Personal Care

Personal care products -those beauty aids we rub directly on our skin- should be at the top of our list when considering the chemical impact on our health. Below are my favorite clean green brands for beauty while avoiding toxin chemicals.

Cosmetics

Face/cheeks/eyes
alimapure
There are lots of mineral makeups out there, but alimapure won my loyalty with their 60-some shades of foundation (what?) and super super fine powder which gives a flawless finish. Their Natural Definition Eye Liner is the best I’ve tried, being soft enough and dark enough. Eye shadows are gorgeous: matte, shimmer…classy and not “sparkly.”
And oh yeah, their boxes are super cute with birdies on them. (Not that packaging really matters, but hey, birdies!)

Mascara
Honeybee Gardens
I love the Black Magic mascara because it’s got the most staying power of any natural mascara I’ve found, plus it’s black black.

Lip Liner
Dr. Haushca has been my lip liner for quite awhile: great colors and texture. I apply over powdered lips, finish with a gloss for all-day-stay.

Lipstick
alimapure has a nice lipstick, but I rarely wear it: I’m a lipgloss girl. Aubrey Organics has my favorite lipgloss.

Nail Polish
Suncoat

Tampons and Sanitary Napkins
Who would have thought this would be important? But bleached cotton carries Dioxin, a potent carcenogen. Not putting that next to my cervix, thank you! And I’ve found NatraCare to be great, and no yukky fragrances either.

(When ordering on iherb.com, please use code RON268 to receive $10 off your first order. I will receive a small percentage of your sale. Thank you for supporting this site. All reviews are my honest opinion.)

Gluten-Free Ad Nauseum

I know. I’ve written a lot of gluten-free posts lately.

This isn’t intended to be a gluten-free blog; mainly my focus (normally) is how to make changes to a clean-green lifestyle. Avoiding chemicals in the home. Using personal care products that aren’t toxic. Learning some forgotten methods of cooking. Starting healthy habits.

However, since it’s the holidays, I’m doing a lot more (gluten-free) baking than usual, so that is coming out in my blog.

My apologies to those of you who don’t cook gluten-free. You’re welcome to those that do.

And post variety will resume after the holidays.

Toothpaste: the Quest for Fresh, Clean, and Non-Toxic

My 5 year old brushing his pearly whites.

Toothpaste always seems to be a top concern for people desiring non-toxic personal care products. It is the one product which we actually put into our mouths, and although we spit, we intuitively know some is getting into us. (Of course, the things we rub on our skin are in us too, but this doesn’t ameliorate the need to find a really great, non-toxic tooth cleaner.)

Before I dive into reviews on toothpaste ingredients and specific brands, let me mention that the dental products used, and even our “dental health habits”, have far less to do with dental health than does our state of nutritional health. A person deficient in the components needed to make and keep strong teeth (particularly minerals and the essential fats needed to absorb them) will have poor dental health, regardless of how often they brush and floss. Read Dental Health and Nutrition where I review Ramiel Nagel’s amazing work on nutrition and dental health. I thought I was educated on this topic, but this book was a real eye opener for me.

Toothpaste

My 5 criteria for a great toothpaste are:

  1. Non-toxic to overall health
    Ever wonder why toothpaste packaging warns not to swallow toothpaste? (Ha! tell that to your 2 year old!) Conventional toothpastes are filled with toxic ingredients, including Sodium Laurel Sulfate, paraben preservatives, sugars (why would we want to put our teeth to bed with sugar?!?), and synthetic flavors and colors. However, I consider fluoride (Sodium Fluoride, Sodium Monofluorophosphate) to be the most toxic ingredient in toothpaste; if this is a shock to you, read Xylitol: Alternative to Fluoride.
  2. Works (get’s our teeth clean/is good for our teeth)
    So you’re wondering: if there isn’t fluoride in your toothpaste, how is it going to fight cavities? Xylitol, a natural sugar derived from birch trees, has shown to be even more effective and preventing and reversing cavities than fluoride, without toxic effects. Read more in Xylitol: Alternative to Fluoride.
  3. Leaves mouth “feeling” clean and breath fresh
    This is really an aesthetic, but still very important to our family! Fresh breath is a delight; and we want our toothpaste to be “all in one” with this included.
  4. Tastes good while brushing
    We’ve tried some nasty tasting pastes, and regardless of how great they may perform, we won’t be repeat customers. And our kids are keeping their lips sealed on this one.
  5. Not exorbitantly priced
    Is it too much to ask that the perfect toothpaste be under $7 a tube? Seriously, I have 3 children!

It has been a long road to find a toothpaste I feel confident in for its benefits while making our mouths smile for its flavor. My favorite, Spry by Xlear, is reviewed at the bottom page; others are options you might be considering.

Tom’s of Maine: this extensive line of toothpastes is widely available, and although most of the toothpastes have fluoride in them, here is one that doesn’t: Tom’s of Maine, Natural Antiplaque Toothpaste with Propolis and Myrrh, Spearmint, 6 oz (170 g). Unfortunately this does have Sodium Laurel Sulfate in it, which since it is derived from coconut may not be toxic but it is still harsh to skin/tissue/gums.  I used several of their toothpaste flavors before I began to avoid fluoride, and they all tasted fine, fresh but not very sweet, and somewhat chalky in consistency compared to “regular” toothpaste. Price: $6.73 retail, $4.85 iherb.com.

Jason has two reasonably good choices of toothpaste, Powersmile, All-Natural Whitening Toothpaste, Peppermint and Sea Fresh Spearmint Toothpaste; non-toxic ingredients, pretty decent flavor, but I consider it a drawback that there is not Xylitol in the formulas. Still has that slightly chalky texture from the calcium/baking soda polishers. Price: $6.99 retail, $4.71 iherb.com.

Young Living, a company that manufactures and distributes their own high quality essential oils, has 3 toothpastes available for adults, and a kids line as well.  The Dentarome Plus Toothpaste I have on hand for deodorant (see my post Deodorant: Love-Hate Relationship). As a toothpaste, it tastes like you’d expect from the list of ingredients: slightly sweetened baking soda with some essential oils added. It does not lather. Price: $8.88, must purchase through a distributor.

Tooth Soap is the brand name for a line of dental care products based on a literal soap for teeth. The idea is that natural soap, like a natural olive oil bar soap, will thoroughly clean teeth. The company claims that glycerine, which is added to most toothpastes out there, is a negative for teeth, as it leaves a sticky residue. I researched glycerine, and it is a byproduct of the soap making process, and is present in natural soap. Although the amount of glycerine is likely less in tooth soap than in toothpaste where it may be one of the first few ingredients, I view the whole claim as a scare tactic, since their product must have small amounts in it as well. I have not used tooth soap, but a close friend has, and notes that it just tastes like soap (no fresh breath after brushing), and that the shavings can get stuck in ones molars. I have decided against trying this method, but this is for convenience/aesthetic/price reasons rather than toxicity. Natural soap is pretty non-toxic. Price: $25.95 per jar of shavings, which should last a person 2-3 months.

Tooth Powders are not actually toothpastes, although some are marketed for daily use, such as Christopher’s Original Formula, Herbal Tooth and Gum Powder, 2 oz. If you go with a Tooth Soap option, you will want to use tooth powder as an abrasive for whitening every few days.

Trader Joes has a wonderful Fennel Toothpaste, with Xylitol. It tastes like mild black licorice. It seems that the world is made of people who either hate black licorice, or love it. My family loves it, but we still prefer a mintier toothpaste experience, so this is not our favorite toothpaste. (My 2 year old actually does prefer this one as mint is a little too spicy for him still.) And what a great price: $1.99.

Tropical Traditions, a family owned company which has developed a fair trade business in Organic Coconut Oil for the native people of the Philippines, makes a toothpaste called Organic Teeth Cleaner with Organic Virgin Coconut Oil as its base. The other main ingredients are baking soda and essential oils. I have used this in the past, and it does seem to work to clean the teeth, however, it feels quite different from “regular” toothpaste with no lather and doesn’t leave a minty-fresh feeling after brushing (taste is very similar to the Young Living pastes, with baking soda being dominant). I believe it is a good option; we discontinued using it after bloodwork revealed a coconut allergy for me. Price: $6.50 plus shipping.

Xlear has a great toothpaste, my family’s favorite in fact, Spry, Toothpaste with Xylitol and Aloe, Cool Mint, 4 oz. It has a very high level of enamel-building Xylitol, and it tastes great, with a lovely, normal lather. There is not a chalky texture, and after brushing there is no feeling of dry-mouth that is common with “regular” toothpaste and most baking soda toothpastes. Price: $4.95 retail, $4.30 iherb.com.

(Read Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 offIherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off if you haven’t already discovered this great place for good prices on natural products.)

How to Read an Ingredient Label

While grocery shopping as a kid, my mom would sometimes send my sister and me to the cereal aisle to choose a “healthy” cereal. In our family that meant that Sugar couldn’t be the first or second ingredient on the list.

Ingredients -both for foods and personal care products- are given in descending order by weight. In other words, a product is mostly those ingredients at the top, and least of those at the bottom.

So will the “healthy cereal method” hold up when buying any product . . . say toothpaste. If the first two ingredients aren’t toxic, it’s a good buy?

No, this is where the “cereal method” fails.

We are now learning that even those ingredients in small amounts -at the end of the list- are also absorbed through the skin, and can possibly stay inside your body for a very long time, imitating hormones and being stored as toxins in fatty tissue.

For example, parabens -an “end of list” synthetic preservative- has been found in 89% of breast cancers in a recent US study. This doesn’t prove the cause of this widespread disease, but until further research is done, it only makes sense to avoid it completely. Afterall, incidence of breast cancer continues to rise, regardless of early detection and awareness.

  • Read the entire product label, including ingredients from top to bottom.
  • In food products, the words Made with Organic Ingredients mean the final product must be at least 70% organic.
  • The FDA Certified Organic seal can only appear on a product which has been inspected by a certified agency to be at least 95% organic, or if produce, grown and handled in compliance with all FDA Organic farming standards.
  • Until a few years ago, personal care products were allowed to qualify for the FDA Certified Organic seal; now they are not as this has been restricted for food use only. The words “organic” and “natural” can be used indiscriminately. However, there are lots of great organic products out there, and if a company has cared enough to go the distance and produce it organically, you can bet that they’ll be trumpeting it all over their packaging! (They should note which ingredients are organically produced.)
  • Read where the product was manufactured. Manufacturing practices in the US are some of the best in the world, but not so for lesser developed countries, or those in political upheaval. A recent episode of pet-food poisoning from food manufactured in China was a tragedy for many pet owners, and raised serious concerns about chocolate also manufactured in that country with some of the same ingredients (powdered milk).
  • If you have questions about one or more of the ingredients, dig a little deeper. Many products have a hotline number or website listed on the product; don’t be afraid to call and quiz them.
  • Check chemical ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database called Skin Deep.  They have toxicity ratings on almost every chemical out there, as well as ratings on specific products.

Visit the Environmental Working Group for resources such as print-and-clip guides for pesticides in produce, and databases giving scores to personal care and household cleaning products.

EWG Resources

Here’s a site you’ll want to be familiar with: ewg.org. That stands for Environmental Working Group, which is a consumer education and advocacy organization. And importantly, they have invested heavily to create databases for checking on toxicity.

ewg

Those databases include:

I’m particularly excited about the guide to household cleaners because…well, I’m not a scientist. I had no previous way of knowing whether my goods were what they claimed. And guess what? Some of my “green” labeled products came up with FAILING ratings. What? Yeah. Charlie’s Soap products, which were sitting in my cabinet when I found the database and began searching.

Charlies

Not all the databases are perfect (being updated often, but not perfect), and of course some of the opinions are subject to your health philosophy (like saturated fat in raw organic cheese being flagged as unhealthful; you probably know I’m a butter-fat advocate, in moderation).

But if you’ve been frustrated by the lack of ingredients on your cleaning products, or the lack of your own knowledge on how to interpret the ingredients which are listed on your personal care products, these sites are for you!

Oh, there are some Apps too…check your app store for EWG. The privately created ThinkDirty app is nifty too…barcode scans your personal care items!

Have you used any of these databases? Have you had ingredient revelations?

Detox Lifestyle in a Nutshell

The Bathtub
I like to think of my toxic load as a bathtub: water (toxins in this analogy) are flowing in at the tap, and flowing out at the drain. If the drain is plugged, the bathtub gets fuller. If the tap is turned up very high, the bathtub may be getting fuller even if the drain is working. In terms of the toxins stored in our “toxic bathtub” the goal would be to turn down the faucet as low as possible, and to make sure the drain is wide open and draining faster than the water coming in. If this is accomplished, eventually the bathtub will empty and only the daily toxins coming in will flow right on through.

photo credit: celebrategreatermound.com

Toxins Coming In
We live in a toxic world, and it’s pretty hard to completely escape modern day toxins. Even if we could, our own metabolic processes in our bodies create toxins to be expelled daily. If we weren’t detoxing all. the. time. we would die. Like, within a day.

Nonetheless, it seems prudent to avoid the toxins of:

  • Engineered chemicals in food, medications, and cleaners
  • Hormone mimickers in personal care products
  • Potent organic toxins like mold spores
  • Heavy metals which may accumulate in tissues/bones
  • Off-gassing of chemicals from household products
  • Chemicals and metals in our water supply
  • Die-off toxins from internal bacteria/fungus/viruses
  • Electromagnetic toxins
  • Stress from emotional baggage

Much of this blog has been dedicated to these topics.

Organ Systems and Cells
The toxins in our bodies are varied, and are stored in differing areas of our bodies. For example, an imbalance of bacteria in gut flora may be creating a significant toxic load in my colon, even without symptoms I connect to that organ of my body. I may have a high level of lead, stored in my bones. I may have petrochemical chemicals stored in my skin, along with parabens, pthalates (fragrance) and sunscreens (which can all act as hormone mimickers) from years of lotion and cosmetics use. I may have formaldehyde stored in my cells, fungal/yeast toxins and mercury in my brain. My fat cells may have antibiotic residues, chemical cleaners, medications, synthetic vitamins, pesticides, rancid/hydrogenated oils, and styrofoam. (Some researchers feel that cellulite may have a larger portion of these kinds of toxins, which the body has put in “cold storage” to protect itself.) Although not the kind of chemical toxins that are stored in the body, electromagnetic fields are toxic to our bodies while we are present in them, and may inhibit our detox pathways for hours after exposure. I recommend the book Zapped by Gittleman for limiting exposure to EMFs.

The organs and glands of the body may all be holding any of the toxins in the list above; often certain toxins have an affinity for specific organ systems.

There are 5 mains paths of detoxification: Colon, kidneys, liver (and thus through colon), skin, and lungs.

Where do we start?
I know, it can be overwhelming. First, congratulations that you’ve made it this far, even without much planned detoxing support! Next, make a plan.

[Remember: I’m not a licensed health care provider, and I can’t diagnose, treat or cure any disease. Nothing you read on my blog is a substitute for advice from your doctor.]

1. Turn down the faucet. Start to remove as many toxic sources as possible. No, you can’t do it all this week, but START. Food always seems to be an obvious one to most people, but don’t forget that everything that touches your skin gets absorbed, without the benefit of stomach acid and your liver as a filter. So think laundry detergent, any lotions or creams put on skin, deodorant. Your lungs absorb so much of what you breathe in; so open your windows each night to air out your house. See, you’ve already made huge progress!

I recommend the book Homes that Heal as a good resource for reducing toxins in your immediate environment.

2. Flush. Drink all your water every day. Even if you can’t buy a really good water purifier this month, get a Brita which takes out some of the bad stuff. Everyone (unless your Dr. has you restricted) should be drinking half their body weight in ounces, every day (that means, if you weigh 150lbs, you are drinking 75oz water). Herbal tea counts as water, but add 8oz water for 8oz coffee or black tea consumed. Juice, milk, etc. don’t count for anything. Don’t drink soda. Just don’t.

3. Begin to cleanse the detox pathways, colon, kidneys, liver, skin, lungs, in roughly that order. I have read a lot of detox books/methods over the years, and done several types of cleanses. I recommend the book Inner Transformations by Deardueff as one book with several suggestions on cleansing each of these pathways, and even further into non-pathway systems. The author recommends some tried and true methods like Master Cleanse, veggie juicing, Candida diet, coffee enemas, Epsom Salt baths, skin brushing, as well as specific products to try.

4. Food. Yes, this is important. Not just to get clean sources (organic, grass-fed, etc.), but to have a broad spectrum of foods in fruit, veggie, proteins, and fats categories (dairy and grains not required for cleansing, and often inhibit cleansing). My experience has been that a Paleo type diet is a great jump start for food cleansing, but I recognize that Vegan diets are good cleanses too (think veggie juicing!). However, I don’t think that long term the Vegan approach supplies enough quality proteins/amino acids for some crucial metabolic detox processes. The book It Starts With Food is a good read if you feel helpless to change your diet.

Some foods that are super cleansers are fermented foods (homemade sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc.), dark leafy greens, the whole cabbage/broccoli family, the artichoke family, citrus, berries, and fresh fats/oils like coconut, cod liver oil, flaxseed, and avocado. But really, the fermented ones top the list.

5. Exercise/Sweat. I don’t love to exercise, but I feel more energetic and happier when I do. I use the T-Tapp 15 minute workout because it is very lymphatic; focuses on opening up the lymph channels and pumping lymph fluid (clear fluid in our bodies that does not have a pump like the heart pumps the blood). Any “pressing” type movement such as walking, running, or trampoline moves lymph, and this is very important for daily detox. In addition, when we sweat, we release toxins through the skin; terry-towel off that sweat if you’re not showering immediately.

6. Essential Oils. In the past year I have begun to study therapeutic vs. fragrance use of essential oils, and have begun to introduce them into our family as therapies. We have seen a few mild detox reactions, but I have heard and seen more dramatic reactions from others beginning EO therapy. Many EOs do have the ability to cleanse cells of petrochemicals and even do some chelation of heavy metals. Because EOs are absorbed directly into the cells, and can be within every cell in the body (even brain cells) in about 20 minutes, they carry huge potential for detoxification. Lemon juice squeezed in water has long been a detox standby, but a drop of lemon essential oil is far more potent and powerful than the juice; best to start very slowly before ramping up to one drop per glass of water (glass only, no plastic!).

Because of their ability to penetrate every cell in the body, it is very important to have absolutely pure essential oils, from a distillery which preserves every naturally occurring (balancing) chemical constituent. At this time I only recommend Young Living brand EOs (see my Essential Oils tab above).

Essential oils can also assist with emotional detox by opening up hormone pathways, and stimulating the lymbic area of the brain which stores memories and emotions (and is the area which receives signals from scents). I believe that Jesus is the true answer to the needs of our souls/emotions, and that Scripture which reveals Him is cleansing to our minds. I have found that repeating Scriptures to myself which relate to my emotional needs, within a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, have helped me to heal past hurts, depression, and unload emotional baggage.

Detox Reactions
Detoxing is good, but too much, too fast can create some uncomfortable detox side effects: rash, itching, headache, sinus drainage, feeling hot, feeling grumpy, restlessness, loose bowel, nausea, tiredness. It’s likely that the longer a person has been pursuing a detox lifestyle (has a less-full bathtub) the less they will experience these reactions. When these symptoms do strike, here are some things I have done to ease them:

  • Rest/sleep (it takes a lot of internal work to detox!)
  • Epsom salt baths (pull toxins out through the skin so it doesn’t all have to flow through liver/colon/kidneys)
  • Coffee enemas (no more than once a week, and only done in a safe way with electrolytes in the enema)
  • Cease heavy exercise; stretch instead
  • Go back over the list of toxins to find ways to “turn the faucet down” more
  • Consider backing off the detox of the moment, then ramp it up again more slowly.

Special Help
Although we should discuss diet/exercise/detox plans with our doctor anyway, there are some situations which require a doctor’s help for detox. These would include chelation for heavy metal poisoning, heavy industrial chemical poisoning, and advanced cardiovascular disease chelation. A doctor knowledgeable in environmental medicine would be worth enlisting in these cases; it’s likely that he/she will be recommending at least some of the ideas above, so the more educated a person is about home therapies for detox, the faster their progress will be.

Additionally, some people have genetically faulty metabolic processes for detoxification; MTHFR gene defect, inability to methylate B vitamins, insufficient amino acid production, anemia of many types, thyroid and other hormone insufficiency, etc. A knowledgeable integrative doctor will be able to test for these types of disorders and recommend simple solutions to underlying causes. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking the right form of a B vitamin.

Detox for Life
I’m not going to sugar coat this: if you are new to detoxing, it will likely be a year of intentional detoxing before you feel really clean, and then an ebb and flow of maintenance detoxing thereafter. But, the benefit of having more energy and joy, and feeling lighter (if not actually BEING lighter) will make it worth it. You may never know the health crises you’ve dodged by keeping your toxic bathtub empty.

 

Affording Organic Food

In a comment on another post, a reader stated: “As much as I try to buy organic, it is so expensive and not widely available.”

This is so true, but we can be glad to see organic food becoming more available, and there are ways to save with organic food. My top five recommendations:

  1. Bulk up your diet with veggies; organic or conventional veggies which are low on the pesticide list (see my Consumer Wallet Guides). Veggies, whether cooked or raw/salads, are naturally cheap fillers, and good for you! Buy in season when available (super cheap from local farmers/big gardeners), and frozen when not in season.
  2. Stop buying expensive, unhealthy snacks, deserts, and sodas, and instead choose smaller portion snacks of organic or natural yogurt, nuts, fruit, homemade muffins. When your grocery cart is a quarter full of crackers, chips, cookies, ice cream, and sweet drinks, you can bet about 1/3-1/2 of your grocery budget is going to these items, which aren’t even part of your meals! Choose filtered water with lemon or lime over sweet drinks, and then “treat” yourself occasionally to an Italian Soda made from Mineral Water and a 100% juice from a trusted brand (like Knudsons). Keep deserts for special times, like birthdays, and then make or get something REALLY good from the best ingredients.
  3. With the grocery money freed up by eating more veggies and buying less snacks, deserts, and drinks, invest in better meat and dairy products. Grassfed meats are best, and it is possible to buy a half or quarter beef, lamb, or hog for your freezer directly from a farmer for a great price per pound. If you can’t buy grassfed, look for free range chickens, and organic or natural beef at Trader Joes which has good prices. Always buy seafood wild caught; watch for sales.As far as dairy: always buy rBST free, and try to find grassfed or organic. Many artisan cheeses, some from Europe, are superior even to organic US dairy in that they are grassfed. Again, the Trader Joes prices are amazing for both cheeses and milk/cream/butter/sour cream, etc. One good option, if you have the ability, is to buy good milk/cream and culture your own yogurt/kefir/sour cream. Since we are a big smoothie family, we save about $15 each week because I culture 2 gallons of milk into kefir and yogurt, rather than buying those products ready made.
  4. The best diet for most people is heavy in veggies, meats, fruits, with some dairy and nuts (if you have no allergies to those foods). Grains and legumes can be good additions/fillers if they are properly prepared, however, most Westerners have far too much of these bulking complex carbs in our diets, and our waistlines are proof. However, they can be good fillers if you find you are too hungry without them. If you buy them in bulk (dry) and prepare them from scratch at home they should be super cheap even when organic.
  5. Shop Smart:
  • Buy directly from a farm or grow your own. This is often cheaper, and you’ll know where (and who) your food comes from.
  • Shop at Trader Joes: they often have the best prices around.
  • Compare prices on the internet (research sources), and with Co-Op buying.
  • Check out Grocery Outlet for clearance prices on natural dairy, organic olive oil and some other shelf items, as well as personal care products (always read lables!!). Conventional stores (Safeway and Fred Meyer in my area) often have organic items on clearance in the bins near the back of the store/warehouse door, and clearance stickers on refrigerated items in the cold cases (near to expiration date items should be used immediately or frozen). Pair with a coupon for a great deal (see below).
  • Become acquainted with Couponing Strategy, as shared/taught/blogged in many blogs. My favorite is frugallivingnw.com. The basic idea is to use a coupon on a product which is on sale to get a great deal. Although most of the deals are for conventional products, there are coupons and deals to be had for organic products. Many organic coupons are for items in the snacks/crakers/prepared foods category, so these coupons aren’t the best way to save (just stop buying those expensive foods, as discussed in point 2). But even still, there are valuable coupons to be had, and steal-of-a-deals to be scored. Hint: go to organicvalley.coop to register for dairy coupons, and to seventhgeneration.com to register for household product coupons. Then hang on to your coupons until a great sale comes up, and stock up for a few months. (No, I am not advocating extreme couponing, and neither do the blog sites.)

The Shopping Habit

We women have gotten a bad rap for shopping. But being a good shopper is a valuable skill. And let’s face it; if we never shopped, we’d all be naked and starving. (Unless you live on a farm, and even then it’s debatable.)

Shopping can be a healthy habit, if you know where and how to shop. This means finding Quality at a great Price for those of us on a budget (that’s most of us!).

Quality

I find that making a habit of doing my weekly grocery shopping at a store which has a wide selection of natural and organic products is the most important healthy habit to start. That way, when I am out of a staple, like ketchup, instead of wondering about the quality of ingredients in the standard brand, I can reach for the organic bottle. It’s there, I’m there, it’s what’s going home with me.

Different parts of the country have different grocery chains, and it’s great to see that some of them are bringing in more organic lines. Here on the West Coast, O organics is a store brand carried by Safeway, Naturally Preferred the Fred Meyer brand, and Wild Harvest the Albertson’s brand. There are also many national brands of food and household supplies that are now being carried in the supermarkets, from Seventh Generation cleaners and diapers to Muir Glenn tomato sauce to Organic Valley dairy products. If a standard supermarket is all you have in your area, take advantage of all the natural and organic products you can. (And check regularly for store coupons for these “new” organic brands. . . some of these special coupons often can be found near the pharmacy.)

However, dedicated health food stores will give you a more complete selection, and probably a better price. They are popping up all over the country, so chances are there is a Wholefoods Market or Sprouts near you. Although generally considered more of a specialty foods store than a health foods store, Traders Joes really should be considered both, as they have a commitment to no artificial colors or preservatives in any of their food, and they have a huge number of organic items available.

Price

Staying within your budget is not only healthy for your financial future, it is emotionally healthy, and it’s a must-do for a healthy marriage. But sticker shock over those organic prices can leave any newby to green shopping in despair. Not to worry (or despair), there are lots of ways to stretch the budget while buying natural products.

Buy Local: farmers markets, or farm stands will have produce at peak ripeness, and often for less coin than the less-vibrant veggies at the market. Locally raised pastured for high Omega-3 content beef/lamb/pork/chickens can be purchased direct from the farm and picked up at the butcher (you’ll want to find several friends to split a large animal with). Farm fresh eggs and milk if available are also excellent staples for which to find a local source. Check localharvest.org and realmilk.com for farms local to you, or do as I did, and knock on the door of someone with animals on their acreage. You might just find your own personal source for meat/dairy/eggs.

Buy Seasonal: many local fruits can be had for a bargain when they are at peak ripeness, and if you pick them yourself you can get an even better deal. I have purchased 100 lbs of apples in the past for canning into applesauce and freezing as pie filling. This summer, I plan to pick 150 lbs. of blueberries and strawberries to freeze for smoothies year round. (Yeah, wish me luck.) It will be a lot of work, but I’ll save a bundle over organic frozen berries or even conventional frozen berries at Costco. (And maybe I’ll have a tan to show for it too. . .)

Buy with a Co-op: There are several distributors nationwide of natural products which will allow you and a group of local people to organize yourselves into a monthly co-op with a drop point for their shipment. Savings are realized from near wholesale pricing, and bulk pricing. In the Northwest, Azure Standard is an excellent full-selection coop company, with the bonus of their own extensive organic farm which supplies many of their bulk grain and veggie items.

Buy in Bulk: See above for Co-op ordering. Also, some stores (such as Fred Meyer in my area) will allow you to order a case of a product for 10% discount. I have also heard that Whole Foods will do this at 15% discount, and sometimes near wholesale. And of course, comparing the price per ounce on the small and large bottle of the same product will often mean greater savings on the larger bottle.

Buy Online: nutritional supplements, body care, household products, and some specialty foods can be purchased through online stores. Iherb.com is an excellent company with slashed prices (30-50% off) on lots of brands, great service and low or free shipping. Using code RON268 gives you $5 off your first order. I order every other month to have a $40 minimum order for free shipping. Lucky vitamin also has good prices, although the minimum for free shipping is $100. They carry some brands that iherb.com doesn’t so I do order from them a few times a year. Online buying can also be a money saver for one-time purchases, like cloth diapers.

Buy on Sale, with a Coupon: In the last year I began to follow a couple of coupon-ing blogs. It really is amazing some of the deals that can be found, even on organic and natural products. Read this post about coupon-ing for natural products. The idea with couponing is to save your coupon until the item is on sale to score a really great price. If you are going to do this, find a local blog that lists all the weekly store deals. When there’s a great sale, stock up!

Buy from Discount Stores: Look for natural body care products at Marshalls and TJMaxx. The Grocery Outlet also often carries natural body products, and organic foods for great deals. Lastly, another plug for Trader Joes: they don’t run sales because the have their rock-bottom prices available all the time. I shop there weekly for excellent prices on organic dairy, breads, pantry items, and frozen veggies. Of course, at all stores you must know how to read your labels to know what you are buying, and some of the “clearance” type discount stores (like TJMaxx) may have an old formula of a natural product which carried parabens, and now the manufacturer has reformulated it. Read my post on How to Read an Ingredient Label.

Meal Plan, Make a List: this allows you to stay focused on what you need at the store, and to avoid filling your cart with “filler” items that aren’t parts of meals you’re actually going to make. A rule of thumb on dinner planning is to plan for 5 dinners a week, so you can have one night for leftovers and one night to be out. And then have at least 2 easy meals in your pantry/freezer (like spaghetti) which can fill in if you don’t end up with leftovers or go out.

Plan to not buy cereal. . . even the “healthy” cereals are way too shelf-stable to be “real” food. And they’re pricey. Read Breakfast: Off to a Great Start for some breakfast ideas.

Plan for healthy snacks, too, but don’t let these dominate your budget; focus on the meals. Avoid buying bottled drinks unless it’s a special occasion; they are calories you don’t need, and can wrack up your bill. (Not to mention the environmental impact.) Quality teas and coffee, filtered tap water with lemon or lime, and organic raw milk are real nourishment to your body, and are easier on the budget.

Action Plan:

1. Look up your local Farmers Market or farm stand and begin going weekly for your veggies and fruits.

2. Locate a local natural food store at which to do your other marketing. It doesn’t need to be the same day of the week as the Farmers Market.

3. If possible, locate a local source for raw milk and pastured eggs (eggs can often be found at Farmer’s Markets, but they sell out early!). Again, pick-up days will likely differ from your marketing day.

4. Begin to set aside $50-$100 of  your monthly budget to purchase a side of beef, lamb, or pork. Find a ranch which offers quality grass-fed (not grain finished) meat; you will also need the freezer space to store your meat when you purchase it.

5. Begin to order (bi-monthly works well) from an online retailer such as iherb for savings on personal care products and supplements. Read Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off.

6. Find a natural coop which delivers to your area for bulk item orders.

Iherb.com: Awesome Prices + $5 Off

OK, so this is totally just free advertising for iherb.com, but I love this site, so why shouldn’t I rave about it and share it with all of you?

I first found iherb.com when I was looking for better prices on supplements that my Doctor prescribed me, like Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil. But I soon found that they carried a lot of the personal care products and specialty foods (like Bob’s Red Mill flours, nuts, etc.) which I was purchasing at Whole Foods Market, and for discounts of 15-40%.

Also, I became very impressed with how well they wrapped each item in bubble wrap, and had a “no questions asked” customer service attitude. And the site is just really easy to use and find what you need.

It isn’t hard to meet the minimum for Free Shipping: $40 order (I order every other month to insure I’ll never pay shipping.) And if I order on Monday I have my stuff by Thursday (I live in the Northwest, and the iherb warehouse is in California).

If you’re making an order, use my coupon code RON268 and you’ll get an additional $5 off your order (first time customers). Woo hoo! I love a great deal!

And if you think you, or a group of your friends, would make larger orders, here’s how you can save more: after your first order, email iherb and ask them about a VIP Discount. I did this, and they told me that I would have to make an initial order of $500, which would be discounted by 15%. (So my first order was $500 – 15% = $425, and I pulled a bunch of friend orders together to do that.) After that, every order I make has an additional 10% off minimum (it goes up to 12% off for $120+, 14% off for 240+, 16% off for 480+). Since I’ve made an order every other month for the past several years, it has really been worth it.

OK, so what’s NOT to love about iherb? You still have to read the ingredient labels: in addition to great products, they stock lots of natural products with bad ingredients, like parabens, etc. This is the same as Whole Foods: you must read your labels. (Read my post How to Read an Ingredient Label.) Fortunately, iherb has the complete product label listed for each item, which makes this easier than any other online store I’ve seen.

About

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The goal of this blog is to share some of the information I’ve studied in the last few years about healthy living, including the following topics:

  • cleaning without toxic chemicals
  • changing over personal care products (which absorb right through the skin) to ones that don’t contain toxins and known carcinogens; including suggestions on all the things I’ve tried; what works, what doesn’t
  • improving our diet towards “real” foods (Weston Price style), including the yummiest recipes I can muster
  • better ways to live simply, have less trash, and consume less (joyfully and gratefully!)
  • find the best prices for the best products (“green” and “organic” don’t have to be expensive)

I have many successes in each of these areas, as well as areas in which I want to grow. And I’ll bet it’s the same for you; you know you’re doing well in some areas, but there are things you wish you had some extra time for research, or trial and error. That’s why I named my blog Clean Green Start; we need to celebrate all the good starts we have made, and continue to develop good habits! I’m hoping my blog will become a resource for you to find summaries of info on related sites, or to see my product recommendations, or to just join me so we can encourage each other in creating a home that is healthy and happy!

A few words about me: I am the happy wife of Heiko and mother of our six children. I keep quite busy as a stay-at-home mom, and homeschool teacher. I want to be the very best wife and mother I can be, and I know that includes the decisions I make for my family in diet, medicines, chemicals, personal care products, and all other products that come into our home. I believe in good stewardship of the planet God has given us to share, and I believe in the power of consumer education in a free country to change regulations. I’m delighted that we already have so many good choices available to us!

Please bookmark the homepage to re-visit, or subscribe to email updates (box to the right of the page).

To a happy, healthy life!
Bronwyn