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Science

Pregnant Peppers?

A few days ago I was making my favorite Sausage Gumbo and ran into this when slicing a Bell Pepper:

Inside Pepper1

Inside Pepper2

A baby pepper growing inside a mature one. Creepy but cool. After looking into it on the internet I found this, and this:

“During normal pepper development, seeds develop from fertilized structures known as ovules. Peppers have many ovules, which turn into lots of tiny, obnoxious seeds. Occasionally, a pepper ovule will go rogue and start developing into a so-called “internal proliferation” …that looks much more like a tiny pepper than a seed.”

and lastly:

“Understanding what gives rise to these strange baby peppers could actually help us figure out how to make seedless (parthenocarpic) pepper varieties. You can already thank parthenocarpy for the lack of big, nasty seeds in bananas and several types of oranges. Maybe seedless peppers will be next!”

Who knew bananas used to have big nasty seeds?

For a cool MRI scan of a pregnant bell pepper (and other food) check this out.

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How to Remove Toxic Chemicals from Your Life

After participating in the Real Food Challenge that Kay turned me on to, I decided to see how else I could remove toxic chemicals from my life. The next area where I feel chemicals are most prominent is cleaning supplies. The other day I glanced at a bottle of surface cleaner and saw this:

Cleaning Ingred

I love the part that says “OTHER INGREDIENTS : 99.916%”

That could be water, or that could be incredibly toxic chemicals the company is not mandated to list because they are “inactive”.

JUST HOW TOXIC
After doing some research online I found this great website by the Environmental Working Group. They have a section where you can research different products, and the site will list the ingredients in them and what horrible side effects they have.

Take the typical bottle of Original Tide Detergent. There are concerns over its effects on the respiratory system and skin. More importantly though, chemicals in it have been linked to developmental and reproductive issues as well as cancer, and the amount for this product is high:

EWG Tide

After doing some research on safer and greener household products I came across Seventh Generation. Their products are mostly plant based and much less toxic in the event that its chemicals get into a person’s body.  I started to compare their liquid detergents (which received D ratings) and their powder detergents (which received A ratings). Eventually I settled on one of the safest and easiest kinds of detergent in my opinion, the Detergent Packs. Seventh Generation’s received an A rating whereas Tide’s packs (or pods as they call them) received an F rating and where pretty high in cancer-causing chemicals.

EWG 7th

 

LOWERING THE PRICE


LAUNDRY DETERGENT

As with many products, from food to household cleaners, the healthier it is sometimes the higher the price tag. (Not saying it’s not worth it!) Luckily I’ve found a way to lower its costs. I’m ordering a bulk package of it on Amazon, and signing up for their subscription service (once every 6 months, or however often you chose). By doing that it’s lowering the cost from $29.98 to $28.48. Then, if you subscribe to 5 or more items you’ll get 15% off the total which lowers it even more to $25.48.

When you compare the price of one load with Tide Detergent Pods (with subscription and 15% discount) at .21 cents, and then one with Seventh Generations packs (with subscription and discount) at .25 cents, it’s not that bad, especially considering the healthier and safer aspect of it all. If you do one load of laundry a week that’s like spending just $2.08 more a year (or $4.16 if you do two) to remove unsafe chemicals.

(I also don’t understand why anyone would not want to use packs, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t start using them sooner!)

 

DISH DETERGENT
In looking at the liquid dish detergent prices:

Seventh Generation
Six 25 once bottles for $15.25    (2.54 per bottle)

Dawn
Five 25 once bottles for $15.21    (3.04 per bottle)

It’s 50 cents more per bottle. Usage obviously varies by household but I’d imagine 12 bottles a year is a bit overkill for a single person, and maybe average for someone with a family. But still, I’ll add an extra $6.00 more to my yearly bill to be using a safer detergent. Here, Seventh Generation’s powder received an A rating, but since I do my dishes by hand I’m using their liquid detergent which received a C rating. (Dawn sells detergents ranking from C to F.)

There are two brands listed in EWG’s guide that received an A rating because they are better for the environment, but:

1) They aren’t listed on Amazon’s Subscribe and Save service.
2) The reviews aren’t great.
3) They actually are slightly more harmful in the reproductive and cancerous categories.

 

CLEANING WIPES
And lastly, regarding the cleaning wipes:

Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes
320 wipes = $26.47         (.08 cents a wipe)

Clorox Disinfecting Wipes
225 wipes = $12.27        (.05 cents a wipe)

Lysol Power & Free Multi-Purpose Cleaning Wipes
105 wipes = $20.20        (.19 cents a wipe)

I’m not sure how many wipes I’ll be using. I currently use a spray with a paper towel, but based on my current subscription of two bulk deliveries a year, we’re talking about an extra $19.20 to $121.60 a year here if I were to receive the same amount of wipes amongst three brands. A pretty high cost. EWG’s results are surprising to me:

- Clorox received a D rating and the only concern was asthma/respiratory related. Problem here is there is no data on developmental and reproductive toxicity, as well as cancer. That’s a big risk. I’m surprised at this rating.
- Lysol received a B rating on a specific kind of wipe, the “Power & Free Multi-Purpose” version, where concerns are asthma/respiratory and skin related.
- Seventh Generation received a D rating due too all of the above plus some minor concerns over a few cancerous chemicals in the product. Not cool. Seventh Generation explains EWG’s not-so-great ratings of certain products on their blog.

I looked at products that received an A rating and they aren’t sold on Amazon in bulk, such as Whole Foods “Mission” organic spray cleaner. The Lysol ones are too expensive in this case. Sucks. I’m going with Seventh Generation on this one unless the Lysol ones come down in price.

WRAP UP

So I’ve discovered that by spending an extra $27.28 a year I’ll be using safer laundry detergent, dish washing liquid, and disinfecting wipes. (Only $8.08 if you drop the wipes.) I’d also like to note that you can change Amazon Subscriptions at any time. Amazon allows you to change the date, skip a shipment, or even cancel after one order. I’m sure I’ll end up with too much of one of these products and end up pushing a shipment back by a little. Not a big deal.

Hopefully over the next few months I will be weeding out as much harmful chemicals as possible in my food and cleaning products. By signing up for bulk shipments of dish soap, cleaning wipes, laundry detergent, garbage bags, and pet supplies twice a year through Amazon, I’ll be using safer cleaning supplies and increasing my annual spending by a mere 27 bucks. Totally worth it!

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10 Days of Real Food Pledge

stonebarns79Next week I’m starting a 10 Day “Real Food” challenge which Kay turned me on to. The challenge is to remove all types of Food Additives and Preservatives that aren’t natural (mostly those unpronounceable chemicals listed in the ingredients section of labels). It also requires you to use Whole Grains and and stay away from certain kinds of oil (like Cottonseed Oil) because the plants are grown with pesticides. The unnatural ingredients are linked to damaging effects on the body, up to and including cancer.

Kay and I did a preliminary run to the supermarket and wrote down a list of ingredients we weren’t sure about, ranging from Ascorbic Acid to Xanthan Gum. (Ascorbic Acid, it turns out, is actually Vitamin C!) We looked them up and jotted down which were good and bad. I found this really informative list of food additives and what they do to the body (you can download a PDF here). I also created this tally of ingredients not on that list but where commonly found on labels and seemed questionable:

Ascorbic Acid : good
Cottonseed oil : bad
Calcium chloride : bad
Caramel color : bad
Carob gum : conflicting data
Carrageenan : bad
Citric acid : ok
Coconut Oil : ok
Corn Starch : bad (probably GMO, slow to digest)
Cottonseed oil : may contain pesticides
Dextrose : (glucose, a sugar) ok in regulated quantities
Evaporated cane juice : bad unless organic?
Extra Virgin Olive oil : ok
Fructose : ok (but we get too much?)
Glyphosate :  Horrible
Hydrolyzed protein : bad
Lactic acid : good
Malic acid : ok
Modified corn starch : bad
Modified food starch : bad
Natural Flavor : bad
Organic flavoring : ?
Palm oil : bad
Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil : bad
Pectin : ok
Phosphate : ok in small doses
Sodium alginate : not great but ok
Sodium nitrate : bad
Soy Lecithin :  bad (probably from GMO soybean)
Soybean Oil : bad. Organic, although rare, is not as bad.
Sucralose : bad
Sunflower oil : bad
Xanthan : bad?
Xanthan gum : bad

I should also mention that I am not a scientist and this was all done through research on the internet. A few items may even be subjective and depend on the person.

But take Calcium Chloride for example, an item found in many foods as a dough strengthening and raising agent, as well as a preservative. It was on almost all cans of Diced Tomatoes at the local market. According to Livestrong it “has a low toxicity rating, but ingestion can still lead to many problems… Ingestion may seriously irritate the moist linings of the body, such as those in the nostrils, mouth and throat, lips, eyelids and ears. Ingestion of larger amounts may induce gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and abdominal pain.” In 2006 the Dow Chemical company released an assessment stating solid calcium chloride dissolves exothermically, and burns can result in the mouth and esophagus if it is ingested. Ingestion of concentrated solutions or solid products may cause gastrointestinal irritation or ulceration. Obviously this is in high doses, but just think about how many different products we eat in one day that could contain small amounts of it. It all adds up…

Anyway, in many cases we found that the store brand food was cheaper and healthier. Take Frozen Fruit or Canned Beans for example. The Store Brand bag of frozen fruit contained “Strawberries, Kiwi, Pineapple”, but some of the Name Brand ones contained Sucralose, Xantham Gum, Carrageenan, and more. Some of the Store Brand canned beans just contained the actual beans, but yet the Name Brand ones contained Modified Corn Starch and “Natural Flavor”. (That’s a whole new can of worms. Long story short, “Natural Flavor” should be avoided.)

So it took some time and adjustments in the supermarket, but we’re ready to do this! Wish us luck.

Ancestry DNA Review : Then and Now

About a year ago I signed up for Ancestry.com’s DNA beta program. At the time there was a waiting list and, if selected, you could send in your DNA via a saliva sample to receive results of where your ancestors came from and potential Family Tree matches from their website. The cost was $99. I had made the list, paid, and received my DNA Kit in October of 2012.

 

Inside the box was a description of the program, a kit to provide your saliva sample, and instructions on how to provide it the cleanest and purest way possible.

Several weeks later I received my results. (Don’t remember how long it was.) They were both interesting and questionable at the time.

In regards to my immediate family I know this:

- My mother’s parents are from Italy and Malta.
- My father’s parents are from Ireland and Scotland. And we believe England before that.

I was intrigued to find that I have West Asian DNA (ie: Persia, Turkey). My grandmother said she doesn’t doubt that as people sailed all across the Mediterranean Sea whether for trade or to relocate. What bothered me though was it said I had no British Isles DNA yet only 2-3 generations back I had people from there. I did a little research online and found several reviews and blogs with people who had this issue too. Ancestry’s official response was that the DNA was reporting roots from the Scandinavia and Northern European areas and that people moved into the British Isles. While this sounds plausible, you would think the science could provide a more in depth response. It turns out a year later, it can:

Due to scientific advancement and more samples coming in, the team at Ancestry is now able to more clearly specify your DNA results. You can see my nonexistent British Isle results before, now show 24% Irish and 10% Great Britain results. The hollow circles on the map are Trace Regions, which are “regions where you seem to have just a trace amount of genetic ethnicity – there is only a small amount of evidence supporting the regions as part of your genetic ethnicity”. These new results seem much more accurate, and make me really interested in finding the Western European and West Asian parts of my Family Tree.

There is another company called 23 And Me who take DNA samples and provide ancestral data, but also concentrate heavily on your health from what I can tell. I would love to try this but I believe they received a warning from the FDA to halt services until they can provide better proof that their results are correct and accurate.

It’s an interesting time we live in when a saliva sample can tell you who your ancestors are and what potential health problems you should look out for in the future.

FitBit Force Review

For my birthday Kay bought me the new Fitbit Force. If any reader is unfamiliar with “Tracking” devices for exercising or health monitoring, most of these you wear clipped on your clothes, as a bracelet, or armband. The Fitbit Force this a very sleek looking bracelet that monitors your movements throughout the day, and even night.

 

When using the phone App, the home screen will look like this:

Within each individual category are more specific stats. Here are a few:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in Sleep Mode it can tell if you’re Awake, Restless, or Asleep.

With the above pictures, each one was assigned a Goal such as taking 10,000 Steps, Burning 2,500 Calories, or being Very Active for 30 Minutes per day. Through the iPhone App (or on the web) you can even input the water or food you eat and the amount of calories you’re ingesting. You can even type in “banana” or “potato chips” and it’ll provide estimates of calories for those items.

The bracelet syncs to your iPhone via Bluetooth fairly seamlessly. Since I keep Bluetooth Off, I’ve noticed I have to have the App closed, turn Bluetooth On, then open the App for it to sync. (The App cannot be opened first.) You can set it to sync every time you open the App, or in the background periodically if you keep Bluetooth On. The overly-cautious person that I am is a little worried about wireless waves and radiation this close to me, so I turned that off. I did a little research online and found that the Fitbit emits radiation 10 times less than that of a cell phone. Unfortunately it does this via Bluetooth every minute (although cell phones do it with stronger wavelengths every few seconds.) One commenter in a forum calmed me a bit by mentioning that the radiation emitted is less than the typical amount of radio waves “floating” through the air everyday anyway.

I’ve contacted costumer support with questions and they’ve been very helpful. I actually wrote them on their Facebook page twice and received detailed responses very quickly.

Overall I really like the Fitbit Force. I’m a little over a week in and very interested in improving the amount of time I’m active and decreasing my restlessness during sleep. Hopefully a device like this can help, and it looks like it will.

UPDATE 07/24/2014:

It seems this page has been getting a lot of hits through Google. I just thought I’d write an update about my experience with the Fitbit Force.

Due to the recall announced by the company I returned it. I thoroughly enjoyed wearing mine from mid December through the end of February, nearly every day. I logged almost 200 miles using it and kept a record of almost everything I ate with the iPhone App that came with it. It was lightweight and I barely noticed it was on half the time. One of my only gripes is that you can not turn the Bluetooth function off. The radiation emitted from it, albeit small and supposedly harmless, scared me. When the next model comes out I will most likely purchase one, although a few considerations come to mind:

1. Will you be able to turn Bluetooth off?
2. Will it connect with the iPhones upcoming Healthkit app?
3. Will Apple release its own smartwatch by then?

But if you are given a Force or come across one on the cheap, I would definitely recommend considering it. It really made me aware of the lack of movement throughout my day, and even the amount of nutritional food I was taking in, and motivated me to do something about it.

What a Great Day to be a Republican…

First we find out that Global Warming is actually real, and then this: Ex-Reagan Economist: Idea That Deregulation Leads To Jobs ‘Just Made Up’.

Ouch!

Backyard Farming

Yesterday I stumbled upon backyardfarming.blogspot.com. It’s a pretty informative website, with several contributors around the country, all blogging about their experience as Backyard Farmers. Some of them either beginners or attempting new techniques.

As the owner of a unit in a Co-op, I really don’t have much of a backyard. I did specifically buy a unit on the bottom floor, but my backyard consists of a cement slab with only several feet of grass surrounding it. On one side is my neighbors slab, on the other the buildings edge and a lawn that’s not mine. Several feet in front is a cliff. So what is an aspiring farmer to do?

Well, I read a very helpful article on their site about Square Foot Gardening:

Photo from backyardfarming.blogspot.com

SFG was originally brought to the public’s attention by Mel Bartholomew. I’m planning on purchasing his book for more info. Basically, a gardener can divide a square into 4×4 plots and grow several different crops all in a small confined place. I don’t think Copilot would let me have a huge one, but I’m thinking maybe one long row, divided into 4, along the building. (So I guess it’d be Row Gardening.) Granted shade will be a problem, so I’ll have to research exactly what could handle limited sunlight.

Another option would be an indoor rack with a lamp. Something like this:

Photo from backyardfarming.blogspot.com

I’m wondering if I can make an elegant but smaller version, so it’ll be both useful and decorative without taking up much space. This is a whole new territory for me, so I’d like to experiment now before investing a lot of money. But hopefully with enough practice, when I do buy my next home with a lot of land, I can aim big.

In Light of My Predicament

Is God Trying to Tell Me Something?

Now that the Takeoff Day is approaching I’m able to check the weather for the first few days of driving, and it is not looking good.  The days I’m be in each town are highlighted in red:

And although I can’t tell what Alaska will be like yet, it’ll be raining all next week:

This is seriously bad news. Not only will this slow me down significantly, but it’ll ruin the gorgeous scenery and outdoor opportunities (white water rafting, hiking, photography) that I’ve been dying to see and do for years. Ugh…

Someone do a rain dance for me, please.

The only thing that could make this worse would be an earthquake. Oh wait…

Be Prepared


I just ordered my portable water filtration system for the upcoming hike. I’ve read some pretty good reviews on it and one of my friends has a different model by the same brand. I’ll let you know how it goes on Saturday.