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.

Dental Health and Nutrition

Have you ever read a book that sort of pulls together a lot of loose questions for you? I mean, you have been told a basic theory about a topic, and yet you know of personal situations that don’t fit into the basic theory. And then you are presented with a new paradigm that makes so much sense on a diverse clinical level.

Such was my experience with the book Cure Tooth Decay: Heal & Prevent Cavities with Nutrition by Ramiel Nagel. Although I knew, like most moms, that a proper diet which included calcium was essential to making healthy teeth, I didn’t know that an excellent diet can actually prevent tooth decay. Even without brushing. Whaaat?

I’m not advocating not brushing one’s teeth (neither is the book’s author), however, there is extensive documentation of hundreds of people in cultures across the globe with excellent, carie-free, dental health. And they were armed with excellent diets (which varied across the globe, naturally) rather than with toothbrushes. (This documentation was the work of Dr. Weston A. Price, a dentist who traveled the globe to find people with traditional diets and to observe their dental health. He became so impressed with their overall health, and longevity, that his life work became titled Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.)

How can people have excellent dental health without brushing (and flossing, and swishing, and getting dental cleanings every 6 months)? This is what I wondered, as my paradigm for dental health was that the things that we put on our teeth (food, especially sugar) and then failing to brush it off soon enough, will cause acids and/or feed bacteria that eat away at our tooth enamel. This book debunks the “sugar on teeth” theory, in that white sugar does not feed bacteria, it actually kills it. But we all know some kid that’s addicted to sugar, and has a mouth full of fillings to prove it, right? This is where the nutrition factor comes in: it’s not the sugar on the teeth that wear away at the enamel, it’s the sugar inside the body. White sugar (and white flour, and a bunch of other nutrition negatives) cause the body to swing towards an acid pH, and the body must compensate by pulling an alkaline substance (like calcium) from storage to keep the pH balanced, or to send to a more important part of the body, like the brain or heart. The body may decide in this crisis situation that losing a tooth is better than losing an organ, and so a living tooth slowly loses it’s health from the inside out.

This explains why one tooth may be in decay, while the one next to it is fine (one would think that all teeth in the mouth would decay at the same rate if it were the foods present in the mouth affecting them, as sugar would be distributed everywhere). The body may prioritize one tooth as a source for pulling calcium over another tooth. This also explains why breast-fed babies tend to have more excellent dental health than their bottle-fed counterparts. Dental caries in infants have long been blamed on formula pooling in the cheek from bottle feeding, yet breastfed babies can also sleep with pooled milk and yet have better teeth. It is the better nutrition in the breastmilk that is the basis for better dentition, rather than the absence of milk on the teeth themselves.

Of course, breast-milk is not always excellent nutrition; the health-giving properties of breastmilk are tied to the excellence of the mother’s diet. Ramiel Nagel’s own daughter was being exclusively breastfed when she began to develop tooth decay. The whole family was vegetarian, so they thought they were very health conscious in their diet, yet the lack of essential animal fats and proteins had actually thrown them into a state of malnutrition. As Mr. Nagel research Dr. Price’s writings, he became convinced that they must change their diet dramatically, or all suffer physical and dental degeneration.

Dr. Price found that the people groups he studied with the most excellent dental health, some with nearly 100 percent immunity to dental caries across the entire population, ate liberally and daily from the following 3 food sources:

  1. Dairy products from grassfed animals
  2. Organs and muscle meat from fish and shellfish
  3. Organs of land animals

Mr. Nagel’s book goes into fascinating detail on the whole diets of several groups of people (some peoples ate hardly any dairy, etc. but had larger doses of the other special foods, etc.). He also explores the minerals and fat-soluble vitamins (namely calcium, phosphorus, Vitamins A and D from natural sources) which are the reason (or part of the reason) that these foods build healthy teeth (and bodies).

At the end of this article are some lists of Eat Daily/Weekly/Rarely/Never which are Ramiel Nagel’s suggestions. This list is overwhelming to me, as it would seem like a full time job to make sure each of my children ate all the recommended foods daily and weekly. However, I have to remember that we are doing a decent job on the 3 important foods categories: particularly eating lots of raw milk, yellow butter, and cod liver oil. And considering that the rest of our diet is very whole-foods centered, and that I have had this good nutrition while pregnant and breastfeeding, it isn’t surprising that my children all have beautiful strong teeth (so far!). For those that are already realizing poor dental health as a result of poor nutrition, it may be wise to go drastic and follow Mr. Nagel’s diet to reverse tooth decay, as he was able to accomplish for his daughter.

Brushing

Of course, many factors are likely present in decay situations, and tooth surfaces that allow for compacted food to be left on them, like molar chewing surfaces, and the baby’s teeth which are in the pool of milk, do tend to be the first to decay. Brushing seems to be a reasonable and helpful habit for minimizing these factors, especially if the toothpaste does not have toxic fluoride but instead a healthy dose of Xylitol, a natural bacteria-fighting sugar with re-enamalizing properties. (Ramiel Nagel has a negative opinion of Xylitol based on one study on its safety; my research leads me to believe it is safe and effective. Read Xylitol: Alternative to Fluoride.)

However, brushing should be seen as the secondary dental habit, with excellent nutrition being the first and most important.

Diet Lists

Ramiel Nagel outlines a diet that has allowed 90% of those who follow it to stop tooth decay. If you already have teeth decaying in the mouth, consider a strict adherence to this diet.

Foods to Eat Daily:

  • 1/8-1/2 tsp. fermented Cod Liver Oil 3x daily with meals, or 1/2-4 T. organic/wild liver
    and
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp. of high vitamin butter oil 3x daily with meals, or 1-2 T. yellow butter per meal
  • 2-6 cups raw grassfed whole milk
  • 2 cups bone broth
  • 1-4 T. grassfed bone marrow
  • 2 fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt
  • Substantial quantities of vegetables, such as carrots, beet greens, kale, chard, zucchini, broccoli, celery, sting beans, including soups and juices
  • Seaweed or kelp

Eat Several Times Weekly:

  • Raw, rare cooked, or marinated/fermented wild caught fish
  • Raw, rare cooked, or marinated/fermented grassfed beef or lamb
  • Raw fresh oysters or clams
  • Raw, rare cooked, or marinated/fermented liver of grassfed beef, lamb, chicken, fish, turkey, etc.
  • Raw or soft cooked eggs from grass-fed poultry

Eat Only Rarely/Avoid If Dental Health is Poor:

  • Dried Fruit, and any very sweet fruits, such as orange, grapes, peaches, banana and pineapple
  • Natural Sweeteners, such as unheated honey, organic maple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juice, and rapadura

Foods to Completely Avoid:

  • Sugar, in all processed forms
  • Flour and grain products, unless soaked or sprouted
  • Hydrogenated Oils, and low quality oils, such as soybean, canola, safflower. Replace with organic coconut, olive, or palm oils, butter, suet, or tallow.
  • Any junk food
  • Coffee, soft drinks, nutrasweet, and anything artificial
  • Soymilk, protein powder, and excess Tofu (my note: protein powder which is unheated raw whey is OK as it is still raw milk)
  • Pasteurized milk, even organic
  • Non-grassfed meat and eggs, and farmed fish
  • Alcohol and cigarettes
  • Drugs, whether recreational or prescription, and vaccines

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.)

Clean Floors: Bliss to My Feet

I love it when my carpets are freshly vacuumed, and my hard floors are freshly mopped (as they are right now!). Bliss to my feet!

Clean floors are an important part of home health, especially if there are babies in the home who spend a good portion of their time on the floor. Those sweet little hands that crawl on the floor. . . they go right into the mouth, don’t they?

Shoe Removal

In addition to keeping floors much cleaner through the week, shoe removal contributes to a healthy home. Most parents are aware of the hazard of lead from paint, and its toxic effect to children. Since I’ve only lived in homes built after 1978 since becoming a parent, I did not pay much attention to these warnings. Then I learned that children can still be exposed to lead through roadside dirt that has been tracked into the home (roadside dirt generally has a high concentration of lead from exhaust residue which came before lead was banned from gasoline).

Of course, I don’t do a lot of walking along major roadsides. But it did get me thinking about what else might be coming in on my shoes. From the grocery store, and occasional public restroom, to the library and local farm for eggs and milk, my shoes go many places and must have an entire mini ecosystem of bacteria and filth living on them.

And so I began removing my shoes when I enter my home, and requiring my children to do the same. It did help that we moved to a home with new carpet around that time, and the No-Shoes-on-Carpet rule became so ingrained into my children that they are now self-appointed Shoe Police, ordering all to drop their dirty duds.

Large metal bins, placed both near the front and back doors, help contain the pile of little shoes and boots that now reside near the doors.

Cleaning Floors

  • Carpets: vacuum with a strong vacuum. For spots, first blot or scrub with plain water and a terry cloth rag (old wash cloth). If it doesn’t release, use a soap-based non-aerosol carpet/upholstery shampoo. I have had good results on both carpet and upholstery with Howard Naturals Upholstery Cleaner. Equal parts vinegar and water can neutralize urine odors.
  • Hard Floors: Sweep all loose debris from floors, then mop and wipe dry.

    • For vinyl, tile, and varnished wood floors, use 2 gallons warm water and 1 cup of vinegar.
    • For Linoleum floors, use 1/4 cup vegetable oil based liquid soap in 2 gallons warm water.

    I put the solution in a bucket, and wash the floor with a rag while on my hands and knees. I use an old bath towel to dry behind as I go. More difficult than a mop? Absolutely, but a mop is really just a filthy sponge that gets used and reused on floors without cleanings in between. If you have a mop where the cleaning rag can be removed and laundered between use, awesome! Since mine was the old sponge type, I chucked it in favor of a truly clean floor. I always have a laundry load of rags to launder together in hot water and oxygen bleach at the end of cleaning day.

Healthy Habit Challenge, March 2010

One of my goals in 2010  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 four categories:

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

  • Household Chemical Avoidance: It’s Easter time, and spring is in the air! Try your hand at making your own natural food dyes. Read my first experience in my post Natural Egg Dyes.
    Next level: don’t bring dyed candy into your home: there are far better and delicious options. Trader Joe’s has a lovely assortment of candies with colors from veggies; all that’s missing is the bitter aftertaste of synthetic dye.
  • Diet: Whip up some delicious whole food treats (think no white sugar) for Easter. Read Sweet Treats: Unrefined Sweeteners.
    Next level: have you tried Coffee with Grade B Real Maple Syrup and Cream? Yummy. My husband won’t go back to sugar . . . I’m not complaining.
  • Body Care: Easy on the routine, and easy on the budget: replace your hand soap with something non-toxic. Read Hand Soap: Sudsy Clean.
    Next level: replace shower soap with a natural bar, too.
  • Environment: Reduce the amount of dirt and toxins that come into your home by instituting shoe removal at the door. Read Clean Floors: Bliss to My Feet.
    Next level: Make your entry an easy place to remove and store outside shoes. Consider house slippers or socks set ready at hand in the entry.

What I’m Working on Consistency In:

  • all of last month’s habits! (my new houseplants are still alive!)
  • still need to organize my over-abundance of glass jars :-/
  • making my entry shoe-off-friendly for guests
  • making some great goodies for Easter

Hand Soap: Sudsy Clean

Well here’s something that’s an easy changeover from traditional to non-toxic: hand soap.

In fact, it was one of the first things I changed when I became conscious of the negative possibilities of chemical-based care products. Then I began to notice that my daily (mild) headaches were gone for good . . . until I was at a friend’s house and got a headache from the fragrance in her hand soap.

This is an easy change because there are many great options, and let’s face it: most of us don’t have a great deal of personal attachment to the soaps at our sinks. (Changing deodorant was far more traumatic for me. You can read about my experiences with that in my post Deodorant: Love Hate Relationship.)

Bar or Liquid?

It’s really up to you. Bar soaps are luxurious (especially those with a goat milk or vegetable oil base), unless you live in a home with small children, where a bar of soap will inevitably be found in a puddle of water with dirt streaks on top. This is my home, so bar soaps are reserved for the shower, and liquid soaps rule the roost at the sinks.

My favorite liquid soap is an old classic: Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap. (At a great price on iherb.com. Check out my post iherb.com: Awesome Prices Plus $5-off.) If you’ve been around health food stores for awhile, you’ll know this one quite well, and maybe you’ve brushed your teeth with it (I have, but it isn’t pleasant). For those of you new to this soap, the label is amazing. It reports of couple dozen uses for the soap  . . . remember, this is a “classic” in the natural care product world, and it came out when there weren’t a lot of choices for things from shampoo to flea control. Also, there is a lot of crazy mantra/philosophy on the bottle (ever square inch of it) which ranges from distressing liberties with Kipling poems to just bizarre political stuff. I’m not kidding.

But, I don’t buy it for the label. In fact, I never display the bottle at all, preferring to buy the 32oz bottle and refill my pump dispensers. This soap is truly concentrated, and must be mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio, at least. (Bonus: a soap requiring this much dilution is really easy on the wallet!) Sometimes I find that even that ratio is too strong, and the pumps clog with the soap over time. Washing out the pumps and adding more water to the soap seems to clear this up.

Speaking of pumps, I love the newer pumps which pump out a pile of foam instead of liquid. (My children think they are cool too.) They seem to reduce soap waste and mess at the same time. You may have these types of pumps already with chemical-based soap in them. If so, it’s an easy thing to wash them out when they are empty and switch to a natural liquid soap.

Dr. Bronners has several other lovely scents: Almond, Citrus, Unscented, Tea Tree, Lavender, and Rose. I have also tried Dr. Woods Peppermint Castile Soap, but found that it was much more dilute, so the value wasn’t what I was hoping, and the clean scent of peppermint was not there. I switched back to the original.

If you are wanting a liquid soap with more of a gel-like consistency, there are several available, including the Lavender Glycerin Hand Soap from Avalon Organics (also available for an amazing price on iherb.com). It’s an elegant solution, and since it is already in a pump bottle labeled with its contents, you’ll have no guest confusion in your powder room.

What about anti-bacterial soap?

This is a concern in many households, especially in the colds season. However, many antibacterial soaps are toxic; the FDA just recently stated that, based upon animal studies, there is valid concern that Triclosan can have an impact on the endocrine (hormonal) system.  Also of concern is the now growing problem of Super Bugs, which are bacteria which have become resistant to antibiotics and anti-bacterial cleansers.

Natural soaps made with Lavender, Tea Tree, or Peppermint oils are known to be mildly antibacterial; they won’t kill on contact, but they do inhibit bacterial growth. Researchers believe that because the chemical makeup of the plants, and their essential oils, are slightly different from year to year, it leaves bacteria guessing, so to speak, and never allows them to develop a specific resistance.

However, thorough hand washing with plenty of warm water and soap will wash away bacteria, rather than attempting to kill them on contact. Teach your children (or yourself!) to wash properly and often with a mild soap, and you are better off than depending on a harsh chemical to do the job, while it simultaneously breaks down the natural barrier of their skin.  And if you have illness in your home, clean “touch spots” (door handles, light switches, hand towels) often, air out your home at least once a day, discard all used tissues immediately, and quarantine the sick as much as possible.

Healthy Habit Challenge, February 2010

One of my goals in 2010  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.

  • Household Chemical Avoidance: Remove the most dangerous plasticware from your kitchen; water bottles should be either glass or stainless inside. Learn which plastics are less of a concern, and how to treat them properly in my article Plastics: the Numbers Game.
    Next level: begin to collect better containers for food storage, such as glass. Canning jars are easily obtained, and fit well on pantry shelves and in the fridge.
  • Diet: Boost your immune system, heal your gut, and build your blood and bones with homemade bone broth. Read about my easy crock pot method for poultry and beef stocks in Bone Broth: Body Builder and related articles. Then treat your family with steaming bowls of French Onion Soup.
    Next level: research a local source for grass-fed beef; you will probably need to get in touch directly with the farmer, and coordinate the splitting of a half or quarter beef with several friends. The webite localharvest.org is a great place to search for a local farm, or contact your local chapter of the Weston A Price Foundation.
  • Body Care: Replace your deodorant with a non-toxic version. Read all my product reviews, and why this is one of the most important products for you to replace in Deodorant: Love-Hate Relationship.
    Next level: replace shower soap with a natural bar, check to see if your razor has a “lotion strip” with questionable ingredients, and suggest a better deodorant for your spouse. You can check ingredient lists against chemicals to avoid listed in my Consumer Wallet Guides (print, clip, and keep in your wallet for easy reference).
  • Environment: Rethink “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in the article Thinking Like Grandma. Then make kitchen recycling a habit by Creating a Recycle Center like I did this month.
    Next level: in addition to recycling rather than throwing away, think of ways to Reduce and Reuse in your home. Leave a comment on the Thinking Like Grandma article with your ideas!

What I’m Working on Consistency In:

  • all of last month’s habits! (still need to locate a houseplant; I guess it’s best I didn’t get one before leaving town for 2.5 weeks!)
  • need to look through all my plastics again, and then organize my over-abundance of glass jars
  • replenishing my freezer-supply of bone broth
  • using my new recycle bin

Plastics, the Numbers Game

Plastics are really convenient, especially in the kitchen. However, there has recently been a lot of question about how safe it is for them to be in contact with so much of our food. The nation of Canada recently banned the use of PVC in baby bottles/cups, making it the first nation to officially acknowledge the growing body of evidence that shows plastics are making their way into our bodies.

Human hormones are nearly all manufactured (in our bodies) using fats, so it should come as no surprise that the addition of synthetic oils, such as plastic residues, can interfere with normal hormone processes. We would be wise to avoid these toxins much as possible.

Plastics of all types seem to leach into foods more when they are heated, subjected to harsh cleaning agents, and left in contact with wet or oily foods for extended periods. Some  safer ways to use plastics:

  • Never microwave. Ever.
  • Don’t place in the dishwasher, rather hand wash with warm water and mild dish soap.
  • Limit exposure to wet and greasy foods. Remember, plastic is made from oil (petroleum), so food grease becomes like a solvent for it, with the residue entering the food. Refrigerate/freeze wet or greasy foods in glass containers, rather than plastic bags.
  • When using plastic wrap over a dish, don’t allow the wrap to touch the food inside.
  • If you can “smell” plastic, you are actually smelling it off-gas. Avoid using actively off-gassing plastic with food, even dry foods.
  • Don’t store drinking water in a plastic bottle. Choose stainless steel or glass for your sports bottle.

Best Choices for Food Storage

The safest material for food storage is glass. Virtually non-leaching, it has stood the test of time. Fortunately, it is readily available, and inexpensive. Canning jars are an easy, flexible solution for pantry, fridge, or freezer. There are also several lines of glass products made specifically for food storage, some with snapping plastic lids (choose from the “safer” list on the lids, and avoid letting the food touch the lid).

Purchasing food canned in glass jars, rather than tin cans, is the best choice when available. Although tin is not considered toxic to humans (it’s a trace mineral we actually need in small amounts), most people in developed countries have elevated levels of this mineral, likely from tin cans. Of even greater concerns is the plastics used to line/seal tin cans; whether they are on the “safer” or “to avoid” lists below, it is likely that there was heat involved in the processing and the food has absorbed some amount of plastic.

Safer Plastic Choices:

Select safe plastics that use polyethylene (#1, #2, and #4) and polypropylene (#5), which require the use of less toxic additives. They also are non-chlorinated. Where do you find these numbers? Turn the item over and look for the symbol.

Plastics to Avoid:

Avoid choosing products that use polyvinyl chloride (#3), polystyrene (#6), and polycarbonate (#7) which often are found in baby bottles or sippy cups.

What to do with these unsafe plastics? If the containers are useful for storage elsewhere (garden shed, etc.) consider reuse, otherwise recycle before they can be accidentally returned to use in the kitchen (baby cups).

Creating a Recycle Center

It suddenly hit me: I wouldn’t pile trash on the counter waiting for a chance to take it to the garage. I have a kitchen trash can for it. So why am I still piling my recycles on the counter?

Here’s a picture of my counter, cluttered with recycles: Root Beer bottles, newspaper, ziplocks box, butter box, vitamin bottles, etc. I hate clutter, and I too often have chucked “small” pieces of recycling (junk mail) in the trash because I just wanted to be done with it.

And here is my under-sink area, which I thought was fully used, until I realized what a necessity a recycles bin is. I was storing flower vases under there, stuffed with plastic shopping bags for lining bathroom trash cans. The vases I moved to a high shelf, and the bags I consolidated.

Then I rearranged my cleansers and garbage can, and my new recycle bin fits perfectly! The rainbow stripe decoration on the reused shipping box is complements of my two artistic children (6 and 4 years).

Here is my newly efficient garbage and recycling center! New habits, new way of life.

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?) 🙂