Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What Does Whole Grain Mean?

Many years ago the push toward eating more "whole grains" began and wheat flour bread replaced the white bread of a generation ago. What does it really mean and why is it important to eat "whole grains"? I thought I would try to touch on that topic today. There is so much information out there, but I would like to explain to you what a whole grain is, why it's important, and what milling and refining do to whole grains.




Grains are basically seeds of the plant they come from. They contain three basic parts as you can see from the diagram above. The bran, endosperm and germ.
  • The bran is the tough outer coating that protects the grain. It contains several layers which contain minerals, fiber, and significant amounts of B complex vitamins, trace minerals, and phytonutrients.
  • The endosperm is the starchy bulk of the grain which nourishes the seedling during its early growth before it's leaves have begun photosynthesis. The endosperm is made up of starch granules packed into tiny compartments, the walls of which are mostly protein. The endosperm also contains a few B-vitamins.
  • The germ of the seed, upon germination and sprouting, gives rise to the first tiny leaves and rootlets. The germ contains contains vitamins, oils, and proteins and is especially high in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, B-complex, and trace minerals.

Milling, refining, and processing rob the grain of it's nutrients in two very important ways.

  1. Most of the time when a grain is milled and processed to make bread, the bran and the germ are discarded and bread is made from the endosperm. The bran is discarded because it's tough and fibrous and will make bread more dense and hard. The germ is discarded because it contains oils that will over time become rancid, so discarding the germ will extend the shelf life of the product. Here is the problem with this though. The bran and the germ contain the most nutrients and the endosperm contains energy the body would use to assimilate these nutrients. So, when you discard the nutrient rich bran and germ, you are left with alot of empty calories. Some estimate that as many as 22 natural vitamins and minerals are removed through the milling process. When purchasing bread, don't just look for wheat or oat flour. Instead look for the word "whole" preceding the type of grain. For instance, whole wheat flour, whole barley flour, or whole oat flour.
  2. Grains are fantastic storage food. A grain can lie dormant for a very long time and with it's hard outer covering, all the nutrients will be intact. When a grain comes into contact with moisture or is cut open and air hits the germ and endosperm, the seed comes to life and if it isn't planted it dies and the nutrients are lost. At the moment you cut open a grain you have the most nutrients possible and then they slowly decay and become useless. How long has your whole grain bread been sitting on that grocery store shelf? How long have those whole grain crackers sat in your pantry? This was startling to me when I thought about all of the organic "whole grain" breads, crackers, and cereals I had been buying and how very little actual nutrition they probably contain. It is better to consume your grains whole and unprocessed. Another good thing to do is to find a mill that will mill your grains for cooking or cereal before you purchase it. Even better, get your own grain mill and buy whole grains. Refrigeration will slow the decay process, so it is good to refrigerate your milled grains and cereals.

I'd like to add to this post in the future by telling you more about the types of grains. They are not all created equal and rotating the whole grains you eat will provide the best variety of nutrients. I would also like in the future to discuss sprouting of whole grains and give you more recipes to try. For now, check out this great Quinoa and Lentil salad and lets all work on eating more whole grains and benefiting from the awesome nutrition they offer us.

Karla

Monday, March 30, 2009

Green Smoothies - Part II



It has been a few months since I first posted about Green Smoothies. In that time I have talked to dozens of people about what a green smoothie is and how to make them. I have to laugh at the reaction I get when I explain the 'green' part of the smoothie, but once a person tries a green smoothie, they agree that you don't really taste the 'green' part and that they are a simple and tasty way to add some raw nutrients to their diet.

Unlike juice, green smoothies are packed with insoluble plant fiber capable of carrying many time its own weight in toxins out of the body. Drinking a quart a day also combats the lack of leafy green veggies in the standard American diet. We are all unlikely to sit down with a plate of plain, raw kale, collards, spinach and celery everyday. Yet all of these items are quickly and easily added to a green smoothie and slurped down with a straw.

In my previous post, I provided my favorite basic smoothie recipe. It goes like this:
fresh or frozen fruit
1 banana
approx. 1 cup water/ice
large handful of greens

Blend thoroughly and drink up!

Here are a few tips and tricks in preparing the green smoothie of your choice:

  • You can prepare your smoothie the night before if you are taking on the go to school or work. Simply blend it up and store in a glass mason jar, preferably filled to the top with as little air as possible and tightly sealed. Refrigerate overnight and take it along in an insulated lunch bag with a refreezable ice pack and a straw for a quick snack or meal.

  • Add enough water/ice to get the smoothie consistency you prefer. Fruits like oranges, pineapple and watermelon will all provide a lot of water on their own so you may need to add less.

  • As you get used to the taste, add more greens. The more the better!

  • It is highly recommended that you use organic fruits and veggies whenever possible. Do the best you can. Here is a list of veggies and fruits that you should buy organic and some that are less important to buy organic.

  • Besides water you can use coconut water, juice or cold tea.

  • Feel free to add herbs if you like. For example, I add dry Red Raspberry to mine.

If you are like me, you will throw whatever fruits and veggies you have laying around into your blender and call it good, but for those of you who prefer a green smoothie recipe or just some new ideas, here you go:

Orange/Blueberry/Banana/Spinach
1 peeled orange
1/2 - 1 banana
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
large handful fresh spinach
water/ice

Tropical Green Smoothie
1 peeled orange
1/2 cup pineapple
1 banana
large handful of fresh spinach or romaine
ice

Strawberry/Banana/Greens
1 cup strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 banana
large handful of spinach
small handful of parsley
water/ice

Apple/Banana/Greens
1 chopped green apple
1 banana
large handful of spinach, romaine or kale
water/ice

Fruits to try: mango, pear, peach, grapes, watermelon, kiwi, lemon, apple, strawberries, blueberries, banana, pineapple, orange, papaya.

Greens/veggies to try: kale, collard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, parsley, cilantro, mint, chard, cucumber, arugula.

Get creative and enjoy!
- Shannan

Sources: Green Smoothie Girl, Go Raw Have Fun

Friday, March 27, 2009

Quinoa Salad and Raw Chocolate Mousse

I had a really fun couple of weeks in the kitchen experimenting with some new recipes and I wanted to share some of them with you.


Quinoa Lentil Salad


Daedra our glass straw friend shared this delicious recipe with me. I have been looking for more whole grain recipes as I'm trying to eat more whole grain and less processed and milled grains. This is a very satisfying, delicious dish. You can also vary the whole grains you use. The recipe calls for quinoa, but I have used buckwheat and next week I am going to try it with spelt berries. Each different type of grain has it's own set of vitamins and minerals and it's good to vary them.


1 cup of quinoa, well rinsed
1/2 cup of green lentils
3T olive oil
1 tomato, diced
1/3 cup of parsley, chopped
1 stalk of scallions, finely chopped
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup cucumber, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
garlic salt, salt and pepper or italian seasonings to taste.


Bring 3 cups of water to boil and add the well-rinsed quinoa and boil for 10-12 minutes. Drain it, and season with garlic salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.


In the same pot, bring new water to boil and add the rinsed lentils. Boil for 20 minutes until the lentils are cooked and still a little tough, but not overcooked and mushy.

After you drain and combine the lentils and quinoa, put aside to cool off. You can even make these a day ahead and store in the refrigerator.

Combine all the chopped vegetables with the cooled quinoa/lentil mixture and then drizzle and mix in lemon juice and olive oil.

This salad is wonderful by itself or placed over your favorite greens to add even more yummy nutrition!



Raw Chocolate Mousse



This is an absolutely delicious treat that will satisfy your chocolate craving, while nourishing your body. The chocolate flavor is very rich like a dark chocolate. The taste was a little overwhelming for my kids at first, but I paired it with raspberries and blueberries and they really enjoyed it. This recipe was given to me from another one of my food coop friends L., who purchases all of our delicious raw treats from Living Tree Community Foods. Thanks L.!


1 avocado
1 cup almond milk (I've also used raw milk)
2/3 cup dates, pitted and soaked
1/3 cup raw cacao powder
1/4 cup raw almond butter


In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and blend until creamy.


I hope you and your family will enjoy these healthy and delicious recipes as much as I did!

Karla

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Strength Training for Women


As a self proclaimed gym rat and former amateur body-builder, I am a huge proponent of strength training for everyone, especially women. Now I know what some of you are thinking...won't I get bulky, I want to lose fat so I do cardio, I don't feel comfortable lifting weights because I don't know what I am doing.

Maybe I can change your mind with a few facts about the benefits of weight lifting for women:

You Will Be Physically Stronger.
Increasing your strength will make you far less dependent upon others for assistance in daily living. Chores will be easier, lifting kids, groceries and laundry will no longer push you to the max. If your maximum strength is increased, daily tasks and routine exercise will be far less likely to cause injury. Research studies conclude that even moderate weight training can increase a woman's strength by 30 to 50 percent. Research also shows that women can develop their strength at the same rate as men.

You Will Lose Body Fat.
Studies performed by Wayne Westcott, PhD, from the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Massachusetts, found that the average woman who strength trains two to three times a week for two months will gain nearly two pounds of muscle and will lose 3.5 pounds of fat. As your lean muscle increases so does your resting metabolism, and you burn more calories all day long. Generally speaking, for each pound of muscle you gain, you burn 35 to 50 more calories each day. That can really add up.

You Will Gain Strength Without Bulk.
Researchers also found that unlike men, women typically don't gain size from strength training, because compared to men, women have 10 to 30 times less of the hormones that cause muscle hypertrophy. You will, however, develop muscle tone and definition. This is a bonus.
You Decrease Your Risk Of Osteoporosis. Research has found that weight training can increase spinal bone mineral density (and enhance bone modeling) by 13 percent in six months. This, coupled with an adequate amount of dietary calcium, can be a women's best defense against osteoporosis.

You Will Improve Your Athletic Performance.
Over and over research concludes that strength training improves athletic ability in all but the very elite athletes (See Article). Golfers can significantly increase their driving power. Cyclists are able to continue for longer periods of time with less fatigue. Skiers improve technique and reduce injury. Whatever sport you play, strength training has been shown to improve overall performance as well as decrease the risk of injury.

You Will Reduce Your Risk Of Injury, Back Pain and Arthritis.
Strength training not only builds stronger muscles, but also builds stronger connective tissues and increases joint stability. This acts as reinforcement for the joints and helps prevent injury. A recent 12-year study showed that strengthening the low-back muscles had an 80 percent success rate in eliminating or alleviating low-back pain. Other studies have indicated that weight training can ease the pain of osteoarthritis and strengthen joints.

You Will Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease.
According to Dr. Barry A. Franklin, of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, weight training can improve cardiovascular health in several ways, including lowering LDL ("bad") cholesterol, increasing HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. When cardiovascular exercise is added, these benefits are maximized.

You Will Reduce Your Risk of Diabetes.
In addition, Dr. Franklin noted that weight training may improve the way the body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of diabetes. Adult-onset diabetes is a growing problem for women and men. Research indicates that weight training can increase glucose utilization in the body by 23 percent in four months.

It Is Never Too Late To Benefit.
Women in their 70s and 80s have built up significant strength through weight training and studies show that strength improvements are possible at any age. Note, however, that a strength training professional should always supervise older participants.

You Will Improve Your Attitude And Fight Depression.
A Harvard study found that 10 weeks of strength training reduced clinical depression symptoms more successfully than standard counseling did. Women who strength train commonly report feeling more confident and capable as a result of their program, all important factors in fighting depression.

If that doesn't do it for you, much of our weight gain in our 40s and 50s can be attributed to the slow down in metabolism due to muscle loss. We lose as much as a half-pound of muscle per year after age 25 if we do not exercise to maintain it.

Did you know that even Marilyn Monroe pumped iron? read more... You can do it to!

Don't know how to get started?
  • Here is a great article called Weight Training 101. It walks you through some basic strength training principles and how to set up a routine.

  • If you belong to a gym, consider meeting with a trainer for a run through of all of the machines and to learn some basic exercises.

  • If you are working out at home, subscribe to or visit the website of a magazine like Self. They feature new exercises each month that you can try on your own.

  • There are also tons of workout videos on the market which could offer some variety.

  • And don't forget the old standby's...push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges that can all be done in the comfort of your own home!

I hope you will give it a try. You might even like it!
- Shannan

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fresh Organic Produce Delivered to Your Door


I've been trying out a new service to see if I like it and I thought I would share it with all of you. It's a company called Door to Door Organics that distributes fresh organic produce and delivers it right to your door. Their mission according to their website "is to establish access of nutritious food to every resident of Michigan and beyond. We are working to expand the market for agriculture that enriches the earth and all of us which she supports. We enable people to enjoy healthy styles, and we work to give our farmers the same opportunity." What a great mission! I could support that.

Door to Door works with area farmers to purchase and deliver the freshest produce to your door each week. They started in Pennsylvania in 1997, but have since branched out to several other states. (Check out their website to see if they deliver near you.)

This is how it works. You go to their website and sign up and choose a box of what you want from their menu. You can order just fruit, just vegetables, or a mixture of both. They have different sizes of boxes including the bitty, the small, the medium, and the large. A medium box, which is what I chose, "works for a hearty vegetarian couple, or a family with a couple of veggie and fruit minded children". Then, every week on Friday, you receive an email outlining what your box for the next week will contain. You can then substitute out things that your family won't eat with things they will, and you can add extra items that you want your box to include. The substitutions are included in your weekly flat rate, but of course you pay extra for the extra items you order. Every week on Tuesday, we receive a new box of fresh organic produce and so far it's been great! Everything has been fresh and tasty! A friend of mine, M., has been using this service for a little longer than myself. One week she received some garlic that was a bit mushy. She called Door to Door and reported what she had found and they credited her account for the garlic immediately, no questions asked. They have a money back guarantee if you are not satisfied.

When I initially began looking into this service, I thought for sure the price would be way too much for our family. A box full of organic produce, delivered to your door every week, expensive right? Not true, to get good, organic produce in Michigan this time of year is quite expensive and the variety in the local grocery stores where I live isn't great. I would probably need to go to several stores or make a trip to the closest Whole Foods which is about 30-40 minutes from where I live. To get the same quality of organic produce in area stores would cost me much more and I probably couldn't get anywhere near the variety. This last week I received apples, pears, grapes, beets, kale, green leaf lettuce, cabbage, red potatoes, red onions, carrots, parsley, and avocado. Opening that box was a little slice of heaven! Plus with knowing ahead of times what is coming, I can plan menus and order extra things we might need for the week. Take a look at all the yummy stuff coming this week!

Another great feature of this service is their recipe section. On the website, they have an area where you can click and find recipes for all the delicious produce for the week. This is especially helpful if you haven't branched out and tried alot of different fruits and veggies. Even more fun, Door to Door will email you every week with a recipe that coincides with something in your box of produce. For example, I'm getting Collard Greens this week and they emailed with a recipe for a dish using Collard Greens.

Check it out and see if this might work for you!

Karla

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coconut Oil - Good for you inside and out



Based on recommendations from a few of our readers, I just purchased my first jar of Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. I had heard that coconut oil was a great moisturizer, but once I began researching a little further, I was literally amazed by the health benefits this oil offers. Since there are tons of great posts on the benefits of coconut oil, I have picked from my favorites and compiled a list of how this amazing (and economical) oil can help you both on the inside and out.

Why should you consume coconut oil?
The benefits of consuming coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti fungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system.

Coconut oil is often preferred by athletes and body builders and by those who are dieting. The reason behind this being that coconut oil contains lesser calories than other oils, its fat content is easily converted into energy and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. Coconut oil helps in boosting energy and endurance, and enhances the performance of athletes.

Health and beauty benefits of coconut oil include:

  • Heart Diseases: There is a misconception spread among many people that coconut oil is not good for the heart. This is because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. However, coconut oil is beneficial for the heart. It contains about 50% lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as it happens in case of other vegetables oils. It does not lead to increase in LDL levels. It also reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis.

  • Weight Loss: Coconut oil is very useful in reducing weight. It contains short and medium-chain fatty acids that help in taking off excessive weight. It is also easy to digest and it helps in healthy functioning of the thyroid and enzymes systems. Further, it increases the body metabolism by removing stress on pancreases, thereby burning out more energy and helping obese and overweight people reduce their weight. Hence, people living in tropical coastal areas, who eat coconut oil daily as their primary cooking oil, are normally not fat, obese or overweight

  • Pancreatitis: Coconut oil is also believed to be useful in treating pancreatitis.

  • Digestion: Internal use of coconut oil occurs primarily as cooking oil. Coconut oil helps in improving the digestive system and thus prevents various stomach and digestion related problems including irritable bowel syndrome. The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti microbial properties and help in dealing with various bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that cause indigestion. Coconut oil also helps in absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and amino acids.

  • Immunity: Coconut oil is also good for the immune system. It strengthens the immune system as it contains antimicrobial lipids, lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid which have anti fungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia.

  • Healing: When applied on infections, it forms a chemical layer which protects the infected body part from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria and virus. Coconut oil is most effective on bruises as it speeds up the healing process by repairing damaged tissues.

  • Infections: Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of infections due to its anti fungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. According to the Coconut Research Center, coconut oil kills viruses that cause influenza, measles, hepatitis, herpes, SARS, etc. It also kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, etc. Coconut oil is also effective on fungi and yeast that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, thrush, diaper rash, etc.

  • Liver: The presence of medium chain triglycerides and fatty acids helps in preventing liver diseases as they substances are easily converted into energy when they reach the liver, thus reducing work load on the liver and also preventing accumulation of fat.

  • Kidney: Coconut oil helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases. It also helps in dissolving kidney stones.

  • Diabetes: Coconut oil helps in controlling blood sugar, and improves the secretion of insulin. It also helps in effective utilization of blood glucose, thereby preventing and treating diabetes.

  • Bones: As mentioned earlier, coconut oil improves the ability of our body to absorb important minerals. These include calcium and magnesium which are necessary for development of bones. Thus coconut oil is very useful to women who are prone to osteoporosis after middle age.

  • Dental Care: Calcium is an important element present in teeth. Since coconut oil facilitates absorption of calcium by the body, it helps in getting strong teeth. Coconut oil also stops tooth decay.

  • HIV and Cancer: It is believed that coconut oil plays an instrumental role in reducing viral susceptibility of HIV and cancer patients.

  • Hair Care: Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrition for hair. It helps in healthy growth of hair providing them a shiny complexion. Regular massage of the head with coconut oil ensures that your scalp is free of dandruff, lice, and lice eggs, even if your scalp is dry. Coconut oil is extensively used in the Indian sub-continent for hair care. It is an excellent conditioner and helps in the re-growth of damaged air. It also provides the essential proteins required for nourishing damaged hair. It is therefore used as hair care oil and used in manufacturing various conditioners, and dandruff relief creams. Coconut oil is normally applied topically for hair care.

  • Stress Relief: Coconut oil is very soothing and hence it helps in removing stress. Applying coconut oil to the head followed with a gentle massage helps in removing mental fatigue.

  • Skin Care: Coconut oil is excellent massage oil for the skin as well. It acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skins including dry skin. The benefit of coconut oil on the skin is comparable to that of mineral oil. Further, unlike mineral oil, there is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin with the application of coconut oil. Coconut oil therefore is a safe solution for preventing dryness and flaking of skin. It also delays wrinkles, and sagging of skin which normally become prominent with age. Coconut oil also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections. Therefore coconut oil forms the basic ingredient of various body care products such as soaps, lotions, creams, etc., used for skin care.

  • Premature Aging: Coconut oil helps in preventing premature aging and degenerative diseases due to its antioxidant properties.

Consider how many beauty products (and containers) you could eliminate by having some coconut oil on hand. Organic virgin coconut oil can be used for all of the following:

  • All-over body moisturizer

  • Hot oil hair treatment, combined with equal parts extra virgin olive oil

  • Cuticle oil

  • Eye make-up remover (even works on waterproof mascara)

  • Body scrub, mixed with brown sugar or sea salt

  • Overnight foot treatment (slather feet & put on some cotton socks)

  • Face mask, mix with a little raw honey (for the antibacterial properties)

  • Deep conditioner for hair (click here for several recipes)

As far as eating coconut oil goes, my container recommends that you consume 3 tablespoons of coconut oil per day. Consider using coconut oil as follows:

  • As cooking oil (it has a high heat tolerance)

  • Like butter on toast or muffin

  • In your smoothie (I think mixing with some tropical fruits sounds yummy)

  • Some people just eat it by the spoonful

Other fun facts about coconut oil:

  • It does not get rancid like other oils and may be kept unrefrigerated for up to a year.

  • It melts at 76 degrees F. I love scooping out a bit and having it melt in my hand when I use as a moisturizer.
More research on coconut oil can be found here.

- Shannan

Sources: Organic Facts, Style 101, Eco Chick

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recent Updates

I have been reading through alot of update emails this week and thought I would pass along some tidbits I found especially interesting...

Hope you are having a great weekend!

Karla

Friday, March 20, 2009

Choosing the Right Toothpaste for your Family


Have you really looked at the back of a tube of toothpaste lately. I decided to for today's post and felt a little confused. Let's see...dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, sodium lauryl sulfate, cellulose gum, flavor (??), tetrasodium pyrophosphate, fluoride, sodium saccharin...and the list goes on. I'm no chemist so I had to head over to Wikipedia to check out what all this means. I found that one of these chemicals is an inorganic form of calcium and phosphate - the same form found in alot of kidney stones; one of the chemicals could cause mouth or "canker" sores; one is an ester of sulphuric acid and has been deemed "highly irritating" to skin and mucus membranes; another removes calcium and magnesium from your saliva to prevent tartar build-up (does that seem strange to anyone else - I might need that calcium and magnesium); and of course one is a known carcinogen (points if you guess the right one). I was bothered by what was listed on the toothpaste tube, but what bothered me more was the generic term "flavor" on the tube. Where does the "flavor" come from? Then there is the fluoride debate and studies are showing that fluoride may actually be harmful over time by causing flourosis. That coupled with a 2005 World Health Organization report that countries that fluoridate their water and toothpaste have the same rates of dental decay as countries that don't.

After looking at commercial toothpastes, I turned to a few natural toothpastes that my family has been using and really like. My kid's love Tom's Silly Strawberry. I mean seriously, they will go in the bathroom and brush their teeth without me asking and sometimes several times throughout the day. For myself and my husband we have used Tom's Whole Care and Nature's Gate Cool Mint Gel. For the most part, these brands rate much better. Their flavors are clearly listed and they are from natural sources. We really like the taste and I can get my kids to brush with them. Unfortunately, they still contained a few suspect ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, calcium glycerophosphate, methylparaben, and zinc citrate trihydrate. Alot of natural toothpastes also contain fluoride.

I feel the need to say something here especially as I've spent some time this week reading about the 1,4 Dioxane controversy as it relates to natural lotions and soaps. Much of the cosmetic ingredient industry goes unregulated, but all companies, natural or not, must bring a product to market that will have a shelf life of 3 years. It must go three years without molding or growing bacteria. This is nearly impossible to do with a natural ingredient that was created to start decomposing as soon as it is picked or harvested. These companies add things (usually chemicals) to prevent this decomposition from happening. Natural companies mostly try to add safe things to do this. We don't always know if a product is safe or not. I'm not excusing deception or purposely adding known harmful chemicals to products. I guess I'm wondering if the trade-off for purchasing convenient commercially prepared products will always be some exposure to chemicals? Today it is 1,4 Dioxane, but the next preservative, emulsifying agent, or thickener is already out there and we think it's safe and it probably isn't. It follows my good, better, best theory. It's good to brush your teeth with something, even if it's commercial toothpaste :). It's better to brush with something more natural like Tom's or Nature's Gate. It's probably best if you have the time and resources (and you can get your kids to brush with it) to make your own toothpaste that doesn't have to last 3 years and doesn't have extra preserving ingredients.

And on that note...I found this recipe for making your own toothpaste. I think I might try it!

Ingredients
Baking soda (It's a natural cleansing agent and it polishes and whitens your teeth as well)
Table salt
Hydrogen Peroxide (This will naturally disinfect your teeth)
Stevia (This is optional, but will naturally sweeten the mix)
Peppermint oil (This is also optional as a flavoring agent.)
  1. Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into a mixing bowl.

  2. Add a dash of salt.

  3. Add 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide.

  4. Add 1 drop of peppermint oil.

  5. Add a dash of stevia (more if you want it sweeter).

  6. Mix it all up until it becomes past like. You may be to add more hydrogen peroxide to get the right consistency.

  7. Store in a glass jar to keep it from drying out.

Note: If you aren't a big fan of peppermint, try ground cinnamon or vanilla extract.

If you are looking to whiten your teeth - check out Shannan's post on Eco-friendly Beauty Tips which includes a recipe for natural teeth whitening.

I have to tell you that this post did not go where I was hoping. My intention was to guide you to a few natural toothpastes and somehow I ended up on a "soap" box. :) I considered scrapping the whole idea, but thought you might be trying to make some of the same decisions that I am and I hope the information was helpful. By the way, here is an interesting website I found while researching this post that describes certain beauty and cosmetic ingredients and rates their safety. Very helpful!

Karla

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Improving Your Child's Nutrition


A couple weeks ago my girl's preschool did 'Healthy You' week. I took this as an opportunity to introduce the other preschool moms to Living A Whole Life so I made a little flyer and took in some business cards. This immediately sparked conversation about how they could get their kids to eat better. In some ways I found it difficult to provide general information. Each child is different and each family is at a different level of nutritional awareness. Ever since, I have been thinking about what moms and dads can do to encourage healthy eating and what some of the roadblocks are that stop them from doing so.

Give your children the gift of good nutrition. Teaching your kids to eat healthy now is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. It is right up there with love, self esteem, and a good education if you ask me. As some of you already know, this is not an easy gift to give. It takes some extra time and effort to both shop for and prepare healthy foods (mostly because it is not a habit for us either) and to get your kids to eat them. So the next time your kids are begging for sugar cereal at the grocery store, be strong and remember that the gift you give them today will last a lifetime.

Start talking today. Whether your child is 2 or 12, it is important to start talking to them about good nutrition today. Yes, I know old habits are hard to break, but if you engage your child in the converation about why eating healthy foods is important they may be more willing to try a few new things. For example, I have always made a big deal about growing up strong and smart with my girls who just turned 5. At a very young age we made jokes about how treats or chips go to our butts, but good foods like fruits and veggies go to our brain, our muscles and our bones. They still ask me where certain foods go and giggle in anticipation of the answer. Older kids may relate to getting better grades or getting better at their favorite sport.

Model the behavior. Monkey see, monkey do when it comes to smaller children. Changing your child's mind will not happen with words alone. You must personally jump on board by, as Ghandi says, "being the change that you want to see in the world." For instance, sorry in advance J, but Karla and I have a brother-in-law who is a really picky eater. He turns his nose up at tons of different kinds of foods without thinking of how that looks to his children. Today at 10 and nearly 8, they too are extremely picky eaters. Hmmm.

Now I will let you in on a little secret (glad my kids can't read too well yet)...I don't like raw tomatoes. I love them cooked, but still with as many times as I have tried them, I just don't like 'em raw. The key here is, my kids have no idea that I don't like them. I have never spoken the words or made a big deal of it at all. They love raw tomatoes and want to eat them off my salad all the time. What a nice mom I am, I let them have my tomatoes every time!

Make gradual changes (sneaky if you have to). You can't expect your kids to react well to a complete eating overhaul all at once. You wouldn't like it if someone did that to you, so make changes slowly. A couple good places to start: if you are a white bread family, make sandwiches with one piece of white and one piece of whole wheat bread and eventually change it all over to whole wheat. Or, if your kids eat peanut butter and jelly a couple times a week like mine do, mix equal parts regular peanut butter with natural peanut or almond butter. Get them used to the no sugar nut butter and eventually switch completely. I am actually in the process of changing the peanut butter right now. I'll let you know how it goes over.

Encourage your kids to try new things. Now this can be a toughy for a lot of adults let alone kids. I am a firm believer though that if you don't try it you won't know if you like it. When the girls were really little, like 2 1/2 or so, we would make salmon and call it salmon-chicken. They knew they liked chicken so they tried it. We have since dropped the chicken, they know it is fish and it is family favorite. Side note: I wasn't a big fan of salmon because my mom often made salmon patties which smelled really bad to me growing up. My husband got me to try the real thing and I love it! Tip: Try the 'no thank you bite' rule. Put the new food on your child's plate and if they refuse to eat it ask them to take at least one bite and then they can say 'no thank you' to the rest. This encourages an open mind without the pressure of having to eat it all and who knows they may like something.

Don't make dinner a battleground. I know it is frustrating when kids don't like what you made or won't eat what you think is a decent amount of food, but try to stop yourself from letting mealtime turn into wartime. Let your child know that this is what is for dinner and that you hope they will at least try it. I would encourage you to introduce new things a little at a time and always make sure there is at least one item on your child's plate that you know they will eat. Do not bribe them to eat in order to get a treat afterward. This sets a bad precident. And, once dinner is done (no more than a 1/2 hour) just remove their plate from the table and call it good. A fight over food every night will do nothing but escalate a battle of wills and associate bad feelings with dinnertime for everyone.

There is no clean plate club at our house either. I want my children to rely on their bodies to tell them when they are full, not me. On the other hand, I have one little wild girl who needs some encouragement to eat so she usually gets stuck having to take 2 or 3 more bites of certain things before she is officially done. I think she just plans for it now. She often asks if she needs to take 1, 2 or 3 more bites of something. FYI, the answer is always 3.

Good luck!
- Shannan

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's In Your Medicine Cabinet??


Tea Tree Oil

A really great natural remedy to keep on hand for home emergencies is a small bottle of Tea Tree Oil. Tea tree oil is a pale essential oil taken from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia which is native to the northeast cost of New South Wales, Australia. Tea tree oil undiluted has a very strong camphoraceous odor (or as my husband described it "like gasoline"). No really it's not that strong. This oil has several very helpful uses around the house.
  • It's an antiseptic for wound disinfection, insect or spider bites;

  • It's an anti fungal that can be used to treat athlete's foot and fungal nail infections;

  • Shampoos with 5% tea tree oil effectively treat dandruff and even kill lice;

  • It's a great treatment for acne and general skin care. Add it to your bottle of oil when doing the oil cleansing method for even greater results;

  • It's a great topical anti-viral treatment, especially when used for the herpes virus, cold sores, chicken pox, shingles blisters, and warts; and

  • tea tree oil can be used in mouth wash for dental and oral health; or as a gargle for colds, and sore throats. It's important to remember not to swallow the gargle as tea tree oil is harmful when swallowed;

Pick yourself up a bottle of this wonderful home remedy. You can add it to your shampoo; dilute with distilled water, or cold pressed vegetable oil to make a rinse or salve. You can add a teaspoon of tea tree oil to a cup of water or natural soap for a wonderful disinfectant spray or wash that will even kill mold or mildew around the house.

One word of caution, tea tree oil is harmful when swallowed. It has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. It should be kept away from pets and children.

Karla



Monday, March 16, 2009

Avoiding Healthy Eating Sabotage


We have all heard of friends and family sabotaging someone's diet when they are trying hard to lose weight, but do any of you feel that your healthy lifestyle is ever unwittingly sabotaged by those around you? It happens to me every once in a while and today was one of those days. Not a big deal, but it got me thinking about why people care at all about what I do or don't eat.

As a stay-at-home mom, I have control over the food I buy and the food I eat. I don't have the issues of lunch out with customers or traveling. I hold my diet to a fairly high standard and although I am not always perfect (and never will be), my bad eating today is nothing like my bad eating was 10 or 15 years ago. So why do I bring all of this up?

Even with the knowledge and self-control I have on a daily basis, I still fall into situations where I actually feel pressure to compromise my eating habits to please others. Kristen's Raw mentions in her book, The Easy Way to Get Started & Succeed at the Raw Food Vegan Diet & Lifestyle, that people feel that their way of life is under scrutiny when you choose to eat a certain way. She says that many people will assume, from your dietary choices, that you think you're somehow superior to them...not just their food choices, but actually them. I think in certain instances, this is definitely true.

When I first told some of my friends that I was going to study holistic nutrition and started changing my diet, they would often ask me if I would eat certain foods or when we were out to dinner if I could find something to eat on the menu. I became a little defensive (okay a lot defensive), somewhat self-conscious and always made a point to eat something everyone would consider normal. This I feel is my problem though, not theirs. If I am convinced that the way I eat is the right way for me, why would I ever compromise?

The same goes for my children's diet - yet another thing that I have control over most of the time. I tend to feel like the mean mom if other kids are getting juice or a soda with their dinner and I insist on water. Believe me my kids don't mind half as much as grandma does. But, it is also grandma who I want to let spoil my kids, it's her job, so I let it go and deal with the sugar buzz later.

My point, stick to your convictions. No need to be rude or condescending regarding what anyone else eats, just do what is right for you. Others are commenting or judging for their own reasons whether they feel inferior, threatened in some way or most likely just don't want to feel judged for making the choices they make. Also understand that anyone who does make a conscious effort to change their eating habits whether it be giving up sugar or alcohol, eating Raw or perhaps avoiding meat is doing it for themselves and probably isn't too concerned about what others are eating.

For me, I need to come up with a positive friendly response when people say things like, 'oh just have a little bit, it won't hurt you'. This is the sort of thing that makes me doubt myself and eat something that I know I really don't want. Maybe it is just as simple as no thank you. No explanation required.

Remember though, if you do cave, like I did today, there is always tomorrow!

- Shannan


Friday, March 13, 2009

Spirulina


Well readers, I think I've sunk to a whole new level! I have been adding pond scum to my smoothies! :) I've been hearing about spirulina from various sources and I finally broke down and bought some with my last coop Frontier order. I've spent this week researching it and putting it in my smoothies and I have to say that I am really impressed! Here is a little bit of what I learned.

What is Spirulina?

Spirulina is a microalgae that thrives in hot, sunny climates and in alkaline waters around the world. It is a blue-green algae and when I say blue-green - it's like something from outer space. My smoothies have glowed this week! It is somewhat of an unusual specimen because it is considered somewhat above plants as it doesn't have the hard cellulose membranes characteristic of plant cells or a well–defined nucleus

History of Spirulina


Interestingly, spirulina has been used as a food source/supplement for centuries. It is believed that the Aztecs harvested it around the 16th century and made it into cakes which they called Tecuitlatl. Literally translated this meand stone's excrement. Very nice! I assume or at least hope this is because it is an algae and it probably accumultated on rocks in the lake where it was harvested! Spirulina may have an even longer history in Chad, dating as far back as the 9th century and is still in use today. They make it into
dried cakes called Dihé, which are used to make broths for meals, and also sold in markets.

Nutrients: Spirulina's nutrient content amazes me. One tablespoon of this can serve as a tremendous nutritional supplement.

  • Protein: Spirulina has 20 times as much protein as soybeans growing on an equal-sized area of land. It is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids, though with reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine, and lysine when compared to the proteins of meat, eggs, and milk. It is, however, superiour to typical plant protein, such as that from legumes. Spirulina is 65-71% complete protein. In comparison, beef is only 22% protein.

  • Essential Fatty Acids: Spirulina contains a nice array of EFA's which are so important for overall health. It has Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), linoleic (LA), and arachidonic acids. (AA), Stearidonic acid (SDA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

  • Vitamins: Spirulina also contains a nice array of vitamins, especially B vitamins. They include B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinamide), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E. A teaspoon of spirulina contains 2.5 times the RDA of vitamin B12 and contains over twice the amount of this vitamin found in an equivalent serving of liver.
  • Minerals: Spirulina is a rich source of potassim and also contains calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc.
  • Chlorophyll
  • Phycocyanin: This is a blue pigment that is found only in blue-green algae that has increased the survival rate of mice with liver cancer in laboratory experiments.

Natural Healing


  • Aids in protecting the immune system. There is some evidence that spirulina increases production of antibodies, cytokines (infection fighting proteins), and other cells that improve immunity and help ward off infection and chronic illnesses such as cancer.

  • Helps the body absorb minerals

  • Spirulina is great during a fast as it supplies nutrients in a naturally digestible form that are needed to cleanse and heal while curbing the appetite.

  • Beneficial for those with hypoglycemia between meals because of its high protein content. It actually helps the liver and pancreas to regulate blood carbohydrate levels. There is emerging evidence that it may also help those with type 2 diabetes by reducing fasting blood sugar in as little as two months of use.

  • A study using animals showed that Spirulina helps prevent heart damage caused by chemotherapy using Doxorubicin without interfering with its anti-tumor activity.
    In another study participants exhibited significant changes in cholesterol and blood pressure including lowered total cholesterol; increased HDL cholesterol; lowered triglycerides; and lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Wow!

  • Spirulina reduces the severity of strokes and improves recovery of movement after a stroke

  • Another great benefit for all of you work-out fiends is that spirulina will help prevent skeletal muscle damage. The Chinese and Cuban Olympic teams eat the stuff daily.

  • Spirulina may reverses age-related declines in memory and learning.

  • Some studies suggest that spirulina may protect against allergic reactions by stopping the release of histamines (substances that contribute to allergy symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, hives, and soft-tissue swelling). I found alot of material and testimonials to this effect when researching this piece.
How to use Spirulina

Spirulina is marketed in several ways. It can either be found in pill, powder or flake form. If you opt for the pill form, a typical recommended dose is about 3000 mg a day broken up into 3 doses. Many just use the powder or the flakes and add it to their smoothies and use it as a nutritional supplement. I'm a fan of using it this way. As with any food or supplement, eating spirulina in it's real unprocessed form offers the greatest potential benefits. Now saying that, I was a little overwhelmed by the, shall we say, briny smell of spirulina when I opened the bag. I'm told I will get over that and even come to enjoy the taste of spirulina in time. For now and for all of you other first time users - I would recommend adding the powder to something else with a strong flavor. Spirulina is extremely low in calories - 26 per tablespoon. It's also packs a whopping 5 grams of protein per serving. Wow!

One small word of caution is needed. Spirulina may contain heavy metals absorbed from the water where it grew. This can be very taxing on your liver to the point of causing damage. As with anything I recommend, make sure you know and trust your source that you buy spirulina from.


So help me out all of you experienced spirulina users!!! Other than adding it to smoothies...how do you take your spirulina?

Karla

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Simply Delicious

As I sat eating my salad for lunch today (the same salad I eat most days for lunch), I came to a conclusion regarding food, recipes, healthy eating and cooking in general. Simple is usually better for me and my family. I am always trying new recipes, running to the store for special ingredients, slaving in the kitchen, and making a mess for little more than a look of "this is okay" to maybe a "this is good". It is not that they don't appreciate my effort (okay, maybe the girls don't really understand), but most dishes are just not earth shattering and probably won't be made again.

What my family does enjoy and actually comments on usually ends up being the simple recipes with fresh ingredients and great natural flavors. I guess I shouldn't complain, makes my life easier. So, of course I want to share some of our simple family favorites with you.

Breakfast: I have to qualify this as my favorite breakfast food. I eat it almost every morning and would choose it over a big greasy breakfast at the local coney island anyday.


Shannan's Oatmeal
1 serving Quaker Oats (1/2 cup oatmeal, 1 cup boiling water)
Handful of dried cranberries
Handful of walnuts
Large dash of cinnamon
Spoonful of ground flaxseed

Snack: Snacking can be dangerous for a lot of people. No matter what time of day you are rummaging around in the cupboards, fresh salsa and my favorite torilla chips are always a great option.


Simple Salsa
1 3/4 cups diced tomatoes (about 1 large tomato)
1/4 cup diced white onion (about half of an onion)
1 finely chopped fresh jalapeno (seeded for milder salsa)
1 tsp. course salt
Cilantro (optional)

Stir ingredients together. Refridgerate for 1 hour before serving to let the flavors develop.

My favorite chips:
Trader Joe's Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla Chips - mmmm good.

Main Dish: I am very lucky, I know, that my 5-year-olds love salmon. We eat it regularly and this is a truely simple, delicious and easy recipe.

Garlicky Broiled Salmon and Tomatoes
4 6oz. pieces of salmon fillet
4 medium tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 teaspoon paprika, hot if you prefer
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper
8 sprigs fresh thime (I have used rosemary instead as well)
4 cloves garlic, sliced

Heat broiler. Place the salmon and tomatoes, cut-side up. in a broilerproof roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle salmon with paprika.

Drizzle the salmon and tomatoes with the oil and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Scatter the thyme and garlic over the top.

Broil until salmon is opaque throughout and the tomatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Side Dish: Kids love fries, actually we all love fries, but these are definitely healthier and taste great. They go with everything and add tons of color and flavor to every meal.


Parmesan Rosemary Sweet Potatoe Fries
About 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes (peeled and cut into fries)
1/4 cup olive oil
Sea salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (or if you're in a hurry like I usually am store bought shredded parm. works just fine)

Put ingredients in ziploc bag and toss to coat.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil (I spray mine with oil so they won't stick)
Cook for 20 - 25 minutes, turning about halfway through. Fries are done when thar are browned around the edges. Transfer immediately to a paper towel lined plate and serve warm.

Alternative - just toss in olive oil and some seasoning salt. We love them that way too!

Treat: I gave up refined sugar a little over two weeks ago so there are not cookies or ice cream treats on my menu. Instead I have been eating what described to me as 'nature's candy' by my Raw friend Kristen. They are suprisingly sweet and satisfying.


Dates
Just buy a package of whole pitted dates and eat 2-3 after your meal if you are feeling the need for a sweet treat. Dates are full of antioxidants and have zero fat.



I hope you will find some of our family favorites as simple, delicious and nutritious as we do!

- Shannan

Sources: Martha Stewart, Real Simple Magazine, Sarah's Cucina Bella

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Calcium

Often when discussing foods and herbs I tell you what nutrients they contain. Today, I want to go a little deeper and talk about a particular nutrient so that you can understand it's importance and tell when you are deficient in it. I'll try to do this from time to time so that our discussions will make more sense. Today I want to start with Calcium. Everyone has heard of calcium and it's amazing ability to build bones, but it has so many other functions in the body. Calcium has been called "the knitter". It gets this reputation because it is the leading element in promoting healing or "knitting" anywhere it is necessary. Here is an interesting fact, a person weighing 150 pounds contains approximately 3 pounds, 12 ounces of calcium in their body.

Functions that Calcium Serves in the Body

  • Builds bones and teeth and heals all tissue;

  • Helps scars heal;

  • Essential in forming hemoglobin, blood-clotting, and maintaining the alkalinity of the blood;

  • Fights germs, scurvy, and infection;

  • Present in cartilage, fluids, certain tissues;

  • Soothes nerves;

  • Prevents asthma, hay fever, tuberculosis and rickets.

Signs of Calcium Deficiency

  • Dental cavities; following a whole foods diet rich in calcium can actually reverse and repair existing cavities. It's important to note that a diet high in sugar will cause calcium to precipitate out of bones and teeth. When the teeth are weakened, germs can penetrate the teeth and cause cavities.

  • Lack of strength;

  • Fear and indecision;

  • Aches, pain, and fatigue;

  • Profuse perspiration;

  • Lack of willpower;

  • Hemorrhaging and anemia;

  • Cramps in calves; "growing pains" in children are attributed to the need for more calcium;

  • Boredom or brain fatigue;

  • Digestive problems;

  • Bone softening and osteoporosis;

  • Rickets or scurvy;

  • Lung ailments;

  • Fevers and abscesses; difficult to heal wounds can turn around by increasing calcium in the diet;

  • Menstrual disorders; especially hemorrhaging and cramping. (Menstrual blood contains 40 times the calcium of regular blood, so excessive flow will quickly deplete calcium.

One thing to note is that the endocrine system is largely responsible for controlling the absorption of calcium. If the endocrine system is out of balance, signs of calcium deficiency may develop. We struggle in developed countries with endocrine imbalance due to diets high in sugar and processed foods and enormous amounts of stress. It's so important to balance your Endocrine system to keep all of your body systems functioning properly.

There are several other important things to keep in mind regarding calcium. Cooking breaks down much of the calcium in food. Food prepared raw or lightly steamed is more nutrient dense. Cereals, prepared by slow-cooking or steaming are excellent wources of calcium. There is 40% more calcium in the outer leaves of cabbages and most lettuces.

Highest Calcium Foods

Here is a great list of foods that contain the most calcium. Agar, almonds, avocados, barley, beet greens, beans, blackstrap molasses, bran, brazilnuts, broccoli, brown rice, brussel sprouts, buckwheat, raw butter, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cheeses (hard and cottage: raw), chia seeds, coconut, yellow cornmeal, raw cream, dandelion greens, dulse, egg yolk, figs, filberts, fish, gelatin, greens, Irish moss, kelp, kohlrabi, lemons, lentils, raw milk, millet, nettles, oats, onions, parsnips, prunes, rice polish, rhubarb, rye, sesame seeds, walnuts, watercress, wheat (whole).

I love that list! Just when you are wondering how you will supplement your diet with more calcium, you realize that you have so many choices and things to experiment with.

Have a great day and enjoy!

Karla

Monday, March 9, 2009

Conventional vs. Green Cleaning Products

There has been a debate going on for a while now between my husband and I about whether or not the 'green' cleaning products work as well as conventional cleaning products. When it comes to bathroom cleaning, he believes that bleach is required. I, on the other hand, would do anything to avoid that harsh chemical smell and the headache that follows.

So what is wrong with using conventional cleaning products anyway (other than my headache)? Conventional cleaning products contain bleach, ammonia and other chemical agents that leave your home looking clean, but pollute both our water supply and our bodies. Many ingredients found in household cleaners can cause eye irritation, skin irritation, lung irritation and have been implicated as possible contributers to asthma and cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals simply due to the fact that they are smaller and still growing. One article I read pointed out that although the use of one cleaner may not be extremely harmful alone, we tend to have a cleaner for every different area or purpose, all interacting, all seeping into our environment and causing damage.

Commercial green cleaners are readily available now and offer a safer way to get your house clean. There are many benefits of using 'green', 'natural' or 'organic' cleaning products. Here is a general list of what to look for in a green cleaner. You will need to read labels and product information based on the specific brand you are considering.


Look for products that are:

  • Non-toxic

  • Made with natural ingredients

  • Biodegradable

  • Hypoallergenic

  • No harmful fumes

  • Septic tank safe

  • Free of petrochemicals, chlorine bleach, phosphates, nitrates, borates, kerosene, phenol, lye, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid, ammonia, formaldehyde, etc.

  • No animal testing

  • Recyclable packaging

  • Watch out for words like irritant, flammable, toxic and corrosive
We have all heard the negatives associated with green cleaners: they don't work as well and are more expensive. It's true that you may need to use a little more elbow grease with the green products, but the surfaces will be just as clean. And as far as the cost is concerned, I bought some Clorox Green Works the other day and thought the price was comparable to the conventional all-purpose cleaners on the shelf. This does not mean that in general pricing isn't higher for green products, it is, but as with anything else if you shop around, you may find a good deal. (Check manufacturer sites below for coupons and Mambo Sprout has a coupon for Method products.) Also take into consideration that some of the companies, like Shaklee, offer a concentrate that you mix yourself, cutting down on tons of packaging and waste.

I can't necessarily provide you with my own personal experience or evaluation of all the green cleaning products available today so I asked some of my green Twitter friends to name a few of their favorites. Here is a list of companies/brands that you may want to check out in no particular order.

Method

Shaklee Get Clean Products

Clorox Green Works

Ecover

Seventh Generation

Simple Green

In addition to all of the ready-made products like the ones I just discussed, there are lots of natural cleaning products you can make at home. We will surely talk more about those in a future post.

For now, clean green!
- Shannan

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Link Between High Fructose Corn Syrup and Type II Diabetes

Just to continue the sugar theme for this week a little longer, I just read an interesting article in Science Daily that scientists have now found the link between Insulin Resistant (Type II) Diabetes and diets loaded with high fructose corn syrup. No big surprise, but interesting reading! Check it out here.

Karla

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sweet (but healthy) Indulgences

When we had our first giveaway last month and asked for comments, many of you asked for MORE recipes. So today I'm just going to share some favorites with you! I have had one of those weeks. You know the one I'm talking about - where you are almost driven to a bag of M & M's because after all you deserve it! After that, and seeing Shannan's sugar post on Wednesday, I wanted to share some very satisfying, healthy indulgences to fight back against that craving!

By the way, I believe my body when it's asking for M & M's, it needs something. Usually these types of cravings come in the afternoon or during periods of stress. Your body/brain has been working all day and it's probably depleted. In times of stress, even good stress, it's been kicking out hormones and kept you moving. Your body needs something that will keep it going. In nature, natural sugars are attached to a nutrient source. For instance, fructose is attached to the minerals and vitamins in fruit. Your body can burn the fructose while it's assimilating the minerals and vitamins and using them for one of your body's many functions. The bag of M & M's? Your body burns through that, stores it as fat, and is still depleted of useful nutrients leaving you needing more stimulation in a few hours. Retrain your mind to "treat" your body to a delicious whole food and the good, satisfied feeling you get afterwards.
This week my favorite afternoon treat as been really easy, I've just been enjoying dried figs, dates and pears. They are whole, sweet and delicious. I get that wonderful euphoric feeling after eating them and the energy to go on.

Another indulgence that I just tried is this wonderful Hazelnut Apple Crisp recipe from Hello Veggie's Site. The original recipe was written to make for one, I adapted it a bit as my kids love this and I make about 3-4 servings worth.

Hazelnut Apple Crisp

3 Organic Golden Delicious Apples
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ cup agave nectar, honey, or maple syrup (I used maple syrup)
½ cup hazelnuts, chopped
1 tablespoon rolled oats (I added more as I love oatmeal)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice apples into thin wedges or slices. Lay the apples mostly flat, in one layer, in a baking dish.

Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts, rolled oats and cinnamon on top of the apples as evenly as possible. Then drizzle the agave nectar (honey or maple syrup) on top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Make sure you can easily poke a fork or toothpick in an apple without any resistance. If your apples are not soft enough, bake for 5 more minutes and recheck. Continue at 5 minute intervals if needed.


The next recipe I found on Kristen's Raw blog around Christmas time. It's a recipe for Hazelnut Chocolate Snowballs. Doesn't that just sound awesome? Here's the best news - it's raw, made completely from healthy ingredients, and will completely satisfy your sweet tooth!

Hazelnut Chocolate Snowballs

1/2 cup dried unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons raw chocolate powder (If you don't have a source, try Living Tree or Sunfoods)
pinch Himalayan crystan salt
3/4 teaspoon hazelnut extract (If you are having trouble finding this, I ordered mine from Montain Rose Herbs.)
8 dates, pitted
1/2 cup raisins (I'm not a big raisin fan and I substituted some dried cherries/blueberries here)

Process a 1/4 cup of the coconut (reserving the other 1/4 cup for rolling the cookies in) along with the hazelnuts, chodolate and salt in a food processor, fitted with the "S" blade, until couarsely ground. Add the hazelnut extract, dates, and raisins. Process until it is a texture, which holds together when gently pressed between your fingers. Roll into balls and then roll in the coconut. These freeze wonderfully.

Variations:
Use raw carob instead of raw chocolate.
Replace 4 of the dates with 1/4 cup dried cherries.

Both of these recipes are wonderful and will satisfy that sweet craving we all get from time to time! Enjoy!

Karla

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Oil Cleansing Method

A week ago I wrote a post on Eco-Friendly Beauty Habits. A couple of our readers then commented that they use the Oil Cleansing Method (OCM) to remove make-up and wash their face. Of course I was intrigued so I sat down and read about how a combination of Caster Oil and Olive Oil or Sunflower Oil, can be used to deep clean and moisturize your face every evening. I know, it doesn't make sense at first that oil, which we are usually trying to remove from our skin, could actually deep clean it. Well, you know I just had to try it out!

After reading the directions thoroughly, I ran to my local drug store to pick up some caster oil. You may already have this around your house. Then I reached into the kitchen cabinet for my trusty olive oil. Based on the recommendations in the OCM post, I prepared 25% caster oil and 75% olive oil. As I have aged my skin is a little dryer in spots, but I still have oil in the T-zone of my face. I just used a teaspoon of caster and three teaspoons of olive oil to keep it simple. You may require more or less caster oil as it does have a drying effect.

I should probably back up a minute here before I let you know how it all turned out. Lately my skin has been kind of a nightmare. I have been breaking out around my chin, clearly PMS related acne and then recently at my temples and hairline, I have developed a bunch of small bumps and little red pimples. The kind you could really go crazy picking at. I also just switched daily cleansers and spent a lot of money on a daily 'anti-aging' moisturizer. I am officially middle aged in May and thought that maybe I should try heading off those fine lines and wrinkles at the pass.

So anyway, I headed to the bathroom, pulled my hair back, started running the hot water and poured the oil mixture into the palm of my hand. I was somewhat worried that I could wake up the next day with even more blemishes. According to the OCM, you should warm the oil between your hands and then start spreading it over your face gently massaging it into your skin. I spent extra time around my nose, chin, temples and hair line. Gosh it felt good. No harsh particles rubbing on my face, no strong perfumy smells and I could feel the eye make-up and mascara melting away.

Once I was confident that all my make-up was removed and I had thoroughly cleansed, I began the rinsing process. I placed a steamy hot wash cloth over my face and just held it there until it cooled. I repeated this step 3 or 4 more times gently running it over my face and eye area to remove any leftover mascara and oil. Once done, my skin felt clean and moisturized. Since I tend to feel dry around my eyes, I added a dab of the oil mixture underneath them, gently smoothed it in and left it.

The next morning I was amazed. My skin still felt clean and my problem areas showed signs of clearing up. I noticed right away the some redness had subsided and that my skin didn't have the look and feel of irritation I had been experiencing.

The next concern...you are not supposed to wash your face in the morning. Since I go to the gym in the morning I just went and did my workout without touching my face then simply rinsed in it in the shower afterward. I did feel a little dry under my eyes again so I dabbed some more oil in that area, applied my make-up as usual and repeated the OCM that night.

Final observations, my skin was less oily looking during the day. I was clearly not over-drying it so it wasn't over-producing and it looked and felt even better on the second morning. I am a believer!

Of course I mentioned this to both Karla because I know she would want to try it too and my mom, who suffers from Rosacea and can't use many commercial cleansers and moisturizers due to their content. Curious to hear what everyone else thinks.

Next I am going purchase some Coconut Oil, also recommended by one of our readers, to use as a body moisturizer after showering. Once again, no chemicals, inexpensive and easy!

Check out VitaCost for great prices on Caster Oil, Sunflower Oil and Coconut Oil.

Happy cleansing!
- Shannan

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