Healthy Living

Dr. Fernstrom takes a look at olive oil varieties, detox diets, the relationship between physical activity and body image, and more.

Q. I’ve seen bottles of “light” olive oil at my local supermarket. Is light olive oil lower in calories than regular olive oil?

A. Olive oil labeling can be misleading. In this case, “light” refers to color and flavor, compared with dark-green, flavorful olive oil. All olive oils have the same number of calories, about 120 calories per tablespoon.

The first press of the olives produces dark-green, strongly flavored oil and is the priciest. The second press of the same olives produces oil with a lighter color and flavor. While both are heart-healthy oils, they have different uses in cooking, depending upon whether more or less flavor is desired.

The Skinny on Detox and Cleansing Diets

Should you detoxify and cleanse your way to good health? Whatever your purpose—weight loss or increased energy—here are the pros and cons of these programs.

First, our bodies have a four-part, built-in detox system, comprised of our liver, kidneys, lungs and skin. There’s no medical reason for further detoxing to help out, especially when it involves digestive-tract modifiers, such as laxatives and colonics. We have a sensitive salt and water balance in our bodies, as well as millions of healthy bacteria. These can be altered in a bad way by digestive cleanses.

Stick with lean proteins and lots of fruits and vegetables, and cut out processed foods. Eliminating processed foods will automatically cut sugars, fats and calories from your diet. These are big pluses to cleaner, healthier eating. Getting enough sleep and daily physical activity rounds out the health-promotion plan.

Feeling unusually tired or having digestive problems? See your doctor for evaluation and treatment.

Physical Activity and Body Image

Have you ever looked in the mirror and wished you were slimmer, taller, more muscular or more petite? If so, you’re not alone. Nearly two-thirds of American adults are dissatisfied with their bodies.

New studies show that there’s a simple solution to at least feeling better about your body, even if you can’t change its shape: physical activity. Whether the health benefits of exercise were measurable or not, those studied felt better about their bodies just by being more physically active. Neither duration nor intensity of exercise appeared to matter.

Simply taking a walk and moving more is what a lot of people need to get a better self-image. That amounts to a small effort for a significant, positive health outcome—a real win-win!

in the news

Just a generation ago, the medical community believed that the brain didn’t change much after infancy, but recent research at Carnegie Mellon University shows that the brain can change its connections in elementary-school-age children.

The researchers studied children in third to fifth grades who were poor readers and provided them with intense remedial-reading support. What they found was astounding: Not only did the children improve their reading skills, but they also grew new brain connections. The changes were in white-matter pathways, the neural tissue that surrounds and supports nerve cells.

This is an important advancement in understanding how reading stimulates brain growth and improves cognitive function because literacy is important for many reasons.

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s "Today Show" and is the author of The Runner’s Diet. Also visit "Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom," a health and wellness blog at

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