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.
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.
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?
Yes, I am aware of ewg.org. It’s a great idea, however, I haven’t found it to be very helpful.
In this instance, the formula reviewed is out of date. You could technically look up all the ingredients in the new formula, but you have to use your best judgement in determining whether they are harmful. For example, SODIUM LAUROYL SARCOSINATE listed in this formula is a foaming agent, similar to the toxic SLS. Both carry “increased absorption” as a reason for danger. So if SLS is toxic, and is mixed with other toxic chemicals, they are going to be absorbed more fully by your stripped skin. If there’s not so much other bad stuff to absorb in the formula, then it’s not as much of a concern in my mind.
Also, I was disappointed at how low the rating was for a potentially toxic aluminum product, the deodorant crystal. You can read my review in my blog post about deodorants.
Unfortunately, this site does not seem to have enough staffing to keep up with a lot of products, or to have a scientist actually consider each product as a whole, and the data gap seems too large on many items. So it’s a place we can get SOME information, but I think we should still realize we’re gonna have to educate ourselves to protect ourselves. ~BD
Not everyone can tolerate dairy products, but for those who can, it is a rich source of minerals, protein, and healthy saturated fats IF sourced from healthy animals. Some people groups in Africa thrive on a diet made up nearly entirely of raw milk from their herds.
Change from conventional milk to organic milk. Skim, 1% and 2% milks have thickeners added to them; opt out by choosing whole milk. Homogenization has been linked to arterial plaque; opt out by choosing unhomogenized. Your choice to skim the cream for your coffee, or shake the whole jug before pouring. Raw milk (unpasteurized) from pastured (grassfed) animals is the BEST milk, as it is richest in minerals, enzymes and probiotics. Dungeness Valley Creamery supplies this delicious cow milk to WA state; if you prefer goat milk, search for a local source.
Change from conventional yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir, to organic products, or make your own from raw/organic/pastured milk.
Change from conventional butter, sour cream, and cream to organic butter, sour cream, and cream. Conventional butter was listed on a recent “top ten most toxic foods” list, which is not surprising since so many of todays petrochemical toxins settle in the fats of animals. Yet organic butters and cream have been highly revered by healthy indigenous people groups for their health giving properties.
Change from conventional cheese to raw, organic cheese, if you can find it (see notes about raw milk below).
Change from “soy dairy” products (soy milk, soy protein) to almond, hemp, hazelnut, or rice milks (hemp having the best nutrition, and it’s delicious) if cow/goat dairy is not tolerated. Organic coconut oil can be used in place of butter for those with a dairy allergy. See note below on why I avoid soy.
If lactose intolerance is the reason you avoid dairy products, try culturing your own yogurt from organic milk. When you use a 24 hours process to culture the yogurt (or kefir if desired), nearly no lactose is present at the end of the process. Making yogurt and kefir is not difficult; find directions here. The long culturing process yields a very sour “European” flavor, which can be sweetened if you desire with jams, maple syrup, or honey. I have found that fresh goat milk loses its “goaty” aftertaste when cultured this long. The same process for 24 hour yogurt can be done with whipping cream for amazingly delicious Creme Fraiche.
Some people find that they can tolerate goat and sheep milk products if cow products bother them. Others find that raw milk (unpasturized) is tolerated as it has all the enzymes and probiotics intact to aid in digestion. In addition, high heat pasteurization appears to damage the protein molecule in milk. (The stable saturated fats in cream/butter seem to hold up better to heat than the protein in the milk, making pasteurized butter/cream still a great choice.)
Worried about contamination? Studies which purposefully introduced pathogenic bacteria into raw milk (still “living” with enzymes, probiotics, and immune factors) show that the milk protects itself by destroying pathogenic bacteria. Conversely, pasturized (“dead”) milk no longer carries this protection; hundreds are made sick on pasturized milk annually in the US. Once milk is cultured (into cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.) this risk is lowered by the competing bacteria of the culture. Certified Raw dairies undergo far stricter testing of products than conventional dairies.
Trader Joes has the best prices around (by far) for a full range of organic dairy products. I buy butter, cream, sour cream, and cottage cheese there. They also have a stunning selection of cheeses, most at fabulous prices. I sometimes buy the Grassfed Cheddar (New Zealand), and sometimes the Raw Cheddar. We also love the Cotswold cheese from England (which is neither organic, or raw, but you can taste the richness of the milk which makes me confident the cows are grazing grass). The Shredded Parmesan cheese (in a bag) is a raw cheese (and high in absorbable calcium); and excellent choice.
I make my own kefir from Dungeness Valley raw milk, which we drink on occasion as well, when I’m not making it into pudding, ice cream, etc.
Goat milk is best fresh (for flavor), so I don’t really recommend buying it from Trader Joes, although if that is your only option (say for a toddler who can’t tolerate cow milk) I would certainly recommend it over any “milk substitute”. Best to find a local dairy for raw milk (as I have), or if you are inclined, buy a goat as a pet which actually contributes to the family table!
If you have to use dairy substitutes, hemp milk is cheaper when you buy a case through a co-op; this option may be available at your health food store. You can make your own rice milk really cheap (and pretty easy) using this Rice Milk Recipe.
Conventional dairy products in the US come from “factory farmed” cows, which may or may not ever see a pasture, but most certainly dine on soy and corn based feed laced with pesticides, antibiotics, and by-products from slaughter houses. In some states, farms are allowed to inject the cows with growth hormones with cause them to produce more milk, which wears out the cow and results in fewer productive years (but at heavier production) before going to the slaughterhouse herself. (This is not allowed in OR or WA.) Since the food she receives (grain based) is such a poor diet for her, she is likely to be sick often, and treated with antibiotics. You can bet that all the toxins going into her make their way into her milk, and the butter, cheese, yogurt, and other products made from it.
Conventional soy is one of the most pesticide laden crops in the US, and even organic soy can hardly boast a health claim as soy is an endocrine disruptor (mimics estrogen in the body). There are tons of “studies” done to show the “health benefits” of soy. Guess who pays for these studies, and their publicity? The Soy Industry. Lesser known studies link soy formulas to early puberty in girls, delayed or decreased fertility in boys, and doubling of diabetes risk for all children. I avoid it like the plague (except fermented soy products used in traditionally small amounts, such as Tamari).
Is Organic Certification Necessary?
Although USDA Organic certification brings with it peace of mind for the consumer, there is a cost to the farmer (passed on to the consumer) for this rubber stamp. You may be able to find a local dairy which can demonstrate to you the health and humane treatment of their animals, and quality of their product so that you don’t need the label to feel good about using their products. Especially important is to inquire about the feed of their animals; even a cow fed 100% organic grain but kept in the feedlot will not be as healthy as the cow allowed to graze on green grasses.
When making a clean green start in your diet, the most important place to start (in regards to your health) is with the oils/fats you consume.
Change from margerine and conventional butter to organic butter or imported grassfed butter (Kerrygold) (conventional butter was listed recently on a list of top ten most toxic foods, yet organic butter has been consumed liberally by some of the healthiest people groups on the planet)
Change from hydrogenated oils (crisco, deep frying, or in prepared baked goods) to organic coconut oil, organic palm oil, organic butter, or organic lard/tallow
Change from vegetable oils (soybean oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil) to olive, coconut, peanut, and sesame oils for low heat sauteeing, or use walnut, olive, avocado, or flaxseed oils for salad dressings (all organic cold pressed)
Supplement Cod Liver Oil and Flax Seed Oil for essential fatty acids, and inflammation reducing Omega 3 oils (buy from a company which tests CLO for purity, and keep oils in the refrigerator and use quickly as they become rancid easily)
When thinking of oils and fats, remember that most prepared and processed foods have some type of fat in them. Read labels so that you can avoid toxic fats such as hydrogenated oils and vegetables oils heated to high temperatures. Even at cool temperatures, long shelf lives of some prepared foods mean that good fats have gone rancid before you open the box.
When buying oils, look for glass containers, as plastic leaches into oils/fats at a much higher rate than even into water based foods. Colored glass is best, as light will cause oils to become rancid as well as heat.
Trader Joes has an excellent price on quality/organic butter, and a good price on organic olive oil. I have found the best price on organic olive oil at the Grocery Outlet, although it can be hit and miss.
Tropical Traditions is an excellent source for organic coconut and palm oils, with the best price being a large order to split with friends. In the the Portland are, theAlberta Co-Op is a good place for this quality and price on coconut oil.
Bad oils are toxic for the body, as they:
contain concentrated amounts of pesticides and other toxic and hormone disrupting chemicals
contain improper balances/deficiencies of omega fats (good, inflammation reducing fats)
have already been damaged molecularly by high heat (or will be if you cook them)
soy, corn, and canola oils lead the pack in tons of pesticides and bleaching agents used in production
In contrast, Good Oils are health promoting, as they:
Allow us to absorb the important fat soluable vitamins from our food and the sun (vitamins A, D, E, K)
Allow us to absorb the minerals in our foods (mineral deficiency is common, with obesity/cravings an indicator of body need)
Give a wonderful sense of satiety and slow carbohydrate/sugar absorption which helps to avoid blood sugar spikes and leaves you fuller on less
In recent years, the vegetable oil lobbys have “framed” butter and other natural saturated fats as unhealthy. Don’t believe the propaganda…it is for their profits, not your health. You can get the real story at the Weston A Price foundation.
Naturally preserved lunch meats/hot dogs (those labeled “uncured” or “no nitrites”) ARE cured (often with celery juice or powder), and DO have nitrites, sometimes in greater amounts than their conventional counterparts. In other words, they are are “safe” from spoilage as the others, but if you thought you were not eating nitrites, think again.
Some people think a nitrite is the same as any other nitrite, but Applegate describes the difference between the synthetic and natural nitrites in this way:
“Synthetic sodium nitrite is created by the absorption of nitrogen oxides (derived from ammonia compounds) in a liquid solution of either sodium carbonate or sodium hydroxide. The resulting slurry is dried and pink dye is added to distinguish it from table salt. According to the Food Chemical Codex (3rd addition, National Academy of Sciences), industrial sodium nitrite is allowed to contain residual heavy metals, arsenic and lead. While some may say, “nitrites are nitrites,” those derived from celery juice and sea salt are clearly different, and the USDA agrees, hence the different labeling requirements for products cured this way.”
TheFDA has to date not allowed the natural meat industry to clarify the actual ingredients/process on their packaging.
For my part, I feel far more comfortable feeding my family what is naturally occurring in celery, than a synthetic version with residual heavy metals of arsenic and lead.
“Mmm . . . butter is the most yummy thing to eat!” said my seven year old daughter as we enjoyed pats of butter and peanut butter on crackers.
It’s not only yummy, it’s good for you (assuming you aren’t eating it with enough sugars/starches to begin gaining weight). Butter is an excellent saturated fat for absorbing and utilizing the important vitamins A, D, and E, which are too often lacking in the western diet, as well as metabolizing the calcium and other minerals in our diets.
However, there’s a big difference in the quality of butters.
Here are two different colors of yellow butter. The one on the left is Kerrygold, which comes from cows in Ireland which graze on green grass. It is always yellow, and is cultured with probiotics during the butter making process. The one of the right is Trader Joes Sweet Cream butter; it is nearly white compared to the Kerrygold.
Here is a photo (mobile download from a friend; thanks Stephanie of beeyoutiful.com) of homemade butter (left) from fresh raw milk from cows eating the quickly growing green grass of spring, and a stick of Costco butter (right). This photo is not doctored; I’ve seen and tasted butter this yellow. It’s an indicator of the high levels of vitamins in the butter.
About a hundred years ago, Weston A. Price traveled the world to find the healthiest peoples. He discovered some astounding truths of optimal health, one of which was that cows and other dairy animals give nourishing milks when they are fed their natural diets of green grass. Cows kept in stalls in the city, and fed hay and grains, gave milk products which did not produce the excellent health, stature, and dentition in the people who drank it in comparison with the people drinking the milk from grass fed cows. (Whew! Did you catch that? It even confused me, and I wrote it. Bottom line: grass-fed milk=healthy people, grain-fed milk=not-as-healthy people.)
Here are two excellent brands of cultured butter (probiotics used in the butter making process). Little difference can be seen in the butter color, although there is a slight difference in flavor. Both are from pastured cows, which gives the yellow color, although not as bright as the spring butter. Both are from pasturized milk; the Organic Valley brand is unsalted. I found it interesting that these cultured butters were easy to cut with a butter knife, even straight out of the fridge, not rock hard like conventional butter. Both taste fabulous.
I purchase the “conventional” butter from Trader Joes (top picture, right side) to use when baking things for potluck or other groups where nobody cares a whit about the butter quality so I can stretched my grocery dollars further. This way, I can purchase Kerrygold for spreading on bread and vegetables at home.
I also regularly purchase Trader Joes Organic Butter, which is a little cheaper than the Kerrygold, and I purchase it for baking and frying at home. It is not cultured with probiotics, but does have a similar color to the Kerrygold most of the year. However, as I understand that Trader Joes uses a number of local vendors around the nation for their fresh products, their organic butter in your are may not be this yellow (indicating that it is not delivering vitamin A in good amounts).
Kerrygold runs around $2.69 for a half pound at Trader Joes (more elsewhere)
Organic Valley runs about $5.50 a pound at my local Fred Meyer
Trader Joes Organic runs about $4.79 a pound at Trader Joes
Trader Joes (Conventional) Sweet Cream Butter runs about $2.99 a pound at Trader Joes
Butter is an excellent choice in baking and frying (along with virgin coconut and palm oils, and beef or duck fat) since the saturated fats are so stable and will not be damaged into a trans fat form.
Pectin for Making Jam: I have heard pectin and gelatin content are about the same. While I’m not a vegetarian or anything, I do try to feed my family as wholesomely as possible. Animal waste products are not high on my healthful list! There are some alternative (vegetarian) jam pectins out there, but they are pricey. We live on a ranch and grow most of our own fruits and veggies. I preserve lots of food every year. I am looking for an economical alternative to pectin since I make 12 + batches of freezer jam per year. I would prefer to not cook and can the jam. I did find a product from Mary Jane’s Farm http://shop.maryjanesfarm.org/store/p/65-ChillOver-Powder.aspx. I heard a rumor you could use it for jam. I’m going to try to find out. If you find anything on this topic, please let me know.
Way to go, Christina, on growing the majority of your own fruits and veggies! That has got to be a huge amount of work in and of itself, not to mention the preserving. Your family is undoubtedly reaping the health rewards of your labors!
Pectin is a vegetarian product found in the cellular structure of fruits and veggies, and often sourced from citrus peels or apples. It can be pricey, particularly in small retail packages. In bulk from Azure Standard, a 1lb bag costs $42. 90; this makes about 320 cups of jam.
Gelatin, on the other hand, is an animal product, and most gelatin is made from pork carcasses. Chicken broth and beef broth (made from bones/carcasses) are marketable products, but pork broth doesn’t have much of a market, so this “waste” product is made profitable in the form of Jello, jams, and jellies.
Although this is a waste product of factory slaughterhouses (and that’s a disgusting thought with their sick animals and unsanitary practices!), gelatin in general is a very healthful and nourishing food; this is the main source of nourishment in bone broth (read Bone Broth: Body Builder) and gelatin can even be purchased in capsules as a nutritional supplement for joint problems.
So to find a clean source for gelatin . . . I thought briefly about whether you could make your own from bone broth; gelatin powder must be just dehydrated bone broth. However, I can’t imagine going to that amount of effort (and I didn’t find anything coming up when I googled making your own gelatin powder). I did find some other options, though: certified organic porcine (pork) gelatin, which is more expensive than the pectin above. The bulk size of 2lbs of powder should gel about 200 cups of liquid (perhaps it would be less in making jam?), with a current price of $53.10.
Some people prefer to avoid all pork products, organic or not, in which case beef gelatin is available, and quite a bit cheaper at $7.25 for 1lbs. This is from Azure Standard, a supplier of natural foods, so it is unclear to me if this is gelatin sourced from naturally raised beef or from conventional/factory farming, but a call to their customer service should clarify this. There is no information given on how much would be required to make jam, but I would think it would be 1:1 with the porcine gelatin. If this truly is naturally sourced gelatin, I think this would be an excellent, healthful addition to homemade jam, and an economical option too!
Chill Over Powder
I have no experience with this, although it sounds really interesting. I wonder what’s actually in it? I wouldn’t be surprised if Mary Jane is marketing her own brand of fruit pectin, similar to the one above, in which case you just need to compare the yield/price against the price at Azure or another bulk supplier of natural products.
[Christina writes back: I found out what Chill Over Powder is made from. Ingredients: Agar-agar kanten, an odorless powdered sea vegetable with superior gelling qualities—a MaryJanesFarm exclusive.]
Read Raspberry Jam for my recent experience on using both pectin and gelatin. Good luck in all your summer preserving!
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.