6

Honey, oh sugar, sugar: the green guide to sugar do’s and dont’s

IMG_4623

I picked up a copy of EcoParent today and found the most practical guide to sugar-eating there is. So, as we dive into the cookie-ladden holidays, I want to share some bits of it with you.

(Full disclosure: I contribute to EcoParent. But, rest assured, I would have endorsed this information regardless of my relationship with the magazine.)

 

Dr. Heidi Lescanec, the Naturopathic Doctor who writes the article, explains the difference between processed sugar and naturally occurring sugar, like the one found in fruit, this way:

  • In nature, sugars and carbohydrates (our energy sources) come with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins, fat and fiber. (…) In their whole form, sugar fuels our body function, while refined sugars, on the other hand, are devoid of nutrients.

That’s the Doctor’s first warning. And then she goes on to say why consumption of refined sugars has been linked to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer:

  • Regular high consumption of refined sugars actually depletes the body’s essential reserves of what it needs to function. In addition, when we consume refined sugars alone without proteins, good fats, or fiber, they enter the bloodstream in a rush.

Dr. Lescanec offers a general recommendation:

  • Choose more wholesome sweeteners, eat them in moderation, and make sure to include protein, fiber or healthy fat in your meals or snacks so that the entry of glucose into the bloodstream is slower.

Now, this is the practical knowledge you need before making that first batch of gingerbread cookies. (This is a summary. Do pick up a copy of EcoParent to read the whole thing. It’s truly enlightening —plus, the rest of the magazine is a great read!).

Refined, commercial sweeteners that you should avoid:

Agave: Sold as a health food, agave is now in the hall of shame of sugar. It is marketed as having a low glycemic index, usually a good thing, but the only reason for that is that agave is high in fructose. In short, this means that your body doesn’t metabolize it well at all. I used agave quite a bit in the past but it has no place in my pantry anymore.

White granulated sugar: You probably know this already, but white sugar is highly refined, has no nutrients, and is simply terrible for your health. If you’ve substituted white sugar for brown sugar, see the next entry.

Brown sugar: It might look more artisanal, but the knowledgeable Doctor Lescanec reminds us that brown sugar is pretty much exactly the same as white sugar, only that it has kept some of its molasses. Meaning: brown sugar is also terrible for your health.

Demerara, Turbinado, and Muscavado: I have fallen victim to their fancy names before. Have you? These three types of sugar are pretty much the same, with varying amounts of molasses. All of them are refined sugars with 99% sucrose —same as white and brown sugar. Their appeal is that they are less processed sugars, if only slightly.

High Fructose corn syrup: This is the real bad guy on the list. Known as glucose-fructose in Canada, HFCS is pretty much on every processed food there is, savoury or sweet. It’s the main ingredient in pop. You should avoid this like the plague. Your body simply doesn’t digest this type of sugar, so it goes directly into your bloodstream. HFCS has been directly linked to the obesity epidemic in North America. (A huge bonus of avoiding HFCS is that you will inevitably stop buying processed foods for the most part, if not altogether. Try it as an experiment. You’ll never look back and your future self will thank you.)

This list doesn’t include artificial sweeteners, so here’s my own advice: That stuff is crap. Research has shown that it will hurt your brain cells. Don’t have it.

 

Now, for the good news: sugars you can have!

Unrefined natural sugars that are better options:

Honey: Honey contains vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, amino acids and good bacteria. You should, however, look for raw, pure honey, since the processed kind generally lacks all this good stuff. Plus, it tastes so much better.

Stevia: This is extracted from a natural herb and it’s a lot sweeter than regular sugar. The down side is that it’s not easy to cook or bake with. It’s mostly used for hot beverages.

Maple syrup: This one is my absolute favourite. I buy the 1L jugs at Costco whenever I can and use it for almost all my baking. Maple Syrup has tonnes of anti-oxidants and more vitamins and minerals that any other type of sugar. We’re so lucky that we can get the good stuff here in Canada. ❤

Sucanat and Rapadura: These two are pretty much the same, except for the size of their granules. They’re made of dehydrated sugar cane juice. They preserve the good vitamins and minerals of sugar cane, which means that this helps you digest it.

Coconut sugar: I was pleased to find this one on the list because I felt adventurous at Bulk Barn the other day and bought a bunch of it. It’s delicious and perfect for baking. It’s not very nutrient rich, but has a very low glycemic index.

Molasses: We’re vegetarian, as you may have noticed, so we need to keep an eye for our iron levels. I buy the blackstrap molasses kind, which is very high in iron (and many other nutrients), and use it to cook beans in it. For regular molasses, which is high in iron, zinc, copper and chromium, look for unsulphured molasses (it’s safer because it has no sulphites. These are bad for you, and especially bad for kids.)

 

I really hope this list helps you navigate the supermarket isles better. I’m definitely going to keep it handy in the future. Again, I highly recommend that you pick up the magazine and read the whole article. There’s a lot more useful information, plus a couple of recipes, in it.

Lastly, if you’re still curious about the topic of sugar, the CBC’s Fifth Estate recently aired a pretty good, short documentary about sugar. It’s not the most in-depth investigation but it definitely has useful information, like how to visualize your sugar intake in a whole week —totally scary. You can watch the documentary here.

As always, let me know your thoughts! Have a great week and happy good-sugar baking : )

2

Avoiding toxins during pregnancy (and beyond)

index

You don’t have to be pregnant to read this post! I promise you this is important info that matters to all of us.

As I mentioned in my earlier post about products, at home we try to minimize our exposure to harmful toxins by buying certain products and avoiding others.

As a follow-up, I want to share this info about the toxins all women should avoid during pregnancy (and, obviously, beyond as well):

Jamie McConnell, of Women’s Voices for the Earth, has put together a brilliant list of harmful toxins that we should all avoid. Please take a few moments to read and think about it. (I copy the whole list below. For the original post, click here.)

I found especially useful the information regarding Teflon-coated pans. I knew already about Teflon’s links to cancer because I was aware that Dupont, the maker of Teflon, faced a lawsuit related to this in 2005. (The case was later dropped, but not because of the nature of the claims). I do have a Teflon-coated non-stick pan but I only use it on low heat. And now with this reminder I might just get rid of it and buy a Green Pan instead. (We got a Green Pan wok for our wedding and we love it).

Toxic Chemicals to Avoid During Pregnancy

1. Make Your Own Cleaning Products

  • It’s easy, fun, and cheap to make non-toxic cleaners from safe and effective ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. Find recipes here.

THE FACTS: Certain chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to reduced fertility, birth defects, increased risk of breast cancer, asthma, and hormone disruption.

2. Avoid Synthetic Fragrance

  • Look for cleaners, laundry detergents, and personal care products labeled “fragrance-free” Warning: “unscented” does not mean fragrance-free!
  • Discontinue use of air fresheners. Click here for tips to reduce odors around the home.

THE FACTS: Synthetic fragrance can be made up hundreds of chemicals, all of which are kept secret from consumers. Common fragrance chemicals include phthalates (reproductive and developmental harm) and synthetic musks (break down the body’s defenses against other toxic exposures, linked to increased risk of breast cancer).

3. Give Your Personal Care Products a Makeover

  • Read the label to avoid chemicals like parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, and oxybenzone.
  • Check the Skin Deep database at www.cosmeticsdatabase.com to find safer products.

THE FACTS: Over 12,000 chemicals are used in personal care products—89% of them haven’t been reviewed for safety.

4. Go “BPA-Free”

  • Ditch the canned foods and opt for fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables instead.
  • Look for products packaged in glass or lined cardboard instead of cans.
  • Look for plastics labeled “BPA-free.”
  • Don’t take paper receipts from ATMS, grocery stores etc,  if you don’t need them

THE FACTS: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is commonly found in can liners, plastic products and coated on paper receipts. BPA exposure is linked to a host of hormone-related health impacts such as increased risk of cancer, infertility, obesity and diabetes.

5. Watch Out for Triclosan

  • Avoid anti-bacterial hand soap with triclosan listed on the label.
  • Reduce your use of disinfectant products.

THE FACTS: Triclosan is a hormone disruptor that builds up in our bodies, and it’s been found in blood and breast milk. Studies show that it’s actually no more effective at removing germs or preventing illness that plain soap and water.

6. Choose Plastics with the Recycle Symbols #4 & #5

  • Look for plastic products with these symbols signifying PVC-free plastics.
  • Use glass jars or bowls to store food.
  • Never microwave plastic.

THE FACTS: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), known as the poison plastic, is found in plastic products from toys and cookware to shower curtains. PVC is linked to hormone disruption, reproductive and developmental harm, and other serious health problems.

7. Keep Chemicals Out of the House

  • Take of your shoes before entering your house to avoid tracking in oils and chemicals from the street outside.
  • Use a door mat to catch dirt at the door.
  • Dust with a micro-fiber cloth or wet cloth and vacuum your house regularly (with a HEPA-filter vacuum if you can).
  • Don’t use pesticides to kill bugs or rodents in your home
  • Don’t use chemical flea colors, dips, or baths on your pet

THE FACTS: Shoes can track in toxic chemicals like lawn pesticides, coal tar from a driveway, etc. Dust carries harmful chemicals that shed off of household furniture, electronics, and other household products.

8. Turn Down the Heat on Non-Stick Cookware

  • Keep the stove at or below medium heat when using Teflon or non-stick cookware.
  • Opt for cast iron or stainless steel pans for cooking when possible.

THE FACTS: Teflon releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated to 450 degrees. PFOA is linked to developmental harm and cancer.

9. Avoid exposure to paint.

  • Have your partner or a friend paint the nursery
  • Have them use a low or no VOC paint (HomeDepot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware carry a wide variety).

THE FACTS: Paint can contain volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) which have been linked to cancer and respiratory irritation. Though I’m sure you’re tempted to help your partner paint the nursery—don’t!—even if you use low or no VOC paint they may still contain other chemicals of concern such as heavy metals in pigments, or preservatives which prevent mold growth.

10. When possible, try to eat organic food.

  • Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce to find veggies and fruits that are low in pesticides (after all, not everyone can afford to buy organic all the time!)

THE FACTS: Fruits and vegetables can contain harmful pesticides linked to birth defects and reproductive harm.

11. Avoid getting certain beauty services done during pregnancy.

  • Beauty services like Brazilian Blowout (and other hair straightening symptoms), hair coloring, and perms can release nasty chemicals.
  • Check out WVE’s list of salon ingredients to avoid. Make sure your stylist isn’t using products that contain these ingredients.

THE FACTS: Some hair and nail salon treatments can contain chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, phthalates, and other nasties that are linked to birth defects, reproductive problems and even cancer.

12. Check out WVE’s Green Momma Party Guide

  • The guide is a how-to for detoxing your home in preparation for baby. Included in the guide are some inexpensive, do it yourself recipes to try out with friends!

Lastly, if this list of tips seems overwhelming and exhausting…take a deep breath.  There is so much new stuff to learn and know during pregnancy, and you can only do the best that you can do given your individual circumstances. Take comfort in knowing that taking care of your health, by getting good sleep, eating healthy, and getting exercise also goes a long way in boosting your body’s defenses against toxic chemical exposure that can be hard to control.

4

Products, products, products

photo

It’s been about five years since I started paying attention to what type of products I buy. It started with food, right about when D and I began our quest for a healthier, meatless life (I’ll write about this in a separate post soon). As reading ingredient lists and nutrition tables proved to be an eye-opening experience, I began questioning my choices on everything else I buy: cleaning products, beauty products, even clothes.

There are different opinions about whether it is our responsibility as consumers to buy ethically sourced products. (I use this expression in the broadest sense: I mean products that are manufactured safely and without cruelty to animals or workers; I mean products that are made with components that don’t harm us or the environment; products that are intended do do good, not just earn a profit). D and I decided to live by better ethical standards; we made a conscious decision to be better consumers, at least more informed consumers, in order to support not only our well-being but to support people and companies trying to make this a better world. Like everything, this is just an attempt to do things better.

Not everybody agrees with this approach. It takes too much time, and too much effort, the argument goes, to figure out where and how everything is made. It’s up to governments and companies and regulatory bodies to clean up their act, not to consumers, to make this a healthier marketplace. I completely agree that being more informed takes a lot of time and effort, and that people in positions of authority should definitely be the ones leading the way. But I think individual choice can have a huge impact. In a sense, I vote with my wallet.

Anyway, this is getting long! What I really wanted to do is show you a list of products I buy or look for that fall into this category of “better for you and for the planet”. This is just to give you an example of what I buy and why –and to get you thinking next time you go to the store.

Food (this is a huge category so I’ll just touch on organics).

I try to avoid the middle aisle in the supermarkets, and rather go for the bakery, the cold, and the fresh produce sections.

Pesticides are known to be harmful, especially for children (read this). I buy organic when it’s not absurdly expensive and I’m selective: apples, grapes, and fresh berries I try to get organic as much as possible. The same with Tofu. And the same with food for lil’ Sophie: she gets as many organics as possible.

Personal products

Parabens and phtalates are said to be harmful, yet they’re common ingredients in products like shampoo and deodorant (read this from the Campaign for Safe Cometics). I buy paraben and phtalate-free shampoos and conditioners, and try to get the ones with a “cruelty free” label on the back (or the label that looks like a rabbit, which means it hasn’t been tested on animals). The same goes for face and body moisturizers. I like the Jason and Attitude brands.

I only buy deodorant and not anti-perspirant, because some research has linked the aluminum-based anti-perspirants to breast cancer–although this is controversial. See here.

D has eczema, and the only soap he can tolerate is natural pine tar, by The Soap Works, so that’s what we get. It’s an all vegetable soap and I like that it has no packaging –I still don’t get why soap bars are being replaced by liquid soap in wasteful plastic containers. I like soap bars!

As far as baby stuff goes, I try to get anything that’s labeled all-natural, plus fragrance and alcohol free–that includes her baby wipes. I also don’t use soap for Sophie’s bath-time every day, but rather every two or three days. We’re currently using Baby Bee for her.

Cleaning products

Everything from detergent, to dish soap to all-purpose cleaners can accumulate over time in your clothes and on your skin. So I try to buy brands that contain no petro-chemicals, that are unscented, and that have as few ingredients as possible. I love everything by Seventh Generation. I also just use hot water and vinegar most often for general cleaning purposes. And I don’t use fabric softeners. They’re not only unnecessary but they have been linked to –you guessed it– cancer: read this.

This list can go on and on, but I think I’ve bored you already with this long post. Do you have any tips about products you prefer to buy? Any comments? Please do share! Have a wonderful day.