“Look at my great-great grandfather with a mustache like mine,” my son said.

Someone had uploaded a picture to the online platform about our ancestors.

I gave my son a DNA test kit and he is waiting for the results. We have been bonding over our exploration of our mutual ancestry prior to getting his results. I won’t be able to convince him to shave after viewing his family tree, though.

We found a distant grandfather from more than 250 years ago with my son’s first name who died on my son’s birthdate. That gave me and him a bit of a shiver.

I have reached the 1600s in my exploration of our family tree. The Norwegians and Swedes kept very good records that have been painstakingly translated.

We have made some interesting discoveries. Like many earlier generations, having a large family was common.

My great-grandmother had 13 children and 49 grandchildren. She lived to be quite old. In fact, quite a few of our relatives lived into their mid-70s to 90s, which was quite elderly back in the day. Unfortunately, we discovered that several infant relatives died early.

In their wildest imaginations, these ancestors could not have predicted that their distant granddaughter and grandson would be adding their birth, marriage and death certificates, and military cards to a digital family tree using a cell phone. I can hardly believe it.

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

Julie Garden-Robinson

Courtesy / NDSU Extension Service

If any of these relatives had died enroute from Europe, or while traveling in wagons across the country, or in the many wars that have occurred, neither of us would exist.

Our health and longevity are shaped by our genes, our lifestyle and our environments. We have better medical care available, including ways to treat heart disease, cancer and diabetes. We have more food choices in our food supply, but not all the foods are healthful choices.

Back then, they raised their food, including meat, dairy, vegetables and grains. Life was simpler, they worked hard, and their main entertainment probably was socializing with family and friends.

According to published research, for the first 70 or 80 years of life, lifestyle plays a greater role than genetics. If you have a history of longevity, you might live longer if you also have a healthy lifestyle.

What are the main considerations in a healthy lifestyle? If you answer “yes” to any of these, you are taking positive steps toward a healthful lifestyle.

  • Do you refrain from smoking or the use of any tobacco products??
  • Do you limit or refrain from drinking alcohol?
  • Do you eat a healthful diet and meet the recommendations for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources and have a good calcium source such as dairy? Visit 


     for a recommended amount of these foods for you.

  • Do you get regular physical activity? The current recommendation is 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  • Do you know your family health history so you can answer your provider’s questions?
  • Do have the regular screenings recommended by your provider? See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at 


     for more information.

Most adults shortchange themselves on vegetables. In fact, some researchers estimate that just 10% of adults meet the recommendation about 4 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits daily. Here’s a comforting, old-fashioned soup that’s a good source of colorful vegetables and fiber. Pair it with fresh bread or corn muffins for a warm meal on a cold day.

Country-style Split Pea Soup

  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1¼ cups green or yellow split peas, rinsed
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup cooked ham, diced (optional)
  • 1 cup plain nonfat/low-fat yogurt (optional)

In a large, heavy saucepan, sauté onion, leek, celery and garlic until they are tender, about five minutes. Add peas, broth, water, bay leaf, parsley, seasoned salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 40 minutes, or until peas are tender. Add the carrots, potatoes and ham (optional) to the soup. Cover and simmer about 15 to 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender but retain their shape. Add water, if necessary, to thin soup. Reduce heat. Optional: Add plain yogurt and cook for five minutes. Do not boil.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 120 calories, 1 gram (g) fat, 6 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber and 500 milligrams sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.

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