I bet if you asked 100 people to name their go-to kitchen staples, olive oil would top the list. Once revered by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, olive oil is still a kitchen favorite, adding flavor to meals without sacrificing nutrition value.
Maximize your health. Learn how to buy the best olive oils on the market.
Photo By Christian Jung/Fotolia
Although olive oil is high in fat, the main types of fat found in it are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are considered healthy dietary fats. Consuming a small amount of a healthy unsaturated fat such as olive oil before a meal will actually help you digest your food more slowly. MUFAs also help lower total cholesterol levels and normalize blood clotting. But even healthier fats are high in calories, so always use in moderation.
The problem with olive oil, however, is that because so few taste offensive you may be buying a bottle that isn’t as healthful as scientific studies claim it is. That’s because you may be buying the wrong variety. To maximize your health, learn how to choose the best olive oil so that you are stocking your pantry with the very best for your family.
REFINED OLIVE OIL doesn’t have much nutritional value because of the many industrial processes that it has been through, which tamper with its flavor, odor and color. This odorless and tasteless olive oil is the least expensive and best used for frying. Side note: When extra-virgin olive oil is added to refined oil you get a product called pure olive oil, or just olive oil.
VIRGIN OLIVE OIL is a more intermediate quality of oil. It contains a fair amount of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants, but is not considered as healthful as the following variety.
EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL. Organic, unfiltered extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the most desirable variety to purchase because it is the purest and most delicately flavored of all the varieties. When studies triumph the success of Mediterranean diets or tout olive oil’s many benefits, they are referring to an olive oil in its purest form, i.e. extra virgin. EVOO, which means it has been made from crushed olives and is not refined in any way by chemical solvents or high heat, is rich in polyphenols and more costly than other varieties. Do not use this as a frying oil. Instead, savor its flavors in pasta sauces, finishing sauces, soups, drizzles and dipping oils.
Because extra-virgin olive oil is so much more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but also costly and time-consuming to produce, EVOO fraud has become a widespread problem. In fact, many bottles labeled extra-virgin olive oil on supermarket shelves have been adulterated and shouldn’t be classified as such, says New Yorker contributor Tom Mueller. To avoid becoming a victim of this deceit, follow these general olive oil shopping tips.
+ Choose an olive oil that comes in a glass bottle, as those tend to be of better quality.
+ Read the label. High-quality olive oils will say where and when they were pressed, whereas low-quality may label it as “estate bottled.” You should also look for a packaging date, as this information will be available from higher-quality companies.
+ You should also check the back label for a fine print that sites the source of the olive oil if you want a variety that was actually produced in a specific country (such as Spain, Greece or Italy).
+ Be wary of overly green olive oils. Although its green color could come from the olives, it could also come from the leaves that were pressed with them.
+ Also be wary of an olive oil that is extremely light or extremely yellow in color. The former could mean it is tasteless, while the latter could mean it is very old.
+ For fresh olive oil, check the label for a harvest date and use it within a year from that date. (If a harvest date isn’t available, the use-by date is usually two years after the oil was made.)
+ Seals and medals are an added bonus. European olive oils may have a Designated Origin seal, indicating that it was produced in a particular region; and the California Olive Oil Council awards a seal to oils that meet a set of quality standards in the United States.
+ Extra light olive oil may be low in calories, but it is also highly refined with virtually no flavor or color. If you’re worried about calories, use a better quality oil but in moderation.
+ It’s not always possible, but if you can, taste your olive oil before you buy it. See our list for how your olive oil should taste.
What are some of your favorite EVOO's? Tell us in the comment's section below!
Gina DeBacker is the assistant editor at Mother Earth Living. She considers olive oil one of the biggest staples in her kitchen.
With the baby boomer generation aging, concern over eye health is becoming more mainstream. In the United States, about 1.75 million Americans have age-related macular degeneration—the leading cause of blindness in older adults—and another 7.3 million are at risk for the disease, according to the American Optometric Association. No matter your age, it’s always good to consider your eye health. One of the best ways to ensure your chances at healthy vision in your later years is through a balanced diet focused on a select group of nutrients. Although supplements can be an easy way to obtain these nutrients, sourcing them from food is usually best.
Trout and other fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, consumption of which can ward of age-related macular degeneration and other eye problems.
Foods for Eye Health
Omega-3 fatty acids
A 2007 study on the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on retinopathy—a disease of the eyes in which retinal blood vessels proliferate, spread and leak, causing blindness—found that increasing intake of omega-3s and decreasing intake of omega-6 fatty acids reduced symptoms that caused abnormal vessel growth and blindness. Retinopathy affects diabetics and some premature infants, and some forms of age-related macular degeneration show characteristics similar to retinopathy. A recent observational study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine also found that older adults who consumed omega-3-rich seafood were less likely to have age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of omega-3 fatty acids: Seafood tends to contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. To maximize your intake of omega-3s, choose wild-caught varieties such as salmon and trout, which contain more omega-3 than their farmed counterparts. Sardines, tuna, halibut and cod also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (Be sure to shop for fish using the Seafood Watch guide.) Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseeds, walnuts, olive oil and beans. For more on omega-3s, read "6 Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids."
It’s a long-believed folk tale that eating carrots is good for your eyes. While eating carrots won’t improve your eyesight, this beloved veggie is high in carotenoids, a type of antioxidant that can help prevent macular degeneration and other eye-related problems. Beta-carotene, one type of carotenoid, is a precursor to vitamin A, a deficiency of which can lead to blindness and a condition called xerophthalmia in which the eyes can no longer produce tears. Lutein and zeaxanthin, two other carotenoids, can be found in the retina and help to protect the eyes from UV damage as well as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of carotenoids: Carotenoids are often found in fruits and vegetables with yellow and orange pigments such as mangoes, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes and carrots. Lutein and zeaxanthin can also be found in dark leafy greens such as kale, collard greens, bok choy, spinach and Brussels sprouts.
According to the American Optometric Association, zinc plays a vital role in delivering vitamin A from the liver to the retina. The AOA lists zinc as a vital nutrient for eye health and recommends that individuals at risk for age-related macular degeneration include this essential mineral in their diets. A 2001 clinical trial known as the Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that taking zinc along with antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamins C and E reduced the risk of age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent.
Food sources of zinc: Oysters contain one of the richest sources of zinc, but if this food doesn’t make regular appearances in your diet, try red meat such as venison, beef or lamb; yogurt; sesame seeds and oats.
Brussels sprouts are a good source of carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E and other nutrients that are beneficial to eye health.
A recent study found that women under the age of 75 who had high levels of vitamin D in their blood had a 59 percent decreased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Food sources of vitamin D: Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna; fortified milk and dairy products; and eggs are all good sources of vitamin D. For more on vitamin D and the foods it can be found in, read "Good Sources of Vitamin D."
The American Optometric Association reports vitamin C as helping to lower the risk of developing cataracts and helping to slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration. A recent study from Oregon Health & Science University discovered that nerve cells in the eye require vitamin C to function properly and its researchers speculated that a vitamin C-rich diet could possibly protect the retinas from eye diseases such as glaucoma.
Food sources of vitamin C: Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits are generally the first foods that comes to mind when looking for foods high in vitamin C, but bell peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts and broccoli are also good sources of vitamin C.
The Age-Related Eye Disease Study found that when combined with vitamin C, beta-carotene and zinc, vitamin E can slow the progression of advanced age-related macular degeneration by 25 percent. The American Optometric Association also reports that vitamin E can slow development of cataracts.
Food sources of vitamin E: Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other foods.
Images (top to bottom): Photo By M.studio/Courtesy Fotolia; Photo By sarsmis/Courtesy Fotolia
Desiree Bell is inspired by botanicals and natural materials. She is a vegetarian who has a certificate in herbal studies and a certificate from Australasian College of Health Sciences in Aromatherapy. Visit her blog Beyond A Garden.
Peppermint (Mentha ×pipertia) is one of the most widely known mint species in North America. Peppermint, which does not produce seed, is a sterile hybrid of spearmint (Mentha spicata) and water mint (Mentha aquatica). Commercial growers plant peppermint from certified rootstock, and once planted it regrows each year. Most growers rotate peppermint with other crops on a three- to four-year cycle.
Commercial growers in the northwest harvest and distill their peppermint crops in the months of July and August. After the plant is cut it cures in windows for several days, allowing moisture to evaporate from the leaves. Then the dry peppermint is chopped and blown directly into a distilling tub that is mounted on a truck or trailer.
The tub is then taken to a distillery where live steam under pressure is applied to the chopped peppermint in the sealed tub to extract the essential oil. The steam and vaporized oil then pass into a coil where the mixture is cooled and condensed. The water and oil then flow into a separator where the natural difference in density separates the oil from the heavier water.
The pure peppermint oil is tapped off the top into a 55-gallon storage drum. One drum can flavor 5 million sticks of gum or 400,000 tubes of toothpaste. It takes approximately 10,000 pounds of the dry peppermint plant to yield about 84 pounds of peppermint oil. The peppermint oil is sold to a “handler” who blends oils from different locations to the specification of the end user so the taste is consistent.
Photos by Desiree Bell
Besides gum and toothpaste, peppermint oil is used for ice cream, candy, cookies and pharmaceutical flavorings. It is also used medicinally for indigestion, nausea, sore throat, diarrhea, headaches and toothaches.
The waste water from the distillation process can be recycled to feed the boiler to make steam for processing the next batch of peppermint oil or it can be bottled (preferably organic) and used as a hydrosol. Peppermint hydrosol can be spritzed on the face during hot weather to rehydrate the skin; and due to the chemical component menthol, peppermint can also be used as a compress for inflammation.
References: Idaho Mint Growers Association
An intensely painful disorder, gout is the result of a buildup of uric acid in a joint. When our body encounters purines, a compound it can’t absorb, it creates uric acid to break them down. Normally uric acid is passed out of the body through urine, but in some cases the body produces too much uric acid and the excess builds up as sharp, needle-like crystals in the tissues around the joint, eventually penetrating the joint and causing severe pain, redness and swelling. Gout most often strikes at the base of the big toe, but any joint is at risk, including ankles, thumbs, wrist and elbows.
Excess uric acid production can be a result of many factors, including overconsumption of alcohol and taking certain medications such as low-dose aspirin and thiazide diuretics. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and arteriosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) are also at risk for high levels of uric acid. Age and sex also increase the likeliness of developing gout; men tend to be more affected than women, especially men between the ages of 40 and 50.
Although conventional medicine for treating gout exists, diet and lifestyle changes are the best way to treat gout. Start by checking out these home remedies for gout.
Although any joint is at risk, gout most often strikes in the big toe. Photo By Forgiss/Courtesy Fotolia.
Natural Home Remedies for Gout
Changing the way you eat is one of the biggest factors in treating gout. An anti-inflammatory diet rich in fiber and essential fatty acids is best. Opt for whole grains, nuts and seeds, berries, soy products and fish. Berries can neutralize uric acid, and fish provide essential fatty acids necessary for keeping inflammation in check. Avoid rich, heavy and fatty foods that are high in saturated, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils or refined flour or sugar. Alcohol raises uric acid levels and should also be avoided.
It has been traditionally recommended that patients suffering from gout should avoid foods high in purines such as red meat, shellfish, mushrooms, poultry, eggs, beans and lentils, peas and spinach, but as many patients with gout also have insulin resistance, this can make gout worse. Additionally, a South African study found that men with history of gout who ate a diet high in protein, complex carbs and poly- and monounsaturated fats—but were not restricted from high-purine foods such as poultry and certain kinds of fish—saw gout attacks fall by two-thirds and experienced an 18 percent decrease in levels of uric acid.
When a gout attack first flares up, consider detoxing for three days: drink large quantities of cherry juice (which, like berries, can neutralize uric acid), green drinks, water and herbal teas. Detoxing will promote the removal of uric acid from your body and will prevent you from eating any foods that may make your gout worse. Don’t detox for any longer than three days as this can raise uric acid levels.
Eating cherries can lower uric acid levels and prevent gout attacks. Photo By martiapunts/Courtesy Fotolia.
Herbs and Supplements
Bromelain. Extracted from pineapple stems, this compound has natural anti-inflammatory effects. Take 500 mg of bromelain three times daily between meals.
Celery seed extract also has anti-inflammatory properties. It may also help reduce uric acid levels. Take 450 mg two or three times daily.
Chlorella. A type of algae, chlorella is rich in chlorophyll (as well as other important vitamins and minerals) and is often used to help detox the body. Additionally, chlorella alkalizes the blood, correcting imbalances in acidity—like having too much uric acid. Take 500 mg four times daily.
Fish oil contains omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation in the joints. Take a daily supplement.
Nettle root. Useful as a detox herb, nettle root can help remove uric acid from the kidneys and encourage its elimination from the body. Take 250 mg three times daily.
For immediate relief of pain, try a cream containing capsaicin, an active compound in cayenne peppers that has been shown to naturally relieve pain.
Susan Meeker-Lowry is an herbalist who lives in Fryeburg, Maine. She owns Gaia's Garden Herbals, a home-based, herbal skin-care business offering creams, salves and other herbal goodies made in small batches, many using herbs she grows in her organic garden.
The beautiful flowers from our gardens and fields uplift our spirits with their color and presence. These three flowers are some of the most common and important herbs for healing the skin, and I have included a recipe that will give you a great medicinal oil without much fuss.
Calendula officinalis is one of the best skin-care herbs ever! It’s easy to grow and blooms prolifically from summer to frost in sunny yellows, oranges, and even reds and maroons. Calendula is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory. It promotes skin regeneration, minimizes scar tissue, is an excellent skin moisturizer, and helps heal rashes, burns, sores, ulcers and skin problems associated with radiation therapy. It also works wonderfully as a massage oil, and is gentle enough for treating and preventing diaper and heat rashes on a baby’s tender skin.
There are many varieties but I love Rosa rugosa for use as a medicine and in my skin care regimen. Growing up, I called them wild roses or, when I was near the ocean, beach roses. Flowers range from pale pink to deep magenta, and they are, of course, wonderfully fragrant. Rose-infused oil is suitable for all skin types especially dry, sensitive, irritated and mature skin. And over time, rose’s astringent effect will greatly diminish those tiny red capillaries close to the skin’s surface. It takes a lot of rose petals to make rose-infused oil, so if you’re not blessed with a large hedge nearby, you can use dried organic roses. Pure rose essential oil is costly but worth it, and can be used when it is added to a quality carrier oil such as jojoba. Be aware that if you choose the essential oil, there are two kinds that will be available. Rose otto, extracted through steam distillation, is lighter in color with a softer fragrance. Rose otto is considered the most therapeutic—and is therefore, more costly. Rose absolute is obtained through solvent extraction, and it is thick, reddish and very fragrant. It is often available diluted in a carrier oil (10 percent dilution is most common). When making a cream, I like to use both so the result is both powerful in its healing properties and wonderfully fragrant.
St. John’s Wort
Hypericum perforatum isn’t a flower you’d put in a daily cosmetic cream, but it heals burns, wounds, cold sores, herpes, shingles and stings, and can help with bruises and nerve pain. Considered a “noxious” weed by many, St. John’s wort's sunny yellow flowers are most welcome in my garden—although I wildcraft it as well. It is a powerhouse of healing: classified as anti-inflammatory, astringent, antiviral and antioxidant, it is often referred to as a “heal all.” When harvesting, only the flowers are used. Pick when they are newly opened and be surprised by the gorgeous red pigment hiding inside.
A couple of reminders before you start playing in the fields and making flowery friends:
+ Regardless of what herbs or flowers you’re gathering, avoid roadsides and fields that may have been sprayed with pesticides!
+ Know what you’re picking.
+ Don’t use roses from the florist.
+ Don’t over harvest. Take no more than 10 to 25 percent from any given area, or none at all if there are just a few plants around.
How to Make Infused Oils
1. Pick newly opened, unsprayed flowers.
2. Wilt your harvest in a single layer on screen or paper to evaporate excess moisture. This will take 2 to 3 days for “juicy” calendula, a couple of hours for St. John’s wort, and a blink of a butterfly’s wings for roses.
3. Fill clean jar 2/3 to 3/4 full with flowers. (Chop your flowers if they are large like calendula.)
4. Add oil to the top. (Organic olive oil works wonderfully)
5. Make sure to remove air bubbles, and cap tightly.
6. Place jar in a sunny window, and let steep for 4 to 6 weeks.
7. Strain through cheesecloth and squeeze out all the oil.
*Note: If cloudiness settles on bottom, carefully pour clear oil into another jar.
This oil can be used as is or made into healing salves and creams. Making flower oils is fun and cost effective. Plus, you’ll be rewarded with healthy, radiant skin.
Check out Susan's products at her Popy Swap online shop, Gaia's Garden Herbals. Use the promotional code HERBCOMP for 15 PERCENT OFF your next purchase!
Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden plants, and for good reason—nothing beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-vine home-grown tomato. While you’re enjoying the succulent flavor of that fresh picked (or home canned!) tomato, consider this fruit’s other many attributes, starting with its many health benefits. Tomatoes might be packed with good taste, but they’re also brimming with antioxidants and offer measures of protection for our bodies. So whether you’re dicing them up for summer salads, preserving them for later, or enjoying the taste of home-canned tomatoes this winter, consider these many health benefits of tomatoes.
Photo By Povy Kendal Atchison
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants, including vitamin C and manganese, but also important phytonutrients like flavonones, flavonols, hydroxycinnamic acids, glycosides and carotenoids (including beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene, which gives the tomatoes their red coloring). Just one serving of tomatoes or tomato products a day can help protect your cells from damage. A recent study from the University of Barcelona suggests that organically grown tomatoes contain more antioxidants, so be sure to either grow or buy organic tomatoes.
Regular consumption of tomatoes can also promote a healthy heart and help reduce risk of heart disease. Lycopene has been shown to help manage the level of fat in our blood and lower cholesterol levels, and tomato extracts have shown in studies to have anti-platelet properties, which keeps platelet cells in the blood from clumping together, a condition that often precedes atherosclerosis, or the hardening of the arteries often associated with heart disease.
Another surprising health benefit of tomatoes is its ability to promote healthy bones. In a four-week study of postmenopausal women, researchers discovered that women who had lycopene removed from their diets experienced changes in bone tissue and oxidative stress to the bones that put them at risk for osteoporosis. The study’s researchers argued that lycopene-containing foods, especially tomatoes, are critical to the diet and may play a previously un-thought of important role in maintaining good bone health.
Thanks to its treasure trove of antioxidants, tomatoes offer a lot of protection from various types of cancer. Research shows that regular consumption of tomatoes can definitely lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. This ability is due in part to alpha-tomatine, a phytonutrient found in tomatoes that alters the activity of developing prostate cancer cells and triggers the death of fully formed cancer cells. Research also shows a strong connection between tomatoes and reduced risk of pancreatic and breast cancer.
There are countless ways in which to enjoy tomatoes! Here are a few of our favorite tomato recipes.
Roasted Tomato Sauce
Creamy Roasted Tomato Soup
Canned Whole Tomatoes
Avocado, Tomato and Red Onion Salad
Polenta Fries with Roasted Tomato Sauce
Sun-Dried Tomato and White Bean Spread
Chickpea and Tomato Curry
Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of
Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+
A new year means time for a new Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 List from the Environmental Working Group. Each year the EWG puts out a list of the foods with the highest and lowest pesticide residue to help shoppers determine which foods to buy organic and which it’s okay to buy conventional. Although ideally every shopper would be able to purchase organic fruits and vegetables, the reality is that organic often costs more at the store and just doesn’t fit into all budgets. With the EWG’s 2012 Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 Lists, health-concerned shoppers can get the most bang for their buck by minimizing their pesticide exposure while still saving money.
This year’s list reflects a few changes from last year, so be sure to pay attention—and take a copy of it with you to the grocery store!
Sweet bell peppers jumped from number 8 to number 3 on the 2012 Dirty Dozen list. So if you’re going to buy this veggie, be sure to buy organic! Photo By Janine/Courtesy Flickr.
2012 Dirty Dozen List: Foods to Buy Organic
3. sweet bell peppers
6. nectarines (imported)
11. blueberries (domestic)
This year the EWG also mentioned green beans and leafy greens (such as kale) as additional foods that contain enough pesticide residue to warrant concern. The organization also added a note saying that shoppers who are concerned about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should buy organic sweet corn, as GMO sweet corn is not labeled as such in U.S. stores.
2012 Clean 15 List: Foods Okay to Buy Non-Organic
2. sweet corn
6. sweet peas
11. cantaloupe (domestic)
12. sweet potatoes
For more information on pesticides and produce, check out the “EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.”