Take Control of Your Health on World Family Doctor Day

Kansas City Photographer

Written by Wanda Filer, MD, MBA, FAAFP

A typical day for a family physician is pretty atypical. One minute, I’ll be conducting a well-baby visit, and the next minute, I’ll be checking in on an 89-year-old woman. That’s the life of a family physician. We deliver babies, care for children, advise people through their formative years and work in nursing homes. That creates a special relationship with our patients and communities, and today, World Family Doctor Day, is the day to celebrate that bond. Read more  »

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.

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  »

Memory Shapes Who We Are (and Sleep Shapes Memory!)

family-sleeping

The exploration of sleep’s influence over memory has captivated and intrigued scientists for well more than a century. For all the attention paid to the study of sleep and memory, there’s a great deal we don’t yet understand about how these two essential processes interact. As the science of memory function continues to be explored and unraveled, our understanding of sleep’s importance continues to grow. It’s now widely accepted that sleep is far more than a passive contributor to memory function, but plays a very active role in the formation and preservation of memory. There are several different theories currently being investigated as to how sleep affects memory, particularly for the role of sleep in memory consolidation or how memories are put into long-term storage. Nearly all working theories involve sleep affecting memory consolidation across multiple stages of sleep—including stage 2 sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep—and sleep having a significant impact on memory of all kinds. Read more  »

5 Truths About Nursing Everyone Needs to Know

Lovely latin nurse on blue uniform standing

National Nurses Week is celebrated each year starting on May 6 and ending on May 12, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. This year’s theme is Ethical Practice, Quality Care. The week is set aside to honor and recognize all nurses around the world for their contributions to promoting the health, well-being, comfort, and safety of the population–no small job!

Here are several myths and misconceptions about the nursing profession debunked. Read more  »

Supplements: How to Get What Your Money and Health Deserve

fish-oil-supplements

When the show had weight loss supplements tested to see if they contained the active ingredients they claimed, two of the three failed. That’s particularly upsetting to Dr. Oz himself because unscrupulous dietary supplement companies often steal his name and image to promote their products.

It’s bad enough that they’re illegally trading on his good name, even worse when the products don’t measure up. The dietary supplement industry is a tricky one because it’s not regulated by the government. Here are some ways you can protect yourself and make sure you get what you paid for. Read more  »

3 Tips for Helping a Depressed Loved One

depression

Depression can pose very big challenges for those afflicted. It’s also important to remember that depression can be very challenging for those who love someone who is depressed. Having a loved one who is struggling with depression can create feelings of helplessness, frustration, and hopelessness, and it can really strain relationships.

Here are three simple tips for those who love someone struggling with depression: Read more  »