health

Mountains of Youth: Finding Longevity in Mountain Living

At first glimpse of a mountain peak, I begin to feel it. I recognize it as a sensation of lightness, or possibly even giddiness. On my journey from the city to the Blue Ridge Mountains, my excitement builds with each mile marker. As my car climbs the first mountain to home, I notice a deep sense of calm sweeping over me. And as my breath deepens, I observe my racing thoughts slow and my blood pressure drops. My intuition tells me I have made the right move to leave the city behind and choose mountain living. While I trust my gut, some might need a little science to spur or confirm a decision.
It’s obvious that fresh mountain air, a slower pace, cooler temperatures, and green spaces are good for us, new research tells us living in the mountains has positive health benefits and could actually prolong our lives. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that living at higher altitudes creates a lower oxygen environment that mitigates heart disease. “Lower oxygen levels turn on certain genes, and we think these genes may change the way heart muscles function. They may also produce new blood vessels that create new highways for blood flow into the heart,” according to a study produced by the University of Colorado School of Medicine in partnership with the Harvard School of Global Health.
Furthermore, higher altitudes stimulate a certain hormone called leptin that is responsible for weight management, proper metabolic function, and balancing our energy stores. Possibly because of leptin production, lower rates of cancer and obesity were also found in mountainous communities. Lower mortality rates, greater levels of positive mental health, and lower levels of stress and anxiety were found in mountain residents compared to those living in more urban environments. I like this new evidence!  Who doesn’t want a healthier heart, lower risk of cancer, less stress, and weight loss? This green, mountain living could really be the fountain of youth! 
It is well known that living in a green environment is linked to stress reduction and well-being, and now it is concluded that a simple walk in the woods slows our heart rate and reduces anxiety. Using brain scans, heart-rate monitors, and behavioral tests on study participants, researchers, as reported by Scientific Reports, have proven the sounds of nature, like running water or birds singing, have restorative and positive physiological effects on our bodies and minds. 
The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau has a long history of people seeking wellness in the Blue Ridge Mountains, whether it is to get away from it all or actually convalesce from an illness. Known as a health resort in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this area drew people from afar to rejuvenate in the invigorating, clean air. We even had the first sanatorium in North Carolina in 1908 during a tuberculosis outbreak. 
Things have not changed much over the decades as many people still come from far and wide to seek solace here. Of course, anyone who enjoys getting outdoors to golf, croquet, fish, hike, yoga, canoe, and camp can find all that and more in this area. Take away excessive light pollution and dangerous electromagnetic frequencies found in more urban settings, and you have found your panacea.
And as if this couldn’t get any more perfect, our mountains are host to the highest number of vortexes, or energy fields, in the country according to Asheville Magazine. A vortex is thought to be a physical location that harnesses a great amount of positive and rejuvenating energy. Twenty-four vortex have been identified near the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, attracting people who seek emotional healing, spiritual awareness, and tranquility. Some might call it a “mystical Mecca.”
Just as the 19th-century naturalist John Muir famously penned, “The Mountains are calling and I must go,” many others are finding themselves “called” to this 400-million-year-old mountain chain. Once some of the highest mountains in the world, and despite being beaten down by time and erosion, the Appalachian Chain still proudly stands as the highest mountain range in the Eastern United States. The North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains claim a good many of the highest peaks and have the blessed fortune of being a biodiverse temperate rainforest. 
Some of this may explain why more people are choosing to leave the urban jungles behind for a more relaxing quality of life in the lush, green forests, and mountains with a hue of blue. Yes, we have to travel a little further for an international airport or shopping at Costco, but as we trade fast-paced living, traffic, and smog for cleaner air, taller trees, higher altitudes, and mountain vistas, we relish in our good sense and science’s findings, to feel young and alive here on the Plateau. •

Liquid Gold

Picking out an olive oil can be an overwhelming experience. The number of oil-containing bottles and tins gracing a grocery store’s shelves is almost as impressive as the cardboard boxes lining the cereal aisle. Of course like breakfast cereals, not all olive oils are created the same. So how do you choose? Maybe you look at price. Maybe you just go for the same one you’ve always bought. Maybe you just pick one with a pretty picture on the label. Or, maybe, you choose one based on what you think you know and like about olive oil. Bottomline, no matter what you eventually decide on—be it extra virgin, virgin, refined, pure … one that hail’s from Greece, from Italy, from Croatia, from the U.S. … one that’s organic … one that’s lite … or one that’s flavor-infused, be forewarned, there’s far more to choosing an olive oil than simply glancing at the label.  
Don’t judge an olive oil by its cover
In 2010, the University of California at Davis Olive Center and the Australian Oils Research Laboratory in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, published a report on the quality of olive oils readily available in America’s grocery stores. And of the 19 brands tested, “69 percent of imported olive oil samples and 10 percent of California olive oil samples labeled as extra virgin failed to meet the IOC/USDA standards for extra virgin olive oil.” The study, partially funded by California olive oil producers, received its fair share of criticism but nonetheless, proved what many expert olive oil tasters had been saying for years—not all EVOO labeled as so, is indeed EVOO. 
     “If you’re using olive oil for the health benefits,” says Chicago-based culinary expert and Iron Chef America judge-in-rotation Mario Rizzotti, “but it’s not really olive oil, then you’re not getting the health benefits.” And in a country plagued by cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and obesity problems, it’s vital to do as much as possible to improve our overall health—which is why Rizzotti is on a mission to help Americans choose products, and foods, that will put everyone on the road to better health—one EVOO spoonful at a time. 
Drizzle, don’t dip
     “What we’re trying to accomplish is to promote the healthy benefits of authentic Italian food and authentic Italian ingredients,” Rizzotti says. “There are so many things out there that people consider Italian that in Italy, we don’t even have.” 
     And one of those things, says Rizzotti, is the presentation of bread baskets with accompanying bowls of olive oil before the meal.
     “That’s not Italian,” he said. 
     “Really?” I asked. I mean you can barely go to an Italian restaurant here in the U.S. without a substantial serving of bread hitting your table long before your meal arrives. And so, admittedly, I was skeptical. How can that be? It’s a staple practice in most stateside Italian restaurants but here was a genuine Italian chef telling me the practice was anything but authentic Italian. So I Googled it, and as it turns out, Google agreed with the Italian. 
     “I use olive oil for cooking,” explained Rizzotti, “but really good olive oil should be used for finishing dishes and drizzled on food once its prepared.” He uses Terre Rosse DOP Umbria Kosher Organic EVOO, which he has shipped directly to him from Italy’s Umbria region, just north of Rome, bordering Tuscany. Interested in trying the oil Rizzotti dubs liquid gold? You can purchase Terre Rosse on his website, MarioRizzotti.com, $22 for 250ml. 
     Curious about other olive oils? Or maybe you have a favorite and want to see how it stacks up to world-renowned oils. Check out BestOliveOils.com for the most recent list of The World’s Best Olive Oils. The list represents compiled results from the New York International Olive Oil Competition, the world’s largest most comprehensive olive oil quality contest. Or better yet, plan to attend the 2019 event, May 10 in NYC and be one of the first to experience award-winning olive oils paired with regional specialties from around the world by the International Culinary Center team and NYIOOC Resident Chef Perola Polillo. Tickets go on sale Feb. 15. More information visit NYOliveOil.com.
How to choose an olive oil
When purchasing EVOO, there’s plenty to consider and individual palates have different opinions as to what tastes good and what doesn’t. Therefore, the best advice is twofold—first, educate yourself on the different varietals, and second, don’t be afraid to experiment with new oils. 
     “There’s lots of good olive oils,” said Rizzotti, "and lots of opinions," he added. But whether you choose an oil from his homeland of Italy, or one from anywhere in the globe, he wants you to know these two things: 
     One, “cold pressed” doesn’t really mean cold: It only means the olives cannot be pressed in an environment with a temperature exceeding 80.6 F. In other words, it’s marketing lingo consumers have come to associate with quality but in all actuality, doesn’t directly correlate. 
     And two, just like the “Product of Italy” quote on the back of his cooking jacket, if you want an Italian olive oil, the label, in accordance with Italian law, must say either Product of Italy or 100% Italian. "Made from Italian Olives," "Packaged in Italy," and "Made in Italy" don't assure an authentic product. •