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6 tips that may help manage your eczema

(BPT) – Your eczema (atopic dermatitis) may be a part of you, but it doesn’t have to define you. Living with eczema might take some effort, like changing your lifestyle and working with your physician to develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

1. Avoid dry skin. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but dry skin is a common eczema symptom.1 Try to avoid cold, dry air and situations where you might overheat.2 Limiting bathing time to 5-10 minutes with warm, not hot, water may also help.3,4

2. Be mindful of your diet. For some people, eczema may flare when they’re exposed to different triggers.4 Certain foods, or a food allergy, could trigger a flare.1 If you suspect a certain food is affecting you, share your experiences with your doctor and talk about your treatment plan. One option to manage symptoms may include avoiding a certain food group.4

3. Recognize your triggers. Food, as discussed above, may be a trigger, but a change in the environment, certain soaps/detergents, sweat or stress may also trigger symptoms.2,4 Pay attention to when your eczema flare is most noticeable and record possible triggers. Jotting down a few quick “notes-to-self” in the moment could help identify triggers. The better you recognize what is causing your eczema to react the way it is, the easier it may be to avoid any situations that may cause a flare.

4. Make moisturizers a priority in your daily routine. If you have eczema, moisturizers can help keep your skin hydrated.3 There are so many kinds of moisturizers—who doesn’t love options!—including ointments, creams, lotions, gels, and oils.3 No matter which moisturizer your doctor recommends, following a routine and applying it soon after bathing will help keep your skin hydrated.3,4

5. Be mindful of your wardrobe. Clothing is often an important part of your identity, but when it comes to your eczema, the clothing you wear can make a difference. Wool or rough fabrics can be irritating on the skin and could trigger your eczema.4 Also try cutting the tags off your clothes and covering any irritating inner seams. These easy tricks can help reduce irritation without sacrificing your unique style.

6. Speak with your doctor about your options. One of the ways to treat eczema is to use a topical therapy. If you’re looking for a topical prescription therapy, take a moment to talk with your doctor about your options. EUCRISA® (crisaborole) ointment, 2% is a steroid-free ointment for people with mild-to-moderate eczema (atopic dermatitis) and can be used on all skin tones from face to feet, for adults and kids as young as 2 years old.5 It can be applied to the skin, including the face. Do not use in the eyes, mouth or vagina.5 EUCRISA is a topical treatment that works both above and below the skin to treat eczema.6 The specific way EUCRISA works is not well defined.5 For more information about EUCRISA, visit www.EUCRISA.com.

The strategies above, along with the treatment regimen that you and your doctor decide upon, may help give you a better understanding of your eczema. If you have additional questions, be sure to speak with your doctor.

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION & INDICATION

Do not use EUCRISA if you are allergic to crisaborole or any of the ingredients in EUCRISA.

EUCRISA may cause side effects including allergic reactions at or near the application site. These can be serious and may include hives, itching, swelling, and redness. If you have any of these symptoms, stop using EUCRISA and get medical help right away.

The most common side effect of EUCRISA is application site pain, such as burning or stinging.

EUCRISA is for use on skin (topical use) only. Do not use EUCRISA in your eyes, mouth, or vagina.

INDICATION
EUCRISA is a prescription ointment used on the skin (topical) to treat mild-to-moderate eczema (atopic dermatitis) in adults and children 2 years of age and older.

See Full Prescribing Information at EUCRISA.com.

For more information, call 1-866-EUCRISA (1-866-382-7472).

This article is sponsored by Pfizer Inc.

1 Akdis CA, Akdis M, Bieber T, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of atopic dermatitis in children: European Academy of Allergology and Clinical Immunology/American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology/PRACTALL Consensus Report. J Allerg Clin Immunol. 2006;118:152-169.
2 Oszukowska M, Michalak I, Gutfreund K, et al. Role of primary and secondary prevention in atopic dermatitis. Postep Derm Alergol. 2015;32(6):409-420.
3 Eichenfield LF, Tom WL, Chamlin SL, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Section 2. Management and treatment of atopic dermatitis with topical therapies. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;71(1):116-132.
4 Bieber T. Atopic dermatitis. Dermatol. 2012;1(3):203-217.
5 EUCRISA® (crisaborole). Full Prescribing Information. December 2016.
6 Jarnagin K, Chanda S, Coronado D, et al. Crisaborole topical ointment, 2%: a nonsteroidal, topical, anti-inflammatory phosphodiesterase 4 inhibitor in clinical development for the treatment of atopic dermatitis. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(4):390-396.

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Consider alternatives to opioids to manage pain after surgery

(BPT) – If you’re having surgery, you can expect to be sore and uncomfortable for a few days, whether you’re recovering at home or in the hospital. But it’s best to limit opioids or avoid them altogether, opting for alternatives to manage pain and discomfort, recommends the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

Unfortunately, many patients leave the hospital following surgery with a prescription for 30 or more highly addictive opioid pills (e.g., Vicodin, hydrocodone and oxycodone), and about 6 percent are still using them three months or longer after the procedure.

“Nobody needs a prescription for 30 or 50 opioids, and even those who are in major pain should only take them for a day or two,” said ASA President James D. Grant, M.D., M.B.A., FASA. “There are effective alternatives. Many people don’t need opioids at all or at least should drastically reduce the amount they take.”

Addiction can start after taking only a few opioids. More than 2 million Americans abuse these medications, which can create a feeling of euphoria and make the body believe the drug is necessary for survival. Since 2000, opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. have increased 200 percent.

Don’t take that chance. During Physician Anesthesiologists Week (Jan. 28 to Feb. 3), ASA offers advice for coping with pain and discomfort as you recover from surgery.

* Ask about alternatives – Only take opioids when you are in extreme pain. Medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with pain and soreness. While it’s never a good idea to rely on any type of pain pills for too long, these medications are not addictive and are far less risky than opioids.

* Manage your expectations – Everyone feels pain differently, but soreness and discomfort after surgery are normal and will improve within a day or two. These sensations are less severe than pain, which is usually sharp or intense. You usually don’t treat muscle soreness after a hard workout with an opioid, so if you are sore, and not in severe pain, try ibuprofen or naproxen.

* Be an active participant in your own care – While you are in recovery, the nurse will ask you if you are in pain and if so, how much. Be descriptive in explaining how you feel. If you are in major pain, ask that the opioid prescription be written for a small amount, and only take them for a day or two, three at most. Unused pills can fall into the wrong hands. In fact, more than half of people who misuse prescription painkillers get them from a friend or relative. Your pain will improve significantly within a few days whether or not you take opioids.

* Be aware of other downsides to opioids – Opioids cause severe constipation and often don’t manage pain as well as people expect. Additionally, they can cause hyperalgesia, or an increased sensitivity to pain.

“The opioid crisis is huge and affects everyone, rich and poor, male and female. It’s got to stop, and reducing opioid use during recovery after surgery is a big part of the solution,” said Dr. Grant. “Those who are in continued severe pain after surgery should ask a physician anesthesiologist or other pain specialist about alternative strategies to manage pain, including exercise, nerve blocks and non-opioid medications.”

ASA is committed to ending opioid abuse and has launched several initiatives to combat the epidemic. For more information, review ASA’s National Pain Strategy.

To learn more about the critical role physician anesthesiologists play before, during and after surgery, visit asahq.org/WhenSecondsCount.

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What you should know to prepare for a blood test

(BPT) – A new survey reveals Americans are not aware of what to report prior to a blood test. Only half (52 percent) believe it is very important to report use of supplements to their healthcare provider before getting a blood test.

With recent interest in the use of supplements like biotin as beauty treatments, it’s especially critical for consumers, doctors and lab personnel to talk before blood tests because very high doses of supplements could interfere with some test results.

The possibility of interference in blood testing is low, but if you’re taking high-dose biotin for hair, skin or nail health, for example, it is best to inform your doctor before a blood test. Just as you may need to fast before certain types of tests, you may need to hold off on taking supplements like biotin for at least eight hours before blood work.

The survey, commissioned by Roche Diagnostics, also found that most Americans (85 percent) expect their physician to provide complete instructions on how to prepare for a blood test.

“Many factors — from stress, to prescription medication, to vitamins — can affect blood test results, so it’s important to be proactive in communicating about medicines or supplements you’re taking rather than waiting to be asked,” said Dr. Emily Jungheim, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Ask your healthcare provider about ways to prepare for blood tests. Here are some simple tips to follow:

* Write down all your prescription medicines the night before a blood test so you can share up-to-date information with the lab technician or your doctor.

* Also report vitamins, supplements, nutraceuticals and any over-the-counter medications.

* Know the doses of the medicines and supplements you are taking. The dose matters. You may not be aware that 5 mg of biotin per day, for example, is equal to the amount of biotin in 100 capsules of a typical daily multivitamin.

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Healthy half-time snacking tips from a pro

(BPT) – Healthy snacking and making good food choices can be difficult any time of the year, but it can be especially tough during the big game. Business Insider reports that only 80 percent of people who start a New Year’s resolution keep that resolution through February. This happens to correspond with the biggest football game of the year and the common food temptations that go along with it — chicken wings, chips and salsa, pizza, not to mention beer.

Bryan Snyder, registered dietitian and nutrition director for the Denver Broncos, who is responsible for keeping the year-round nutrition strategies for the team’s players on track, also knows the pitfalls for the fans. “I advise people trying to eat healthier to follow a sustainable meal plan.”

Snyder describes a sustainable meal plan as one that allows some flexibility to have a meal here and there that might have a higher calorie intake.

“I often see people go from eating a poor diet and choosing unhealthy snacks, in combination with not exercising, to all of a sudden deciding to work out every day and eat perfectly every meal. The issue that can arise from that behavior is that it isn’t a sustainable plan, and it doesn’t allow any room for those big game snacks.”

Snyder’s recommendation is to find a nice middle ground. Allow yourself to sneak in some of those not-so-healthy calories on game day, but also give yourself some healthier options that you can have while keeping a guilt-free conscience.

Snyder’s snack of choice? Pistachios. “Pistachios are loaded with antioxidants and fiber, which will help you feel full and prevent you from overeating during the big game, and give you an immune system boost as well.”

Other healthy options are pita chips with hummus, vegetables with vegetable dip, bison or turkey burger sliders, popcorn, baked sweet potato fries, or a cup of turkey chili. For those who can’t imagine game day without wings, Snyder suggests baking the wings instead of deep-frying to replace some of the unwanted and unnecessary fats.

“Oftentimes we want to eat healthier, but we simply don’t know what to eat,” says Snyder. “All of these options are healthy swaps for satisfying game day enjoyment.”

Snyder recommends, too, having a backup plan if you’re going over to someone else’s house to watch the game, as this can be one of the biggest pitfalls to straying from a diet. “Don’t give yourself an excuse to eat poorly. Take along some portable healthy snacks — such as healthy bars, trail mix or pistachios — to be sure you have options and don’t indulge in hours of unhealthy snacking.”

While it is certainly understandable and sometimes difficult to eat healthy during the big game, it is something that can be done with the right planning and preparation, according to Snyder.

“One other common misconception about healthy snacking is that you have to sacrifice great taste,” warns Snyder. “Follow this game plan, and I guarantee you won’t.”

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Make your chip and dip a little more hip

(BPT) – Savvy hosts and hostesses know that the keys to a successful soiree are a room filled with laughter and delicious treats served. If you’re hosting a special event with friends and family, impress and delight your guests with fresh, new takes on the classics.

Here are some ideas for a simple, yet indulgent, chip buffet:

* Vary the chip choices. It’s hard to beat the classic potato chip at any snacking occasion. Make your snacks special by adding crispy kettle cooked chips to the mix. Lay’s Kettle Cooked Chips are cooked in small batches to create extra crunch in 11 flavors, from better-for-you Lightly Salted Olive Oil & Herbs to a spicy Jalapeño.

* Play with presentation. Bowls are a tried-and-true way to serve chips, but try some Pinterest-worthy ideas like glass jars for guests to see all the delicious flavors, mini apple baskets with metal scoops for a rustic look or individual take-out boxes for your guests to quickly grab.

* Do it up with dip. Dips and spreads dress up a potato chip and when you’re entertaining a crowd, the more the merrier! Serve the classics like French onion, spinach and artichoke and baked brie, all of which are simple to prepare and can even be prepped a day ahead of time. To really impress your guests, mix in a few out-of-the-ordinary recipes such as a Jalapeño Pimento Cheese dip.

Jalapeño Pimento Cheese

Ingredients:

1 bag Lay’s Kettle Cooked Chips

8 ounces jalapeño cheddar cheese, grated

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

4-ounce jar of pimentos, drained and chopped

1/4 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 cup pickled jalapeños, drained and chopped

1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Directions:

Using a food processor or grater, shred cheddar cheese.

Add chopped pimentos, chopped jalapeños, cayenne powder, salt, pepper, garlic powder, mayo and 1/4 cup thick Greek yogurt. Mix until combined. Depending on texture you want, add more Greek yogurt.

Stir in lemon juice.

Serve with Lay’s Kettle Cooked Original or 40% Less Fat Jalapeño Cheddar Chips.

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6 ways to help a grieving friend or family member

(BPT) – When someone you know loses a friend or family member, it’s not easy deciding when and how best to respond. You may find yourself unsure of what to say or do. Sometimes a simple phrase such as, “I’m sorry for your loss,” can be extraordinarily meaningful.

Here are six helpful tips from 1-800-Flowers.com’s Celebrating A Life online resource on how to console a loved one during their time of grief:

Listen

Allowing a grieving person to express how they feel can be a huge help. Try to listen without offering advice or interrupting. Letting people share memories and talk about their loved one can be a part of the healing process.

Be specific when offering help

Make a specific commitment to being with the person who needs you. Offering assistance with day-to-day matters can be very comforting, but be sure to offer something specific, such as, “I’m coming over with groceries on Saturday.” That way, you’re offering help without placing the burden on the grieving person to figure out what to bring and when.

Navigate social media appropriately

When acknowledging the news of a loss, stick with the communication medium through which you initially received the information. If the news came by phone call, return the call. If you learned about the death through social media, it is appropriate to reply on social media, just be sure to keep your message brief on public pages. More detailed expressions of sympathy should be conveyed in private posts.

Be patient

It is normal for people who are grieving to experience a range of emotions. It takes time to heal, so be patient and allow them to grieve at their own pace.

Send a card

Show your concern and support by sending a card. Take the time to put your own personal message inside.

Don’t minimize their pain

It is important to keep the focus on the grieving person. Resist the urge to share stories of times that you’ve lost a loved one. Let your friend or family member share their own stories and memories.

1-800-Flowers.com has been helping customers express sympathies for more than 40 years. Now, the company has created an online sympathy hub for tips and advice, directly from experts, on how best to express sympathy and condolences. Topics include Appropriate Sympathy Etiquette Across Different Religions, How to Write a Eulogy, How to Create a Memory Garden, and Sympathy Etiquette and Social Media.

The site serves as a resource for people in their time of need and is intended to make their experience a little easier to manage. People need to have a greater understanding of how to help their friends, family and co-workers in coping with a loss.

For more information, visit www.1800flowers.com/sympathyadvice, or call 1-800-Flowers.com’s Sympathy Customer Service line at 866-538-2259.

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Baby on the way? Here are some tips

(BPT) – It’s only a matter of time now. Your little bundle of joy is on its way, and for the first time you are about to be a parent. Think you’re ready? Many people do and then the reality of parenthood strikes them. Remember your friends who said being a parent is nothing like they expected? They were right.

Parenting is a wild ride, but it’s also one of the — if not the — most rewarding things you’ll ever do in your life. Just don’t expect it to be smooth sailing right from the get-go. It’s going to be challenging, but there are things you can do to prepare before your life changes forever.

To give you the leg up you so desperately need, Dawn Dais, author of the parenting book “The S— No One Tells You,” offers this advice:

* Take advantage of your freedom. If this is your first baby, you need to maximize every second of freedom you have left. Go to the movies, order an appetizer and a dessert at dinner, travel, decide to leave the house and then do so 25 seconds later. Watch television shows with cuss words.

* Sleep now. Earlier this year, Dais and Store Brand infant formula released a “Baby’s First Year” survey that found 25 percent of new moms confessed their biggest fear before their baby’s arrival was never sleeping again. You will sleep again, but it might not be for a few months, so it’s important to get it in while you still can!

* Do your research. Make sure to discuss important topics before the baby arrives, such as feeding. The survey found infant formula is the last topic researched by new moms while pregnant, but the No. 1 topic researched after their baby arrives. A lot of new parents don’t think about this because they just assume they will breastfeed. They are told that it is the most natural thing on the planet and so it’s not even a consideration or option not to breastfeed. But what people don’t tell you is that breastfeeding can be hard and there may be challenges. The survey also found that more than 50 percent of moms experience issues when it comes to breastfeeding baby, with low breast milk supply being the top concern. So, knowing your feeding options before baby arrives is vital.

* Babies are expensive, so know where you can save big. It’s important to note that all infant formulas are required to meet the same FDA standards. That means you can choose store-brand infant formulas that meet the same federal nutrient requirements for baby as nationally advertised brands, and in fact, cost up to 50 percent less!

Having a child is the most monumental change you can make to your life, but the joys that come with parenting make the process entirely worth it. Apply the tips above and you’ll eliminate some of those potential headaches. To learn more, visit storebrandformula.com.

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Dermatologist debunks top 5 skincare misconceptions

(BPT) – Figuring out what’s best for your skin can feel like solving a difficult mystery — everyone’s condition is unique, there are countless treatment options and people will do almost anything for a clear complexion.

“When it comes to your skin, there are many elements to consider,” says Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist, CEO and founder of Curology. “Clogged pores, acne and other common issues can be a result of age, genetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. I often hear about common misconceptions that cause otherwise well-meaning people to make mistakes that trigger larger skincare problems.”

To help people better understand skincare and take control of their daily regimen, Dr. Lortscher shares the top misconceptions about skincare and acne.

Misconception: Exercise and sweat can cause acne.

Fact: Sweating while exercising doesn’t cause acne. The eccrine glands produce sweat and the sebaceous glands produce oil — so revving up the sweat glands doesn’t actually turn on the oil glands involved in acne breakouts. The truth is sweating and humidity can aggravate breakouts by giving the bacteria on the skin a better environment to grow.

Cleansing is key post-workout, but keep in mind vigorously cleansing your skin can also be a source of friction that aggravates acne. The best strategy is to splash comfortable-temperature water on your face and neck, then pat dry gently.

Misconception: Chocolate and greasy foods cause acne.

Fact: Many people have heard that chocolate and junk food are the worst foods for your skin, but modern science hasn’t found a direct link between acne and oily foods.

Diets are like acne treatments: highly individual. That’s not to say your eating habits can’t affect your skin. Eating simple carbs and sugar raises your blood sugar levels, causing your body to produce excess insulin, in turn stimulating oil production and leading to more inflammation and increased acne severity.

Misconception: DIY skincare and home remedies are good for your skin.

Fact: The DIY craze has extended to skincare routines, giving people ample ways to create their own remedies at home. However, it’s wise to be careful about the ingredients applied to your skin.

Some people try baking soda as a cost-effective scrub or mask. Baking soda is pH 9 and the pH of the skin is 4.5-5 or so. Therefore, scrubbing your face with a baking soda paste can be harsh and disturb your skin’s natural barrier, leading to red, raw and sensitive skin and leaving it susceptible to breakout.

Others suggest lemon juice as a home remedy for acne but it can cause significant dryness, redness and irritation. Lemon juice may have an exfoliating effect on the most superficial dead skin cells, but there are better ways to treat your acne.

If you’re fed up with DIY remedies and over-the-counter products just haven’t worked for you, you have options. Try custom prescription skincare like Curology, a service that gets you expert dermatology care from the comfort of your home. Just take a few photos and a skin quiz to get a prescription formula customized to your individual needs.

Misconception: You can make your pores smaller.

Fact: Most people want smaller pores, but in reality, you can’t change the size or force them “open” or “closed.”

Pore size is genetic; you can’t shrink them or make pores go away. To keep large pores from worsening, treat acne breakouts, don’t pick and use sun protection. Sun exposure breaks down collagen, which is the support structure surrounding the pores, so pores do appear larger as you age.

Misconception: You only need to wear sunscreen on sunny days.

Fact: It doesn’t matter if it’s sunny or cloudy; if you plan to spend time outdoors, wear sunscreen daily. It is estimated that damage caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun is responsible for up to 80 percent of skin aging.

SPF is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job of protecting against UVB. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

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Start the year strong with this high-performance vegetable

(BPT) – Chasing a place on the podium isn’t possible without the proper fuel for your body. Whether you’re going for the gold or just passing the pigskin in honor of the big game, athletes and amateurs alike need the right combination of nutrients to take on their training, and sports nutritionists across the nation are recommending one vegetable in particular to get them there — potatoes! Here’s why:

* Carbohydrate — Potatoes are a nutrient-dense vegetable with 26 grams of quality carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important for optimal physical and mental performance as the primary fuel for your brain and a key source of energy for muscles. And, because your body’s own stores of carbohydrates are limited and may be depleted — even in a single session of intense and/or prolonged exercise — it’s important to replenish them.

* Potassium — Did you know a medium-sized potato with the skin has more potassium than a medium-sized banana? A medium (5.2 ounce) skin-on potato contains 620 mg of potassium, an important electrolyte that aids in muscle, cardiovascular and nervous system function. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines mention potassium as an under-consumed nutrient of concern, and recommend consuming foods with high levels of potassium such as white potatoes.

* Energy — Potatoes are more energy-packed than any other popular vegetable. Adequate energy intake supports optimal body functions and it’s critical to take in the appropriate number of calories to match the demands of the day, especially while training.

Partial to pasta or rice? With as much — if not more — of several essential vitamins and minerals found in spaghetti, brown rice or whole wheat bread, potatoes are a smart addition to your other favorite performance foods (compared on a per-serving basis). What’s more, a medium Russet potato with the skin has more vitamin C and potassium than a medium sweet potato.

There is a medal-worthy potato option to fit your tastes (and schedule) no matter what sport is your specialty. Leslie Bonci, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs and the WNBA, says, “I love potatoes for their versatility, affordability and applicability to all types of culinary options. The carbohydrate, fiber and potassium make them a great choice for workouts and offer a change of pace and taste from other sports-focused foods.” She created a recipe for portable and crunchy On-the-Go Potatoes for a quick savory snack for mid-hike or mid-bike that’s ready in just about 30 minutes. Gearing up for a busy week? Make a batch of On-the-Go Potatoes on Sunday and freeze them. Defrost throughout the week by leaving in the refrigerator overnight, and then simply re-heat in the toaster oven (or enjoy cold).

On-the-Go Potatoes

Yield: 8 servings (about 5 potatoes per serving)

Ingredients:

24 oz. petite yellow potatoes (about 40 petite potatoes)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 cup panko crumbs

1/4 cup tuxedo sesame seeds

2 teaspoons Chinese 5-Spice seasoning mix

Directions:

Put potatoes in a bowl and toss with the olive oil and soy sauce. Mix to coat well.

In a separate bowl, combine panko bread crumbs, sesame seeds and 5-spice seasoning and mix well.

In small batches, put the potatoes in the bread crumb mixture and roll around to coat well.

Transfer to a cookie sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked through.

Nutrition

Per serving (8 servings; about 5 potatoes per serving): Calories 174, Fat: 5.7 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 257 mg, Carbohydrates: 26.8 g, Fiber: 2.5 g, Potassium: 485 mg, Protein: 4.3 g, Vitamin C: 7 mg

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Stuck inside? Easy tips to freshen up your living space

(BPT) – Winter weather means more time living indoors — working, playing, relaxing and staying warm. It’s important to keep your home fresh by staying ahead of the continual buildup of dirt, dust and allergens. The following are some key areas to tackle for a comfortable and efficient home.

Wash windows

Washing away dirt and water marks from your windows and screens gives you a clear view of the outdoors and lets in more natural light. It will also make your home feel lighter and brighter, keeping cabin fever at bay. And to help maintain a controlled climate inside the home, prevent air from leaking in or escaping by using weatherstripping or caulk around your windows. You’ll stay cozy inside and save money on your energy bill.

Check and replace your vacuum bag, filter and belt

A full vacuum bag, clogged filter or broken belt can hinder your vacuum’s effectiveness, leaving dirt, dust and allergens behind. Replacing your vacuum bags every 1-2 months, filters every 3-6 months and belts once per year is recommended to help your vacuum achieve peak performance. Even more, a Filtrete HEPA vacuum filter will help trap particles 75 times smaller than a human hair, including 99.97 percent of dust mite debris, animal dander, molds and pollen.

Don’t forget to look up

After tackling floors, dust ceiling fans and light fixtures. These hard-to-reach and hard-to-see places can harbor dust. And while you’re up there, change the direction of your ceiling fans to counterclockwise for the winter. This will keep air moving, but circulate warm air instead of cooling the room down.

Clean around your HVAC

With the heater on, be sure to clear the area around your HVAC unit to make sure there is nothing blocking the flow of air. Next, remember to swap out that filter for maximum effectiveness and change your filter every 90 days.

Turn on the humidifier

Increasing the humidity in your home during the cooler months adds moisture to your air and living space. This raises the “heat index,” making 68 degrees feel more like 76 degrees. If your house has low humidity, you may notice chapped lips, dry skin or a dry, sore throat. Be sure to maintain a relative humidity in the home between 20 and 40 percent. As the temperature outside drops, lower this percentage so condensation does not form on the windows.

Add extra insulation to all areas of your home

Adding insulation to your home reduces energy usage and increases comfort. If your home uses less than 12 inches of insulation, chances are heat is escaping. Add insulation in the attic to prevent warm air from escaping. Also consider adding insulation in crawl spaces, under floors and against basement walls to stop the transfer of cold through the house.

Take back your clean, fresh home today

Tackling each of these simple projects will help you take on winter with a fresh, cozy home you and your family can enjoy. For more information, visit www.filtretevac.com.

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