A Recap of 2016

Wow… is it really almost 2017!?!  As I look forward to the huge life change that 2017 will bring, I wanted to take some time to reflect back on 2016.  If you’ve missed any of my blogs this year, this will be the perfect opportunity to catch up!

2016 was certainly a roller-coaster for my health.  The year started off with me still trying to figure out what was causing my random high cortisol responses and unexplained weight gain.  Then, in May, we found out we were expecting, even though doctors had told me I wasn’t supposed to be able to get pregnant. Pregnancy brought on constant nausea and exhaustion that kept me down and out for a few months, and then a gestational diabetes diagnosis rocked my world.

Here’s a recap of the blogs I wrote in 2016:

Travel

VeniceI’m a huge believer that vacations are super important for your overall health and well-being.  We all need to take a break and relax, and traveling to experience different foods and cultures is great way to relieve stress. The past couple of years, we have taken two trips to Europe that were incredible.  I got so many requests for advice, I just decided to write all about our itineraries and recommendations right here:

My Favorite Natural Products & Organic Grocery Deals

BruschettaHealthy Recipes

Pregnancy:

Essential Oils

Thieves Essential OilHighlighting the benefits of some of my favorite essential oils to both your overall wellness and to creating and keeping a natural home.

Happy New Year!!

2016-recap

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Thrive Market: My Favorite Deals

If you haven’t yet joined Thrive Market, you are missing out! Think of it as Whole Foods + Costco + Amazon. It’s a membership-based online store full of healthy non-perishable food and household products at fantastic discounts. Plus, they have a great mission to provide healthy groceries to families in need. In my recent post about buying all-organic groceries on a budget, I recommended this as one of my favorite ways to save money (and time)!

Here are a few of my favorite items to purchase and how they compare to the prices I was paying at Whole Foods and elsewhere.

Tomato SauceOrganic Tomato Sauce

  • Thrive Market price: $2.95 for 2 cans
  • Whole Foods price: $4.38 for 2 cans
  • Savings = $1.43 (33%)

Einkorn SpaghettiEinkorn Spaghetti – made from einkorn flour, an ancient wheat that is not toxic like today’s wheat and even safe for many who are gluten-free.

  • Thrive Market price: $2.55
  • Whole Foods price: $3.49
  • Savings = $0.94 (27%)

Honey MustardHoney Mustard Vinaigrette with Avocado Oil – this is the healthiest, yummiest salad dressing you can get… very rare to find one made without toxic vegetable oil!

  • Thrive Market price: $5.65
  • Primal Kitchen Online price: $7.95
  • Savings = $2.30 (29%)

Olive OilOrganic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

  • Thrive Market price: $10.45
  • Whole Foods price: $13.99
  • Savings = $3.54 (25%)

CollagenCollagen Hydrolysate Powder – tasteless and water soluble, I add this to smoothies, soup or juice for collagen support for healthy joints, hair, skin and nails and extra protein

  • Thrive Market price: $16.45
  • Amazon price: $21.49
  • Savings = $5.04 (23%)

Raw Dog FoodRaw Turkey Dehydrated Dog Food – I recently made the switch to this raw dog food and my pup loves it! Learn more about why I switched here.

  • Thrive Market price: $49.95
  • Amazon price: $64.79
  • Savings = $14.84 (23%)

Earl GreyOrganic Earl Grey Tea

  • Thrive Market price: $4.95
  • Whole Foods price: $6.49
  • Savings = $1.54 (24%)

Beef Bone BrothGrass-Fed Beef Bone Broth – I make lots of my own chicken bone broth, but never my own beef bone broth.

  • Thrive Market price: $8.95
  • Amazon price: $15.95
  • Savings = $7.00 (44%)

Graze SticksNitrate-Free Grass-Fed Beef Sticks – these are my favorite easy protein snacks!

  • Thrive Market price: $17.95 for a pack of 12
  • Amazon price: $19.95 for a pack of 12
  • Savings = $2.00 (10%)

Sign up now and save 15% off your first order by using this link! Plus, they will donate a Thrive Membership to a family in need when you purchase yours. P.S. you always get free shipping on orders over $49!

 

Buying Organic on a Budget

Where IAfter writing about how I’ve made the change to buying all organic foods, I’ve received lots of questions about how I’ve been able to make that happen within budget.  Purchasing all-organic groceries is only slightly more expensive than buying conventional and has also provided an extra cost-saving bonus: improving my nutrition with an organic diet has saved me money on healthcare costs too. Today, I’m sharing how I save money on organic groceries.

My 4 Grocery Shopping Rules:

  1. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale. I’m a sucker for a good deal, so I have to resist temptation and be intentional about buying only what I need.  If I don’t follow this rule, I usually end up spending more than I planned.
  2. Check for coupons before you check-out. While I’m not much of a coupon-er, I do check for coupons at the store before I purchase. At Whole Foods, they have a wall of coupons to look through when you walk in the store. And many stores, like Sprouts and Natural Grocers, put their coupon ads on their website; I’ll look on my phone while in line or before I walk in the store. You can save even more by looking for coupons in the weekly mailed ads, especially if you create your grocery list around those deals. Most coupons are for processed foods, but I often find some for fresh items too at the stores I list below.
  3. Make a list and stick to it. Plan out your meals for the week and make a shopping list. Knowing what you need to buy keeps you from wandering throughout the store and buying things you don’t need. I also have a running list of always-needed items, like toiletries, coconut oil and dog food, that I look for regularly and buy when they’re on sale.
  4. Buy fresh. Processed and pre-prepared foods are always more expensive than the actual ingredients.  Stick to the edge of the store as you shop and load up with fresh items to cook at home.  The bulk of your cart should be filled with organic produce & meat, not cardboard or plastic packages.

Where I Shop for the Best Deals:

  • Whole Foods – This might come as a surprise with the common nickname “whole paycheck,” but Whole Foods has actually had to reduce its prices lately to compete.  I regularly shop at Whole Foods and find some great deals. The hardest part is staying away from all the yummy pre-prepared food they have available… just don’t go shopping hungry!
  • Natural Grocers – This store always has incredible sales throughout the store.  They get much of their produce directly from local farmers and since it doesn’t have to travel miles on a truck to get there, it’s usually cheaper. Plus, if you use your debit card, you can save 5% on your total purchase.
  • Sprouts – Sprouts coupons run Wednesday-Wednesday, which means that on Wednesdays, they have double the amount of deals available than any other day of the week.  If you happen to be shopping on a Wednesday, this is the place to save money.
  • Farmers Market – Buying direct from the source saves on overhead costs, which ultimately saves you money. The best bonus here is that you’re supporting local farmers and ranchers who are passionate about providing healthy food options to their community.
  • Thrive Market – Think Whole Foods meets Costco meets Amazon. It’s an online shop that offers wholesale pricing on non-perishable organic foods, toiletries, vitamins and more. And, you get free shipping on orders over $49. Thrive Market is also socially conscious: they use recyclable packaging and when you sign up as a member, Thrive will donate a membership to a low-income family so they too can have access to lower cost organic foods. Get a 30-day free trial membership and 15% off your first order by signing up here!
  • Instacart – If you have a hard time buying more than what’s on your list when you grocery shop (or just don’t have time/hate going to the store), you should check this site out.  Here’s the deal: You pick what you want online, an Instacart shopper does all the shopping for you and then delivers your groceries to your front door at the time slot you choose. Whole Foods is a store option and the prices are usually the same as in-store; the only extra cost is a delivery fee. Since this process let’s you see exactly how items are adding up as you shop, I feel like it keeps me to my exact shopping list and budget. PLUS, Instacart will shop at Cost-Co without you having a membership to shop there, so that gets you even more savings. Get $5 off your first order here!
  • Where do I not shop for organic foods? My regular local grocery store, HEB.  The organic items are always more expensive, sometimes even double the cost of a natural foods store. So, if you’ve been comparing prices and seeing how expensive that organic apple is compared to its conventional counterpart, consider that it may be the store you’re at.

Think you can make the switch to buying all organic groceries? Or have any tips to share? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Shopping!

What’s Your Dog Eating?

Raw Dog FoodWe all love our pups… they’re not only our best friends, they’re part of our families. We want them to live long, healthy lives as our companions; but, are we giving them the best chance at doing so?

Our family dog, a Wheaton terrier, had several health problems throughout her life.  It was heartbreaking and frustrating that we followed all the vet’s advice for raising a healthy dog and still watched her suffer. Ultimately, her life was cut short because of it all. When I got my schnoodle, Belle, I did a lot of research on everything I could do to raise her in better health.  The information I found lead me to make some dramatic changes, including what I feed her.  I focus so much on putting nutritious foods into my own body, why wouldn’t I do the same for her?

It’s a well-known fact that dogs share a very similar DNA with their canine relatives (like wolves), so, of course, we should feed them similar diets, right?  We see the pictures of meats and vegetables on the bags of dog food, but have you ever actually taken a look at the ingredient list?  You might be surprised by it.  Commercial dog foods today contain:

  • Questionable Meat – The type of meat that goes into dog food is typically the cheapest, poorest quality. And there’s usually not much of it to meet the high-protein needs of our canine friends. Many brands use “meal,” which is a highly processed form of meat.
  • Grains & Carbs – Many kibbles use corn or wheat as cheap fillers. Dogs cannot digest those foods well, leading to the big smelly poops you get in your yard, but also to a host of other problems… allergies (this is a BIG one!), yeast infections, poor dental health, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
  • Preservatives – Filled with salt and other chemical preservatives to improve shelf-life, it leaves your dog thirsty and laden with behavioral and health problems caused by these toxins. Many of these additives aren’t deemed safe for humans.
  • Processed Ingredients – It’s funny how we are told to avoid processed foods for optimal health, yet we feed our dogs heavily processed food every single day, for their entire lives. No wonder they are begging for our kitchen table leftovers.

This all comes as probably a shock to you, as it was to me. Don’t these companies spend time and money on research to find what the best nutrition is for our pets? Their commercials certainly advertise that they do.  But check out the ingredients for yourself and you’ll find that even the “best” dry dog food raises some questions.

Kibble is nothing like the diets of dogs’ relatives and goes against everything considered “healthy” by humans.  So what’s the alternative? A raw food diet… exactly what a canine needs for proper nutrition.  What does that consist of?  Raw meaty bones, muscle meat and fish, organs, vegetables, eggs, and vitamins. Still not so sure? Here are a few of the questions and fears I had originally and the answers I’ve discovered:

  • How do I make sure my dog is getting the right amount of food and balanced nutrition?  The book Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog explains everything in detail and very simply. It explains proportions for each type of ingredient, gives sample “meal plans” with different meats and has a formula to determine the amount to feed based on your dog’s size and stage of life.
  • What will this do to my dog’s teeth?  Actually, it will help a lot!  Kibble is terrible for keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy… it creates lots of plaque leading to decay and bad breath. One of the most noticeable things about switching food for my dog Belle is that her teeth are getting whiter and her breath is much better.
  • Aren’t bones bad for dogs? Cooked bones are bad because they can splinter and be very harmful when swallowed.  Raw bones don’t splinter like this and dogs really enjoy chewing on them (which helps clean teeth even more!). If you are still really worried about it, the book above has some suggestions for softer bones to use or how to grind them up smaller.  Even small dogs like bones – my 10lb dog loves gnawing on chicken wings!
  • This sounds messy… is it?  Yes, unfortunately, it is messier than kibble. I now have to clean Belle’s face after meals, but she enjoys it SO much, it’s totally worth it!
  • How much time does all this take?  It depends. I’ve talked to people who say they prep their dog food when they do their own meal prep on Sundays, and it’s only an additional half hour a week or so.  But, I currently don’t do the food preparation myself right now. I’ve found an option that’s dehydrated raw food where I can just add hot water to rehydrate. It’s super quick and easy to make a bowl for her. Then I throw in a couple bones each week for her to chew on and an organ every once in awhile when I’m cooking a whole chicken.
  • Is it more expensive?  It depends on what you’re buying now, but it wasn’t for me.  A quick Amazon search shows that a 35lb bag of Purina Pro dog food cost $40.  When I was buying dry dog food, I purchased a GMO & preservative-free, high protein brand called Nulo for $55 for a 24lb bag. I now purchase I and Love and You Raw Dehydrated Dog Food; a 5.5lb bag makes 36 lbs of prepared food – on Amazon it’s $67, at Whole Foods it’s $60 and on Thrive Market it’s only $50. I’ve also purchased a similar option that uses free-range meat – The Honest Kitchen Free-Range Chicken Raw Dog Food – it’s a little pricier, but I buy if it’s on sale. If you go with preparing your own food, there’s many ways to save by buying meat & bones in bulk or getting unique cuts of meat no one else wants (dogs don’t care!) for a discount. I’ve asked the butcher for the bones they remove for their boneless chicken breasts & thighs and got them super cheap.
  • My dog is picky; will she like it? ABSOLUTELY!  Honestly, I was convinced by my research that this was certainly the healthier choice, but what sold me was how much she LOVES it. With her old dry dog food, I would put a bowl out in the morning and she would only pick at it a little throughout the day. And she’s always been picky with treats and sometimes even table scraps. Now, when I make her food, she scarfs it down. If we take too long to get out of bed in the morning, she will whimper and jump to remind us because she’s so excited to eat. Obviously, this food is the best for her. I’ll never make her go back to crumbly kibble.

When we started feeding Belle raw dog food and bones, I immediately noticed several improvements to her health.  To sum all this up, here are a few of the health benefits you can expect by switching your dog to a raw food diet:

  • Cleaner Teeth, Better Breath – gnawing on bones and meat helps remove plaque
  • Shinier, Smoother Hair – all the collagen in the bones and extra vitamins help
  • Less Allergies – I barely notice Belle chewing her feet anymore. Grains and toxic preservatives in dry dog food are the main cause for allergic reactions and inflammation.
  • Healthy Joints – I’m hopeful that Belle won’t have to struggle with painful arthritis in her old age like our Wheaton did. The bones & marrow contain glucosamine which is necessary for creating collagen and helps build and repair bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
  • Easier Digestion – This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. Real talk… Belle’s poop is not nearly as hard as it used to be, which makes it come out much easier for her. I don’t have to express her anal glands anymore or risk them getting infected from becoming impacted. Her poo essentially dissolves in the yard in just a couple of days, which I think says a lot about what kind of ingredients she was eating before. It’s also less smelly.
  • Hydration – Raw dog food naturally contains lots of water unlike dry kibble.  I’ve noticed that Belle rarely goes for her water bowl anymore (only after a long walk or after barking at the neighbor dog on a hot day).
  • More Energy – you’ve removed ingredients that cause lethargy and replaced by those that give proper protein and nutrition for energy
  • Lean Muscle –  Belle didn’t struggle with being overweight like many dogs, but she’s definitely more muscular now.  If you’re dog does need to lose some pounds, this raw diet would be great to try.

Sorry for the super long post, but I hope this information helps you make a more informed decision about your dog’s nutrition. I’m so glad we’ve made this change for our sweet pup… the transition has been so easy and was definitely worth it!

What do you think? Is this something you’d be willing to try for your dog?

8 Foods You Think Are Healthy…

Health Foods to AvoidSifting through all the competing information out there is tough. Every day I read the news, it seems there is a new article out there telling us to eat this food and avoid another. Diet books and TV doctor celebrities convince us all by sharing incredible health stories and before & after pictures.  What’s true and what’s not?

In college, I followed the mainstream nutritional guidelines recommended by my [nutritionally untrained] doctors. I typically ate protein bars and smoothies as meal-replacements and salads doused with fat-free vegetable oil dressings. Sometimes, I’d throw in a frozen Lean Cuisine. For dessert, I would eat fat-free marshmallows or fat-free cool whip on fat-free pudding.  Then, I’d run a few miles on the treadmill.  Compared to my friends eating ramen and fast food, I considered myself healthy. Coincidentally, that was also the sickest I’ve ever been. After a trip to the hospital and visits to multiple doctors, I finally started seeing a naturopath who completely changed my diet and gave me the supplements I was lacking to nourish my body.  And, wow, did that make a world of difference.

Since then, I became a skeptic of what we are told is “healthy” and doing the research for myself. I look at food labels. I understand the ingredients in what I’m eating. I look for foods that will nourish my body.  If you want to learn from my mistakes and my research, today I’m sharing a list of 8 foods deemed “healthy” by the mainstream that you should consider avoiding & why:

1. Fat-Free & Low-Fat Foods – If you love bacon, you know how good fat tastes. When fat is taken out of food, it tastes plain awful. To improve the taste, manufacturers add sugar, salt and other chemicals, making for a highly-processed item with ingredients you can’t pronounce. The mainstream nutritional circuit discourages us from eating food with fat because it contains saturated fat and cholesterol, which both apparently put us at risk for cardiovascular disease.  Except the research shows otherwise – there is no link to saturated fat harming our hearts. And, while fat can raise cholesterol, it actually raises the good kind – HDL – which reduces heart disease risk.  On the contrary, low-fat foods add so much sugar/carbs that they elevate our triglyceride levels, which are a proven cardiovascular risk. Plus, it’s not like fat-free isn’t making us fatter – Americans eat the most low-fat diet in the world and have the highest rate of obesity.

Fat is a much needed nutrient – “a gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of protein or carbohydrates.” In fact, we need fat to lose fat because your body requires that energy to keep its metabolism functioning and to burn calories.  Fat also helps keep us full – when you eat fat-free foods, you will find yourself feeling unsatisfied and eating more to satiate your hunger. Plus, many of the essential vitamins we need are fat-soluble, meaning we can’t absorb them without fat in our diet.  Keep in mind, not all fats sources are equal; when it comes to fat, natural sources are best.  Limit the carbs and enjoy some organic butter, avocados, nuts, and grass-fed steak to keep your heart healthy and body trim. (Source: Livestrong)

2. Vegetable Oil – This is another product promoted as healthy because of the “saturated fat causes heart disease” mantra. Even the name is deceiving – this isn’t kale oil, people. Research has repeatedly proven this is not true, so why is everyone still touting this message?  The US is the top producer of both soy and canola, and such a money-making industry has to be protected.  When the production of these crops boomed, so did the marketing that “vegetable oils are the healthiest choice.”  Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are two reasons vegetable oils (includes canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, safflower, grapeseed, cottonseed oils) are terrible for you:

  • Vegetable oils contain long-chain fatty acids which cause us to store fat.  On the other hand, the better alternative coconut oil is compromised of medium-chain and short-chain fatty acids, which our body breaks down for energy.
  • These oils are chemically unstable and oxidize quickly & easily, causing them to contain high amounts of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage as they seek to steal electrons from other molecules, causing a chain reaction creating more free radicals stealing electrons.  They attack our cells, causing damage and mutations.  Ultimately, they cause degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, failing memory, reproductive problems, aging… the list goes on.   The alternative coconut oil contains none of these free-radicals, plus it’s safe & still beneficial when heated – a rarity among oils

I always use coconut oil for cooking & baking and olive oil for salad dressings or low-heat cooking.  Coconut oil is my top choice because it has so many other benefits to it as well – to learn more, read my blog on the Coconut Oil Miracle.

3. Margarine – Made from vegetable oil, this spread is touted as healthy for all the same reasons, but, as I wrote above, simply is not. Plus, margarine contains a ton of trans fat, known to clog arteries.  It also increases the risk of developing type II diabetes. While it tries to imitate butter in taste, it simply can’t provide the load of vitamins that butter delivers, especially that from organic, grass-fed dairy! Conclusion: Butter is better.

4. Soy – Thanks to the marketing efforts of the US soy industry in the U.S., we’ve been deceived into thinking that soy is a phenomenal health food. It’s supposed to be heart-healthy and keep you young. Vegetarians rely on it as a protein source. It’s a widely available alternative for those with lactose intolerance. And the Japanese, whose diet is considered one of the healthiest in the world, have eaten it for years. But the truth is that it’s actually toxic to our bodies when not prepared or grown appropriately, and of course that’s how it’s produced today.

Soybeans contain two chemicals, goitrogens and phytoestrogens, that affect your thyroid and sex hormones. Traditionally, the Japanese would soak and ferment the soybeans before using them, which neutralizes these harmful chemicals and creates tasty and healthful miso, tofu, etc. But now, in commercially made soy products (even in many of those organically grown), the fermentation process is skipped because it’s cheaper & quicker to do so; instead it is hydrolyzed, a process that does not remove the toxins. So the soy sauce, soy milk, infant formulas, soy protein bars, tofu and most processed products you buy in stores and eat at restaurants are passing those chemicals straight to your body. These chemicals cause thyroid (regulates growth, metabolism and energy levels) issues, like hyper/hypothyroidism and thyroid & pancreatic cancer, as well as reproductive organ problems for both men and women. Even worse, 90% of soybeans are genetically modified, a serious health issue I discussed at length here. The GMO quality of these beans only adds to the health effects, now being linked to sterility and infant mortality.

When I removed soy from my diet, I saw a significant impact on my hormones within a couple weeks. Soy is in almost every processed food item (even organic!), so it can be hard to avoid; but, it is possible.

5. Conventional Dairy – Milk mustaches are stylish and the USDA recommends 3 servings of dairy per day in order to give us the calcium we need to build strong bones. While a good source of calcium, milk & its products can actually be quite toxic when we consume the conventional type.  Cows are fed genetically modified feed and given antibiotics, all of which are passed onto us.  Plus, when milk is pasteurized and homogenized, it destroys the probiotics and fat molecules that help us maintain strong digestive tracks, immune systems, brain function and bones. It also loses its nutritional content, making it really useless to us (which is why you see so many vitamins added back in – “fortified with…”). Lastly, the heating process destroys the enzyme lactase which allows us to properly digest the milk sugar, lactose; this is why many of us don’t handle it well.

The best option is raw milk from a local farm.  If you can’t get that, the next best option is organic whole milk cream or a complete dairy alternative – coconut milk. You should be able to find high-quality cheeses and yogurts made from raw milk in a natural foods store – they are so worth the price!

6. Farmed Fish – We are told to eat fish for its healthy omega-3 fats, a nutrient proven to help with heart disease, joint pain, depression and dementia. Unfortunately, farmed fish contains far less omega-3’s and protein than that of its wild-caught counterparts. Fish farming was created in order to protect from overfishing and to increase yield; while a good idea in theory, aquaculture shares many of the same problems as conventional ranching & farming: GMOs, pesticides & antibiotics.  (Source: Mercola) There have been many reports that the feed contains dog food and chicken feces.  They aren’t eating a natural ocean diet and thus end up having far less nutrients for us.  Recent research has also found that farm-raised tilapia causes significant inflammation and that dioxin (a toxic cancer-causing chemical) levels in farmed salmon are 11 times higher than in wild-caught. (Source: Dr. Axe)

To ensure you are getting your crucial omega-3s, go for wild-caught salmon or take a high-quality fish oil. Also, just avoid tilapia altogether.

7. Table Salt – Most people know that table salt causes hypertension and that they should avoid it, yet its on every table and always in the sodium-filled processed foods.  I agree that table salt should be avoided, but real sea salt is actually extremely beneficial.  Table salt isn’t real at all – it is a highly processed shaker of chemicals.  Real sea salt should be part of our daily diet – it provides trace minerals that help our body stay hydrated, contains powerful electrolytes, helps the body absorb nutrients from food, and is crucial for proper adrenal & thyroid function. (Source: You’re Not Sick, You’re Thirsty)

I purchase Himalayan Pink Salt and love the mild, natural taste.

8. Artificial Sweetener – Since the huge rise in diabetes and obesity, doctors have been recommending low-glycemic sugar substitutes. But the research is out and those fake sweeteners have a not so fake effect on our bodies…

A few years ago, Splenda was introduced into the market as a calorie-free alternative to sugar and as doctors started endorsing it, it’s popularity increased.  However, the product was deemed “safe” before extensive testing had been done on the sucralose product.  In fact, studies now show that Splenda causes digestive system imbalance by altering the flora in your gut.  Your digestive system is a crucial part of your immune system and greatly affects your general health.  On top of that, this product is chemically made and contains chlorine – a toxic chemical that causes cancer, birth defects and creates issues with the work your liver does to detoxify the body.  It was actually downgraded in 2013 from “safe” to “caution” following a study that seems to indicate it causes leukemia.  (Source: Natural Society)

Lastly, although many use fake sweeteners to lose weight, it causes us to overeat.  You wind up fighting a losing battle and continuing to crave sugar & carbs because your body wants the real stuff. Sorry to break it to you, but those sugar-free cookies and diet sodas aren’t doing your love handles any good.

In my home, I use either raw honey or coconut sugar for any sweetening.  Both of these products are not only low-glycemic, meaning they don’t raise blood-sugar as much, but also contain other beneficial nutrients for your body.

Did any of the items on this list surprise you?

Natural vs. Organic – Does it Matter?

CONVENTIONALVSWe’ve all been there… you’re in the grocery store looking at the rows of meat, most on sale for only a few dollars per pound.  You’re overwhelmed with all the confusing labels, not even sure what they really mean. You see the small section of organic meat and they want to charge you an outrageous $13 for a package of chicken breasts.  Considering you need a 3 of those for meals this week, it’s just too much.  You decide to be budget-conscious and go with the cheaper meat, feeling a little better that you’ve at least picked the “all-natural” option. Can you relate?

Since “organic” became a thing, it’s been controversial.  People think it’s a Whole-Foods-created hoax to charge consumers more money.  With so many different opinions out there, its hard to sift through it all and find the facts.  What’s the truth here? Is organic meat healthier than natural?  Are organic vegetables more nourishing than conventionally grown ones?

All-Natural

This word makes us think of rolling green hills, cows grazing, crops blowing in the wind and of a hard-working farmer harvesting his land. Consumer Reports found that 1 in 3 people thought “natural” = “organic.”  Companies put this buzz word and pictures of idyllic farms on their labels to make you buy the product, and even pay more for it. While the term “organic” is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, “natural” isn’t; it has no clear definition.  (Source: ABC News)  So, although we may assume these foods would be minimally processed or not containing any hormones or artificial ingredients, it is in fact meaningless.

Organic

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires all organic foods to meet strict standards on how those foods are grown, fed, handled and processed. Any food with the USDA Organic label must pass organic certification annual inspections. Unlike conventional foods, this ensures that the food has been grown using no toxic pesticides, no synthetic growth hormones and no petroleum-based fertilizers.  And that it has been processed without artificial colors or flavors, without artificial preservatives and without GMOs. (Sources: Consumerist and Organic: It’s Worth It)

NonGMOAdditionally, there is another important label you might find on organic foods – “Non GMO Project Verified.” This certification is managed by a non-profit organization that believes you “should have access to clearly labeled non-GMO food and products.” It is a very strict verification process, ensuring that no more than 0.9% of the product contains genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with complete absence being the goal. “This is in alignment with laws in the European Union (where any product containing more than 0.9% GMO must be labeled);” Europe is way ahead of America on this and other dangerous food ingredients. (Source: Non GMO Project)

Is Organic Healthier?

Now that we understand the labels, the real question becomes: is organic really better for you than natural/conventional?  There are studies that have found organic produce to be no more nutritional than its conventional counterpart.  That makes sense – an apple is still an apple and will still have the same amount of calories.  But, which version causes your body harm?  Let’s look at what “organic” labels promise not to include to see what effects those in conventional food might have on our bodies:

Toxic Pesticides: Pesticides are intentionally toxic substances used to kill living things – aka poison.  They are used consistently in conventional agriculture, even though many studies have shown to cause chronic health impacts like cancer, hormone disruption, neurodegenerative diseases, and reproductive issues. Children are especially at risk, even from minimal exposure, because they absorb more and don’t yet have fully developed brains or immune systems. A study by Harvard University and the University of Montreal found that exposure to pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables may double the risk of developing ADHD. (Source: Toxics Action Center)  Oh, and one of the most commonly used pesticides, organophospate, was first developed as nerve gas in WWII. Hmm.

Beyond the harmful health effects, they also make our food less nourishing.  One of the most popular herbicides (used to kill weeds) on the market is Monsanto’s product RoundUp – the main ingredient, glyphosate, steals nutrients from crops.  And when pesticides are applied to crops, as much as 60% of the antioxidants in the fruits and vegetables are lost.  Antioxidants are what help your body fight cancer-causing free-radicals.

As for how they effect our meat: “In a potato, the pesticide residue is .003 . in a piece of animal flesh, it is .281, nearly 100 more parts per million in every bite. It would take you over 90 days of eating conventionally grown potatoes to get the same amount of pesticide residue that one serving of chicken contains. Why? Because not only do the animals’ bodies collect and concentrate the poisons into their flesh, their feed is allowed to have 20% more pesticides used than that of crops grown for human use.” (Source: Natural News)

Watch this video to see how levels of chemicals changed in the children of a family who switched to all organic:

Synthetic Growth Hormones:  Growth hormones are widely used to increase weight gain in animals and enhance milk production in dairy cattle, one of the most well-known being rGBH.  These synthetic hormones mimic estrogen and, when they are passed on to us as we eat, can have serious side effects. After studies showed a 55-60% increase in breast cancer for women, rGBH was banned in many countries around the world; it’s still allowed in the US.  Many researchers believe that steroid hormones cause children to undergo puberty prematurely, who are now entering much younger than just a generation ago. Just a small amount of these estrogenic hormones can have significant impact on children, both on their development and risk of obesity. (Sources: Genetic Roulette, Health.com)

Artificial Colors: You would be hard-pressed today to try to find an item in your pantry that doesn’t have artificial dye in the ingredients list (Yellow #5, Blue #1). Most artificial colors are made from coal tar. Gross. And more research has been coming out lately linking food dye to brain cancer and ADHD. Not good. (Source: Forbes) While research is still limited on this newer additive, many countries around the world have decided to ban these.

Artificial Preservatives: Preservatives are used to help prevent the growth of bacteria or fungus, to prevent oxidation causing discoloration or rancidity and to inhibit the natural ripening of produce.  Sulfites and nitrates are common preservatives that cause allergic reactions in many people. (Source: Sustainable Table)  More research is needed to determine the long-term side effects of these.

GMOs: Genetically Modified Organisms are created by putting the DNA from one species into another to get benefits from both.  For our food and farming purposes, this means creating a seed that makes a plant produce its own pesticide or makes it pesticide resistant so that farmers can spray without damaging the crop.  It sounds like a great idea, except that it’s all a science experiment in genetic alteration, resulting in mutations and unpredictable side effects, creating toxins, allergens, carcinogens and triggering inflammation. Some of the crops highest (90%+) in GMOs are canola, corn, soy and sugar beets, all of which are extremely common in processed foods. Unfortunately, infant formula is full of both GM soy and synthetic growth hormones (and high levels of aluminum too).

The best example of what this does to our bodies is this: GM corn is created to include BT toxin within the seed. When an insect eats the crop, it is designed to break open the stomach of the bug and kill it.  It does the same to us, opening up tiny holes in our intestines leading to what’s called leaky gut.  Then, when food passes through our intestines, it slips through these holes, entering our body… our body attacks those particles, seeing it as an invader;  over time, we develop food allergies to those items.  To watch an illustration of this or to learn more about the health effects of GMOs, read my other blog post here.

What About Antibiotic-Free, Pasture Raised & Grass Fed Animal Products?

None of these are promises made by an “organic” label, but fortunately many producers who have an organic certification will also believe in these practices too.  While a big part of this is related to the humane treatment of the animals, there are also some health effects to consider.  When animals are kept in close proximity to each other in cages all day, keeping the cages clean is impossible, leading to poor hygiene and the spreading of disease. Antibiotics must be used with these animals to prevent illness and ensure they survive to sell.  When we eat the animals, these antibiotics are passed on to us, worsening the antibiotic-resistance epidemic. In fact, 80% of all antibiotics are used with animals rather than prescribed to humans.

As for pasture-raised and grass-fed meat, it is important to know the sources of the meat, eggs and dairy that you buy.  I buy my eggs from a local farm (at the grocery store!) called Coyote Creek.  The chickens are allowed to forage for food naturally on organic pastures; they are also fed soy-free feed. The grass-fed meat that I buy ensures that these cows aren’t being fattened up by GM corn and soy feed.  They naturally graze the fields, ensuring I am getting the most nutrients from soil rich with minerals. “Research indicates that grass finished meat has superior ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, linked to a reduced risk of heart disease.” (Source: Eat Wild)

How to Shop:

Even if you’re now convinced that buying organic is worth trying to avoid all those detrimental health effects and ultimately healthier for your family, you may think I simply cannot afford it. Here are some tips on how to make it possible:

  • Compare & coupon – Where you shop can make it or break it. I’ve shopped around and discovered that usually a natural foods store can have the best pricing.  The organic produce & meat at my local grocery store, HEB, is usually several dollars more (sometimes double!) that of a natural foods store.  Farmers Markets can also be inexpensive since you are buying directly from the source.  Read about how I’m able to buy all organic on a budget here.
  • Buy fresh – Organic processed and pre-prepared foods are expensive.  Stick to the edge of the store as you shop and load up with fresh ingredients to cook at home.
  • Avoid the worst – There are some fruits and vegetables higher in pesticide residue. If you can only buy some items organic, at least avoid the conventional dirty dozen. And always thoroughly wash your produce when you get home!
  • Plan ahead – Meal plans, grocery lists and a strict budget can help you stay on track as you shop.

Or you can look at it this way: Is high-quality, organic food really that expensive by comparison?  This awesome 11 yr old kid makes a pretty good argument… “It seems to me that we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital.”

Do you think you’ll make the switch to buying organic?

Emphasis on Hopeful

Apologies for the lack of new posts recently – life’s been a bit crazy lately, with little time left for blogging! Although I have a couple of posts I really want to write & share soon, I thought it was about time for an update on my health…

A few months ago, in reaction to an extremely stressful time at work, I got an ear infection.  Let me tell you, friends, ear infections are the worst.  The only pain was terrible and nothing seemed to help.  I tried home remedies – living clay, essential oils and loading up on all kinds of vitamins – without any luck.  I visited the doctor twice to no avail and, in my desperation, I opted to take antibiotics.  Unfortunately, as expected, they made me super sick, gave me a rash & didn’t help at all.  Finally, a visit to the ENT to insert a sponge helped get steroids directly into my ear and multiple visits to the chiropractor drained the fluid eventually.

Our trip to Europe provided some reprieve from the stress this summer; the break gave me a renewed mind and optimistic perspective.  But as the hours at work picked back up, all of my post-vacation resolutions – talking the dog for nightly walks, spending more time with friends and family, cooking meals, even shopping for groceries – got neglected quickly as there just weren’t enough hours in the day.  As my work-life balance suffered, the stress creeped back in and, therefore, back into having it’s effect on my immune system.

RelaxOne day in early August, I woke up with hives all over the back of my legs.  I thought it was odd and attempted to find what the cause could be; but, nothing in my routine, diet or hygiene/beauty products had changed.  Figuring the hives would go away soon and it had to be a fluke, I just dealt with the itching.  But they lasted, spreading and progressively getting worse and worse.  After a week, I made an appointment with my naturopath doctor.  Asking questions about every aspect of my life, sleeping habits and diet, she got the full picture of my health.  She suggested that while I could be experiencing an allergic reaction, she was pretty positive that stress was the cause.  Hoping to learn more about what was going on with my body, she prescribed a blood test and hormone panel. In the meantime, I would stay away from gluten and really focus on my nutrition to lessen the inflammatory response my body was having.  After four long weeks, my hives finally subsided; the stress was still there, but I think that a better focus on my diet and a supplement I got from my chiropractor finally helped my body stop overreacting.

The CDC states that emotional stress causes 80-85% of all illness. It makes sense – stress suppresses our immune function, so, long-term it gets even worse.  This month, I’ve been sick twice – a bad cold and then food poisoning for the third time this year… ugh!  But I returned to my doctor last week and the results were in: stress is the culprit.  Even after all my time at the pool this summer and daily Vitamin D supplements, I was still deficient and need to increase my intake.  I’m anemic, so will be taking a liquid iron supplement to give me more energy.  And although I drink lots of water and even add Himalyan pink sea salt, my electrolyte levels were still low – I foresee lots of coconut water (NOT sugary gatorade) in my future!

Most importantly, my DHEA levels were extremely low.  Although known for overuse by athletes, the presence of DHEA in our body is essential.  Most people in their twenties are producing more DHEA this decade of their lives than any other.  DHEA is a steroid hormone secreted by your adrenal glands; during times of stress, your adrenals are pumping so much cortisol that they produce very little DHEA. But that has massive effects as DHEA is the precursor to estrogen, progesterone & testosterone.  As a result, my hormones are totally out of whack.  So, instead of “doping” up on unnatural DHEA, I’ll be taking a custom supplement designed by my doctor to provide the building blocks to hormone development, bringing the levels back up. I’ll also be on a high-protein diet of 60-80 grams per day to balance my blood sugar – prolonged high-cortisol response causes problems there too.  So, if anyone has some good ideas for high-protein snacks (especially low-budget options), please share!

While the news was not good, I am thankfully at a point where I can step in to make these changes now and get my body back in balance before things get more serious.  It will take many months to recover, but I am committed to focus on my health – this body is the only one I get.  In the meantime, I would appreciate any & all stress-management recommendations!  I am rejecting the identity of illness that I’ve had my whole life; I am so hopeful that healing is near and I will choose joy & faith.

Meditating on this verse lately: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5