Spring has finally arrived, and with it come some spring and summer holidays and nice weather get-togethers, a perfect time for a flavorful and healthy-alternative pasta salad. This delicious pasta salad is a springtime favorite for many reasons. The artichokes and asparagus offer many health benefits and a healthy heaping of green, the color of the season. Another ingredient that makes this salad especially wonderful is the olive, so let’s feature its benefits today!
Olives – An Excellent Source of Fatty Acids
Olives are well known as a signature ingredient in Mediterranean dishes. But did you know that the olive is actually a fruit? And it is a fruit that we do not consume in their raw form but only after they’ve been cured. Olives are quite remarkable: they grow on trees that are hardy and resistant to droughts, diseases, and fires. That is why they are known for their longevity. Take a look at the photo below – it is possibly the oldest olive tree in the world, on Crete – estimated to be 3,000 years old!
Out of the dozens of fruits and vegetables, the olive contains the highest percentage of fatty acids at 20 percent, which tops even the avocado and soybean (at 17 percent). It is the olive’s higher fat content that gives it a bad reputation for some people. However, the overall health benefits overshadow any potential issues from the higher fat content. AND, more importantly, olives contain one of the healthiest fatty acids- monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), and these are needed for proper cellular structure of our cell membranes in cell membrane phospholipids. Oleic acid is also an energy source on the cellular level (called ATP). So rather than worry about the fat content, appreciate the support MUFA provides.
Amazingly, recent research has revealed that eating olives or olive oil as a good fat instead of other fats can decrease total cholesterol levels and LDL cholesterol (the harmful type) levels. Furthermore, choosing olive oil over other oils or saturated animal fats can help to prevent oxidation of cholesterol, which can form plaque that can lead to heart attacks or even strokes.
Olives, and especially olive oil (also featured in this yummy pasta), may also be beneficial in helping to prevent and treat conditions such as asthma, arthritis, and cancer (specifically breast cancer). Olive oil is considered to be a “healthy oil” which helps to lower systemic inflammation. It has also been seen as very beneficial for diabetics by helping to better control blood sugar and lower triglyceride levels.
Olives and olive oil have contributed to longevity of many cultures over hundreds of years. I pretty much only use this oil in my kitchen. Just make sure your olive oil is pure and your olives are in real brine (water, salt) and have not been pasteurized. Unfortunately, olive oil in the US sometimes contains other oils. Did you know? If you would like to see research, results, and what to do to test your olive oil for purity, I wrote about all that in another blog.
Artichokes – A Flavorful Low-Calorie Food
This recipe also offers a healthy heaping of artichoke hearts. The artichoke is rich in fiber, magnesium, manganese, folate, chromium, potassium, iron, calcium, and vitamin C. It’s low in calories because most of its carbohydrate is inulin, a prebiotic starch that feeds the beneficial gut bacteria but is not used for energy by the body, so it has no effect on blood sugar. For more benefits of the amazing artichoke, see our Garlic and Herb Marinated Artichokes post. Artichokes are available frozen at Trader Joe’s, but should be rinsed first.
Asparagus – A Super Food!
Another springtime favorite, harvested in April, May, and June, is asparagus. Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which helps the body protect itself from lung cancer, uterine cancer, and colon cancer. It also contains a powerful antioxidant glutathione, which eliminates cancer-causing free radicals and facilitates the daily detoxification. Read more about this cancer fighting super food in our Asparagus and Mushroom Salad recipe post.
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