Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall’s Here… Prepare for Allergies!

This, finally. Well, almost.
Image: Shutterstock

Fall has sauntered into our lives sneakily, and with the weather changes comes another, not so pleasant thing for many: allergies. My body doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by pollen count and potential allergens, but many of my friends and acquaintances would say just the opposite. Changing seasons mean at least a few weeks of sneezy, sniffly doom.

With that in mind, I was intrigued when I saw that there’s actually a report from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) on the worst cities for those who suffer from allergies. And number one on the “2013 Fall Allergy Capitals” report was Wichita, KS.

The report says that global weather conditions could make this fall particularly ragweed-heavy, and that the potential fall storms and tornadoes could also “disperse allergens” and cause more outdoor mold problems. The list of the top 100 allergy capitals took into account pollen levels, OTC and prescription medication usage, and the number or Board Certified allergists for each city.

Wichita had a score or 100, boosting it to first place over last year’s second place. Last year, Louisville, KY, was number one. Check out other top cities on the report this year:
Unfortunately, fall is also a time of high allergies for some.
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Wichita, KS—100.00
  2. Jackson, MS—96.44
  3. Knoxville, TN—94.32
  4. Louisville, KY—89.12
  5. Memphis, TN—88.72
  6. McAllen, TX—88.37
  7. Baton Rouge, LA—87.87
  8. Dayton, OH—86.91
  9. Chattanooga, TNN—85.76
  10. Oklahoma City, OK—85.65
  11. New Orleans, LA—84.54
  12. Madison, WI—83.67
  13. Omaha, NE—82.64
  14. Little Rock, AR—80.02
  15. Tulsa, OK—77.50
  16. Buffalo, NY—77.10
  17. Grand Rapids, MI—76.88
  18. Dallas, TX—76.63
  19. Detroit, MI—76.27
  20. Toledo, OH—75.59
For a look at more of the top 100 cities, check out Allergy Capitals’ interactive map, which helpfully color-codes all of the cities’ regional locations (Midwest, Northeast, South, West), shows last year’s rank, and provides more information on its factor scores. The South and Midwest largely dominate the top of the list, with the West and Northeast bringing up the rear.

Where does your city "fall" on the list? :)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Real Effects of Knuckle Cracking

Does knuckle cracking cause arthritis? Probably not.
Does knuckle cracking cause arthritis? Probably not.
Image: Shutterstock
I don’t remember when I first started cracking my knuckles, but it was a long time ago. I would guess I was probably about ten or eleven years old at the time. I’ve done so on and off since then, oscillating between periods where I just didn’t care and periods where I was trying to stop my bad habit out of fear of arthritis.

I’ve always wondered—but never bothered to check—what the real effects of cracking my knuckles are. Despite whether it causes arthritis or not, there’s no denying that it’s a habit that is hard to break. And it’s not exactly and appealing habit to have—the loud pops can be annoying to others, and I always seem to have the biggest urge to crack my knuckles when a room is dead silent.

It turns out, there’s no actual scientific evidence thus far that confirms that knuckle cracking causes arthritis. When two or more bones meet, they are connected by ligaments, which are encapsulated by a joint capsule. This capsule is filled with synovial fluid to help joints move smoothly. The popping or cracking sound happens when we stretch and pull apart the joint capsule, thereby expanding it, decreasing pressure inside of it, and releasing dissolved gasses within it (nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide).

Arthritis is caused by cartilage damage, and therefore it’s unlikely that knuckle cracking could cause arthritic problems later on in life. Knuckle cracking stretches our joints and stimulates nerve ending there, which is why it can feel so good to us. Unfortunately, that constant stretching can also make the joint unstable—a development that could lead to lower grip strength and potential loss of hand function.

So, while arthritis might not be of particular concern, joint problems may be. For me, I’ll probably aim for moderation and muscle strengthening. My joints often crack on their own, and when I do it on purpose, it’s usually because my muscles around the joint feel like they’re too tight or uncomfortable. But I also find that the more I build up muscle strength and flexibility, the less I feel the need to crack my knuckles and other joints.

My plan is to limit how much I actively crack my joints, but still allow myself some leeway when necessary. Overall, it’s probably best for my body (and less annoying for the people around me) if I eventually break the habit completely, but if I’m being realistic, that probably won’t be for a while.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Digital Detox

This is the look she gives me when I'm
on the computer too much. What a ham.
I am a lover of technology. I write personally and professionally, and as much as I would love to claim that I follow that romantic ideal of writing everything out in longhand first… I can’t. The digital world calls for speed, and as much content as I produce, writing it first by hand would seriously cut back on efficiency. I guess I’ll reserve the longhand for my creative endeavors.

As much time as I spend in front of a computer screen each day, you’d think that by the time I got home from work I’d put myself as far away from the computer as possible. But that’s the thing about the Internet: there are so many interesting things to read, see, watch, and interact with that it can be hard to say no.

When I’m not at work, I find myself filling up my free time by browsing Facebook, Pinterest, and my e-mail; playing videogames; and sometimes even checking the same things over and over on my phone. I like that I can feel connected to the wider world so easily, but I’ve been feeling more and more lately like I need to take a pause, an exodus from technology when I’m at home.

I’m not particularly attached to any social media, even if I do enjoy it. I’m not one of those people who tweet once every few minutes or snaps Instagram photos several times per day. But even so, the Internet is good at addiction, and even when there’s not really anything compelling, it’s still an easy go-to place for vegging out. The problem is, it’s also a time suck. Time that could be spent doing something more enjoyable isn’t used because it’s more work to do something else, and I often end up wondering where my entire evening went.
One of my favorite activities: reading a good book.
Image: Shutterstock
So lately, I’ve been taking a step back. Instead of checking Facebook for the eighteenth time that day, I turn off my computer screen and curl up on the sofa with a good book. I pull out my sketchbook and express myself artistically. I plan out the next few chapters of my book. I go outside and play with the dog. I give myself some much needed digital detox.

And you know what? My evenings are starting to feel longer. I go to bed feeling satisfied, and I fall asleep faster. When I check Facebook, it’s been more than a few hours and so there are actually new things to be seen. I’m enjoying everything more, and I have so much more time to do things I had forgotten I loved.

Want some ideas for what to do during a digital detox time? Here’s my list:
  • Read a book
  • Art—drawing, painting
  • Crafting—DIY projects, knitting, crocheting
  • Cooking/baking
  • Writing—personal or creative
  • Go outside—playing with a pet, enjoying nature, taking photos
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Exercise—yoga, walking, jogging, biking
  • Play games--cards, board games

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

World Happiness Report: Where Do You Rank?

How do you rank your happiness?
Image: Shutterstock
The United Nations has once more released their World Happiness Report, which details which nations are the happiest in the world. The survey is a Gallup poll of 1,000 people and has participants rank their own happiness based on specific measures of happiness. People rank their lives as a whole, with a zero signifying the worst possible situation and a ten being the best.

The six main factors people were asked to report on include per capita GDP, life expectancy, someone to count on (friends, family, support groups), freedom to make life choices, generosity (philanthropic giving), and freedom from corruption. The report was published by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the first time last year (2012).

Denmark snagged the top spot with an average score of 7.693. Where do the rest of the 156 countries surveyed fall? Here’s a glance at the report’s findings, with the top 20 spots:
The Danes rated themselves the happiest people on earth.
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Denmark (7.693)
  2. Norway (7.655)
  3. Switzerland (7.650)
  4. Netherlands (7.512)
  5. Sweden (7.480)
  6. Canada (7.477)
  7. Finland (7.389)
  8. Austria (7.369)
  9. Iceland (7.355)
  10. Australia (7.350)
  11. Israel (7.301)
  12. Costa Rica (7.257)
  13. New Zealand (7.221)
  14. United Arab Emirates (7.144)
  15. Panama (7.143)
  16. Mexico (7.088)
  17. United States (7.082)
  18. Ireland (7.076)
  19. Luxembourg (7.054)
  20. Venezuela (7.039)
The unhappiest countries included Rwanda, Burundi, Central African Republic, Benin, and Togo; these countries all had scores at 3.715 or below—a far cry from the world’s happiest places to be.

Overall, global happiness increased slightly. Of course, that’s not for all countries—it’s just a general upward trend that hopefully continues over the coming years. To see the complete list, look at more increases and decreases in overall happiness, and more, check out the complete World Happiness Report 2013.

How would you rank yourself out of ten on the six factors: per capita GDP, life expectancy, someone to count on, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and freedom from corruption? Here’s where I would say I fall:

Per Capita GDP—5
Life expectancy—10
Someone to count on—10
Freedom to make life choices—8
Freedom from corruption—8

That makes my average about 7.6—not bad! Life certainly isn’t perfect, but I am finally finding a balance and a contentedness that I’ve never known before, and I’m grateful for that.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Doutzen Kroes on Being Happy and Healthy

Models have got a bad rap for being skinny, sometimes anorexic, superficial, and vain creatures. But the truth is, they’re all people—just like us. Some of them may struggle with a mountain of insecurities, perhaps even more so than most. But the modeling industry is changing for the better, and the days when nearly all models were the perfect example of anorexia are slipping further and further into the past.

That’s not to say that the modeling industry as a whole doesn’t have its issues—because it does. But more models are fighting back against the societal ideal that models must starve themselves to be skinny enough for a shoot. Models like Cameron Russell, Doutzen Kroes, and Jennie Runk don’t believe that ribs should be showing, and they don’t hate their bodies. They’re standing up for a more moral modeling industry, one where women see their own beauty instead of trashing themselves.

Doutzen Kroes values being fit, not thin.
Anton Oparin /

Kroes is a 28-year-old mother, and says that, contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t fit into a size zero. And she doesn’t want to. “I have a woman’s body, and once in a while you run into the fact that things are not fitting the way they should be. But I joke about it and say, ‘What 13-year-old girl was wearing this?’”

Kroes is certainly a small woman, but she is that way because she eats well and works out. When she was younger, she biked about 15 miles to school and back every day, and today she stays in shape by doing ballet and boxing. But diet is most of what keeps her healthy; she nixes all alcohol consumption a month before shows, and eats “very basic and happy food,” which she regularly shares with her 670,000 Instagram followers.

And if a company ever has a problem with Kroes not fitting into sample sizes, she takes the most sensible approach: “If they think I’m too fat, I’d rather not do the job—because I’m super-healthy and fit and I’m so happy the way I am.”

As a model, Kroes feels like she has a responsibility to women and girls everywhere, and wants to make a positive impact to fight the modeling industry’s typically negative impact on self-esteem. She stresses the fact that what ends up on a magazine ad or on the runway is very staged, and not at all representative of real life.

“I feel I’m such a big part of that insecurity that some girls might have because of my job, that girls think they have to be that picture,” she says. “And even boys, they think that that picture exists, and it’s so frustrating because I don’t look like that picture—I wake up not looking like that picture.”

Model Jennie Runk echoes the same sentiment in her advocacy for teenage girls. She wants them to know that they are beautiful just as they are. “You will grow out of this awkwardness fabulously,” she wrote in an essay for BBC. “Just focus on being the best possible version of yourself and quit worrying about your thighs, there’s nothing wrong with them.”

“There’s no need to glamorize one body type and slam another,” she added. “We need to stop this absurd hatred towards bodies for being different sizes. It doesn’t help anyone and it’s getting old.”

Cameron Russell has modeled for over a decade for Victoria’s Secret, Vogue, Ralph Lauren, and many more. And like Kroes and Runk, she is a major promoter of women’s empowerment, stressing that body image isn’t everything. We have learned as a society that it’s normal and expected to be ashamed of our bodies in some way, trying to live up to an unattainable perfection.

I na poignant TED Talk, Russell says that even models feel this insecurity, perhaps even more than the rest of us. “They have the thinnest thighs and the shiniest hair and the coolest clothes, and they’re the most physically insecure women probably on the planet,” she says.”

I’m so glad to see more women standing up for real beauty, insiders pointing to the fact that the fashion industry isn’t at all what it appears. It’s a performance, albeit a beautiful one, and it’s time we stopped expecting those images to transfer over into real life.

Monday, September 9, 2013

9 Meat Replacement Options for Vegetarians

Vegetarians must be proactive in getting protein and other nutrients into their diets.
Vegetarians must be proactive in getting protein and other nutrients into their diets.
Image: Shutterstock
One of the biggest challenges to becoming a vegetarian is making sure that you still get the protein and other nutrients like omega 3 fatty acid that are so prominent in meat. Missing out on those nutrients can be hugely detrimental to your health, and so if you’re planning on saying goodbye to meat, be sure you have a plan in place for how you’ll make up for it.

If you’re new to the vegetarian scene, you might also find that there are some dining experiences that seem hard to replicate without meat. An incredible amount of non-vegetarian meals center around meat, and it can be a hard transition to make if you’re not prepared.

So what’s a non-meat-eater to do? Try out some of these meat substitutes to make sure you have a way to get all the protein, omega 3, and other nutrients you’ll still need.
  1. Nuts—Lots of nuts have high concentrations of omega 3, protein, and fiber in them. Try mixing raw walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and other nuts in with salads, stir-fry, and more. Just don’t overdo it—nuts are also high in calorie content.
  2. Tofu—Made from coagulated soymilk, tofu is a bean curd that’s very high in protein. It doesn’t have much taste on its own, but can be great mixed in with sauce, in a stir-fry, or grilled with some spices. Scramble it up in the morning like eggs, or make some veggie kebobs.
  3. Soy—This is one of the most popular substitutes for meat; it’s very versatile, has lots of protein, is low in fat and cholesterol, and can even help fight cancer.
  4. Eggplant—It’s like eggplant was made to replace meat. It’s got a meaty texture and is chock full of fiber, antioxidants, B vitamins, and potassium. I find it best in lasagna, pasta, and other tomato-y Italian dishes.
  5. Portobello Mushrooms—Like eggplant, Portobellos have a meaty texture that makes them an ideal substitute for meat. You can slice them up and make steaks, stuff them with your favorite veggies and cheeses, roast them, and so much more. Plus, you’ll get lots of protein in the deal.
  6. Legumes—AKA beans, peas, and lentils. Members of the legume family are loaded with protein, folate, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Throw them in a stew, stir-fry, or salad.
  7. Tempeh—Made from soy, tempeh is full of iron, calcium, protein, and vitamin B12. It comes molded into patties and can be baked, steamed, deep-fried, sautéed, and everything else under the moon.
  8. Bulgur Wheat—This whole grain is a form of whole wheat that can be used as rice, meatloaf, and even sausages. It’s got you covered for fiver content, protein, potassium, iron, and more.
  9. Seitan—A wheat gluten, seitan has a similar texture to some meats. Its protein content is comparable to actual meat, making it a perfect substitute in many meat dishes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

12 Foods That Prevent Breast Cancer

Curry can help prevent breast cancer.
Curry can help prevent breast cancer.
Image: Shutterstock
Did you know that what you eat influences your health? Of course you did! What kind of a silly question is that, anyway?

It’s a question I’m inclined to ask because, well, we don’t always eat the best foods. We know that our bodies depend on the food we eat to stay up and running. We know that some foods can contribute to cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes… you name it. We’re told over and over that we shouldn’t eat certain foods, but let’s face it—some junk food is incredibly seductive.

It’s time for a new plan. When I was a teacher, we learned about different types of discipline. One type involved negative reinforcement (you take something away) and another involved positive reinforcement (you give something). I’m a big fan of positive reinforcement, because it’s guilt-free.

Instead of making ourselves feel oh-so-bad about the nasty food we eat once in a while, why not try patting ourselves on the back—or in this case, boobs—for eating something that’s great for us. Ladies, I hope you’re listening, because here are twelve (delicious) foods that can help prevent breast cancer:
Eat some naturally orange food! It's good for you!
Eat some naturally orange food! It's good for you!
Image: Shutterstock
  1. Curry
  2. Broccoli
  3. Garlic
  4. Apples
  5. Pomegranates
  6. Walnuts
  7. Fish
  8. Flaxseed
  9. Soybeans
  10. Orange fruits and vegetables
  11. Berries
  12. Green Tea 
I don’t know about you, but I’m super excited to see that I love all of those foods. I want to try something—but I need your help. I really want to post some wonderful healthy recipes using these ingredients. So here’s my request: pick your favorite ingredient on the list and then e-mail me a delicious recipe to use it in.

I’ll pick my favorite recipes from those submitted, and post them on my blog in the coming weeks. I’ll of course provide author attribution as long as you provide your information. Ready? Set! Let the good recipes roll!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vegan BBQ Recipes for Summer’s End

Looking for something new and fun (and tasty) to try before summer’s end? Why not mix things up and try out some yum-yum vegan barbecue recipes? Whether you’re vegan or not, these 7 recipes will have your mouth watering in no time at all.
Who says BBQs have to include meat?
Image: Shutterstock
  1. BBQ Soy Taco Bowls with Pickled Onions—Soy curls replace beef in these tacos, and you’ll never miss the meat for a second. The addition of the pickled onions adds a tiny bit of prep and a wonderful amount of flavor.
  2. Cheesy Mac n’ “Rib” Pizza—This crazy concoction uses seitan in place of ribs and is super easy to make. You can choose to buy the BBQ sauce and mac n’ cheese pre-made, or you can get crafty and mix up your own.
  3. Pineapple Jack BBQ Sauce—Use this sweet n’ tangy BBQ recipe and choose your preferred meat substitution. Tempeh, seitan, tofu, and Portobello mushrooms all work.
  4. Vegan Sloppy Joes—Crumbled tempeh, tomato sauce, spices and veggies—what more could one want? Sloppy joes are a summertime barbecue must, and there’s no reason that vegans and vegetarians should miss out. This is a recipe sure to please even the meat eaters.
  5. Spicy Sweet Potato Salad—We’ve all had potato salad. But have you had sweet potato salad? This recipe results in a spicy, sweet, delicious, and irresistible side dish that you won’t be able to get enough of.
  6. Moroccan Potato Salad with Corn and Kale—Not a big fan of sweet potatoes but want to try a different take on potato salad? Try a Moroccan potato salad, which combines corn, celery, onion, harissa paste, and kale for a spicy and unique salad.
  7. Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burger—This is the recipe I’m most excited about. As you know, I LOVE sweet potatoes. This burger uses sweet potatoes mixed with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, quinoa, pecans, and kale to form the patty. Topped with sautéed onion, it looks like the best vegan burger ever.  

Hungry yet? Find the recipes for those and many more vegan recipes at One Green Planet. I found the recipes originally on this Yahoo! Shine article. Try these recipes out and let me know how it goes!