Healthy Habit Challenge, January 2010

A fresh start is always so motivating. That must be why so many people make New Years Resolutions. One of my resolutions is to make healthy living a habit, one step at a time. Join me as I post Healthy Habit Challenges each month this year in the following categories: Household Chemical Avoidance, Diet, Body Care, and Environment.

Included in italics are ways to take it to the next level, if you’ve already made a clean green start.

Healthy Habit Challenge, January 2010

  • Household Chemical Avoidance: Switch out a bathroom cleanser for a non-toxic alternative. Read my post Bathroom Product Change-Out.
    Next level: update your whole bathroom cleaning regime. Read my post How to get a Really Clean Bathroom and my series on Washing the Bathroom.
  • Diet: Get off to a good start each morning by making breakfast nutritionally sound. Read my post Breakfast: Off to a Great Start.
    Next level: focus on the quality of the foods you buy and prepare. Is your oatmeal organic,  your eggs free range (organic if available), your protein powder low temp whey or hemp, your bread sprouted, your honey raw? Do you soak your oatmeal, can you make your own kefir from raw milk, do you put butter on your oat meal?
  • Body Care: Choose hand and body lotion wisely. Read my post Body Lotion: Quench without Consequenses.
    Next level: go through your entire lotion cabinet and pull the ones with risky ingredients. Include all sunscreens and face lotions in your detective work. (Face skin care will be discussed in a future article.)
  • Environment: Improve your personal environment by letting some fresh air into your home. Read my post Indoor Air Quality: Home Smog.
    Next level: in addition to the open-window habit, tackle the other suggestions in the article: clean up your chemicals, install a CO2 detector, clean up problematic mold spots, leave your shoes at the door and wet-mop the floors weekly, and grow house plants.

What I’m Working on Consistency In:

  • presoaking, and putting butter on, my children’s oatmeal, and having sausage for them
  • making my own kefir from raw milk (only pasteurized milk kefir is commercially available . . . this is what we’ve been using until now. Great start, but I know I can do better.)
  • opening all three bedroom windows briefly each morning
  • adding some live plants to my home (I gave up 7 years ago after killing two for lack of sun . . . now I’m ready to attempt it again, and this time I’m armed with a kitchen windowsill. To all my local friends: does anyone have a prolific indoor plant they are wanting to divide and give to me?) 🙂

Indoor Air Quality: Home Smog

Reports (like this one from the EPA) are that the air inside our homes is likely more toxic than that outside; that’s pretty serious considering what attention is given to city smog reports. Also, it’s serious because this is the air we breathe at least 1/3 of our lives. Since I’m a stay at home mom, for me that’s more like 90-95% of my time.

What causes indoor air pollution?

  • Any kind of toxic chemical that is used in your home (think pest poisons, construction sealants, formaldyhyde off-gassing from your cabinetry, cleansers, detergents, chlorine from hot showers, paint and craft supply fumes, fumes from attached garages, fumes from gas burning appliances, etc.)
  • Molds, mildews (look around window, in showers, under sinks, in basement)
  • Dust (which mites live off of in carpets and bedding)

Yuck! And I live here? Yes, so what can I do?

Obviously, cleaning up our act in regards to chemicals, installing a CO2 detector, and cleaning up problematic mold spots and dust collectors are good starts. (Leave your shoes at the door and wet-mop the floors weekly.) And, living house plants actually clean the air around them as they “breathe.” But to quickly clean up the air in your home:

  • Open the windows. (Wait, it can’t be that simple?)

Yes, if we would just open the windows for an airing for a few minutes each morning, that would change our indoor environment dramatically. I don’t do this on the coldest days as I’m wary of losing the heat, but the rest of the time you will notice that a cool breeze blowing out the stale air for 10 minutes or so doesn’t make the things in the house cold, and the temperature is able to rebound quickly.

So simple. So start.

Body Lotion: Quench without Consequenses

Living in the Pacific Northwest, a humid climate, I don’t use hand and body lotion year round. But the dead of winter, when the frozen temps outside-and the forced air inside-suck all the moisture out of the air, is an exception. If I don’t use hand lotion, my hands begin to look decades older than the rest of me.

You too? Then lather up, but choose wisely. Many lotions are made of a petroleum base, and may be preserved with parabens. Not only will these lotions not really help your skin (although they may feel good initially), they may be toxic for your whole body. Sounds scary, but I’m not making this up, or trying to be dramatic. You can read more about the “scary stuff” at the end of this article.

What to look for:

  • A lotion with a vegetable oil base. Good oils might be coconut, Kukui nut, avocado, palm, Macadamia Nut, apricot, sunflower, Shea butter, or olive oil. Since these literally could be “food” for your body, your skin will recognize it for the building and healing nourishment it needs. Castor oil, Aloe Vera, and vegetable glycerine are also good for the skin and plant based.
  • If your skin is very dry, look for a lotion without water. Although you’d think that thirsty skin needs water, it’s actually the other way around. Water evaporates off your skin, leaving less moisture and continuing the wet/dry/chapped cycle. Plus, it’s really just a filler you don’t need to pay for.
  • Look for a statement on the bottle that there are No Parabens. Even if the list of ingredients doesn’t state them, they may be in there if they are less than half a percent. It’s best when the bottle states clearly that they haven’t been added.
  • Not many of us in the Northwest are concerned about sun burns in winter, but if you live in a place where you get sun exposure year round . . . well lucky you! 🙂 And you’re probably looking for a lotion with a low SPF just to have some light overall sun protection. So look for the Active Ingredient of Titanium Oxide or Zinc Oxide; both reflective mineral sunscreens that are non-toxic and even recommended for babies.

If you are looking for a lotion with light SPF, try this Baby Mineral Sunscreen from Avalon Organics, this Chemical Free SPF18 Sunscreen from Alba Botanica, this Organic Age Reversal Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 from Desert Essence, or this Hand and Body Lotion, SPF 15 from Jason.

The “Scary Stuff”

Petroleum base (may be called petrolatum or mineral oil). They are made from crude oil, and have the following cautions in the Cosmetics Safety Database: Cancer, Allergies/immunotoxicity, Other moderate concerns for this ingredient:
Persistence and bioaccumulation, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Occupational hazards. Since the things we rub onto our skin are absorbed into our bodies, these seem like a bad idea for a lotion base.

Also, they coat the skin to not allow for water evaporation (this may initially help with dry skin) both don’t truly moisturize and repair skin from the inside out.


Often found near the end of the ingredient list, this “family” of preservatives (Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Propylparaben, Paraben, etc.) have received more attention (and demand from consumers that they be pulled from products) after the 2004 Scientific Study which showed parabens to be found concentrated in breast cancer tumors. Of course, this study doesn’t prove that parabens cause breast cancer and there is a lot of debate; I read a reveiw by a different doctor who thought it was irrelevant because even though parabens can mimic estrogen in the body, the amount of “estrogen” giving off from the parabens is a drop in the bucket compared with all the other estrogen in the woman’s body. (I couldn’t help but think that this guy missed the point entirely; that toxicity of foreign chemicals could be implicated in cancer growth, not just the amounts or balance of hormones in the body.)

At any rate, I’m not going to wait 25 years for the scientific community to do all their studies; parabens don’t have a place in my body-care regime, or that of my family.

Chemical Sunscreens

Sunscreen is good for you (Titanium oxide and Zinc oxide, or just a hat), but many chemical sunscreens aren’t. This article titled The Chemical Sunscreen Health Disaster is a real eye opener to the dangers of chemical sunscreens. The three main concerns are: 1. They are powerful free radical generators 2. They often have strong estrogenic activity 3. They are synthetic chemicals that are alien to the human body and accumulate in body fat stores.

Chemical Sunscreens Include:

Benzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone)

PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB,  glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA)

Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate)

Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate)

Digalloyl trioleate

Menthyl anthranilate

Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789] – This is the only chemical sunscreen currently allowed by the European Community. However, its safety is still questionable since it easily penetrates the skin and is a strong free radical generator.

Breakfast: Off to a Great Start

We have all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, yet the standard American breakfast of cereal, or a bagel and sugar-yogurt, or nothing(!) leaves much to be desired. Mainly protein and good fats.

Since my husband and I discovered a couple years ago that we both have a tendency towards hypoglycemia, we’ve revamped breakfast with more protein and are feeling the benefits of more stabilized blood sugar through the morning.

Here are a few menu suggestions:

Good Morning Smoothie
This is my husband’s daily standard: it’s fast, easy, totally portable in an insulated cup, and tastes delicious. (Who wouldn’t like waking up to a milk shake? OK, it’s not a milk shake, and doesn’t even have sugar in it, but it is that awesome.) Get my recipe here.

Oatmeal with a Sausage Link
This is a standard in our house for the kids, and I often join them. We buy organic rolled oats in a 20 pound bag from Azure Standard, and it’s only pennies a day for this breakfast mainstay.

To reduce the anti-nutrient phytic acid, most grains should ideally be soaked or sprouted before use. (Read this article Be Kind to Your Grains, and Your Grains Will Be Kind to You.) I like to soak my rolled oats covered by an inch of filtered water overnight in the pot I will cook them in; this also helps them cook up a little faster in the morning. I add Course Sea Salt (the grey, moist kind) from Trader Joe’s and a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, and cook them on medium heat, stirring until all the water is absorbed. We then top with raw honey, and when I’m feeling like a really nice mommy, pecans and dried cranberries, or raisins, and/or butter, and/or freshly ground flax seed.

When we add sausage as a protein to this meal, I like to look for a natural chicken sausage, like the delicious Isernios one that Trader Joes carries. Since pigs are scavenger animals, they tend to have much greater amounts of toxic buildup in their meat than chicken and beef. We aren’t a pork free home (my German-heritage husband holds the line there!), but we do try to limit our intake.

Soft Boiled Eggs, Sausage, Toast
Like many Americans, I was very familiar with the greasy “bacon and eggs” breakfast, but had never tried a Soft Boiled Egg until I met my future parents-in-law, who are German. Not being a fan of straight from the shell hard-boiled eggs, I was delighted to find that I really liked this new version . . . or rather, a very old version, still enjoyed daily in many areas of Europe. Read my recipe for Soft-Boiled Eggs here. The gentle cooking of the egg yolk preserves the Omega3 and Omega6 essential fatty acids (good fat), which can be destroyed by heat.

Add a couple of links of chicken sausage, and sprouted-grain toast, and you’ve turned the greasy American breakfast into a good fat/protein/complex carb powerhouse meal! (Hint: dip the crusts of toast into the egg yolk…yummy.)

(Why sprouted grain toast, not “whole wheat” toast? Read the article Be Kind to Your Grains, and Your Grains Will Be Kind to You. Sprouted grain breads are easily found at Trader Joes or other health food stores. They are whole grain, but often not as dense as “whole wheat” bread.)

High Protein Waffles

This waffle recipe has fast become a favorite at our house. I love it because it is a healthy soaked whole grain, gluten free*, full of protein start to the day. My husband and children love it because you would never know that it is healthy, gluten free, or full of protein; it just tastes light and delicious.

Soft Boiled Eggs

A traditional preparation of breakfast eggs, still enjoyed daily in many parts of Europe, these eggs have the benefit of gentle cooking which does not destroy the delicate Omega3 fatty acids present in eggs. (Look for cage-free eggs, or better yet buy directly from a farm, to insure that your eggs come from healthy hens eating a variety of food and bugs.)


small-medium sized saucepan
refrigerated eggs
large boutoniere pin, hat pin, or other poking device
filtered water
slotted spoon

1. Fill saucepan with several inches water; enough to cover the eggs you will be cooking. Set on stove on high heat.

2. Using the large pin, poke one or two holes in the larger end of the egg; this is where the air sack is, and as the egg is boiled the pressure will be released through the hole, avoiding shell cracking.

3. When water is boiling, lower eggs into water with slotted spoon.

4. Set timer for 7 minutes. Allow water to return to boil.

5. At the end of 7 minutes, turn off heat, remove pan to sink. Turn on coldest water, and remove eggs from hot water with the slotted spoon. Hold each egg under the cold water for about 10 seconds. This is called “shocking the eggs”, and it serves to end the cooking of the egg as well as cause the white to release from the insides of the shell for easier spooning when you eat it.

6. If you have egg cups, place one egg in each. Etiquette for eating them (at least in our family) is to whack of the top 1/4 of the egg with a butter knife, and use a tiny spoon to scoop out the egg in the cap, and then in the shell itself. Fine salt and pepper are good additions. (Ever wonder what those tiny little salt and pepper shakers were for?)

7. The first few times you make these eggs, you will have to discern if 7 minutes is the right amount of time for the eggs to cook properly. Your altitude, size of eggs, and strength of stove all add slight variables to cooking time. The perfectly done soft-boiled egg will have a white that is completely cooked with no wet areas. The yolk will be wet, yet slightly thickened, as would the yolk of a egg fried over medium. If parts of the yolk have turned dry and grimy like a hard-boiled egg, it’s a little overdone. Adjust cooking time  be 30 second increments in either direction until you find the perfect recipe for your home.

Note: as soft boiled eggs by definition have a wet yolk, there is likely the same potential for salmonella poisoning as you would have with a over-medium fried egg.

Bathroom Product Change-Out

This month, make it your goal to change over at least one of your bathroom chemicals to a non-toxic cleanser. This can be as easy as putting a “green” spray in your cart at the grocery store, or as resourceful as making your own.

When shopping for a pre-made cleaner, look for one with safe ingredients – and you’ll need to look up that product at the ewg database to kno. Although cleaning products labeled nontoxic, bio-based, chlorine-free, organic, phosphate-free, natural fragrance, and/or biodegradable sound great, they still may have nasty chemicals lurking in them.

Which product to begin with? I suggest changing the one you spray most often (and therefore are inhaling most). For me, this is my all-purpose spray. I used to be the Lysol Queen . . . no longer; now I clean with vinegar water or with fresh smelling All Purpose Cleaner from BioKleen. Read my series on How To Get a Really Clean Bathroom.

Alternately, you could assess which is your most toxic chemical by looking for Danger, or Caution warnings on the bottle. Of course, over time you’ll want to replace all your chemicals with non-toxic products, but if you replace just one spray cleaner or bottle marked Danger, you’re off to a great start!

What to do with the discarded cleanser? Contact the hotline of your waste management company; most have drop-off locations available for household toxic waste. Don’t be tempted to huck it in the trash or dump it in the toilet; both could cause toxic leaching into your drinking water for years to come.

Good Morning Smoothie Recipe

Wanna know our favorite smoothie recipe?

  • 1 ripe Banana
  • 2 cups plain Kefir
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed oil, not necessary, but a great way to get some “good fat” (essential fatty acids, aka Omega 3s)
  • 15-20 grams Protein Powder (we use True Whey, see note below)
  • Handful of frozen strawberries (or other frozen fruit)

Throw first 4 ingredients in blender; blend until smooth. Add frozen fruit; blend until fruit is finely chopped into smoothie.

What’s Kefir?
Essentially it is a different way of preparing cultured dairy similar to yogurt. Lots of good healthy stuff in it. If you can’t find kefir, just go with plain yogurt – that works too.
We use True Whey powder by Source Naturals. It is a cow whey protein from grass fed cow milk which has not been heated or isolated; the immunoglobulins are intact and the structure of the protein and essential fatty acids haven’t been altered or damaged. In plain speak that means it’s food the way it comes out of the cow,  is a boost to our immune system, and able to be absorbed, rather than over-processed and of questionable health value.

I am aware of two other companies which make similar products with low heat: Designs for Health makes Whey Cool, and Garden of Life makes Goatein (from goat milk, for those with difficulty digesting bovine protein).

Often people with lactose intolerance do well with whey protein, but if you have an actual allergy to dairy products, try hemp protein, such as Vanilla Spice Hemp Protein by Living Harvest. It is one the the few complete proteins from vegetables.

Finally, if you go “protein shopping” you will find many brands and varieties of soy protein available. Rather than a health food, soy is a cover crop that needs to “go somewhere” and is therefore marketed heavily as a health food. Get the real scoop in these articles on Myths & Truths About Soy , and Soy: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite “Health” Food a longer article discussing many of the health risks of soy, including hormone disruption at all stages of life. Walk away from soy; there are much better options.

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