Living Lite

Most Olive Oil is Not as Healthy As You Think

September 12, 2012

The expensive designer olive oil in your kitchen cabinet is likely not as fresh, nutritious, or high in quality as you assume. Does that mean you won’t receive the expected health benefits when using olive oil? Probably not. But there are some things you should know about olive oil to improve your odds and get the best bang for your buck.

What makes olive oil healthy are invisible nutrients in the oil, which studies show are not in most of today's olive oil, no matter the price or country of origin.

“The health benefits of olive oil are ninety-nine percent related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself,” said Nasir Malik, Research Plant Physiologist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Malik is referring to the polyphenols in olive oil, nutrients also found in wine, tea, cocoa, and many fruits and vegetables, which have been discovered over the past decade to be the most important substances responsible for the bulk of olive oil’s health benefits, without which “you might as well use Canola oil,” said Malik. As, at least canola oil contains omega-3-fatty acids, not found in olive oil.

Studies confirm as days, weeks and months go by after harvest, the polyphenol content, nutrition and health benefits of olive oil diminish. 

Recent studies show polyphenols were surprisingly low in most commercially available olive oils, according to a recently published study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, co-authored by Malik.

They also don’t live up to international or U. S. Department of Agriculture quality standards, according to studies conducted by the UC Davis Olive Center.

But, it is possible to buy affordable olive oil which provides extraordinary health benefits and lives up to high quality standards. Here's everything I've discovered you need to know about olive oil (in today's Washington Post)...

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Katherine's Weekly Market Recipe: Silvestro's 'Italian' Gazpacho

September 11, 2012

On Saturday, I demonstrated and gave free samples of my Fresh Tomato Salsa with Watermelon at the "Community Harvest for Education Ward 7," a new Farmers Market in the middle of Anacostia, a beautiful part of the city with rolling hills, classic homes, huge, ancient trees, and some of the loveliest people you'll ever meet. There, I had the pleasure of meeting Keonte, his family and others, who were amazed at how easy and delicious fresh, home-made salsa can be. Keonte and other children were especially delighted with the salsa (my market recipe last week: Fresh Tomato Salsa with Watermelon), which confirmed my belief and experience that children do love vegetables, if they are prepared well and offered positively. Keonte, his Dad and others promised they'd make my salsa at home and bought plenty of the vine-ripe tomatoes abundant at the CHEW Market where I have the honor of volunteering periodically.

When I was young, one of my most vivid memories is the taste of my Grandmother’s vine-ripened tomatoes. I’ll never forget how soft, plump, sweet and deep red they were.  Definitely not today’s traveling kind.  They were the kind you picked and ate, still warm from the day’s sun.

The memory of these delectable treats makes tomato season my favorite time of year – for eating, that is. Nothing is as delicious as a vine-ripened, field-grown tomato, which, lucky for us, we can get from our local farmers at the Rose Park Farmers Market on Wednesdays, Burleith on Saturdays and Dupont Circle on Sundays.

Today is the 7th of  "Katherine's Weekly Market Recipes," in The Georgetown Dish, all of which are designed to be delicious, easy, quick, family-friendly, nutritious (heart-healthy & diabetes-friendly), and to highlight produce found at our local Farmers Markets this week. At your Farmers Market, you'll find produce picked at peak ripeness, which means maximum flavor, texture and nutrition. You're also helping save the environment when you buy at your Farmers Market. Here's how...


Silvestro’s Gazpacho
This recipe was provided to me by Burleith resident, and authentic Italian, Silvestro Conte.

Tomatoes, technically a fruit, are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and a powerful antioxidant called “lycopene,” which gives the tomato its red color. Lycopene in tomatoes may help prevent prostate cancer and heart disease.  

Men who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products a week had a 35% decrease in risk of prostate cancer relative to those who consumed 1.5 servings or fewer per week, according to a major Harvard study. This benefit is largely attributed to the pigment lycopene found in the tomatoes, a phytochemical or a beneficial plant compound. Lycopene can also be found in other red fruits such as watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava. Lycopene is a potent scavenger of gene-damaging free radicals. Men with lycopene levels in the top 20% had a 46% decrease in risk of heart attack compared to those in the bottom 20%.

Apparently, each fruit and vegetable is a little factory of nutrients and chemicals called phytochemicals (“phyto” meaning plant in Greek). These chemicals end up in your body’s tissues, where they have potent disease-preventing and life-enhancing properties. The phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables, when eaten whole, have antioxidant effects, stimulate the immune system, enhance cancer-fighting enzymes, positively influence hormone metabolism, and even have an antibacterial and antiviral effect. These important properties help reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases of aging.

Serves 16+


6.5 lbs Vine Ripe Tomatoes, washed, cored and chopped, with skin and seeds
2 Green Bell Peppers, seeded and chopped
4 Red Bell Peppers, seeded and chopped
4 Celery Stalks, Including leaves, chopped
4 lbs. Peeled and seeded Cucumbers, chopped
1 Yellow Onion, peeled and chopped
4 Garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons White Wine Vinegar (more if you like it tart, but be careful)
6 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste (Optional)
Sprinkling of Cumin (Optional)

After careful washing, cut all vegetables into chunks to make them easier to blend. Blend with a food processor or Hand Blender, until you have the consistency you enjoy. My friend, Silvestro likes it a little chunky (as do I).

Once blended, add the olive oil, the vinegar, and, if you wish, the salt, the black pepper, and the cumin. Silvestro says “Cumin is optional : I like that extra richer flavor it adds.” I’ve made this gazpacho without adding salt or pepper and it is delicious. Serve immediately or chill in the refrigerator for later. If you want a denser product, add bread crumbs.

Makes one gallon of Gazpacho, about 2,000 calories for the entire pot. Divided into 16 servings, that’s 125 calories per serving… And if you don’t add salt, it contains 0 sodium!

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Katherine's Labor Day Recipe - Fresh Summer Salsa with Watermelon

August 30, 2012

My Aunt Betse has been making fresh salsa since the 1960s when she and her engineer husband lived in South America. So I have been exposed to fresh salsa long before its popularity took off in the United States. In fact, I suppose I could have been a multi-gazillionaire by now if my college roommate and I decided to go ahead with our plans of packaging and selling my fresh salsa in the early 1980s. Oh well... 

Salsa is traditionally made with tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, cilantro, lime juice and salt. But I like to add seasonal fruits and vegetables to keep it interesting. In the spring, I add strawberries, in the summer, it's watermelon, which is especially sweet this year. You could also add chopped mango, carrot, celery, greens. In the winter, use canned Italian plum tomatoes. Really, anything goes!

Today is the 6th of  "Katherine's Weekly Market Recipes," in The Georgetown Dish, all of which are designed to be delicious, easy, quick, family-friendly, nutritious (heart-healthy & diabetes-friendly), and to highlight produce found at our local Farmers Markets this week. At your Farmers Market, you'll find produce picked at peak ripeness, which means maximum flavor, texture and nutrition. You're also helping save the environment when you buy at your Farmers Market. Here's how...

So that your salsa is enjoyed  for Labor Day festivities, I recommend you buy the tomatoes, watermelon, onion and peppers at the Glover Park - Burleith Farmers Market on Saturday,  Dupont Circle's Fresh Farm Market on Sunday, or Georgetown's own Rose Park on Wednesday. 


Katherine’s Spicy Salsa with Watermelon
excerpted from "Diet Simple: 195 Mental Tricks, Substitutions, Habits & Inspirations" (LifeLine Press, 2011)

I usually use vine-ripe tomatoes for my fresh salsa, excerpted from my book, Diet Simple. But watermelon is a surprising and exotically delicious substitute for all the tomatoes, or just half of them - as in this version. Serve this salsa with grilled salmon, chicken or beef... even tortilla chips... whatever you may traditionally use salsa with. My friend, Marc Marzullo, said this salsa was "refreshing, light, and delicious, and I especially like the vegetables chopped in larger chunks." I didn't bother using the lime juice today as it was going to be eaten up in a few hours...

22 servings


1 lb vine-ripe, fresh tomatoes, core removed, coarsely chopped (start with about 1-1/2 lbs)
1 lb chopped watermelon, seeds removed
1 large candy onion, peeled and chopped (about ½ pound)

3 – 4 jalapeno peppers (1 – 2 ounces) - or other hot seasonal peppers -  to taste

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 – 4 Tbsp fresh lime juice (1 – 2 limes), optional (use vinegar if you'd like to keep this for several days in the frig)

Add the onion to the tomatoes and watermelon. Finely chop 2 of the jalapeno peppers to start with. Taste. If you desire more heat, add 1 – 2 more jalapenos. Mix in the cilantro. Add the salt and pepper, depending on your taste. Mix in the lime juice, if you wish.

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