Monthly Archives: June 2011

Olive Oil: Super Food

On this blog, we’ve chronicled a litany of health benefits from consumption of olive oil ranging from a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes to reduced incidence of heart disease, and this new finding is every bit as big a deal: New study finds that olive oil may protect against strokes.

Pour some more of that EVOO on your plate — a new French study finds that eating more olive oil could be linked with lower stroke risk in older people. The results of the study by the University of Bordeaux and the National Institute of Health and Medical Research were published in the online issue of Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Olive oil can help you avoid this.

Medical records of 7,625 people 65 and older who lived in three French cities were examined by researchers to determine how their olive oil consumption affected their chances of having a stroke. The participants had no history of stroke at the beginning of the study. In this study, participants were surveyed about how much olive oil they consumed: About 23 percent used none, 40 percent were moderate users (cooking with it or using it as a dressing or with bread) and about 37 percent were intensive users (using it in cooking and as a dressing or with bread).

In an average 5.25 years of follow-up, 148 strokes occurred. Those who were intensive users had a 41 percent lower stroke risk compared to those who never used olive oil. Researchers arrived at that number after adjusting for such factors as body mass index, other stroke risk factors, diet and physical activity. The results were statistically significant for ischemic stroke (caused by blockage of an artery to the brain) but not hemorrhagic stroke (caused by the rupture of a blood vessel).

Studies continually conclude that extra virgin olive oil is one of the absolute best substances you can put in your body if you want to live a long, healthy life.


Summer Salads

If you’re looking for some healthful summer salads which are easy to prepare and easy on the digestion, think seafood salads. Fish, shellfish and succulent delicacies such as squid and octopus are light and refreshing, but they are also filling enough, even in a salad, to make a satisfying main course for dinner. The bonus is that fresh seafood is a cinch to cook. In fact, the simpler the better, so the delicate flesh and flavor won’t be overwhelmed by other ingredients or fussy preparations.

Most fish pair well with every ingredient you might think to put in a salad. Halibut with cooked potatoes and green beans; tuna with golden beets and peas; shrimp with beans and corn. Use raw vegetables such as tomatoes and sliced carrots for color, avocado and jicama to provide a variety of textures, a sharp onion — scallion, red onion or chives — to add some vitality to the milder ingredients. Cooked vegetables work, too, and you can use the leftovers from last night’s dinner: kernels stripped from grilled or steamed corn on the cob, cut-up cooked broccoli or asparagus.

Think about sweeter foods too: orange segments with snapper or shrimp, dried cranberries with salmon, peaches with bluefish, for example. Or add chunks of cheese: feta, blue cheese and goat cheese would work with most fish. Deli items are suitable: tangy, imported olives and sun-dried tomatoes, for example. And to add more substance and appeal for those who may think a fish salad isn’t satisfying enough, you can include cooked pasta, whole grains and potatoes.

Salad needs dressing, of course. It’s tempting, especially in the summer when you don’t really feel like cooking, to open one of the bottled brands you bought at the supermarket. Don’t do it.

Bottled dressings are convenient, but they’re also salty and often contain unwanted additives. Homemade dressings take less than 5 minutes to mix. All you need are good olive oil and a piquant wine vinegar or citrus juice. Mix them to taste (the ratio is anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1 parts oil to acidic liquid, depending on your particular taste buds) and you’re done. Of course you can get creative by adding any fresh herb that might enhance the fish. Try these: dill, tarragon, thyme, mint, oregano or coriander. Or switch from olive oil to corn or canola, or mix in a little bit of almond or avocado oil for extra flavor. And use different vinegars for different salads; say, use rice wine vinegar on a shrimp salad, sherry vinegar with tuna. Or add a small amount of orange juice to bring out a sweeter taste. Experiment away. Make seafood salads this summer and you’ll never be bored with dinner.

Here’s a recipe for Grilled Halibut Salad with Avocado, Tomato, Olives and Egg with Herb-Garlic Toasts

Makes 4 servings
16-20 ounces halibut or other firm white fish such as cod
5 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large hard-cooked eggs
1 large avocado
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely cut imported black olives
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Heat an outdoor grill or oven broiler. Brush the fish with one tablespoon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill or broil for about 4 minutes per side or until cooked through. Cut into bite-sized chunks and set aside. Cut the eggs, avocado and tomatoes into chunks and place in a bowl. Add the olives and fish and toss ingredients gently. In a small bowl mix the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese and mustard. Pour over the ingredients and toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving over Herb-Garlic Toasts (2 per person).

Herb and Garlic Toasts
Makes 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 1/2-inch slices Italian bread
1 large clove garlic, mashed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the oven to 425 degrees (or use an outdoor grill). Brush a small amount of the olive oil on one side of each slice of bread. Mix the remaining olive oil, garlic, parsley and lemon peel in a small bowl. Place the bread slices, oiled side up on a cookie sheet. Bake for 3 minutes. Turn the slices over and spread with the olive oil-parsley mixture. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake for 3-4 minutes or until crispy. Let cool.

Enjoy some delicious salads this summer and remember to use your Mamamiafoods 100% Italian Extra-Virgin Olive Oil!

Sicilian Recipe of the Week: Sweet and Sour Rabbit

Food Worries in Europe

For those of you not keeping up with current events in Europe, there’s been a huge E. coli food scare over the last few weeks. The death toll is currently 17 with over 1500 cases discovered so far. Germany has been hit the hardest (of the eight European countries affected virtually all of the sick people either live in Germany or recently traveled there) and scientists’ best guess is that the infected foods originated in Spain. So far cucumbers, tomatoes, and leaf lettuce have been identified as culprits. This is a very serious situation and more details can be found in the following story:

European food outbreak soars; mystery deepens

Associated Press

AP Photo/Petr David Josek
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BERLIN (AP) — The number of people hit by a massive European outbreak of foodborne bacterial infections is a third bigger than previously known and a stunningly high number of patients suffer from a potentially deadly complication than can shut down their kidneys, officials said Wednesday.

The death toll rose to 17, with German authorities reporting that an 84-year-old woman with the complication had died on Sunday.

Medical authorities appeared no closer to discovering either the source of the infection or the mystery at the heart of the outbreak: why the unusual strain of the E. coli bacteria appears to be causing so many cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, which attacks the kidneys and can cause seizures, strokes and comas.

Germany’s national health agency said 1534 people in the country had been infected by enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, or EHEC, a particularly deadly strain of the common bacteria found in the digestive systems of cows, humans and other mammals. The Robert Koch Institute had reported 1169 a day earlier.

The outbreak has hit at least eight European countries but virtually all of the sick people either live in Germany or recently traveled there.

The Robert Koch Institute said 470 people in Germany were suffering from hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS, a number that independent experts called unprecedented in modern medical history. HUS normally occurs in 10 percent of EHEC infections, meaning the number seen in Germany could be expected in an outbreak three times the size being currently reported.

That discrepancy could indicate that a vast number of cases haven’t been reported because their symptoms are relatively mild, medical experts said.

But they also offered another, more disturbing theory – the strain of EHEC causing the outbreak in Europe could be more dangerous than any previously seen.

“There may well be a great number of asymptomatic cases out there that we’re missing. This could be a much bigger outbreak than we realize right now,” said Paul Hunter, a professor of health protection at the University of East Anglia in England. “There might also be something genetically different about this particular strain of E. coli that makes it more virulent.”

There are hundreds of different E. coli strains in the environment – every person naturally carries the bacteria – but only a very small percentage are dangerous. EHEC is not normally in the environment, but improper use of manure can contaminate fresh produce.

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner said scientists were working nonstop to find the source of the EHEC that is believed to have been spread in Europe on tainted vegetables – and where in the long journey from farm to grocery store the contamination occurred.

“Hundreds of tests have been done and the responsible agencies … have determined that most of the patients who have been sickened ate cucumbers, tomatoes and leaf lettuce and primarily in northern Germany,” Aigner said on ARD television. “The states that have conducted the tests must now follow back the delivery path to see how the cucumbers, or tomatoes or lettuce got here.”

German authorities initially pointed to cucumbers from Spain after people in Hamburg fell ill after eating fresh produce. After tests of some 250 samples of vegetables from around the city, only the three cucumbers from Spain and one other of unknown origin tested positive for enterohaemorrhagic E.coli, or EHEC.

But further tests showed that those vegetables, while contaminated, did not cause the outbreak. Officials are still warning all Germans to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes or lettuce.

Some experts said it might be impossible to ever identify what caused the outbreak, as much of the tainted fresh produce may already have disappeared from markets.

“As in many foodborne disease outbreaks, the culprit may never be identified and the epidemic just fades away,” said Brendan Wren, professor of pathogen molecular biology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

To identify which E. coli strain is responsible, scientists must grow the suspect bacteria in a laboratory, which can take up to two days. Once that’s done, tests to characterize the strain may take another day or two and those tests can only be done in specialized labs.

“These are complicated molecular tests and it’s not something you can do in one day,” Hunter said.

Spanish officials said, meantime, that they were considering legal action after Europeans swore off Spanish produce in droves after the initial report. And in Germany, farmers’ association president Gerd Sonnleitner said the call for people to avoid raw vegetables had cost local farmers an estimated euro30 million ($43 million) so far.

Germany typically sees a maximum of 50 to 60 annual cases of HUS, which has up to a 5 percent fatality rate according to the World Health Organization.

More than 60 percent of the EHEC cases in Germany have been women – 88 percent over the age of 20 – and nearly 90 percent of the HUS cases have been women over the age of 20.

Experts suspect the outbreak may be mainly striking women because they are the ones most likely to be eating fresh produce. “We should be open to whatever the investigation shows, but adult women are more likely to be exposed to vegetables than other populations,” said Hilde Kruse, a food safety expert at the World Health Organization.

Last week, Reinhard Burger, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said it was also possible more women were affected because they were predominantly the ones handling food in the kitchen.

The World Health Organization said cases of EHEC have been reported in nine European countries: Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. All but two cases are either people in Germany, or people who had recently traveled to northern Germany, the organization said.

In addition, Sweden has reported 15 cases of HUS, followed by Denmark with 7, the Netherlands with 3, the U.K. with 2 and Spain with 1, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

It’s “extraordinary” to see so many cases of the kidney complication from a foodborne illness, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, a foodborne disease expert at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There has not been such an outbreak before that we know of in the history of public health.”

He added that the strain of E. coli in the European outbreak has not been seen in the United States, where there have been several high-profile foodborne outbreaks in recent years, but none with such a high death toll.

There’s little precedent in Europe, either. In 1996, an E. coli outbreak in the United Kingdom caused 216 cases and 11 deaths.

The World Health Organization said 86 percent of those sickened in the current outbreak were adults, and two-thirds were women. It said it was unusual that more children weren’t affected.

Kirsten Grieshaber and Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Maria Cheng in London and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.