Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Genetically modified foods

I came across an interesting article on genetically modified foods in the January 2013 issue of Natural Awakenings. To be honest, I didn't know what genetically modified (GM) foods were until I read this article. I did, however, watch a Nightline report on "Frankensalmon" a couple of months ago.

At first I thought this was innovative and could become the answer to world hunger. Then the more I read about GM, the more I found out that many of the foods we eat today have some form of genetic engineering.

Supposedly, about 70 percent of processed foods found in grocery stores have genetically modified ingredients. According to WebMD, "The most common genetically modified foods are soybeans, maize, cotton, and rapeseed oil. That means many foods made in the U.S. containing field corn or high-fructose corn syrup." In other words, breakfast cereals, sodas, and even alcoholic beverages may contain some form of genetically modified ingredient.

So what exactly are GM foods? The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that genetically modified foods are the result of genetically modified organisms (GMO) where the DNA of a particular food has been changed. In other words, food engineers modify particular organisms to enhance desired traits that would result in higher yield, improved nutritional content, and or resistance to plant disease or tolerance of herbicide.

Is GMO food bad for you? There are two sides to this issue. Some say GM foods are safe to consume. Others argue that there are risks. Below are some benefits and risk I found on WebMD:

Risks include:
  • Introducing allergens and toxins to food
  • Accidental contamination between genetically modified and non-genetically modified foods
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Adversely changing the nutrient content of a crop
  • Creation of "super" weeds and other environmental risks
Benefits include:
  • Increased pest and disease resistance
  • Drought tolerance
  • Increased food supply
Identifying GM foods at grocery stores is practically impossible. Only USDA-certified organic products cannot purposely contain GMO, as stated in the Natural Awakenings article.

Furthermore, the regulatory oversight of GM foods is fairly lax. As expressed by WebMD, regulation for GM foods falls under the Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Personally, I don't like to eat processed foods. Since breaking out in hives after eating a product filled with MSG, I've made it a point to always read the nutrition facts label before purchasing an item.

Of course, it's hard to avoid the tortilla chips, margarine, and salad dressing--all may have some form of genetically modified organisms. I guess from what I gathered is that perhaps it's best to avoid products that contain high-fructose corn syrup or soy, and shop organic as much as possible.



Saturday, January 19, 2013

Drink water instead of soda

I remember buying a 24 pack of Diet Coke for the week, when I was new to Austin. I was young and had my own place--no parents to tell me what was wrong or right. It was freedom. Me, my dog, Chato, and Diet Coke.

I would drink a diet soda in the morning, one during lunch, a couple by dinner, and one before bedtime. Yes, it was that bad.

Although I drank diet soda, I still opted for a cheese burger or fried chicken and french fries.

Interestingly, a research paper published last year found that what we drink determines the food we eat. According to the research by T. Bettina Corwell, Ph.D. and Anna R. McAlister, Ph.D., young adults who drank soda selected foods that were more salty and high in calories. Meanwhile children who were served water ate more vegetables.

It wasn't until I met my wife that I stopped drinking Diet Coke. She told me that drinking too many cokes were bad for me and my teeth. Sure enough. I had developed four molar cavities within the two years of drinking soda.

In our house we may have bottles of wine, liquor, beer, juices, and coconut water, but no sodas. We purposely kept sodas away from my son until he was much older. The results have been him prefering water or juice with his dinner.

It's a hard habit to break, I know. But try it. Switch to water during you meals and see if you notice a change in health. You have nothing to loose.

You can read more on Corwell and McAlister's research HERE and HERE.

Sources: Contingent Choice: Exploring the Relationship Between Sweetened Beverages and VegetableWisdom from Water, Austin Awakening, January 2013;;


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Confessions of a Gym Dweeb - Control Prying


It's nothing new. My eyes tend to wonder off and people watch while working out. I notice the regulars. I can predict what time they arrive at the gym, and I know who's with whom. I try to control my prying, really.

A few weeks ago, while at the gym, I started my routine on the rowing machine, which faces the Smith Machine where a muscular short guy wearing a cap that ran low over his eyes was doing squats.

I rowed. He did squats. But when he finished, he so happened to turn towards my direction. And although I wasn't looking at him, my sight focused on him when I noticed he turn towards me. I quickly switched my attention to TVs behind him.

Yet, similar to the Preggo Creeper incident, it just so happened that this guy was either working out on a machine next to mine or in front of me. Since his capwas low, it was hard to determine whether our eyes did actually meet. Regardless, when it did seem as if they did, I would quickly find the TVs or look away.

There's obviously a reason why the gym have multiple TVs, and it's not just to keep clients informed of the world in sports and news. I think it gives clients something to focus on when working out and avoid situations similar to what I sometimes find myself getting into.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Second Amendment and Gun Control

I don't like to write political posts. Mostly because I know I'll lose followers or gain haters. However, I think it is time that I provide my thoughts on last month's aweful school shooting in Connecticut.

First of all, I don't own a gun. I don't like guns. I'm scared of guns. Mostly because of the very real possibility of something going wrong. I do, however, respect a person's right to keep and bear arms.

Recently, I've thought about purchasing a BB gun more for the protection of my house and property, however, I have no business owning a rifle, pistol, or even a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 rifle. That, however, is my choice.

The Newtown shooting has again started the gun debate. You have people who feel that guns should be outlawed. You have others who feel there should be restrictions or strict background checks. Then you have those who feel that the U.S. Constitution protects their right to bear arms without government interference. This debate has been hashed out many times in the past. It's unfortunate that a horrible massacre has to happen to reignite the debate. At the end of the day, nothing changes.

Over ten years ago, soon after the Columbine High School massacre, while working at the Texas Legislature as an aide, several gun control bills were filed. Many attempted to make criminal background check mandatory before a person could take a firearm home--the guns used in the Columbine murders were bought at a gun show. I remember the NRA fighting feverishly to kill such mandate. They lobbied key legislators, testified against the legislation in committees, gave generously to their campaigns, and at the end won. The legislation was never brought up for debate. Nothing changed.

According to the NRA website, there are 4.3 million members. The membership fee for one year is $35. That's $150,500,000 going to NRA a year, if all 4.3 million members signed up on an annual basis. After operation, administration and legal fees, one could see that a large portion of their money more than likely goes to lobbying.

Why do I bring this up? There is a huge population of gun owners who fear that government is conspiring to take their firearms. Firearm manufacturers and gun shops are banking on that fear, and the conservative movement see this as votes in the next election.

Meanwhile, liberals continue to file unrealistic anti-gun legislation. The legislation will either sit in committee or pass as a water down bill. If that bill does go before a chamber, the water down bill may be further diluted before passing to the next chamber. By that time the teeth that were in the original version of the bill will be filed down so much to be effective.

While the debate heavily focuses on the Second Amendment, lost in the discussion is how best to keep our children safe at school. Should taxpayers invest in armed guards, metal detectors, gun training for our educators? How much will it cost?

Also lost in the debate is the discussion of mental illness. Should people be screened for mental illness history before purchasing a firearm or obtaining a license? How can we keep individuals who are not mentally stable from purchasing or carrying a rifle, pistol, or even a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 rifle? Who can really determine a person's mental health?

Should we just leave it to the individual and hope they are able to determine their own mental health when purchasing or carrying a firearm?

Should we include knives or swords? The same day of the Newtown massacre, a 36-year old Chinese man cut 22 children with a knife.

If we require background checks for people looking to obtain a driver's license, should we require an extensive background check for people who purchase firearms, magazines, knives, or swords? Will this become the norm?

No doubt this debate will continue into the next election season. We know, however, the end result of this debate--little to no change.

In the end, as a proponent of our Constitutional and individual rights, perhaps the best solution is to leave it up to individuals to have the responsibility when taking ownership of a firearm or weapon. Instead of focusing on more government control, perhaps stiffer penalties on the persons who purchased the firearm or weapon.

Just my two cents.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A little thing called herpes

Okay, so at first it sounds bad, huh? I'm sure my mother-in-law is probably flipping with the title and eager to know what this is all about.

Well, at some point in my past, I had chickenpox, a highly contagious type of herpes (varicella-zoster virus). The virus then decided to take a long nap somewhere in my nerves, until a couple of weeks ago when it woke up in its new form called shingles (herpes zoster).

As explained by WebMD, shingles is a painful rash that usually appears in a band, a strip, or a small area on one side of the face or body. It is more common in older adults and people with weak immune systems due to stress, injury, certain medicines, or other reasons.

The virus spreads along spinal nerves. In my case, my shingles decided to spread from my lower back down the thoracic nerve to my right lower abdomen.

The first time I noticed a burning sensation on my lower abdomen was on the 28th of December. I didn't think much of it. I thought perhaps after all the holiday cheer, the workout was sweating toxins and making my skin breakout.

Then on Monday I noticed a cluster of blisters on my rash and lower back. I naturally began to research my symptoms online, but dismissed it as being shingles since it was more common in older adults and it had "herpes" in the name. Ewww. I decided self-diagnose it as skin allergies and began treating as such with warm oatmeal baths and cortisone cream.

I then began to feel constant burning sensation and tingly and prickly feeling along one side of my abdomen. Nights were uncomfortable. I couldn't lay on my back too long, nor could i sleep on my side. Anything that touched my skin triggered a response.

I decided to visit my doctor after a week and a half of living with this uncomfortable rash. After a quick look at it, he determined I indeed, a 36 year old male, had shingles. I was mortified, yet relieved. Supposedly, shingles only happens once. And at least it wasn't anything too serious.

As for contagious, shingles is only contagious if there are open sores and if there is skin to skin contact with the open sores. Shingles will not cause shingles, but may cause chickenpox if the person has never had chickenpox.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

Called 3-1-1 on my neighbors

Yes, it came to this.

A few nights ago, my neighbors were partying in their backyard. This is nothing new (see Praying my neighbors get pregnant...soon), but since the weather has been mild, the a/c unit the noise isn't muffled to notice. 

I can hear their conversations. Supposedly, one dude was going for the Fighting Irish in next week's BCS college football game. He was getting grief from another guy for his choice.

Meanwhile, the girls were gossiping and laughing. One of them repeating, "You're fucking kidding me." The party continued passed 2 am to which point I decided to call 3-1-1 (non-emergency).

"Is this the number I call if I want to report my neighbors being loud?" I asked.

The dispatcher responded, "You want to report a noise complaint?"

"I guess," I stumbled, "my neighbors are a bit loud or maybe it's just me."

"We'll dispatch an officer to the location."

I second guessed my decision, but it was too late.

I laid back on the couch and tried to fall asleep before the *whatever* would show up--I couldn't accept that an officer would show up at my neighbor's house. Maybe I couldn't fathom the fact that when the officer knocks on the door and tells my neighbor that a noise complaint has been filed, he will ask who filed it. There are only two houses next to his. Shit! Didn't think this far.

I dozed off but did hear a hard knock on their door. I slightly opened my eyes and noticed lights travel across the livingroom. A few minutes later, I could hear cars start. Then the noise was gone.

After snoozing the alarm twice, I finally woke up and made my way to the bathroom to take a shower and get ready for work. When I got out of the bathroom and notice my wife waking up,  I told her about my 3-1-1 call.

"You called the cops?" she said in a drowsy tone.

"I was tired of the noise," I defended my decision, "they had been partying since before 10 at night. I had to do it. It was late."

Of course, I felt differently. I could have emailed my neighbor again and ask him to keep the noise down. Maybe I should have asked for his number just to have if the noise gets out-of-control. I went through different scenarios, but in the end, there was no undoing what I did.