Dr. Wallace:

Our homemaking teacher encourages her students to use a microwave oven when cooking food. She says that food cooked that way is actually healthier than food prepared on a stove or in a conventional oven.

My mom feels our teacher is wrong and that it is actually dangerous to eat food cooked in a microwave oven. That’s why we do not own one. I trust that both my teacher and my mom know the facts on microwave cooking, so who is correct?

— Kelly,

New York, N.Y.

Kelly: When microwave ovens first came on the market, many myths and misleading information abounded. Standing in front of a microwave in operation was thought to be dangerous, especially to women who were pregnant.

The truth is that in conventional cooking, heat is applied from the outside and gradually penetrates food, but microwaves cook the interior of foods directly by causing water molecules to vibrate, thus causing heat.

According to the University of California Wellness Letter, microwaving is like steaming — an excellent way to preserve nutrients and one of the better cooking methods.

Dr. Wallace: My best friend’s boyfriend has been in prison for nine months and has at least three more years left to serve. She intends to wait and marry him when he’s released. He has written to say that he is totally reformed. He writes to her every week and tells her how much he loves and misses her.

He has a prison friend who is terribly lonely and my friend wants me to be his pen pal. I sort of want to write to him, but something inside keeps telling me not to. I’m 16 and this prisoner I’d be writing to is 21.

I talked with my mother about this and she said it had to be my decision. What’s your advice?

— Allison,

Las Vegas, Nev.

Allison: I know that prisoners are often lonely and enjoy receiving mail, but I do not encourage teenage girls to become pen pals with men behind bars. For those teens who do write to prisoners, the first few letters are usually casual, but as time goes on they become more personal. In some cases, the inmate wants to start a relationship with his pen pal when he’s released.

Encourage your friend to contact nursing homes and other facilities that cater to senior citizens. These people often enjoy getting mail and they also love to write letters. They would be a perfect match for those lonely prisoners. Adult members of religious groups also would be excellent candidates to be pen pals to prisoners.

Dr. Wallace: I’m sort of a fitness nut. I’m into jogging and I jog two miles every day. Sometimes when I jog I see adults who swing their arms vigorously when they walk. I know it must be beneficial, but I can’t figure out what the benefit might be. Please enlighten me.

— Nameless,

Galesburg, Ill.

Nameless: A person can burn 50 percent more calories by exaggerating arm swings while walking and 100 percent more calories if they hold two-pound weights and exaggerate arm swings. Simply put: The arm-swinging walker wants to lose weight while exercising.

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