Small Steps to Sustainability: Personal Hygiene

I talk a lot about food on here. I love food. Talking about it, making it, eating it… it all makes me happy. But as it turns out, there are a few things other than food that are worth my attention. Once I started paying attention to what I was putting into my body and how the food I purchase affects my community, the environment, and the world, I started thinking about what I put ON my body too. It’s been a real eye-opening journey realizing how many hundreds of toxic chemicals are in a basic body care products. These toxins are not only absorbed directly into our body, but also make their way into the environment when we wash them down the sink or throw away that mostly empty bottle of shampoo. 

I’m still working on making changes to less harmful products, but I thought I would share some of the basic personal hygiene areas where I have made changes and the products that I use and love! And if you looking for more information check out the Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides, especially their Skin Deep database, which allows you to search different products to see how safe they are!

Soap/Body Wash

drbronners

Dr. Bronner’s is my all-time favourite soap. I use it as a body wash and for shaving, but it can be used a million other ways (like as shampoo or as a veggie wash). The ingredients are completely natural, with most of them being organic and fair-trade. I feel good using it knowing it’s less harmful to the environment, to those that grow the ingredients, and to my own body. And it actually works really well! Another bonus is the bottle is made from recycled plastic. My favourite scents are peppermint and lavender!

Deodorant

primalpitpaste

Pretty much every conventional antiperspirant or deodorant you can find on you local grocery store’s shelves are chock full of bad stuff, like aluminum, parabens (estrogen mimickers), and triclosan. Antiperspirants of any kind are not the best for you, because sweating is a actually good thing– expelling toxins, cleaning pores, and maintaining optimal body temperature. I’m not looking to mess up the good thing my body has going, so I just stay away from antiperspirants unless I have a big presentation or a job interview.

That leaves me with natural deodorants. I’ve tried quite a few, and most of them didn’t work. That was until I found Primal Pit Paste! I used it all summer, where I worked outside on a farm in 90+ degree heat, and I didn’t send anyone running from my stench. It does take a little time to get used to natural deodorants, and sometimes there is even a short period where you seem to sweat more and stink worse. But if you just hang in there, it’s worth it! Lavender and Jasmine are my favourite Primal Pit Paste scents so far. I have used both the stick and the paste, and I like them both equally, but the stick is a lot more convenient for travel.

Shampoo/Conditioner

jasonshampoo

I tried going totally crunchy and did the no-poo method, using a baking soda wash and apple cider vinegar rinse, for about 5 months. It actually worked quite well, but my hair just didn’t feel as soft or have as much body. So I switched back to store-bought shampoos and conditioners. Instead of going back to Dove or Herbal Essence, I sought out a more natural formula, especially one without parabens and phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors (they mess with your natural hormone system!) Currently, I’m using the Jason line of products and I’m quite happy with it. I have also used Hugo Naturals with success! These brands are typically easy to find and don’t break the bank. 

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Small Steps to Sustainability: Switch Up Your Fats!

When you’re diving into the “real food” movement and trying to learn what’s healthful for your body, it can be so overwhelming. There’s a lot of information out there and even more ways to change your diet and lifestyle. If you are looking to change, it can be very helpful to just start small. No need to overhaul everything at once (though if you are up for it, feel free!) These small changes are much more sustainable in the long run than being overwhelmed by one huge one. When I first started reading about real foods, my mind was boggled because it was just so radically different from anything I had ever heard before. I was committed to trying it though, and I began by making simple changes, such as swapping out bread for a lettuce wrap.

            One simple and fairly easy change that can have a drastic influence is switching up the fats you use. Fats are so important to the proper function of our bodies. Taking it back to high school biology, every one of our cells has a lipid (that is, FAT) membrane, which gives the cell its integrity. It prevents molecules from entering and exiting the cell all willy-nilly. There are a few different kinds of fats:

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-Saturated fatty acids (SFAs). They have no double bonds in their carbon chain allowing them to sit very tightly next to one another and remain stable. Because of this, these fats are often solid at room temperature.

-Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). They have a single double bond in their carbon chain, which throws a “kink” in the chain and makes them slightly more unstable than SFAs. They are usually liquid at room temperature, but solidify when chilled.

-Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). They have multiple double bonds in their carbon chain, causing more kinks and even more instability than MUFAs. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are PUFAs and are necessary in our diets, as our bodies cannot synthesize them.

-Trans fatty acids. These are unsaturated fatty acids that have been hydrogenated in a lab to change the type of double bond in the fatty acid chain from a cis to trans double bond. This removes the “kink” in the chain so that the fat resembles a SFA. These fats are rarely found in nature, and they are very reactive in the body, making them a pretty bad deal. Some countries have even banned them.

 

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So, what’s good or bad?

Saturated and monounsaturated fats are good! We need both in our diets and in our cell walls. SFAs give our cell walls rigidity, while the MUFAs provide enough flexibility to our cells they can slide around without causing damage.

Trans fats (sometimes called partially hydrogenated oils) should be avoided at all costs. They are foreign to our bodies and have been found to be associated with heart disease. There is just nothing good about them!

 

What about PUFAs?

Polyunsaturated fats are… well, it’s complicated. We certainly don’t need a ton of PUFAs in our diet, and what we get from eating a well-balanced, whole foods, diet should provide us with exactly what we need. They are found in nuts, seeds, seafood, and meats. However, because of their instability, PUFAs have a tendency to become oxidize, form free radicals, and wreak havoc in our bodies. This is especially true when you are using high-PUFA oil for cooking and eating, where it has a huge opportunity to oxidize, which can happen anytime it’s exposed to heat, light, or air. Generally, it’s best to steer clear of these types of cooking fats and plan on getting your omegas from food sources, 

 

Now that you’re an expert in fats, here’s a list of some common cooking/eating fats to avoid, followed by a list of what you can use to replace them!

 

Avoid:

-Corn oil

-Soybean oil

-Canola oil

-Sunflower seed

-Safflower

-Grape Seed

 

Enjoy:

-Butter: no one needs to be told how delicious butter is. Now you can eat it without fear!

-Ghee (clarified butter): It’s better tolerated by those with dairy intolerances and great used anywhere you use butter. Ghee also has a fairly high smoke point, making it great for sautéing and roasting. I love roasting sweet potatoes in ghee, cinnamon, and salt!

-Rendered animal fats: lard, tallow, duck and chicken fat… it’s all pretty darn tasty. They are great for frying or roasting, and lard in particular is perfect for baking. Try to source your fats from the best possible source to ensure they haven’t been bleached, hydrogenated, or had anything else weird done to them.

-Avocado oil: this fat is mild in taste while also being quite stable, allowing it to hold up well to heat. It’s great for roasting or for making mayo and salad dressings.

-Coconut oil: coconut is high in SFAs, making it veeeeery stable and excellent for high heat cooking. Not to mention it’s delicious. Try to stay away from the refined and stick to the virgin oil. I use it every day to fry my eggs in!

-Olive oil: it’s no secret olive oil is a good fat! However, it’s best for use at low heat or for finishing a dish and in dressings. It doesn’t have a high number of SFAs, allowing it break down more readily when exposed to heat. Plus, the flavor is much better when it hasn’t been cooked!

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Is Your Steak Harming the Planet?

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My favourite thing about traveling somewhere new is being to see and experience a new landscape. Yes, seeing beautiful architecture and experiencing different cultures is awesome and powerful. But what I really crave is escaping into the wilderness and seeing the beauty of the raw land. There are some absolutely amazing places on this Earth, and I’ve been blessed to experience a few first hand, and hope to be able to see even more. When I take a moment to really appreciate this beautiful land, I can’t help but think about the things we humans do to destroy it. I know I’m not alone in this, especially as we are constantly bombarded with reports about climate change and animal extinctions and the like. And I also know that I, like many of you, want to do my part to still these negative effects.

I’ve seen a lot of information put out there about the unsustainability of beef, trying to persuade people to give up meat in order to “save the planet”. I’ve witnessed quite a few people become vegetarians in order lessen their carbon footprint. I’ve considered it myself. On one hand, this is good. It is good to be aware that what you are eating has an impact, not only on your personal well-being, but on that of the world, because it does! But is not eating beef (or meat at all) really a solution? I don’t think so. What matters far more is not whether you eat beef, but where your beef comes from, or how it was produced.

Think back to your last meal with beef, perhaps it was beef tacos or a nice steak. Do you know how it was raised? If not, then it is most likely that beef came from a conventional livestock system, or a factory farm. These operations are where a majority of the data comes from that show the negative effects of beef production on the environment, and many are not wrong in their conclusions. Unfortunately, these systems are not natural and a far cry from how an animal, such as cow, is designed to live.

When a cow is out on pasture, there are many things taking place. They move across the land, trampling down and eating vegetation. The trampled vegetation covers the soil, protecting it. The plants that die add to the organic content of the soil. As trampled or eaten plants regrow, they are using carbon from the air and releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Both of these processes serve to trap carbon into the soil, rather than releasing into the atmosphere, and increase the organic content and biodiversity of the soils. The manure and urine from the cow also work to add nutrients back into the soil.

In conventional systems, animals are treated more as products on conveyor belt rather than living, breathing organisms apart of a complex ecosystem. The cows are often raised on grass for the first 6 months or so of life, which is great (and a lot better than conventionally raised pork or chicken). But after that they are shipped (often long distances) to feedlots and fed grain. This grain also has to be shipped in. Much of the grain produced to feed cows is grown on huge monoculture farms and harvested by machinery. Because the cows are not there to provide soil inputs, artificial inputs (such as chemical fertilizers) must added. These are also shipped in. Conventional beef production completely disrupts that natural ecological systems that work to provide balance between inputs and outputs in the environment.

There are A LOT of other things that can and should be considered, such as the health benefits and animal humane issues, when considering grass-fed vs. conventional beef. I urge you to look deeper into it and not just blindly accept the information put out to the public. There is often more to the story. It’s time to reconnect to the source of our food and gain a true understanding of how what we eat impacts not only our health, but the planet.

Resources:

Defending Beef

Sustainable Food Trust

The Savoury Institute

Sheldon Frith

Agriculture: Steps to sustainable livestock

Sound management may sequester methane in grazed rangeland ecosystems

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Small Steps to Sustainability: Plastics!

I thought I would start my first post in a series called Small Steps to Sustainability. In this series, I will share with you small steps that I am taking to lead a more sustainable life, with the purpose to inspire you to start taking your own small steps to sustainability. These steps may be about environmental sustainability, but they will also include topics surrounding fitness, food, and overall health! Creating a healthier lifestyle (for yourself and the planet) can seem quite daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! It’s all about taking baby steps. Making small changes on a regular basis is what leads to making lifelong changes that are sustainable for you.

SO, in honour of Earth Day tomorrow, here are a few changes you can make to help create a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle by focusing on reducing the amount the plastic you throw away. Plastic takes HUNDREDS of years to decompose, so the less you toss, the better.

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  • Get a reusable water bottle and bring it everywhere with you. Everywhere! That way you are never stuck and end up having to purchase a plastic bottled water. It’s also important to find a style of water bottle you love and will enjoy using. Maybe you want a straw, or maybe you want it to be insulated. Personally, I love my big Nalgene bottle. It holds a lot of water and it is easy to clean.
  • Use glass jars. I save jars from spaghetti sauce and the like and remove the labels. They are great for storing bulk foods, or putting leftovers in (hello, mason jar salads!). You can bring your jars into your bulk grocery store and use those to collect your bulk ingredients instead of those pesky plastic bags and cups. Just be sure to get their tare weight measured (at a check-out or customer service desk) before you fill them up. I have heard the Whole Foods can be a bit cranky about this, but I don’t have any personal experience with it, so I can’t say for sure.
  • Buy reusable bags… and actually use them. I’m pretty terrible about this, but I’m trying to get better! Having a million reusable bags lying around helps, and keeping a stash in the car helps even more. One thing you can do is vow to not use the plastic grocery bags, whether you remembered to bring your reusable bags or not. Just the thought of having to transport everything to my car and then into the house without bags is enough to make me want to run back to the car and get my bags! What it really comes down to is changing a habit, and we all have different ways of doing so successfully.

What have you been doing lately to create a more sustainable lifestyle? Are you doing anything to celebrate Earth Day?

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