April 22, 2014

Organic Food: Worth the Price? YES!

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently updated an article for their website that was originally published by Washington Post titled Organics: Are They Worth the Price? (you can click through if you'd like to read the article) They refer to a study that was published in 2012 by Stanford University titled "Little Evidence of Health Benefits from Organic Foods". It's old news, really, but since they are still talking about it, I will too!

Grocery shoppers ARE faced with a choice every time they shop between organic and conventional products. As they state in the article, the price difference is easy to see, but they proceed to give a "rundown of the evidence on nutrition and contamination levels for organic and conventional products." Basically, they say that if you are paying more for organic milk, produce, meat, eggs, or seafood, you are wasting your money because there is not enough significant difference either in nutrition or in contamination levels to endorse the purchase of organic food.

First of all, you might be interested in knowing that Cargill provides major financing for the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford. Although they are not tied to this study specifically, there is big money tying them to the University. Hmmm...

You also might be interested in knowing that despite all of the hype around the study saying that you shouldn't waste your money on organics, the study actually DOES report that eating organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure. It also says that eating organic chicken and pork appeared to reduce exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Of course it does! It doesn't take anything more than common sense to know that consuming pesticides isn't good for your body. The EPA website says: "Pesticides can cause health problems, such as birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time. However, these effects depend on how toxic the pesticide is and how much of it is consumed. Some pesticides also pose unique health risks to children."

If you need more reasons to buy organic food, here you go:

And when you're shopping for produce, remember the "dirty dozen" list of foods that are full of pesticides, antifungals and other chemicals. These are the foods where you should always choose an organic option. The "clean 15" is a list of foods that have little or no traces of pesticides and are safe to eat in the non-organic form.

You can download your free printable shoppers guide of the "dirty dozen/clean fifteen" at Food Matters.

I don't always buy organic, but I try to make healthy choices when I can. I'll definitely look for organic options on the dirty dozen, and will print out a copy for my husband, too! Do you shop for organic foods? Which ones? How about meats?

Happy Earth Day!

April 21, 2014

No Soliciting, PLEASE! Send Knockers Walking (without being rude)

There is a price to pay for the warm weather that has finally arrived here in the Minneapolis area. SOLICITORS! I think that our neighborhood gets hit worse than some others, but more likely, all neighborhoods are plagued with salespeople, canvassers, fund-raisers, preachers and the like. Some days there are 2 or 3 different people ringing in the same day!

With two dogs in the house, it's a struggle to open the door and manage them at the same time. I hate being rude, but sometimes they just don't go away unless you just close the door in their face!

Besides that - We don't have any home improvement projects planned. Our trees don't need trimming. We know who we're going to vote for. We donate money to organizations that we select each year. We don't want to pray with you.

There is just 1 exception to the rule. I always buy anything kids are selling. Period. Even if I already have 3 sets of discount cards from the athletics booster club for football, wrestling and girl's lacrosse.

I have a sort of respect for people who are out there trying to make a go of it, but there are lots of other ways to earn a buck these days. I've said for years that I was going to buy a NO SOLICITING sign, but they are so ugly! Today I made this one:

I hope it works! If it doesn't, I'll make one that strictly says "NO SOLICITING" but I do like this one better! How do you keep salespeople, etc. from ringing your doorbell?

April 19, 2014

Discover How Great You Are in 30 Minutes by Milan Bakrania {book review}

For Self-Care Saturday this week I decided to feature a book that gives the kind of practical, no nonsense advice that my mom used to give. At just 44 pages, it's a quick read for anyone who needs a kick-in-the-pants - MOM STYLE!

This book is a quick read. Literally cover to cover in 30 minutes. It's priced right now at just $4.99 on amazon.com and if you have amazon prime you can borrow it for free!

Each page features a comment that someone facing self-doubt may say about themselves along with practical advice from the author. Here are a few of my very favorites...

"I'm full of insecurities"... Who isn't!  Some people can hide their insecurities and some can't. No one is perfect. Acknowledge your insecurities, but don't let them hold you back from greatness!

"I wish I looked better" ... Do something about it! Join a gym and change your diet if you need to lose weight. Get a new hairstyle if you're bored with your current crop. Adjust your dressing style. Be proactive and make a start. Do whatever it takes for you to feel good about yourself.

"I have to be better than others to succeed" ... No. you don't. Don't be afraid to be yourself and stop comparing. Be happy and live without regret.

See what I mean? These messages couldn't be spelled out more clearly, and the practical advice is just what we all need sometimes.

Now that my mom has passed, I rely on my sister's to give me this kind of no-nonsense advice. Who do you count on to give you a kick-in-the-pants when you need one?

April 18, 2014

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs! Yummy Recipes Using Hard Boiled Eggs from Handmade Gatherings

I'm always in search of great recipes and at Easter time, if I can use up those hard-boiled eggs we've decorated and make them into something yummy then it's a huge bonus! Two classic recipes are deviled eggs and egg salad, and I found fabulous recipes for both that have a modern twist. (one has BACON!)

"Handmade Gatherings" by Ashley English is a brand new book that features sixteen parties and gives you fabulous ideas on decorating, entertainment, little crafts you can do and recipes! One of the springtime parties, I might add, resembles an Easter celebration!

I love how the deviled egg recipe is lightened up for spring. She uses fresh dill, lemon zest and olive oil to brighten the flavor, but keeps this classic favorite close to the ones you remember.

I'm happy to feature two fabulous recipes from "Handmade Gatherings" - the first is for LEMON & DILL DEVILED EGGS and the second is for BACON & CARMELIZED ONION EGG SALAD.

You can get your copy of "Handmade Gatherings" from amazon.com or from the publisher, Roost Books! I was provided a copy of this beautiful book for review. Opinions about the book are all mine.

April 17, 2014

82 and Sunny in San Juan, Snowing AGAIN in Minneapolis

This post brought to you by Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island. All opinions are 100% mine.
When I was in Junior High School, I responded to an article Young Miss magazine to request a penpal. Coming from a small town in rural Minnesota, I wanted so badly to learn what life was like for teens in other states. I waited and waited and finally got my first letter. My penpal was from Puerto Rico! At that time, I didn't even realize that Puerto Rico was part of the United States, but I remember how exotic her letters sounded. She encouraged me in every letter to come visit beautiful Puerto Rico, so when I was approached by Puerto Rico Tourism to work with them, I immediately thought of her.

I can't remember her name, but would love to some day visit Puerto Rico. All you have to do is go to their website to see how beautiful it is.  Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico. There are 270 miles of coastline featured in the top 10 beaches from Travel Channel - including Flamenco Beach in Culebra.

For my husband, there are 25 golf courses around the island, and they promise an all-star golf experience at the home of all-star golfer Juan "Chi Chi" Rodriguez!

If you go and Like SeePuertoRico.com on Facebook, you can check out all of the pictures posted. They are amazing! There are tons more golf pics, plus pictures of people doing a zipline through the El Yunque Rainforest!

If you Follow @PRTourismCo on Twitter you'll see tweets from visitors who are actually there now and catch a glimpse of some incredible sunsets. How romantic!

There are so many different things to do! You can visit San Juan to see real old-town charm, try some of the best food in the world, and taste the many types of RUM!  You can even tour the Bacardi Rum Factory, the world's biggest rum distillery, by taking a ferry from Old San Juan.

The best thing of all is that when you visit Puerto Rico, you don't even need a passport! There's no hassles with customs, no worry about exchanging currency, because it's part of the U.S.!

On a snowy April day like today, I can't help dreaming about laying on the beach in Puerto Rico. Visit seepuertorico.com and check it out, then comment here about what YOU would do in Puerto Rico! Click Here

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Spring Cleaning from the Inside Out: The Weekend Wonder Detox {book review}

Spring is the perfect time to detox your body, but so many of the juice cleanses and harsh fasting plans out there are really harmful to your body! How do you know what kind of cleanse you should do?

The "Weekend Wonder Detox" (paperback available on amazon.com - kindle edition available April 29th) is the perfect resource. Not only does the author offer a quiz to help you decide what type of cleanse your body needs most, (liver, lymph, kidneys, colon, skin, or fat blast) but she also guides you through the entire process for the weekend with a customized plan for each type of cleanse.

Each plan includes foods that you should include, supplements that you can take to boost your cleanse, spa treatments to enhance your experience, exercises to strengthen your body, lots of recipes that you can incorporate, and more! To make it even easier for you, she provides worksheets and shopping lists for groceries that you need.

I'm starting with a colon cleanse, since that's what the quiz determined that I need the most (full of sh!t?) and after that I plan to do a liver cleanse. Because we like to watch our diets during the week and splurge over the weekend, I may tackle a cleanse midweek instead...

The great thing is, all of the cleanses seem totally doable. Lots of water, nutritious foods including fruit, veggies, fish and whole grains, herbal teas, and at home spa treatments.

What I can't wait to try:

  • At Home Tholossotherapy Bath Spa Treatment
  • Super-Detoxifying Green Tea Lemonade Recipe
  • Salade De Provence Dressing Recipe

I was provided a free copy of "The Weekend Wonder Detox" for review, but all opinions are mine. Have you tried to do a detox cleanse before? Was it a fasting cleanse? Juice cleanse? Or something similar to this cleanse that features whole foods?

April 15, 2014

What Does Your DNA Say? My Experience With Promethease & 23andMe

If you saw yesterday's post, you know that I recently had my DNA analysis done through 23andMe. Yesterday, I went over what I learned about my ancestry directly from 23andMe. If you missed it, click here to check it out! Today, I'll talk about the information that had a HUGE impact on me that came from the raw data they sent.

If you have your DNA analysis done by 23andMe, you can find your raw data by clicking on your profile on the top right corner. It says "browse raw data" and let me warn you... DON'T try to print it! Mine was 12,550 pages! It makes no sense whatsoever to look at it, but if you pay a visit to www.promethease.com and pay $5, you can upload your information directly from 23andMe for interpretation. In about 5-10 minutes, you'll get several different reports full of health related information. All I can say is - "WHAT A TRIP!"

I suspected several issues to show up, and they did. There were health issues that my dad had when he was alive that showed up in my reports as a risk. There were health issues that my mom had when she was alive that showed up in my reports as a risk. And then there were health issues that showed up in my reports as a risk that I had never even heard of. 

23andMe used to provide their own interpretation of your genetic health information, but stopped late last year when the FDA got involved. They have since pledged to not provide genetic health information to their customers until they receive FDA approval. For the consumer, it means that instead of receiving a clearly written report from 23andMe, you have to upload your raw data to a different website and interpret all of the reports yourself. It really does take quite a lot of work to understand what you're looking at!

To put it mildly, I was totally and completely overwhelmed by all of the information. When you see the raw DNA data interpretation from Promethease, especially when you don't know anything about what you're looking at, it's absolutely crazy. The information provided in the reports that you receive is presented in eight major sections:
1. Good News: Good news is always the best to receive! I'm happy to say that I have a natural resistance that makes me less susceptible to infection with malaria, tuberculosis, bacteremia and pneumococcal disease. I have a lower risk of type 1 diabetes and a decreased risk of atrial fibrillation, among other things.

2. Bad News: The bad news is where you'll find the info with the biggest impact. Without telling you all of my personal genetic information, I can say that this area of the report is where you would find out if you carried the genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease, breast cancer for women, prostate cancer for men, rheumatoid arthritis, type-1 or type-2 diabetes, macular degeneration, lupus, glaucoma, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and more.

3. These Seem Interesting But Have Not Been Flagged as Clearly Good or Bad: This section tells mostly things like eye color, it said that I'm more likely to think that cilantro tastes like soap, (yep) that I'm a fast caffeine metabolizer, and that I'm unlikely to be able to taste bitter in foods, which may be why I love super dark coffee without cream or sugar.

4. Medicines: To me, this may be one of the areas of the report that contain the most valuable information. I found out that I am a poor metabolizer of some medications, including common prescription medications like warfarin (a blood thinner) and if I ever need it I would require a different dose. The same applies to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds like asprin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. I have always had problems with Aleve, and now I know why. 

5. Medical Conditions: This goes back to the bad news section, telling you about any medical conditions that you may be genetically predisposed to, but it also gives you information on diseases that you have decreased odds of getting. For example, I am less likely to develop chronic kidney disease, kidney stones, and gout! There is a LOT - LOT - LOT of information here and it's not really very easy to interpret. It may say that your risk of developing Parkinson's Disease is normal on one line, and on the very next line it may say that you are at risk of developing Parkinson's Disease. It ranks your risk by MAGNITUDE on a scale of 0-10, 10 being really significant information and 0 being the common genotype, for which nothing interesting is known. They say that a magnitude 3 is probably worth your time. My highest ranked magnitude reported was a 3.5, so nothing earth-shattering, but definitely worth noting!

6. Topics: Ranging from aging and appearance to vitamin D and weight management, this report shows, alphabetically, information on every single thing you can think of and how it applies to your specific DNA. Again, it's a ton of information and most of it probably doesn't apply to you, but there are some interesting things.

7. These Are Most Unique To You But Don't Yet Have A Magnitude Assigned: Unique indeed! I clicked on almost every line in this report and learned nothing. The first line seems important because the FREQUENCY (0.0% - meaning that no other Caucasian/Europeans in their sample share this genotype) is highlighted in bright red, but when I click on it, all it says is that this SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism, pronounced SNIP) has to do with opioid addiction in females. Hmmm.

8. Complicated. Lots More Data But Limited Information: I figure that if they are telling me that this area is hard to understand, I can probably skip it because I found the entire report hard to understand!
The reports that are provided by Promethease are very comprehensive, but still require you to do your own research. For example, there are 8 different lines or SNP's that have to do with breast cancer, and another 19 that have to do with breast & ovarian cancer. One or two lines might show bad news... the rest might show good news or that your results were normal. How do you interpret the information that they've already interpreted for you? You dig. You pull all of the information from all of the websites you can find.

And ultimately, after you're done with all of that, Wikipedia says regarding breast cancer, "Some genetic susceptibility may play a minor role in most cases. Overall, however, genetics is believed to be the primary cause of 5–10% of all cases." It's hard to keep that in perspective when you see something show up under BAD NEWS.

When news hit that Angelina Jolie chose to have a double mastectomy because of a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, women around the world took notice. Time Magazine said, "She tested positive for the breast-cancer-related BRCA1 gene, putting the probability that she would develop the disease at a terrifying 87%; after her surgery, her doctors put that number at just 5%." 

They go on to explain, "Genetic screening is a young science, and while we may have detected genes linked to a host of ills — Alzheimer’s disease, prostate cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, heart disease — we often do a terrible job of calculating our resulting risks. Just over one-tenth of 1% of all women carry the same BRCA mutation Jolie has, and yet doctors expect a stampede of women requesting the test."

Why WOULDN'T a woman who has watched her mother, sisters, and aunts die from breast cancer want to be able to take a proactive step in self-care? Why wouldn't a woman want to know if she was going to pass on the mutation to her daughter?

23andMe DOES test for the BRCA mutation and so many more different genetic disorders that it really is overwhelming. You definitely have to do your homework to interpret the info in the Promethease reports until 23andMe is able to provide health interpretation again.

Like the Time Magazine article implied, when you test positive for a genetic mutation it doesn't mean that you will get that disease. It's up to you to take the initiative and research what the information means - and it's up to you what you do with the information provided once you have it.

Anne Wojcicki, the founder of 23andMe, was married to Sergey Brin. Brin is one of the original founders of Google and when he had his DNA tested through 23andMe, he discovered that he tested positive for a genetic mutation that is linked to Parkinson's.

In June 2010, WIRED magazine explained, "Parkinson’s is a poorly understood disease, but research has associated a handful of behaviors with lower rates of disease, starting with exercise. One study found that young men who work out have a 60 percent lower risk. Coffee, likewise, has been linked to a reduced risk. For a time, Brin drank a cup or two a day, but he can’t stand the taste of the stuff, so he switched to green tea. Cigarette smokers also seem to have a lower chance of developing Parkinson’s, but Brin has not opted to take up the habit. With every pool workout and every cup of tea, he hopes to diminish his odds, to adjust his algorithm by counteracting his DNA with environmental factors. “This is all off the cuff,” he says, “but let’s say that based on diet, exercise, and so forth, I can get my risk down by half, to about 25 percent.” The steady progress of neuroscience, Brin figures, will cut his risk by around another half—bringing his overall chance of getting Parkinson’s to about 13 percent. It’s all guesswork, mind you, but the way he delivers the numbers and explains his rationale, he is utterly convincing."

The question that I hear over and over again is, “Would you do it again, knowing what you know now?” 

The health related information that I received is incredibly valuable, BUT it's a total mind F#%K. Having information on my genetic code as it relates to my health is something that could potentially save my life. It could lead to early diagnosis of a disease, or save me from a reaction to a medication that I have a problem metabolizing. That is priceless information!

But I have to admit that when I first opened the reports from Promethease, I was pretty traumatized. It took me several weeks of research to understand what my actual risks are and what the information means to me. I probably won't share any of the genetic information with my doctor unless it becomes relevant.

If I had strange symptoms that I thought could be related to a genetic disorder, or if I wanted to know if I was BRCA positive, I would say yes. Definitely spend the $99 for 23andMe and the extra $5 for Promethease to get the health interpretations. Not only is it much less expensive than a test ordered by a physician, but the results are YOUR information and not part of your medical records.

If you're curious about your ancestry, definitely spend the $99 for 23andMe! It's fascinating and you can always access the raw data later to get the health interpretation if you choose to.

If you're young and healthy, maybe there are things that you're better off not knowing... The best news is that the information and technology are ready available, and should you choose to use it hopefully you'll be a bit better prepared than I was.

*The information in this post is AS I UNDERSTOOD it. I'm not a geneticist, but I tried to convey, in my own very practical manner, what the process was like and what type of information I received.

Would you use genetic testing to see if you were at risk of developing disorders in the future?

April 14, 2014

What Does Your DNA Say? My Experience With 23andMe Personal Genome Services

As a lifestyle blogger, if there is something that really piques my curiosity, I imagine that my readers are curious about it, too. For the last few years, I've been hearing about 23andMe and their personal genome services and definitely was interested in learning more.

Because of my own personal interest, I wanted to go through the process and be able to do a comprehensive blog post that would help my readers understand what it means to have their own DNA profile done. I wanted to be able to let them know exactly what to expect if they paid $99 and sent in a tube of their spit to 23andMe. I didn't, however, expect to have the process change the way that I view myself forever.