Amanda Moments
January 6, 2016

Thanks to Cheryl and Mercola for today’s guest post. I have turned to Mercola many times for information and tips on healthier living. 

Could your health use a quick boost? Look no further than your local farmer’s market or organic produce section of your grocery store. Fruits and vegetables, especially when organic, are some of nature’s answers to our body’s demand for nutrients.

5 fruits to boost health

Just one caveat about fruit: Many varieties are high in fructose, so you do need to limit your numbers of servings. Consuming too much of any type of sugar, especially fructose, can add to your risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome with unwanted consequences for your brain health and waistline.

Here are five of the healthiest fruits, many of which are lower in fructose:

  1. Avocado

Avocados are truly in a class by themselves when it comes to nutrition. Technically a fruit and not a vegetable, avocados are an outstanding source of healthy monounsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health and cholesterol levels.

One of the best fruits you can eat, avocados also supply good amounts of fiber, vitamin K, folate, and B and C vitamins. And they have twice the potassium of bananas! Great for adding to salads raw, a study shows avocados might even help your body absorb important bioactive carotenoids from other fruits and vegetables.

  1. Raspberries

These scarlet beauties contain more valuable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients than other fruits, including ellagitannins and ellagic acid. Unique to raspberries, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) value is one of the highest of all fruits.

If losing a few pounds is on your to-do list, you’ll appreciate the potential of the phytonutrient rheosmin (sometimes called raspberry ketones) found in raspberries. But don’t overdo it… raspberries have their share of fructose if you eat large enough quantities.

  1. Tomatoes

Tomatoes’ call to fame is for their lycopene content, a important flavonoid antioxidant. Lycopene helps protect cells, skin, and bone density. It may also help regulate heart rate and blood pressure levels.

Yet tomatoes supply a host of other nutrients, too, like fiber, vitamins A, E, C and K, as well as B vitamins, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, potassium and manganese.

Just one warning about canned tomatoes: BPA is often found in the vinyl lining of cans, especially tomatoes, which can leach into the food and adversely affect your brain, hormones and more. Ideally, freeze your own from your garden or opt for fresh.

  1. Lemon

Lemons are real vitamin C powerhouses, providing 187% of the daily value, so reach for these golden gems whenever you feel an infection coming on. Make sure you grab the real thing – fresh lemons. Bottled lemon juice can’t compare.

When you consume food with lemon, especially freshly squeezed juice, its citric acid can aid in your body’s digestion, while lemon’s multiple antioxidants promote healthy mucus membranes, skin and vision, and help protect cellular DNA and regulate your immune function.

  1. Kiwi

Known in ancient Chinese medicine as Yang Tao, kiwi fruit is a natural immune booster. Kiwi packs an abundance of vitamin C content – five times greater than that of an orange! And they’re a good source of vitamins K, A and E. Kiwis do contain a fair amount of sugar, so be sure not to overindulge.

Kiwis are one of the few foods rich in vitamin B6. The B6, copper and folate in kiwi is especially important for healthy fetuses, children and pregnant or breastfeeding women. These nutrients support bone growth and brain development, and help protect against birth defects and neutralizing damaging free radicals.

Fruits are easy to incorporate into your diet because they add both flavor and visual appeal. You can eat them raw, add small quantities to freshly squeezed vegetable juices or combine into a sumptuous fruit salad. Adding a limited amount of fruit to your diet, especially these ultra healthy varieties, is a great way to boost your health.

About the Author

Cheryl Malcham is a writer for Mercola.com. With a background in clinical nutrition and a driving passion for natural health, she’s always looking for ways to let nature be the guide towards a healthy lifestyle. Find out creative ways to use fresh fruits – Get your FREE Raw Food Recipes ebook here.

June 9, 2015

Today is a special day in Fargo because our very first natural grocery store has opened its doors! (To be fair, we do have three small-scale markets with natural items, but this is our first big operation.) Today marks the grand opening of Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage in Fargo — the first in our state, housed in the former Office Depot building on 45th and 13th.

natural grocers fargo store

I know, most of my readers are probably all like, “What’s the BFD? Just go to Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s!” You see, friends, Fargo has neither. I have heard that Whole Foods has per capita requirements in all locations where they open stores, and Fargo is a bit shy of those (which is kind of a crock because we have tons of rural towns nearby that travel in anyway for shopping).

The closest we have to natural and organic shopping are bulk items at Costco, the small but still growing natural selection at Target, and those three small natural markets, plus the Internet and farmer’s markets (but those are only open for about three months out of the year anyway).

The point is, there really is was nowhere we could go to and find everything on our list. I would often have to split my shopping list up between all of the aforementioned locations, and that’s just a drag. This store is really kind of a big deal, and it makes me so happy to see that Natural Grocers believes in our market and is offering a one-stop shop for all my crunchy needs.

inside natural grocers

I was lucky enough to have been invited to a sneak peek event and soft opening this past weekend, and I was part of a small group treated to a talk, complete with complimentary treats, by the store’s corporate and local staff and first dibs on shopping the new store.

We were fed totally delicious chicken curry lettuce wraps (get the recipe HERE), yogurt berry parfaits and green tea lemonade. Mmm.

I learned about the stores’ history, values and offerings, and I can honestly say I am really impressed. Far more than I actually expected to be.

Here are a few things I just love about this store:

-Each store has a nutritional health coach that customers can meet with for totally FREE to learn more about natural living and eating.

-Every single item sold in the store is free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives. This means I don’t have to worry about label reading and can trust that everything is safe.

-ALL produce sold is organic. What had never occurred to me before is that at other stores where both organic and “regular” produce is sold, there is a high likelihood of them coming into contact and cross-contamination, which means the organic produce is not really organic anymore. Here, I can be confident that it really is.

-All of the meat sold is naturally raised, with no hormones, antibiotics or byproducts in the animals’ feed. Just another way I can tell they really care about high quality in everything they sell.

-They offer frequent and FREE cooking demos and classes, and for every four you attend, you get a free $10 gift card to the store.

-They also support many sustainable initiatives, such as being totally bagless, and following green building practices when they can (in our case, this meant moving into an existing building instead of tearing it down and building from scratch).

-They are passionate, informed, and most importantly to me, friendly folks dedicated to natural living. I felt totally loved and welcomed in the store.

-They have a really vast selection of products, from regular food and grocery, including fresh produce, meats and dairy, shelf-stable cupboard items, to vitamins and supplements, pet products and beauty and personal care items.

crackers

All the crackers and all the soup broths!

soups

The store also claims that they are the low price leader in the industry, and I hear that often, so I always compare prices before believing that. As I was roaming the aisles during this event, I snapped photos of random items that I knew other places sold so I could see if their statement holds up.

Here’s what I found. A few price comparisons on randomly selected items:

-Organix cat food: $1.59 for 6 oz at Natural Grocers; $1.59 for 3 oz at PetSmart (NG wins big!)
-Evol burritos: $1.99 at both Target and Natural Grocers
-Giovanni 2chic shampoo: $7.43 at Natural Grocers; $6.42 at Swanson
-Blue Diamond Cheddar Cheese Nut Thins: $2.99 at Natural Grocers; $3.06 at Swanson
-Organic ground beef: $7.99/lb at Natural Grocers; $20 for a 3-pack at Costco (Costco wins on this one)
-Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea: $4.39 at Natural Grocers; $3.79 at Swanson
-Health Valley cereal bars: $4.89 at Natural Grocers; $4.89 at Target; $4.79 at Swanson
-Pacific Natural Foods Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth: $4.19 at Natural Grocers; $4.44 at Swanson
-Go Raw Simple Flax Snax: $4.15 at Natural Grocers; $4.69 at Swanson
-Orgain Nutritional Shake: $11.55 at Natural Grocers; $13.29 at Swanson
-NOW Foods Liquid Multi Gels 180 ct: $36.09 at Natural Grocers; $29.69 at Swanson
-Nature’s Way Echinacea Goldenseal, 180 ct: $20.65 at Natural Grocers; $14.54 at Swanson
-Seventh Generation Disinfecting Wipes: $6.59 at Natural Grocers; $3.59 at Swanson; $2.99 at Target
-Seventh Generation Free & Clear Dish Liquid: $3.49 at Natural Grocers; $3.59 at Swanson; $2.99 at Target
-Wellness cat food cans 5.5 oz: $2.15 at Natural Grocers; $2.09 at PetSmart
-Organic red raspberries: $2.99
-Green kale bunch: $1.50

Based on my “research,” Natural Grocers definitely wins the price battle on some items, but not all, and most were awfully close. I wouldn’t call them the leader, but I will say that their prices are good, and that’s good enough.

Here’s what I got in my first store haul. I went small to begin with, but I definitely look forward to going back and loading up on more. They’ve got me as a new customer for sure.

natural grocers purchaseThose caramel squares were spectacular, and that bunch of kale made yummy kale chips when I got home

This post is not sponsored, but I did receive a gift card for attending the store’s sneak peek opening event. I was not obligated to write on anything but wanted to anyway because it was too sweet not to.

March 16, 2015

favorite natural products

As many of you probably know, I’ve been trying to eliminate as many chemicals in my household and using more natural items instead that are non-toxic, cruelty free and eco-friendly. Last year Kate and I hosted a series calling Going Natural in which we shared more info and products in line with this philosophy. Since then, I’ve continued to experiment with even more brands and products, and since it’s been 3 months, I figured it’d be fun to share my newer discoveries. If you’ve thought about switching from most of the “mainstream” brands, these are all products with my seal of approval.

Beauty Products

natural beauty items

French Girl lip tint: This was one of the items in my Petit Vour box one month, and it is my absolute favorite lip product now. It gives my lips just enough color to pop, but it seems to be soft and smooth like a balm feels. Best of both worlds.

Meow Meow Tweet deodorant cream: As I mentioned in my Going Natural series, I really struggled finding a good natural deodorant that worked. Actually, I did give up and continued to use my women’s Degree. And then this little guy showed in a Petit Vour box, and I was really hesitant about a deodorant being in a tub I had to apply with my fingers, and doubtful that it would even work, but guys, it totally does! I am shocked and excited to finally have found something. Now, it doesn’t last quite as long as my Degree does, but it does get me through the day, and it’s by far the best I’ve found so far.

Acure Organics argan oil face towelettes: I also really like the Yes to Cucumber and Pacifica coconut water face wipes, but this kind is infused with argan oil to also help moisturize, and even though the towelettes are thinner than the other two, it actually removes makeup the best and seems the most effective.

Pacifica sea foam face wash and dreamy youth moisturizer: I was hesitant to commit to the full-size versions of these products, so was glad to find a 20% off Target coupon for Pacifica, and I used it to get a sample kit with small versions of these in it. The good news is I LOVE them both and will definitely be getting the big sizes when these run out. The face wash not only smells amazing, but foams up really well and feels great. The moisturizer isn’t too heavy or too light and just goes so well with it.

Nubian Heritage body wash and hand cream: So far, I’ve loved everything I’ve tried from this company. The coconut & papaya body wash is creamy and soft and feels great, and it even slathers really well. It’s become my favorite body wash over all the others I tried last year. I also got my sister in law the goat’s milk and chai hand cream, and that is lovely as well.

Evolv leave-in conditioner: Another find from a Petit Vour box, this leave-in spray is really nifty. I use it on towel-dried hair as a conditioner and heat protector, and it leaves my hair feeling really nice. It also works to help freshen up dry hair, so I spritz a bit on after work if I’m going out again for a little more life.

Everyday Minerals blush: Blush was another product I struggled with, and I still have yet to find a natural pressed blush, but this loose powdered blush came in a Petit Vour box, so I gave it a try and do actually like it. It has a nice color and goes on well.

Argan oil: I’ll admit: I didn’t “get” argan oil for a long time and thought it was just hype. Then I had to try some and research it for a blog post I wrote for work, and finally became a believer. This stuff is even better than coconut oil in my opinion. It’s an all-natural moisturizer but isn’t greasy. I slather some on my hands every night before bed for major softness, put it on my legs after shaving instead of lotion, use it on my fave after cleansing before bed and even to smooth out hair frizzies.

Food

Blake’s frozen meals: Even though I’m trying to cook and eat “clean,” sometimes you just need something to grab without thinking. We keep Blake’s meals on hand to bring to work for lunch if we don’t have anything else on hand, and these are way better, ingredients-wise, than the Lean Cuisines I used to shovel in. My favorite flavors are the meatloaf and tater tot hotdish. They’re a little spendier than I like, but I did catch them on sale at Target one day, so I loaded up. Literally, I brought 12 home. We had to clear out the freezer.

blakes

Barbara’s cereal: I tried two other “natural” cereals and wasn’t impressed. Most seem to taste bland or like cardboard, and these Puffins from Barbara’s actually have the best taste of them all, and I am so impressed at how few ingredients are in them (no artificial anything!).

puffin supp facts

Essential Oils

essential oils

First off, I just have to say for the record that I was turned off by essential oils for a long time because everyone was freaking out over them, but would only recommend the Young Living and DoTerra brands, which I felt were just waaay too expensive to justify. Finally I decided to try some other brands that were just as high quality, but far more affordable, and I am so pleased with them. The Swanson Organic oils are so good. I use the peppermint, lavender and lemon in my SpaRoom Aromalizer diffuser each morning as a natural allergy remedy instead of popping my usual Zyrtec, and so far so good! The NOW Foods oils have some nice blends too (Cheer Up Buttercup is my fave) that I’ll use in the diffuser during a bath or just around the house too. And 21 Drops has awesome blends that come in rollerballs, so you can take them on the go. Oils are also great just for DIY beauty uses (I made homemade bath salts) and for cleaning (mix with vinegar, etc.) too.

Pet food

party animal cat food

I still feed my cats Weruva canned chicken food, but my local natural pet store stopped carrying the other kind I rotated in, so I tried a few other varieties and most like the Party Animal Organic grain-free food. It’s a little cheaper than Weruva, which helps me save, but seems to be just as good quality. The deets on the company itself is a little more sketchy, but assuming that the info on their product packaging and website is accurate anyway, I feel pretty good about this food.

Do you have any favorite natural items to add to the list? I’d love to try more new things!

P.S. Remember, tomorrow is the next Tell Me About Your Town! Please come linkup with me and Bex and share with us the best restaurants or your fave places to eat in your town. The linkup will be open all week.

December 15, 2014

Catch up on the previous posts in this series: Introduction: Going Natural Series Reveal; Part 1: Makeup & Cosmetics; Part 2: Bath, Hair & Skincare; Part 3: Cleaning & Household Products; Part 4: Food, Snacks & Beverages; Part 5: Medicine, Vitamins & Alternative Remedies; Part 6: Pet Food

This makes me a little sad, but the Going Natural series is coming to a close. Kate and I had so much fun talking about our experiences going natural, and I hope we shared useful information and product recommendations that were helpful to you all. In case you missed any posts, check out the guide and links above for all the topics within the series.

A few quick takeaways:

-In every single category that we examined, it was clear that we as consumers can’t rely on labels or companies to tell the truth, and that just because something is on the shelf, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Many industries are not heavily regulated in the U.S., (especially compared to Europe), so it is so important to be informed consumers ourselves. I can’t recommend enough learning the basics of ingredients and how to read labels, do research on companies and read reviews so you can make informed decisions.

-We are exposed to hundreds of chemicals a day, and many we willingly bring into our home from things we buy at the store. The average woman eats 4 pounds of lipstick in her life. Of the chemicals that are in skincare and beauty products, makeup, household items and cleaners, our bodies absorb 60% of what we put on it, and many of those are linked to health complications, from skin allergies to infertility and even the C word.

-Prices can be higher for natural products, but they don’t have to be. There are still coupons available, and stores like Target, Ulta, Trader Joes and even TJ Maxx, are carrying more and more safer products these days.

-There are resources out there to help! To check if a company tests on animals, check out Leaping Bunny (here) and PETA’s database (here). If you can’t find the company on any of those sites, a simple Google search should give you a good idea if a company is cruelty free or not. Leaping Bunny also now has a mobile app to easily search while on the go.

-To check a specific product’s ingredients too see how harmful they are, search the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database (here). PETA also has a database of animal-based ingredients you can check if your products are actually vegetarian/vegan or not (here).

As Kate and I mentioned in our previous posts, we have an exciting giveaway and linkup to close this series.

The Giveaway

One winner will receive a gift basket of Kate’s and my very favorite natural products, plus a pocket shopping guide from PETA.

prize

Two more winners will each receive a $25 gift certificate redeemable at SwansonVitamins.com! Disclaimer: I work for Swanson, but in no way did they sponsor anything in this series. They were just kind enough to donate a prize, and carry tons of awesome supplements, natural beauty, household, food and pet products.

To enter to win one of these THREE prizes, just write your own natural post and link up with us below. Each post linked up counts as one entry.

The Linkup

We want to hear you share your own experiences going natural. Just write your own post and discuss what you learned in our series, if you tried any natural products and what you thought, share your own fave DIY solutions, why you want to go natural (or don’t!), or ANY other topic related to living the chemical and cruelty free lifestyle. Easy!

Grab the button below then add your own post below! We’d love to have ya! The linkup will be open through next Monday, so you have a whole week to join if you need more time to think of a topic or try a product. If you need a recommendation, you know who to ask:)

Notes from a Newlywed


Will you be joining us in going natural?

December 3, 2014

On Monday this week, I posted about going natural with the food we feed our pets. One way we can be even more natural with pet food is to switch our dogs to a raw diet. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn more about and try soon, but it’s really intimidating. I started with making my own dog treats, which was really easy, and some day I would love to make my own cat food. Cooked, to start out with. Anyway, in the spirit of this going natural series, I wanted to be sure to discuss raw diets, but since I know so little about it personally, I turned to my friend Lindsay instead. Lindsay blogs at That Mutt and knows so much about dogs, including raw food diets. She has a whole section about it on her site! I asked her to guest post all about raw dog diets so she can share her knowledge with me and with you! I consider this Raw Food 101.

dog eating raw chickenLindsay’s dog Ace eats a raw diet

I’ve been feeding my Lab mix Ace a raw dog food diet on and off since 2011.

When I mention “raw food,” some people are a little shocked. “Raw food? Like, raw meat? Won’t he get sick?”

People forget dogs are meant to eat raw meat and bones. They are descendants of wolves, after all, and their digestive systems can generally handle raw meat with no issues.

In this post, I’ll go over some of the raw dog food basics. If you have any questions, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them. I’m not a vet or a nutritionist or anything, just a concerned dog mom with a lot of experience feeding raw.

What the heck is raw dog food?

Raw dog food is just as it sounds, raw.

Most “raw feeders” feed their dogs:

-raw meat
-raw bones
-raw organs
-raw fruits and veggies (although some don’t feed fruits and veggies)

raw chicken and veggies

Why feed raw?

People begin feeding their dogs raw diets for a variety of reasons, but usually it’s to provide their dog with healthier, natural food.

It’s really no different than when you or I decide we’d like to eat a little healthier by adding more whole, raw foods to our diets. Things like raw nuts, raw veggies, raw fruit, etc.

With feeding a dog raw food, it’s the same logic, only their systems are able to handle raw meat when we can’t.

Unfortunately, there is not an actual study (that I’m aware of) that proves a raw diet is healthier for a dog than a cooked “kibble” diet.

There are many veterinarians and breeders in support of raw diets, because they believe real, fresh food is generally healthier for a dog than processed, dry food. That’s what it comes down to for me as well.

Most dry dog food contains unnecessary grain (usually corn) as well as chemical preservatives (for longer shelf life) and dyes.

Thankfully, there are several natural brands of dry dog food to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. It’s just that feeding your dog a home-cooked diet or a raw diet is another healthy option. In my opinion, raw is the healthiest option for most dogs.

How to feed your dog raw

There are plenty of raw dog food companies that sell frozen, pre-prepared raw food. You can get it at most pet food stores, even Petco and PetSmart have started carrying it.

Most brands sell the food in a ground, patty form (bones included), so it’s really easy to defrost and serve. If you go this route, you’ll need to have some freezer space for storage, especially if you have multiple large dogs.

Others prefer to “make” their dogs’ raw meals by buying the meat at a grocery store or from a butcher or co-op. This is generally way more affordable, but obviously less convenient.

I feed my dog both commercial raw food and homemade raw food to save money and because I believe in feeding him as much variety as I can. (I also feed him dry food for convenience.)

Getting started

Some dog owners are interested in feeding raw, but they’re worried their dogs will get sick. Believe me, it freaked me out at first too.

My suggestion is to start out really slowly, just as you would slowly transition your dog to any new food.

Some dogs will get an upset tummy from eating raw, not because of the raw food itself but because sometimes any type of change is hard on a dog’s system, right?

Even though commercial raw food is expensive, it’s the easiest way to get comfortable with the idea of raw. You can easily mix a small amount of the raw food in with your dog’s dry food and then gradually add more raw over time if your dog seems to do OK.

Some dogs don’t do so well when you mix cooked food with raw food because they digest the two differently. If that seems to be the case with your dog, you can feed him one dry meal in the morning and a raw meal later in the day.

raw ground beef and veggies

Making raw food yourself

I eventually started putting together easy raw meals for my dog because the commercial raw food is just so darn expensive. Sorry Ace, I just can’t afford to pay $4.99 a pound for dog food right now.

There is not a “right” or “wrong” way to feed raw food. Everyone you talk to will give you a different opinion, so it’s a matter of doing your own research and making the best decision you can.

The general rule of thumb most raw feeders use as a guideline is to feed:

-80 percent meat
-10 percent raw bone
-10 percent organ meat

Personally, I have modified that a little because I like to give my dog a small amount of fruits and veggies. I tend to feed something like 70 percent meat, 10 percent bone, 10 percent organ meat and 10 percent veggies.

The goal is to feed balance over time, not every single meal. Look at your dog’s feeding plan over a month or a week vs. each meal. It’s not like any of us are eating “balanced” meals every time we eat, right?

What to feed

Just as an easy example, I might feed my dog a raw chicken quarter along with ¼ cup of chopped veggies (green beans, spinach, kale, etc.). Then, for the organ meat I might give him a small amount of chicken liver.

Chicken is an easy food to start with because it’s pretty cheap and you can get it anywhere. Chicken quarters are perfect for my 70-pound dog, and they’re often on sale. I also give him turkey thighs, turkey organs, boneless pork, ground beef, raw eggs, etc.

raw turkey

Wait, aren’t bones dangerous?

No, not if they’re raw. It’s cooked bones you have to watch out for.

I know what you’re thinking, because I was pretty horrified the first time I saw my dog crunch up a chicken thigh and then basically swallow it whole. I was worried he would choke or that the bone would get lodged in his intestine.

Nope, he was fine, and I’ve seen him eat this way dozens of times since.

Raw chicken bones are not a problem as long as you’re not feeding small pieces that could be choking hazards. For example, I don’t give my 70-pound dog chicken wings or legs, but this may not be a concern if you have a smaller dog.

Of course, there is always the slight chance that a dog could choke on any type of food, but that’s why you should supervise and know your dog.

Some dog owners also give their dogs pork bones, such as ribs. These make me a little uncomfortable because they are harder, so I personally stick to chicken and turkey bones.

Others will even give their dogs raw beef bones for chewing purposes. I do not give my dog any beef bones because I’m worried he could hurt his teeth or try to swallow a large, non-edible chunk.

Again, it’s about finding your own balance and comfort level.

For more information

If you’d like more info, I’ve written a raw dog food ebook that goes over the basics and includes 10 easy recipes. You can also check out the raw dog food category on my blog.

Overall, raw feeding is easy once you get used to it. When you’re starting out, I recommend you do some research and be prepared to see a lot of conflicting information. As with anything else, you need to make the best decisions for your own unique dog.

Do you have any questions about feeding a dog raw food? Let me know in the comments.

December 1, 2014

Catch up on the previous posts in this series: Introduction: Going Natural Series Reveal; Part 1: Makeup & Cosmetics; Part 2: Bath, Hair & Skincare; Part 3: Cleaning & Household Products; Part 4: Food, Snacks & Beverages; Part 5: Medicine, Vitamins & Alternative Remedies

going natural pet food

As a reminder, this is the last topic in the Go Natural series with me and Kate. In two weeks, we will do a recap and host a linkup where we invite you all to share your own experiences going natural. Write your own post on Dec. 15, grab our button (at the end of this post) and discuss what you learned in our series, what products you switched, why you want to go natural, or any other topic related to living the chemical and cruelty free lifestyle. Everyone who links up will be entered into a giveaway to win a basket of our own favorite natural items!

If you’re like me, you think of your pets as your babies and want only the best for them. So of course, when I switched to using more natural products for myself, it was only natural I checked out what I was giving my pets too! Spoiler alert: I switched most of their products too.

The biggest focus in this post will be on pet food (for both dogs and cats), but I also looked into treats, kitty litter and a few other items.

It’s not too surprising, but still pretty sad, at the state of the pet food industry. Most big-name pet food manufacturers are only looking to make an easy profit, and don’t seem too genuinely concerned about making high-quality foods to feed our nation’s furry friends. There are a lot of cheap, sketchy ingredients put in many off-the-shelf foods that have serious dangers. Remember the term “greenwashing” from the beauty industry? Same thing is happening with pet food. Some brands slap feel-good words (“premium” “natural” “vet recommended”) or pictures of veggies and grains on their labels to make you think you’re buying good, natural food, when the ingredient list tells another story.

Cats

Now, the biggest takeaway for cat food is that cats should be fed wet food. This was a scary realization for me, as I had always feed only dry food to my cats. Dry food doesn’t provide enough moisture in cats’ diets, and is more highly processed, which can lead to urinary and kidney problems. While cats do drink water, it often isn’t enough for what they need to maintain proper functions. About the only benefit to dry food is that the kibble helps clean their teeth as they chew on the hard bits, so to make up for that, I found a high-quality hard treat to give my cats instead once or twice a day.

Next, cats are obligate carnivores. What they need most is animal protein (chicken, lamb, duck, turkey), plus some vitamins, taurine and water. Don’t be fooled into marketing messages telling you they need fruits and veggies. Granted, they don’t hurt, but they’re really not necessary. They’re often used as a filler because they’re cheaper to include than meat. Grains really should be avoided too (I ALWAYS look for “grain-free” on my labels), as well as dairy. Did you know that most all cats are naturally lactose intolerant?

I’ve read from many sources to avoid too much fish too, as it contains too many toxins, but cats do need omegas in their diets, so I usually feed one can a week of salmon, tuna or tilapia food.

I also try to get one primary protein per product, meaning a can of chicken, because it’s more complete and pure than “blends” that feature several different animal ingredients in one.

Think of it as feeding your cat what it would otherwise get in the wild.

Unfortunately, feeding mostly canned diets to cats is more expensive than dry food. I’ve probably tripled my cat food budget since I switched, but to me it is worth it. Proper nutrition for my best friends is priceless in my book. If you’re not able to spend more, my advice is to add in some canned food with dry to stretch it.

To help you further read labels, I found this infographic:
petfoodguide-petsweekly-smlsource

Cat food ingredients to watch out for

On your labels, look for an animal protein as the first two ingredients preferably, and no grains. Some ingredients I recommend avoiding are:

Wheat, corn or rice gluten
Animal byproducts
Meat or bone meal
Animal digest or animal fat
Artificial colors
BHA, BHT or TBHQ
ethoxyquin
Soy
Carrageenan

Sidenote: Several brands, even some natural ones, still include BPA in their cans.

Cat Food Brands

natural cat food cans

When I switched to canned food, I researched brands and ingredients extensively so I could pick the very best. I scoured websites, reviews and even sat down on the floor at my local pet food store to read labels on every brand they carried. Wellness is probably the most popular natural brand, but in the end, I found two other brands that I feel much better about personally. The two winners were Weruva’s grain-free options (the chicken and tilapia won out) and Hound & Gatos (the chicken one is the best). (UPDATE: My store no longer carries Hound & Gatos, but I’ve found that Party Animal is a great runner-up.) Tiki Cat is also pretty good, but my store didn’t carry any of the non-fish blends.

Now, while I recommend avoiding any food from China, I was at first concerned about Weruva’s “made in Thailand” copy on their label. I found out that Thailand is where Weruva sources many of their ingredients, but reports show that the facility is completely humane-grade, and all chickens used in their formulas as free range and used without hormones/cruelty, etc. It seems that Weruva is the best it gets. Hound & Gatos is a much newer line, so less is known about their production, but so far anyway, I didn’t see any warning signs, and their ingredients speak for themselves.

As for treats, the one that won all the others out was Halo Healthsome Chicken cat treats. I used to give my kitties Greenies, but even those ingredients did not pass the test.

Dogs

Dogs are a little easier when it comes to their nutritional needs, thankfully. And even better news for my wallet was that dogs are completely fine on a primarily dry kibble diet, the caveat being it should be a high-quality one. My local store employees explained to me that dogs react to their natural thirst and seek out water much more so than cats do, so they have no issue getting enough moisture in their diet. Dogs also are able to eat grains, and most fruits and veggies without issue.

Dog food ingredients to avoid

Wheat and corn gluten
Animal byproducts
Meat or bone meal
Animal digest or animal fat
Artificial colors
BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin
Potassium sorbate and sodium nitrate
Propylene glycol

Brand Recommendation

I did far less research into individual brands for dog food than I did cat food, because it turns out I was already feeding Brick a good quality food so no change was needed. I can tell you though to steer clear of the big-name brands like Purina and Iams and to find a natural brand with good ingredients. Brick eats NutriSource Adult Chicken & Rice formula. NutriSource is also made in the U.S., which is another plus.

I did check out labels on some of the popular brands for fun one day at PetSmart and was not impressed. Check out these labels I found. They all have several of the red-flag ingredients, despite marketing that tries to make consumers believe it is high quality:

iams dog food  beneful dog food

I get all my pets’ food at a specialty local natural pet store. If you don’t have one near you, try to find the natural section of PetSmart or Petco, or find the brand you want and ask them where to buy (most have that available on their website anyway).

I have to caution against Science Diet. There are lots of arguments out there against them, and I’m not impressed either. From what I’ve gathered, your vet recommends it is because they make money off it it with an agreement. Dog Food Advisor, an unbiased source, called it “below average” and “not recommended.” They’ve had recalls, law suits and numerous reports of sick pets, and use cheap ingredients and fillers with no nutritional value.

If you feel extra ambitious, you can even try feeding your dog a raw diet. Actually, that’s about as natural as it gets. I don’t have much experience with that (yet), but I can tell you to watch this space on Wednesday this week, because I’ve got a guest post scheduled from a friend of mine who does feed a raw diet and is giving her own tips for going raw.

Treats

natural pet treats

I was really appalled at the ingredients listed on treat boxes too. I had been giving Brick Milk Bones and Pupperoni for years, and I assumed that because it was a popular treat that it was OK. When I turned the box over though on a Beggin’ Strip bag, I saw Red 40, Yellow 5, BHA and artificial flavors.

While I didn’t have to switch Brick’s food, I did overhaul his treat supply. He now gets Halo Healthsome Skin & Coat, Newman’s Own Organics Peanut Butter Dog Treats, Old Mother Hubbard, regular peanut butter in his Kong and homemade treats (which are surprisingly easy to make and store well in the freezer.).

Tips & Resources

In general, the best advice I can give is to check that ingredients list and avoid any food or treats from China. Check recall lists frequently too, and chat with the employees at natural pet stores. If you want to do more research on your own, here are some of the best resources I found:

Dogfoodadvisor.com: I like this site to check specific products for an ingredient analysis.
How to Read a Pet Food Label
How to identify healthy dog treats – there is such a thing!
Preservatives to Avoid in Dog (Cat) Food and Treats
The Quest for the Ideal Cat Food
Ingredients to avoid
Catinfo.org

Cat Litter

natural cat litter

I have to admit: When I first switched my cats’ diet, I had never even thought to check if the litter they used was safe too. It was a comment from my friend Lindsay asking if I’d be exploring natural litters that actually prompted me to look into it. And I’m so glad I did!

What I learned is that most litters (and all I’ve ever used) are clay. The first issue with clay litters (and particularly clumping clay litters) is that they are mined, rather than sustainably grown like corn alternatives or those made from recycled materials, meaning it’s less eco-friendly and not biodegradable. The other issue with clay is that it creates a dust, which is annoying when pouring and scooping, and it sticks to kitty paws as they bury their business. When kitties then groom themselves, they ingest that dust or even the clay bits themselves. That can then get stuck in their intestines and cause issues. Clay dust also contains silica, which is a chemical, and when inhaled, is known to be a carcinogen. Umm, whoa.

So I researched several natural litter options and picked out two corn-based litters to test on my own. Arm & Hammer Essentials (which also contains baking powder for scent containment) and World’s Best Cat litter. What’s cool about corn-based litters is that it’s all-natural, lighter, dust-free, and even flushable! After using both for awhile, I’m actually pretty impressed. Both clumped better than I expected, and contained smell pretty well, though not quite as well as clay. I did combine my old clay litter with the new corn kind to transition my cats (and me!) to corn, and I don’t even think my kitties noticed. I’m calling it a win, and soon I’ll switch over to using only corn.

Other Pet Products

Just like humans, we use some “beauty” products on our pets. To save on grooming fees, we give Brick baths at home and I would buy doggie shampoos from PetSmart. The one I used before had some scary ingredients on it – the same ones I recommend avoiding on ourselves (parabens, sulfates and artificial ingredients). One shampoo I am impressed with though is Furminator deShedding Ultra Premium Shampoo, which has great ingredients, is cruelty free and made in the USA.

pet wipes

I also used some grooming wipes on the kitties between baths as Little Girl can shed and is a little smelly. I’m happy to have found PawGanics Deep Cleansing Grooming Wipes to do the job instead, and they have no alcohol, parabens, sulfates or phthalates, are biodegradable, cruelty free and made in the USA.

I think I covered all products that I use for my pets anyway. Is there anything else I missed? I’d love to discuss this further, so feel free to ask questions or share more info in the comments or through email.

natural series button

November 17, 2014

Catch up on the previous posts in this series: Introduction: Going Natural Series Reveal; Part 1: Makeup & Cosmetics; Part 2: Bath, Hair & Skincare; Part 3: Cleaning & Household Products; Part 4: Food, Snacks & Beverages

natural series button

Cold weather is here, and so is flu and cold season. I already had one 24-hour bug, and when I looked at the ingredients in the off-brand medicine in my cabinet, I saw several artificial colors, propylene glycol and a paraben listed. Umm, since when did we have to worry about dangers in the very things we take to feel better? As it turns out, not much is safe anymore, and you have to be an informed consumer even when it comes to medicine.

In this installment in my Going Natural series with Kate, we’re talking about medicine, vitamins, vaccines and other natural and alternative remedies.

Oh, and at the end of this post, I have some exciting news, as we approach the end of this series. Make sure to scroll through and see our announcement!

Industry regulation

The pharmaceutical industry is much more regulated than the other industries we’ve discussed thus far in the series (beauty, household products, etc.), and even the vitamin and supplement industry has strict FDA rules it must follow. I know this firsthand in my job as a copywriter & proofreader for Swanson Vitamins. We have to be very careful on our product labels and in the words we choose when marketing them. The biggest rule is that supplements cannot make “claims” like medicine can. For instance, we cannot say that supplement XYZ cures any disease/keeps viruses away/prevents osteoporosis/guarantees weight loss, but we can say that it supports cardiovascular health/provides support for healthy bones/promotes overall wellness/etc.

Now, that doesn’t mean that all companies follow FDA regulations. Many still make claims, include poor ingredients, don’t keep clean facilities or follow label laws, etc., and are fined or face disciplinary action because of it if they’re caught. There are still many loopholes that some companies will take advantage of. Even then, some approved ingredients are not known to be safe, haven’t been on the market long enough to know long-term effects, and let’s not even talk about some of the corruption within our governmental bodies.

The bottom line is that yes, some medicine, supplements, etc., can be very beneficial, but it’s best to be cautious about what you put in your body. Just like everything else we’ve talked about in this series, I cannot recommend enough learning about ingredients, researching companies, reading reviews, considering natural or alternate remedies and making informed decisions for you and your family’s health.

Red-flag ingredients

Many medicines and supplements contain what I would call sketchy ingredients. They’re inactive ingredients used to preserve freshness, texture, add color, flavor or maintain a certain consistency. Pills, in particular, need something to bind the ingredients together so the pill doesn’t fall apart, to prevent sticking during production and/or help your body absorb the active ingredients at the right time in the right place. These are sometimes called flow agents, binders or fillers. Some of the more common ones on your labels will be magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, starch, microcrystalline cellulose, stearic acid, simethicone, vegetable gum, talc or propylene glycol.

While these are somewhat questionable, because they’re present in such small doses, they’ve been regarded as mostly safe with proper use. However, when it comes to pregnant women and children, that’s where things get a little scarier. Some ingredients in OTC medicine and supplements do have some studies linking them to toxicity.

I’ve seen this warning on several items: “This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.” Now, that may not necessarily mean you will experience that if you take it, but it’s not a good sign. Any time the list of side effects is longer than the benefits, I try and steer clear. I mean, why risk it?

That being said, I may be leaning a little more hippie/crunchy these days than the average person. By switching to natural products in so many areas of my life, I’ve become hypersensitive and aware of dangerous ingredients and I like to play it as safe as possible.

To get another perspective on this whole topic, I talked to Ashlen, who blogs at A Diamond with Sapphires, since she’s a pharmacist. Her advice for anyone trying to choose a supplement from the myriad of brands on the shelf, is to look for the USP Verified Mark. Any product with that mark has to have the correct ingredients in the correct amounts, as stated on the packaging, and a manufacturing process that is sanitary and well controlled. Read more about that here.

Birth control

Birth control is tricky. Without going into any religious/ethical debates about whether to use it or not, the fact is that many women do use it. I did for almost 10 years! And I wish I had gone off it much sooner.

All those synthetic hormones in those little pills can do a number on your body, despite the benefits they provide during use. Blood clots are probably the most noted side effect of the pill, though it affects few people who take it. Other reported side effects with the pill include mood changes, decreased libido, tender breasts, migraines, higher blood pressure, decreased bone density, even cancer, heart disease and stroke. Yikes.

One of the natural bloggers I follow, Arielle, recorded a vlog about why she recently went off the pill too. As she said, another issue with birth control is simply the fact that it changes your “lady environment.” Of course, that’s the point: to make your body inhospitable to sperm so that you do not become pregnant. But for people who are on the pill for other reasons (such as to help irregular cycles or for acne, like myself), or people who just want to live more naturally and chemical-free, you may want to think twice about the pill. Oh, and hormonal birth control is also listed as a carcinogen.

I’ll say that for me, coming off the pill has not been fun at all. Months later, I am still experiencing side effects and my body is still adjusting. And yes, I will be elaborating on that in a separate post because I was totally unprepared for it and think more women should be informed about that. Also like Arielle says, if transitioning off something is so harsh, it cannot be a good thing what happened while you were on it.

Ibuprofen

Random fun fact: I used to buy Midol without a second thought for menstrual cramps. Turns out plain old ibuprofen has been shown to be the most effective pain reliever for menstrual pains. Actually, all of the products marketed for menstrual pain relief contain ibuprofen but cost much more because they are marketed as a “high tech” pain reliever (source).

Vaccines

Boy, this one is probably the trickiest topic of all. There are a lot of passionate people out there pronouncing whether to vaccinate or not to, and there is very compelling evidence presented by both sides of the argument. After reading both sides, I really don’t even feel comfortable enough presenting either of their arguments to you here because there is very conflicting information and I’m not even sure where I fall on the subject.

I will tell you that I personally do not get the flu shot for myself. One, because I have an irrational fear of needles and have been known to hyperventilate and black out around them. Two, because I know so many people who do get the flu shot and still end up with the flu. Why would I put myself through the horror of the vaccine only to still receive the flu?! I don’t get sick often anyway, and when I do, it’s usually very short-lived and mild, nothing that a little bit of OTC medicine can’t fix in a day or two.

But, everybody is different, and so I am going to defer to Ashlen again on this topic since she is far more qualified to speak to the vaccine controversy than me. Here’s what she told me: “YES, I think the potential side effects of vaccines are worth the risk. I’m actually really passionate about this subject, because I feel like there is a lot of misinformation and myths floating around, but when you look at the scientific evidence, it is VERY clear that vaccines have provided a huge benefit to our society by preventing horribly painful and deadly diseases. I think maybe society as a whole hasn’t seen some of the diseases in so long (mumps, measles, rubella, pertussis and polio are all great examples) that we forget that the diseases can be fatal or cause lifelong disabilities.

“I wish I could say that vaccines are 100% safe, but frankly nothing is 100% safe. For me, it’s about weighing the risks versus the benefits. Yes, there are risks and side effects when receiving a vaccine, but they’re usually minor and the serious ones are rare.”

If you are concerned about the dose of thiomersal (mercury) in your flu vaccine, know that you can request a single-dose vial instead. Ashlen also told me this: “The multi-dose vials contain thiomersal as a preservative to prevent bacterial growth because we insert multiple needles into the vial to give multiple people their injections. Obviously the needles are sterile, but every time you enter the vial you still risk contamination. The single dose vial does not need the preservative because you’re using the entire vial for one dose of the vaccine.”

OK, so let’s move on from common medicines and on to alternatives.

Homeopathic options

I confess that when I first started working at Swanson, I wasn’t completely sure what homeopathic medicine was. In case you’re not sure either, how I understand it now is that it operates under the idea that like treats like, so you give yourself teeny doses of what you have in a highly diluted formula. Just like how taking local honey helps you grow more immune to your local pollen allergens! Some reasons people choose homeopathic medicine is because there are no drug interactions and it is non-toxic, often a safer alternative for children or if you experience side effects to OTC products. Hyland’s is probably the most popular homeopathic brand that I know of.

I also asked Ashlen her take on homeopathic products, and she says she typically prefers standard OTC products. Many people think that because something is homeopathic it is natural, and therefore it is safe. But just because something is natural instead of synthetic does not necessarily mean it is safe. “For example, poison ivy is certainly natural, but I wouldn’t call it safe!” There are also fewer scientific studies on homeopathic remedies or natural products for them to be proven effective.

Natural remedies for allergies, headaches, cramps and more

What’s really cool to me is that there are some totally natural ways to help treat your health concerns. Food, in particular, can be one way to do just that.

The Always Beautiful Project blog posted four foods that can used to be treat migraines: ginger, chia seeds, water and raw cocoa. For a headache, acupressure massage can help using traditional Chinese techniques too. I’ve never tried the hand method, but it sure does feel good to rub my temples when I’ve got a headache.

I actually get headaches frequently. Like, several days a week there is a dull pain high in my neck, and I constantly have knots near the base. I tend to carry all my stress in my neck, which is what gives me frequent headaches. We have an in-house masseuse at work, so I’ve started seeing her a few times a month, and I am astonished at how powerful regular massages can be for my neck and shoulder pain. She knows just where to rub to work out the kinks, and if I go more than two weeks or so without seeing her, I start to feel the tightness and pain coming back. There is definitely something to massage.

There is also a line of tea called Traditional Medicinals that uses herbs to treat various symptoms. It stems from ancient people that used plants as medicine. Now while I am not sure how effective it all is, I figure that it certainly can’t help, and may as well give it a shot. I’ve had a few cups of the Healthy Cycle tea to see if it can help my cramps at all. It features raspberry and nettle leaf, which traditionally were used to balance female’s cycles. Again, I’m not sure yet it if “works,” but it tastes lovely and is soothing nonetheless.

If you’re an allergy sufferer, like I am, you’ve tried every product on the market to keep the sneezing and runny nose at bay. The only OTC product that worked for me was Zyrtec, but since it is a chemical with its own list of side effects and iffy inactive ingredients, I’m trying to see if I can steer clear of it and still function during allergy season. I tried a homeopathic hayfever relief tablet, which I think did help a little bit anyway, but I didn’t try it long enough to say for sure. Other totally natural ways to help allergies is to watch for dust in your home, keep windows closed and the AC running, use HEPA filters, vacuum, sweep and clean often, keep plants outside, wear sunglasses outside, drink water, keep pets out of the bedroom at night, shower before bed, don’t dry your clothes outside, and try a neti pot. Of course, it’s also worth it to get a test to find out exactly what you’re allergic to.

Essential oils

Essential oils are all the rage recently, and I think there’s probably something to it. I wish I knew more about oils myself, but because they’re such an investment, I haven’t dived in too much yet. Instead, I compiled three resources I refer to for information you might want to check out as well:

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: The Complete Beginner’s Guide on Swanson’s blog
How I Use Essential Oils on Life According to Steph
Essential Oils: Part 1: General Health on In Due Time

Final thoughts and recommendations

I think Ashlen has a great point about how to approach this: It’s all about balancing risks with benefits, and that will be different for every person. I still recommend doing research so you can empower yourself with knowledge about what you put in your body.

I’m really trying to get away from as many chemicals and toxins as possible, but do have to make some exceptions now and then. On a bad allergy day, I will pop a Benadryl. I mean, girl’s gotta be able to breathe, you know. I’m sure there are other dangers lurking in other places I haven’t even thought of yet, and that has to be OK. I can’t catch everything, but I can do my best to get away from the worst of it.

When it comes to medicine and vitamins, here’s what has worked best for me so far:

I take children’s medication. It usually has lower doses of active ingredients and fewer side effects, not to mention better taste.

I take one multivitamin daily, but it’s a gummy for children and adults. The specific one I use is Nordic Naturals Nordic Berries, and it has lower doses of all the vitamins than most multis do. I actually used to take Women’s One A Day, and it made me sick. Like, dry-heaving, sick to my stomach, curled up in pain sick. It took me awhile to make the connection, but I was able to eventually pinpoint that vitamin to it. It made me leery to ever take a multivitamin again, so for awhile I took many different supplements so I could cover anything I was missing in my diet. It got old real quick taking so many different pills, so I was pleased as punch to find that I can tolerate Nordic Naturals. Plus they taste awesome.

nordic berries

In addition to my daily multi, I also pop some folic acid. I’ve read over and over, and my own Ob-Gyn recommended I take 400 mcg of folic acid a day, which is essential for any woman of child-bearing age.

For others, vitamin D is something you might want to consider, especially during the winter months in a Northern climate. Biotin can also be really beneficial for hair and nail health.

Probiotics are popular supplements for digestive health. They basically are live microorganisms (the good bacteria) that aid gut health and digestion, and many factors can decrease the good bacteria you naturally have (from stress to diet to other medications).

The other supplement that’s recommended are fish oils. Most of us don’t get enough, and they are really important to overall health. Gotta get yo amino acids and omegas!

This can be overwhelming, but above all, just try to make healthy, informed choices. A few small changes here and there can be great steps in the right direction.

Here are a few of my favorite recommended reads and sources I used, if you want to start learning more on your own:

Drug Coatings Can Contain Problematic Chemicals
Why I’m Going Off of Birth Control
Homeopathic Medicine: Definition & Brief Overview
Top 5 kitchen items for home remedies & natural medicine
The Essential Guide to Natural Allergy Relief

Join Kate and I again on Dec.1 when we’re back to talk about pet products, from food to treats and even kitty litter, with tips and recommendations how to improve the quality of what you give your furry friends.

Special note: I also have an announcement: The next post will be the last topic in this series. After that, we will have one final wrap-up on Dec. 15. In that post, we will also be hosting a linkup and a giveaway! Kate and I both will put together a package of our favorite natural products to give away to readers of this series. To enter to win, we want to know what you’ve learned throughout this series and what natural products you’ve tried on your own. Write your own post about going natural and link up with us on Dec. 15. Spread the word about going cruelty and chemical free and maybe even win a sweet natural gift too! We’ll have more details on this in the next post on Dec. 1.

Will you be joining us to talk about going natural on Dec. 15?

November 3, 2014

Catch up on the previous posts in this series: Introduction: Going Natural Series Reveal; Part One: Makeup & Cosmetics; Part Two: Bath, Hair & Skincare; Part Three: Cleaning & Household Products

groceries

Ahh, food. It’s what gives us power to get through the day and provides nutrition to our bodies to keep them functioning properly. We literally cannot live without it. While this Going Natural series started with products that we used ON our bodies, now we’re going to back it up and talk about what we put IN our bodies.

For me, taste is most important thanks to my life as a junk food junkie. But once I started realizing that what I was putting both in and on my body could be harmful, long term, I took food a little more seriously. I set out to find out the truth behind what is in food and how it can translate to my own future and health, and also how it affects animals and the environment because it’s also important for me to make compassionate choices. I’m glad to report that so far, I am thrilled that I’ve found amazing, safer foods that I feel zero guilt about stocking up on in my house, without compromising taste.

This topic, though, is a tricky balance of choosing great tasting, high-quality ingredients, ethically and sustainably raised and harvested, organic, non-GMO and nothing artificial, versus looking for healthy food, low in calories, sugar, salt and fat and high in nutrients. I tend to lean toward the former as what matters to me, but the beauty of that is both tend to follow the other. Wherever you stand, just wanting to make kinder, safer choices, or just wanting to be healthier, both can benefit you tremendously. And with both, it’s incredibly helpful to know ingredients and be able to read labels. That’s where we step in (meaning me, Kate and Casey, your series hosts!).

Understanding Health & Food Buzzwords

Just like we discussed in our previous topics, it’s so important to be able to read a label and understand the basics of the nutrition facts panel, what ingredients mean, and what some of the common buzzwords are. A few of the words I look for, and what they mean (as I understand them as a consumer, not an expert by any means), are as follows:

Organic: A true organic food means that it contains no artificial flavors, colors, additives or sweeteners, and fewer (or no) pesticides. Organic foods are usually more nutritious because they’re less processed, have fewer to no chemicals and are better for the environment as organic farming produces less waste and fewer toxins. If a food has the official USDA Organic logo, that means it was actually certified and that the company didn’t just slap the word on a label.

Vegan: As you probably know, vegetarians eat no meat at all, but vegans take it a step further and avoid any products with origin, including cheese, milk and honey. An item labeled vegan means zero animal ingredients are present.

Gluten free: Probably the most “buzzed” health word right now, gluten free means foods containing no gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, barley and rye, and those with celiac disease cannot tolerate gluten in their diet. Some people may not have celiac disease, but are still sensitive to gluten, as it can cause discomfort in the intestine. Foods labeled gluten free have no gluten or very small amounts of it.

Superfoods: Think of superfoods as regular food with “super” nutritional powers. They often have many undisputed health benefits and contain antioxidants and essential vitamins needed in our diet to maintain good health and maybe even help fight some medical conditions. Popular ones are blueberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, salmon, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, tomatoes and whole grains.

GMOs: This refers to genetically modified ingredients, which essentially means that somewhere in a lab at some point, a food was altered chemically or via biology or to make it more desirable to the consumer. It often means that its DNA was merged with that of something else to make a food a certain color, size, consistency or taste. A non-GMO food means that it was not altered or modified. While not all GMOs are necessarily harmful, studies do show both health and environmental risks.

High Fructose Corn Syrup: HFCS is a common food additive derived from corn starch, with enzymes added, that acts as a sweetener. It is often blamed for obesity, but no studies so far confirm that. The FDA and Mayo Clinic seem to agree that HFCS is not much worse than any other added sugars, but to play it safe, avoid it anyway.

Whole foods: These are foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, and do not contain added salt, carbohydrates or fat. I think of this as a whole, fresh food, as nature intended, like what people ate before food came from factories. Think fresh produce, grains, beans and meat.

Fair Trade: This is a blanket term to describe food or other goods that were produced in a manner that was fair to the farmers or workers that provide the product, and infers that they were compensated for their work fairly and the products were made sustainably.

Clean eating: The trendy “clean eating” movement really just means cleaning your body of chemicals by cutting out processed/packaged foods and turning to whole, fresh ingredients. Some take it farther and recommend including a protein, carb and fat at every meal, and eating five or six small meals throughout the day rather than two or three big ones. It recommends drinking water or 100% whole juices in place of sodas or fancy coffees. I think of it as eating sensibly rather than an actual “diet.”

Label Laws

Now, just like we told you in the previous posts, label laws are also awfully loose with food. Just because a label says “healthy” doesn’t mean it is. Just because it says “no preservatives” or “with 100% whole grain” makes it a good choice. However, the FDA does a better job with monitoring the use of terms like kosher and non-GMO, as many of those companies will need to prove via inspections and with certifications, that their products earn those labels, and often use logos (you’ve seen the USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO project labels. Look for those!). Organic is still kind of tricky, but thankfully the government is cracking down on it.

Here’s a helpful infographic I found to break it down a little more.

food labeling
Source: Reusable bags

Dangerous Ingredients

Pesticides: In short, pesticides are chemicals used to deter pests (aka insects) from food. According to a EWG report, the average potato had more pesticides by weight than any other food, and a single grape sample contained 15 pesticides. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas and strawberries showed 13 different pesticides apiece. And recent scientific research suggests that neonicotinoid pesticides could harm children’s brain development. Umm yeah, this is where organic produce is becoming a lot more appealing.

Artificial colors: Food dyes are rampant, and a study now shows that we’re getting far more of it than we previously thought. Trix cereal, for instance, contains 36.4 mg of dye, and cherry Kool-Aid has 52.3. These can lead to issues in children and health problems for adults. (source) I grabbed a box of Cinnamon Life cereal and was appalled at what was listed in the ingredients: yellow 6, red 40 and blue 1. Safer, all natural colors can instead come from beta carotene, grapes and saffron.

BHT: Which stands for butylated hydroxytolune, it’s a common (and toxic) preservative with a long list of hazards. The EU has banned it in cosmetics, yet we continue to eat it in many foods. It was also listed in that same box of Life cereal. Mmm…

Where’s the Beef?

Aside from the possible dangers of nitrates (which I won’t go into because it’s not very conclusive) in meat, the meat industry is a danger because of all of its environmental effects. Which is concerning to a nation like the U.S. because we consume so darn much of it. Some meats are less harmful, but the EWG did a study comparing various greenhouse gas emissions on 20 different types of meat. Here’s a sweet chart illustrating their findings.

carbon footprint of meat chartsource

Let’s Talk Tea (& Other Beverages)

OK, let’s move on to drinks. We all know by now that pop is bad. But many other beverages can have hidden dangers too.

I bet you wouldn’t guess tea as one of them, but many tea bags are bleached to make them white. And further, a recent study that tested tea from 11 brands made by eight manufacturers showed that “at least 94 percent of the samples contained pesticides; nearly 60 percent had a cocktail of more than 10 different chemicals, including one sample that contained 20 different pesticides.” And 67 percent of tea samples were contaminated with DDT. (source)

Let’s not even talk about milkshakes (which can contain 50 different chemicals), and sports and energy drinks.

We all know that water is great for our bodies, but you may want to be wary of both the tap and the bottled kind for different reasons. Flouride in water could be a whole post in itself, and I found an article (that I forgot to bookmark or else I’d link it) that said water filters may not be removing as many contaminants as we once thought. Many bottled waters don’t actually disclose the source of their water or treatment method either, which leaves a lot of room for concern.

The hardest for me to swallow though (pun intended) is Starbucks. It’s been under scrutiny from the Organic Consumers Association for using regular milk since the ‘Bucks consumes 93 million gallons of non-organic milk (where animal abuse and unhealthy practices including GMOs and industrial agriculture occur). That aside, the PSL is not pretty. Take a look at this:

starbucks PSLsource
(Edit: After publishing this originally, I found out that there is a lot of speculation as to the truth and validity of this graphic’s information. Regardless, I think it still stands to say that the PSL probably is not the best choice for health reasons, though I think indulging very occasionally is totally OK.)

General Tips & More Resources

My biggest advice to anyone wanting to change their food habits to a more natural, healthy approach is to become an informed consumer. Read all that you can, identify harmful and helpful ingredients, know possible side effects and recommended dosages, look up company profiles and product reviews. You can never know too much about what you’re putting in your body, so dive in and empower yourself with knowledge.

Once you’ve picked safe(r) food, I can’t recommend meal planning enough to help you stay on track with healthy eating. Eat locally as much as you can too not only to support your own local economy, but to reduce the carbon footprint. I love the produce from my farmer’s market – I think it tastes better too. Oh, and it’s waay cheaper than the grocery store. Find a local butcher or meat shop and farm fresh eggs. If you’re ambitious enough, start your own garden!

Below, I also compiled some of the most helpful resources I found online in my own quest for healthy living knowledge:

EWG’s Food Scores
Clean Eating 101
Understanding Ingredients on Food Labels
Food Label or Warning Label: Top 10 Worst Processed Foods
USDA announces crack-down on companies deceptively using ‘organic’ in brand names
25 Things Fast Food Restaurants Don’t Want You To Know
Grocery Shopping Guide: How to Keep Your Body Healthy & Your Wallet Fat
The Real Food, Good-Better-Best Principle
Hungry Girl
The Lean Green Bean blog
Animal Vegetable Miracle book

My Favorite Products

Of course fresh, whole foods are best, but sometimes convenience has to win. There are lots of great natural brands out there offering packaged foods that aren’t too bad. I’ll spare you from the gigantic list of everything I tried and just list my favorite food finds.

(All items are linked to their page on the Swanson Vitamins website. This post is not sponsored by Swanson or any other company, but because I work there, I got easy access to try all these items, and can vouch that our prices are almost always better than what you can get them for in store.)

Breakfast

breakfast items

Health Valley Cereal Bars: Not only do these taste so much better than Nutri-Grains, they also have much better ingredients.

Snacks

natural snacks

Kameda Frosted Rice Crackers: These look plain and boring, but they taste extraordinary. Sweet and salty and buttery, it reminds me of kettle corn. I LOVE these.

Simply 7 Lentil Chips: These are a perfect alternative to my regular greasy chips. They taste great and have a pleasant, crunchy texture, though they’re a bit thicker. I absolutely love them.

Back to Nature Peanut Butter Crème Cookies: Oh my gosh, these are the bees knees. If you like Nutter Butters, you will love these.

Back to Nature Roasted Spinach and Garlic Crackers: These are kind of like Wheat Thins but I feel much better about the ingredients, and they hit the spot for a between-meal salt craving.

Krave Pork Jerky Sweet Teriyaki: This jerky is much better than Jack Links in both taste, texture and ingredients. Winner!

Sahale Snacks Glazed Cashews: Sweet nuts. ‘Nuff said.

Pantry Essentials

natural food

Eden Organic quinoa, pasta sauce and beans: This is a brand I keep ordering from for my kitchen staples. Love everything so far.

Bobs Red Mill: Bob’s is a brand you must know! They make high-quality baking mixes, flour, oats, chia seeds, polenta and so much more, and have lots of organic and gluten free options too.

Annie’s: While Annie’s was recently bought by General Mills (who uses GMOs), they claim their products will not change, and I really am a fan of their organic condiments and boxed mac & cheese.

Kodiak Cakes Flapjack Mix: Scrumptious pancakes that are so easy to make.

Amy’s Kitchen soups: Great organic soup options, and this brand even has some awesome frozen meals.

Simply Organic vanilla and spices

natural foods

Once again, I probably went a little overboard with the information on this topic, but I would always rather have too much than too little. I hope this was helpful! Feel free to reach out with any more questions or comments. I think it’s safe to say that Kate, Casey and I all love talking about this stuff.

Do you have a fave natural food brand?

Join us on Nov. 17 when we’re back to talk about medicine, supplements and other alternative remedies. Go natural!

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October 27, 2014

natural baby items photo

Once I started going natural in my own life, I realized how big of a difference it can make. For my sister in law’s baby shower, I decided to put together a package of natural baby products she could use to get away from using chemicals and toxins on her adorable new son. Since I work at a vitamin and health products company, I have easy access to all sorts of awesome natural products, so I got to work researching brands and products, looking at ingredients and reviews to pick the best stuff.

After she had a chance to use the products, she mentioned loving all of them, so being the blogger I am, I asked her to try some more stuff and give me her own reviews so I could share with you all the great finds we found.

Knowing that our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it, and that babies are even more susceptible than adults, I was appalled at some of the ingredients listed in big-name baby products. We really can’t escape chemicals, even items made specifically for babies anymore. For instance, most disposable diapers are bleached with chlorine, which produces dioxins and is one of the most toxic of all chemicals. Those chemicals are just as bad for the environment too. Wipes can contain parabens, phthalates and other bad-news ingredients. Even specialized lotions and washes marketed for babies aren’t safe from harmful ingredients.

This post isn’t sponsored, and her reviews are totally genuine. If any readers have of kids of their own, or if you’re looking for a gift for a friend’s baby shower, these would be great items to try. I’m so into this natural stuff that I can’t help but share.

baby leif
All items approved by this little dude (and his mom).

Seventh Generation Free & Clear Diapers: These are less bulky than the disposable diapers I was using prior to trying these. The neutral shade, free of design, makes me feel like he’s wearing a cloth diaper-simple and cute, and probably less chemicals, too. Absorption seems to match, if not surpass, that of the diapers he’s been using. He went overnight in one and NO leaks/blowouts, more so than usual. Also, made in the USA!

Seventh Generation Free and Clear Baby Wipes Unscented: I’ve used these before and they still impress me! LOVE that they are a little thicker than what I’m using now (unscented store-brand from Target). LOVE that I can use fewer wipes because they are thicker, heavier duty and can handle that tough, sticky poop babies get on their bums. NO perfumes or anything, which is nice. NOT super wet/dripping when I take them out of the package. They aren’t dry but they don’t leave a ton of moisture on my baby, which I think could help with preventing diaper rash and “swamp butt.” Also, made in the USA! Downsides: None. Do they make travel/small purse packs? I want to stash these everywhere….

Lafe’s Baby Insect Repellant: Mosquitoes, beware! Gave this a good test run during a dusk-time walk with my boys. And let me tell you, the mosquitoes were terrible. LOVE that it’s a blend of essential oils. I can’t tell you how much I despise the smell of traditional, conventional bug spray. Even deet free makes me gag, not to mention is full of nasty chemicals that shouldn’t stay on skin (why have I NOT been using this product sooner?). This stuff smells great and works! LOVE that it’s safe to use on my four month old as well as me and my five year old. LOVE the smaller bottle-perfect for in my purse, diaper bag, or stroller pockets

Baby, Oh Baby Unscented Lotion: LUXURIOUS! LOVE how easily it glides on over even a slightly damp baby, but still feels like it’s getting rubbed in and not just sliding around on top of his skin. A little goes a long way. No scent. Pump bottle is a great feature, especially with a wiggly baby. Besides, if my baby decides to grab the bottle, he can’t squeeze it and get lotion all over. Baby proof but not mommy proof. 🙂 Made in the USA! Downsides: none. I will be using this on me once my other lotions are used up.

Dropps Baby Laundry Detergent Pacs: LOVE the packaging. Have been using it on all our laundry. Seems to get things clean. No weird baby detergent smell that I can detect, which is one reason I love these. With Leif’s sensitive skin and the way he reacts so severely to bug bites, anything I can use that is completely scent free and free of perfumes is a plus.

Tooth Tissues/bamboo baby teeth wipes: LOVE the smell of these. Leif LOVED getting his teeth, gums and mouth wiped down with these. I couldn’t get them away from him. I think these would be a handy thing to have for “roughing it” camping or traveling overnight, flying, etc. even for us big kids. I mean, why not? One less thing to pack and no water needed to freshen up in between meals or brushings. Only downside: my fingers were a bit sticky after using them.

Motherlove Nipple Cream: Where has this been all my life? As a breastfeeding mom, a good nipple cream is essential. LOVE that it is organic and uses olive oil, which is known to have healing properties naturally. Glides on wonderfully no matter the temperature inside/outside. The previous lanolin-based cream I’d been using just doesn’t glide on as nicely as this does, especially if it’s room temperature or cooler. NO smell/scent really. Does not leave a greasy feeling. Soreness is relieved just about instantly after application. Downsides: none. I could see this being used on baby for chafing/soreness/cracked skin. Multipurpose products are a hit with me!

Side note: Just because a product is marketed or made for babies doesn’t mean that it can’t be used on adults too. In fact, I recommend it, especially for those of us with sensitive skin. Since baby formulations are often gentler and simpler, they can be just as effective on adults without as many side effects. I actually always use children’s medication since it’s gentler on my tummy!

October 20, 2014

Catch up on the previous posts in this series: Introduction: Going Natural Series Reveal; Part One: Makeup & Cosmetics; Part Two: Bath, Hair & Skincare

going natural with household and cleaning products

It’s time for the third topic within the Going Natural series brought to you by The Florkens, The Messmers and myself. Moving on from makeup and body care, today we’re talking household products, from cleaners to kitchenware and laundry items, even candles!

Our previous two topics on makeup and body care explained how our bodies absorb most of what we put on it, which is why I wanted to make the switch to using chemical free and cruelty free products in my home. But I knew that I wanted to switch out more than just the stuff in my bathroom – I wanted to do a complete overhaul, which meant the products in my kitchen and beyond too.

Dangers

While these other items may not be put on our bodies, many of the products you’ll find in stores for household use contain toxic chemicals, and can be just as bad. As we use them, we still ingest the fumes that cleaning products emit, and some chemicals can lead to asthma, respiratory problems, allergies and even the dreaded C word.

One stat I found said that the average American home has 62 toxic chemicals in it. It was even found that children born to women with cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects, according to a 2010 study by the New York State Department of Health. Uh oh.

Many of these items are also bad for the environment, as cleaning liquids go down the drains and into local water reserves. In addition, these chemicals can be too harsh on the surfaces that they’re used. In fact, a friend of our family’s growing up was a carpenter friend and advised us not to use Pledge as it can actually strip the color and varnish off furniture and wood. He said we’re much better off using plain water or a microfiber cloth instead.

Oh, and if your pet or child would accidentally get into a typical all-purpose cleaner, they run the risk of chemical burns and even death if ingested. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take, especially when it’s as easily avoidable as switching my stock.

Like the beauty and makeup industry, governmental regulation and labeling laws are very loose, so you cannot trust that any item on the shelf is actually OK for your family. Companies are not required to disclose all of a product’s ingredients, and labels often only address acute and immediate effects, not long-term health implications.

Thankfully, the Environmental Working Group (the same group who rates makeup and beauty products) has a really nice Guide to Healthy Cleaning to help you select safer products and find the dangers of what you already have.

It’s Not Just Cleaners

Remember that it’s not just cleaning products you need to worry about. Even seemingly innocent items pose risks. Cupcake liners and coffee filters, for instance, are often bleached or treated with chlorine so they’re white, and that can end up inside your body and is harmful to the environment. The If You Care brand makes paper products, and even things like aluminum foil and sponges, that are much safer.

Even candles pose their own dangers. There are three types of candles: Paraffin, soy and beeswax. Paraffin is by far the most common, and the most dangerous. Paraffin is a petroleum byproduct and an indoor air pollutant. The wicks of some candles still contain lead, which can be inhaled as the candle burns, and is dangerous to our lungs. The soot produced by burning paraffin candles can also be toxic to our lungs when inhaled, especially with frequent use. I was thrilled to see several soy candle options on a recent TJ Maxx haul.

If you want to do more reading on your own, these are the resources I found most helpful:
EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning
EWG: Cleaning Supplies and Your Health
Organic Consumers Association: How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies?
Dr Weil: Are Household Cleaners Harmful?
Avoid Toxins: Use Natural Cleaning Products
The Truth About Paraffin Wax Candles – Are They Toxic?

DIY Hacks and Safer Solutions

The good news is that there are so many alternatives to these products, and many safe items may already be in your house. Baking soda, vinegar, lemon and essential oils can be used in countless ways and really work.

I personally LOVE using vinegar now. It cleans almost anything and is completely natural and safe. I use it all over my house. When I told my best friend that, her reaction was ‘But doesn’t it stink?!’ And yes, but only for a bit. As soon as it dries on whatever you wipe it on, the smell is totally gone.

I also tried my hand at making my own laundry soap awhile back when I saw Rebecca from Living Lavender post her own recipe. I tried it and can attest that it works (and saves money!).

Lemon is a great refresher too, and can work at removing hard water stains. I rub a lemon in my shower, and then squeeze the leftover juice down my kitchen sink to get rid of any icky smells stuck in there.

A few other DIY natural cleaning hacks you might want to try:
Non-Toxic All-Purpose Cleaner with a Citrus Twist
Homemade Fabric Refresher That’s A “Breeze” to Make!
10 natural, easy ways to deal with ant infestations
DIY Lavender Laundry Detergent
DIY Room Deodorizing Spray
How to… Make soy candles

homemade laundry soap ingredientsTip: To make your own washing soda, just bake a sheet of baking soda till it turns a little grayer and grittier.

Out-of-the-Box Cleaners & Norwex

Sometimes you still want a regular cleaner that you can pick up and buy and use right out of the bottle or box. I list some of my favorite products below, but first, let’s talk about Norwex.

Norwex is one of those party/direct-sale companies like Pampered Chef or Mary Kay, and all their products are for household use and use safer, more natural remedies. I have a few of their items, but haven’t used enough to give them my own fair overall assessment. My sister-in-law, though, has, so here are her notes on Norwex:

I have the steel scrubbies, cleaning paste, spot treatment for laundry, dryer balls, leather cleaner, anti bac cleaning cloths, and anti bac shower and hand towels. I love the scrubbies (don’t have the plastic handles that you can attach them to, but they really scrub stuff nice and clean. I LOVE the laundry spot treatment–it definitely helps get most of the baby poop stains out of clothes, which is a must for me. Anti bac cleaning cloths are great for wiping down stuff and they are supposed to not transfer bacteria. I just like them to clean down the counters/cupboard fronts, bathroom floors, kitchen floors, and windows without using cleaner. I just like that I can use them on my windows, scrub the dog slobber off, use the anti bac polishing cloth, and bam. Clean, streak free windows. No ammonia smell or Windex on my hands. I will NEVER use window cleaner again. The towels don’t get musty smelling and I don’t feel gross reusing them.

Household brands you can (mostly) trust
Biokleen
Ecover
Eco-Me
Eco Nuts
Grab Green
Green-N-Pack
If You Care
J.R. Watkins
Mrs. Meyers
Nellie’s All Natural
Norwex
Seventh Generation
Swanson Healthy Home

Note: Method did not make my list. Though they’re cruelty free and use recycled ingredients in their bottles, I found WAY too many harmful ingredients in their products to feel comfortable using them. Artificial dyes and sodium lauryl sulfate should never be in any product that calls itself natural. Shame on you, Method. This is a perfect example why you need to read labels and never rely on marketing claims or feel-good packaging.

My Favorite Products

I’ll spare you from the gigantic list of everything I tried, and this time just list my favorite natural household finds.

natural cleaners

-Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner in honeysuckle: This is a really nice and convenient counter cleaner. I already had an Ecover AP cleaner in my bathroom, so when I saw this guy on sale at Target, I got it to use just for my kitchen counter. It really seems to work and smells so good.

-Ecover toilet bowl cleaner: This seems to do a good job of cleaning the toilet and spreads and foams up well. I wish it came in a scent other than pine, but that’s OK.

-Biokleen Oxygen Bleach Plus: I just toss a small scoop of this stuff in with my laundry soap and trust that it helps to brighten and remove stains as it says. If nothing else, it smells good!

-Mrs. Meyer’s Dryer Sheets in lavender: These are much more paper-y than most dryer sheets, but work just as well without all the chemicals like in most.

-J.R. Watkins All-Purpose Wipes in lemon: These do leave behind a little soapy residue, but it dries totally normal, and I love the way it freshens and sanitizes my workspace. I keep them in my desk at work to wipe down every few weeks.

-Biokleen Automatic Dish Powder: Just one scoop in my dishwasher cleans just as well as that Cascade crap I used to use.

-Green-N-Pack tall kitchen bags and sandwich baggies: These work just as well as the other name brands, but are way better for the earth. The trash bags are actually really strong and hold big loads. These products are made from recycled materials and are made to decompose in a short period of time, unlike most plastic bags. (The Seventh Generation bags were much less durable. I was really disappointed in those.)

natural household products

There you have it! The down-low on natural cleaning and household products. Join us again on Nov. 3 when Kate, Casey and I will be talking about how to go natural with food! I’ll share how to read food labels more closely, what bad ingredients to watch out for, and of course give you plenty of recommendations of my favorite healthy snacks and meal ideas. If you have a specific food-related question or concern you want us to cover, be sure to let us know!

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Do you have a favorite natural cleaner or DIY tip?