed more than 30,000 Swedish women age 49 or older for about 7 years for signs of developing cataracts. The women completed a dietary questionnaire, which enabled the researchers to calculate their subjects’ total antioxidant intake. They found that the women whose diets were highest in antioxidant foods were more educated and less likely to be smokers than the women whose antioxidant intake was lowest. Antioxidants are most plentiful in colorful fruits and vegetables as well as in green tea, red wine and chocolate. The study was published online on December 26, 2013 in JAMA Ophthalmology.

Susanne Rautiainen et al, “Total Antioxidant Capacity of the Diet and Risk of Age-Related Cataract: A Population-Based Prospective Cohort of Women,” JAMA Ophthalmology, doi:10.1001


Eating Slowly Cuts Calories

Can you really cut daily calories by eating your meals more slowly? Researchers from Texas Christian University tackled this question by recruiting 70 men and women - half of them were of normal weight, and half were overweight or obese. In a research kitchen, the study participants were asked to eat an unlimited lunch slowly, pausing to put down their spoons during the meal, taking small bites and chewing slowly. At the next session, the groups were instructed to consume the food as quickly as possible, not putting down their spoons, taking big bites and chewing quickly. The researchers reported that the normal weight participants consumed 88 fewer calories during the slow meal than they did during the fast one. However, the overweight and obese participants consumed only 58 calories less during the slow meal, although at both meals they consumed fewer calories overall than the normal weight subjects, the investigators reported. What’s more, both the normal weight and the overweight/obese participants reported being less hungry an hour after the slow meal than after the fast one. The main message here is that making an effort to eat more slowly may cut calories, enhance your enjoyment of your meals and keep you feeling full longer.

My take? I have long promoted mindfulness as a central strategy in building a healthy lifestyle. You might be able to cut calories a bit simply by paying attention to eating slowly, as this study suggests. Leisurely meals, in good company, can be a welcome change from the fast pace of 21st century life. One of the goals of the slow food movement - viewed as an antidote to fast food culture, microwave cooking, and eat-on-the-run meals - is to encourage us to slow down and reflect on our meals so that we can truly enjoy our food and drink. Bear in mind, however, that if you want to lose weight, what works in the long run is putting fewer calories on your plate. To lose weight while maintaining or improving your health, I recommend my anti-inflammatory diet coupled with calorie-consciousness and daily physical activity.

Meena Shah, at al “Slower Eating Speed Lowers Energy Intake in Normal-Weight but not Overweight/Obese Subjects,” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, published online January 2, 2014


How Much Milk Do You Drink? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the health benefits of organic milk: Is Organic Milk Heart Healthy? Check out the article and tell us how much milk you typically drink during the day.