Breaking Bacteria

good-bacteria

Written by Brian Dixon, Ph.D., a molecular and cellular biologist

Sponsored by USANA Health Sciences

Bacteria get a bad rap. The bacterial defendant is charged and found guilty of committing acts of illness and disease before it can get a fair trial. But if you reopen the investigation, you will see not all bacteria are bad to the bone. Read more  »

Staying Healthy on the Road (and Court)

tennis-court

Written by Caroline Wozniacki

Sponsored by USANA Health Sciences

Traveling can be tough on your body – physically and mentally – and when you’re constantly on the road, it’s easy to feel run down.

Whether you’re headed to a conference across the country, visiting family overseas or even a Grand Slam event, it’s important to fuel your body with the things it needs to perform its best. I know that my health means everything to me and it definitely goes hand-in-hand with how I perform on the court, so here are some tips on how I stay feeling my best when on the go. Read more  »

How to Get Genuine Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (Plus the 5 Olive Oils That Passed the NCL Test)

Olive oil

After more than 20 years as a consumer reporter, I’m always delighted when I get to cover a topic that’s actually new to me. So when the National Consumers League offered me the opportunity to be the first to report on its testing of olive oils, I jumped at the chance. Olive oil is widely considered one of the products most often mislabeled and adulterated. Here’s some insight into our reporting process, ways to make sure the olive oil you buy really is extra virgin and a list of the oils that passed the National Consumers League’s test.

The Test

The National Consumers League or NCL purchased 11 different brands of olive oil and had one bottle of each tested at a certified laboratory. The goal: to determine whether they were really extra virgin as claimed. In this small experiment, the oils passed the battery of chemical tests they were put through. However, when the lab subjected them to an elaborate taste test with professional tasters, six of the 11 olive oils failed. Olive oils must pass both the chemical and the taste tests to be certified as extra virgin, under rules set up by the International Olive Council.

Part of my job as a consumer and investigative reporter is to contact companies when they don’t pass such tests and ask them for their response. The companies in question pointed out that taste tests are subjective, even though the tasters are professionals trained to set aside personal preference. In the olive oil world, when an oil fails a taste test with one group of tasters, it is then submitted to another group for verification. That was not done in this case, so we decided not to name the olive oils that failed until we see further testing.

Several of the companies whose oils failed NCL’s test, immediately conducted tests of their own and showed us reports indicating they had passed. Manufacturers keep reference samples of their olive oils, so they were able to test the same lots of olive oil NCL did, yet they got different results. How can this be? Let’s set aside the skepticism inherent in a company paying to have its own product tested and consider other theories.

It’s possible that the olive oils NCL tested were, indeed, extra virgin when first bottled, but that they degraded somewhere down the line, whether on the truck, at the warehouse, or in the store. Light, heat and air cause olive oils to break down, so if transport and storage are not optimal, this can happen. By contrast, when the companies retested their reference samples, they were probably working with olive oils that had been kept in one place under ideal conditions. That could explain why tests of olive oils bought off store shelves could differ from tests of the same lot held by the manufacturer.

Why am I leading you into the weeds like this? Because consumers should be able to trust the extra-virgin label.  That means olive-oil manufacturers should do what it takes to assure their products will remain extra virgin as long as they are purchased by their best by date. It’s possible that the failing oils in NCL’s test were not packaged as carefully as they could have been. In fact, according to Olive Oil Times an ongoing class action claims that the failure of some olive oil manufacturers “to package the oil in light-proof containers resulted in quality degradation such that even if the oil was ‘extra-virgin’ at the time of bottling, it was no longer so when it reached the consumer due to exposure to heat and light.”

Could a certain kind of bottling make all the difference? Remember, five other olive oils passed the NCL test handily. Here’s what you, as a consumer, can look for in order to have a better chance of purchasing olive oils with the taste – and health benefits – of genuine extra-virgin olive oil.

The Tips

  • Check dates for freshness. Think of olive oil as a fruit juice, because it is. Juice should be fresh. You know how you check the date on milk and eggs? Learn to do the same for olive oil. Look for oils with a best-by date that’s as far away as possible, ideally a year and a half to two years out.
  • Check labels for source, certification. True extra-virgin olive oils are certified by outside testers who check them to make sure they have no off flavors. Another good sign is if you see the name of the actual farm that grew the olives and pressed the oil on the bottle.
  • Buy olive oil in small, dark containers. Small bottles or tins are better because air degrades olive oil, so once you open it, you want to use it up quickly. And dark containers are better because light degrades olive oil too.
  • Store olive oil properly. Keep your olive oil tightly capped in a cool, dark cupboard because heat also degrades olive oils. Don’t store your olive oil in a pretty, open decanter next to the stove like I did until I researched this story.
  • Consider California oils. One option is to buy olive oils produced in California, because California recently passed one of the strictest mandatory standards in the world. By contrast, U.S. national standards are voluntary. Look for the California Olive Oil Council seal if you want to try it.

The Oils

There were five out of 11 olive oils tested by the National Consumers League  that passed both chemical and taste tests. NCL tested one bottle of each oil. The oils that passed are:

  • California Olive Ranch
  • Colavita
  • Lucini Premium Select
  • Trader Joes California Estate
  • Trader Joes 100% Italian Organic 

Click here for more details about the National Consumers League’s Olive Oil Testing.

Busy Woman’s Guide: 5 Things to Do for Your Health Right Now

busy-mom

“I’m just crazy busy.”

“Crazy busy?” What does that even mean? That we’re “crazy?” (Don’t answer that.) Or more than just plain “busy?” When did we allow “crazy” to describe our lives?

Today’s to-dos are never-ending. Our calendars are tightly organized by multiple overlapping colors covering any free time. In the process, good habits, like exercise and planning nutritious meals get sidelined by work, waiting for the cable guy or ferrying kids to lessons and sports practice.

So how can we take the “crazy” out? Or at least keep it from impacting our health? As an ER doctor and health company executive in my professional life, and new mom, head “what’s-for-dinner” coordinator and senior “oh-crap-we’re-out-of-diapers” gofer in my personal, I know the feeling of falling behind. But I also know a few things we can do to get back out front.

That’s the reason for our new column: Busy Woman’s Guide. Here you’ll find practical advice and information from a medical as well as a personal perspective (because I’m also right there in the trenches with you). I’ll comb through the science and the scrap, the beneficial and the bogus. Because if you have just 25 minutes, you need to spend it doing something that. Will. Work.

We’ll start with five things you can do today that science has shown will improve your health, help you stress less and boost your energy. Because you have things to do and no time for “crazy.” Read more  »

Sharecare Top 5: Avoid Common Sun Protection Pitfalls, Healthy Vision Tips for Your Child, What to Expect in the ER and More

Slim woman applying sunscreen

This week on Sharecare we’re giving you nine pointers to steer clear of sunscreen mistakes, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of an ER and filling you in on the bird flu — the latest virus making headlines.

1. You already know about the importance of sunscreen, but are you putting it on correctly? Check out these sunscreen mishaps — from not applying enough to skipping application on cloudy days — and expert tips to avoid them.

2. The emergency room can be a scary and confusing experience. Darria Long Gillespie, MD, puts your worries to rest and answers some of the most common questions about the ER.

3. The worst bird flu epidemic in U.S. history is happening now and everyone is taking about it. But is the H5N1 virus a threat to people? Find out if you should be worried and get tips to protect yourself.

4. May is Healthy Vision Month. Want to help your child see clearer? Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Mike Roizen offer tips to make sure your little one’s eyes are healthy, as well as what to do if your child has vision problems.

5. Chronic plaque psoriasis is no walk in the park. But if you live with the skin condition, flaking and inflammation might not be the only health issues. Learn what else you should keep an eye on.

Today’s Headlines: Failing Diets, Smoking and The Dress

When it comes to diets your head might be in it, but your heart probably isn’t. It’s easy to decide you want to go on a diet, but sticking to it can be a lot more challenging. A group of researchers think they know why. “In two separate experiments involving about 300 people, the researchers looked at whether the decision-making factors people use to change their eating behaviors are the same ones they use to guide their food consumption. The researchers asked men and women about their thoughts and feelings about eating specific foods, such as carrots or pizza, and categories of foods, such as high-fat foods or fruits and vegetables. The results showed that the factors that guide diet planning differ from those that guide actual diet behavior. People’s thoughts drive their plans to change eating behavior, such as deciding to lose weight, by making healthier food choices or increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables in the diet. But it’s momentary feelings, such as a desire for a tasty, high-calorie food or negative associations with a food, that affect people’s actual food choices.” The researchers say the best way to make change is to try and switch over to things you enjoy, like from potato chips to a vegetable you like. That way you find something that’s intellectually and emotionally appealing. (Fox)

Financial incentives help smokers to quit. Quitting smoking and breaking nicotine addiction can be incredibly challenging, but new research points to money as a new way to help drop the habit. “The team ran a pilot program, signing up 2,538 people from across the United States. They were assigned to one of five groups, each with a different incentive: an $800 reward for quitting as an individual; a reward for quitting as a group of six; putting down an upfront deposit of $150 that would be doubled and returned if the smoker quit; a competitive deposit (competing for other participants’ deposits and matching funds); or the usual counseling with free smoking cessation aids such as nicotine gum. Only 6 percent of those who got counseling and stop-smoking aids were able to quit. But 12 to 14 percent of those in the rewards groups were able to quit for six months or more.” The researchers found that when people have to bet some of their money up front, they tend to be especially motivated. While rewards for not smoking worked well, having something to lose if you failed to stop was most effective for quitting in the long run. (NBC)

It’s all about the lighting when it comes to seeing The Dress. The Internet exploded with arguments about the true color of a dress pictured in a photo that circulated online. New research has helped to understand why it was that people had such difficulty figuring out the true color. “Researchers learned that people vary when it comes to color perception largely due to differences in how people perceive light. What was possibly throwing people off was the lighting in the photo. Daylight lighting can look bluish around midafternoon and it can look yellowish in the morning or later in the evening. Normally, people use reference points and surrounding context to perceive colors and they unknowingly filter out the blue or yellow-hued lighting. But the photo of the dress had no reference points. Therefore, people looking at the dress were not able to filter out the lighting that was influencing their perception of the color.” In other words, the colors you picked hinged on how your brain interpreted the daylight shining on it. Even among those who had the same opinion about the true colors, the researchers found nuances. Some who saw it as blue might see a light or dark blue for example, while those who saw it as gold saw a spectrum of yellow to brown. (TIME)

Rejection Makes You Spurn New Love, Rather Than Rebound

couple relationship problems rejectionNo one likes rejection and being turned down by someone you like can be a major hit to your ego. Common wisdom has been that being rejected makes you look for a “rebound” acceptance to fill the void, even if that rebound isn’t as good as the person you didn’t quite catch. But new research published this week has found that wisdom to depend on who’s doing the rejecting. It seems that being turned down, at least when it comes to initial efforts at romance, can actually make you pickier when it comes to accepting or rejecting other offers for love. Read more  »

Protecting Your Eyes as the Days Get Brighter

couple beach sunglasses funOne of my favorite parts of this time of year is how long the days start to get. While I spent the winter leaving for work and coming home in the dark, the days are finally long enough that I can enjoy the sun’s glory for almost my entire day. Last week I spent some time talking about how to keep your skin safe when the sun’s rays start to strengthen during this time of the year. Today, I want to talk about how that protection applies to your eyes. Most people know to put on sunscreen when they head out in the sun, but few recognize how much protection their eyes need. Read more  »

The Big Question to Ask Yourself This Month

back-sunscreen

The American Academy of Dermatology recognizes May as Skin Cancer Awareness Month in an effort to increase public awareness of skin cancer prevention and early detection. This year, dermatologists are banding together to ask, “Who’s Got Your Back?” when it comes to examining the skin for suspicious growths and applying sunscreen. Read more  »