It was a beautiful sunny day as I lay out on our lawn and watched my daughter play in the gravel. In the background lay our view over the valley, peeking through the neighbours’ houses.

There is a juxtaposition there, that often catches me: The peaceful chirping of birds amongst the light hum of the traffic below in the valley. It makes me yearn for a chance to be in that same spot back when this hill was forest covered, free of outside noise and untamed in its landscape.

How I wish I could stop the ever growing snowball of replacing the natural with the artificial. The human race is an unstoppable force, however, so instead in my day-to-day I focus on rewinding the damage only in my own life.

Some days though, when I feel the strain of always being the one to swim up stream, I wonder why I choose to stick it out in a civilization that seems to, at every turn, replace natural solutions with more problematic, man-made ones.

People are constantly trying to minimize the effort needed to live, but with that we have removed exercise from our day-to-day. We have damaged our posture with soft seats and hard soled shoes, and polluted our bodies with diets not fit for us or the animals and crops sacrificed to feed us.

And on a mental level, people no longer respect themselves as animals. There is an expectation to discard our natural instincts, to even distrust them, and to feel ashamed of our unaltered bodies and desires.

Then, to what end? Our lives are filled with endless possibilities, but at what price? The constant background buzz of traffic and airplanes that turns an otherwise peaceful silence into continual sub-conscious stress, also penetrates our minds. There seems to be an infinite list of to-do items always buzzing in the back of our brains, and our lives are led through endless goal posts towards a never-here present.

‘I could go live in the forest,’ I think. ‘Find a few like minded people, start a tribe, and go back to how things were before all the corruption.’ But then I remember what I find myself attached to in this world.

I think of all the friends and family I have across the globe, that I can talk to and connect with whenever I want, from the comfort of my own bed here in Scotland.

I think of the vast pool of knowledge that is inches away from me at any moment on the web, available for whenever I want to know something.

And then there are the safety and comforts of this world.

It is very likely that all of my children will reach adulthood, and that I will live a long life.

I can buy any food I want, whenever I want, instead of hunting for it.

My home is always warm and safe.

So, the buzz continues. Watching my daughter play in the gravel, I instead hope for a compromise. I hope that I can teach her to respect herself and this earth in ways her peers don’t. So that she and I, and anyone we may influence, may slowly increase the vote for the type of health and happiness that is long lived.

And while I do not expect to change the human race, what I do hope for is this: To make a future that always holds a safe harbour for both the natural world and those who wish to reconnect with it. To keep the knowledge and the support available to those who seek it, and to give our children’s children a forest to walk through.

I had a lot of trouble writing this article, not because I didn’t have a lot to say, but instead because the topic depresses me a bit. It is sad how we, as a human race, have created so many unnecessary hazards for ourselves. Not only that, but these hazards seem virtually unknown to most of the population, meaning that many people are constantly bombarding their bodies with long term health risks without knowing it.

I am writing this article not so that you can avoid all of these areas of concern, because that is unrealistic. I am instead writing so that you can know what’s out there, so that you can take your own measured amount of risk.

So, how best to choose safe household products? As usual, the general rule is, the more pure and close to nature the materials are, the better.

The only pure elements I can think to look out for is lead, such as in old paint, and aluminum, found in things like pots, pans, and deodorant. Note that both of these materials can be poisonous in the right circumstances.

Of course a material’s composition is not always easy to tell. Here are some areas to look out for:

Wood – Is it solid wood, or particle board?

There are lots of nasty chemicals in particle board, which is why you’re not supposed to burn it in your fireplace. Doing so releases those chemicals into the air, but even just having the stuff in your house means potential off-gassing. Opt for good old fashioned solid wood when you can. It looks nice, holds up stronger, and is much friendlier on the chemical scale.

Cloth – What it means to go pure.

Unfortunately, there are way too many toxic chemicals manufacturers like to throw into their cloth products. If it’s baby toys or mattresses, you’re dealing with flame retardants. If it’s non-iron shirts, it’s formaldehyde. A lot of clothes are made of fabrics that have been processed with bleach, and even organic fabrics are sometimes soaked in toxic dyes. New clothes should be washed before wearing, because manufacturers sometimes spray new clothes with chemicals to keep them looking smooth and neat in their packaging. Finally, the cloth type itself should be considered, because artificial fabrics like polyester (which is a type of plastic, by the way) may leave residue on the skin, especially if sweated in.

The most trustworthy fabrics? Organic natural fibers such as organic cotton, wool, and hemp, that have been dyed with safe dyes. A word of caution though: There are fabrics out there that are labeled as “organic” that have not been kept organic through the whole process, i.e. cotton that was grown organically, but then bleached, or bamboo, which requires a chemical treatment to get that soft fabric from the originally organic fibers. One of my best ways to tell what I am getting is sight and smell. Real organic fabric smells wonderful, and if it’s not dyed, fabrics such as cotton will be an off-white color rather than pure white.

Plastics – How to make the enemy your friend.

Ok, plastics are far from natural, but they have become an integral part of our lives. So my rule of thumb here is to stay away from plastics when it’s reasonable to, but otherwise choose plastics that have the best reputation. Kitchen utensils for example, I try to go with wood, metal, or glass, instead of plastic. I even have a glass water bottle instead of a plastic one. However, when choosing a shower curtain, I didn’t like the mechanics of the glass partitions, so instead I made sure the shower curtain I got was PVC free. PVC, by the way, if you haven’t heard of it, is the worst known plastic out there in terms of toxicity. It leaches and off gases, and unfortunately is used in a huge range of household items from water pipes to children’s toys.

The best way to identify what plastics are safe is to look at the recycling number printed on the bottom of many objects. This tells you a bit about what type of plastic it is. PVC is recycle number three. Six is another number you’ll want to stay away from, which includes things like Styrofoam and plastic cutlery. Two, four, and five, are the safest, while one (used for bottled water, etc.), and seven, which is a catch all for other types of plastics, are cautionary tales.

Note that plastic listed as being dishwasher or microwave safe does not mean that it is healthy to put it in the dishwasher or microwave. It simply means that it won’t melt in these conditions. To avoid leaching from plastics I would avoid doing both practices where ever possible.

For us, we don’t own a microwave since we found we do just fine without one, and in its absence, we don’t have to worry about the radiation microwaves emit. As for the rare item we eat that comes in “oven safe” plastic packaging, I’ll empty it into a glass oven proof dish before cooking. Then for the dishes, if it’s plastic, I’ll either do it by hand, or if I’m lazy, I’ll do a plastic only load in the dishwasher on low heat to minimize the chance of leaching.

Cleaning Products – Keeping clean the old fashioned way.

When I started looking around the house for potential hazards for my daughter, I was reminded of what I read during my pregnancy. I read that pregnant women should not use cleaning products that are not safe to inhale or touch because they could do harm to the baby. Personally, I feel that if a substance is that harmful to an unborn baby, it’s probably no good to a crawling around baby who puts everything in her mouth, either. So first off, I replaced all of these types of cleaners in my house with non-toxic solutions.

Besides some brand name non-toxic cleaners, there are also some great natural ones you might unknowingly already have in your home. Baking soda, for example, is very multipurpose. With a few other ingredients, you can find all sorts of natural cleaning recipes online. Two natural cleaners I often find myself using is lemon juice, for stains, and vinegar, as a natural disinfectant.

But what else to look out for? Fabric softener is a big one. A lot of resources will warn you against using it on baby clothing because baby’s skin will often react to the strong chemicals that make up this product. Personally, I’ve also stopped using it on my own clothes. But how does one still get clothes soft? Well, I’ve heard baking soda can help, though I have not tried it thoroughly enough to confirm it. Also clothes turn out infinitely softer coming out of the dryer than they do line-dried. For my daughter Jade’s nappies that I air-dry, I’ve found scrunching them up a few times in my hands once they’re dry also really helps.

The last big change I have made in this area, is that I no longer use shampoo or conditioner on my hair or Jade’s. Both of these common cleaning products, besides being a lot less necessary then we are led to believe, are also known for having various carcinogens in them. They can even contain PVC, as this is sometimes put in the “perfum” or “fragrance” listed on shampoos, conditioners, soaps, perfumes and makeup that you can buy. When I first learned this, I was reluctant to change because I didn’t know how the transition would be, but when I started taking all my baths with Jade, I was worried enough about her drinking the bathwater that I was inspired to make the change. I can say now, that I’m happy with my decision and I look forward to going over the details of my experiences in another article.

 Wireless – The price of unplugging

Many will remember the news articles going around about how mobile phones can cause cancer. This is because of the radiation they give off in order to transmit signals. However, many do not think about all the other devices they now own that also use radiation to transmit data. Wireless internet, Bluetooth, and cordless phones, all produce radiation, the safety of which is still too early to know.

Now I’ll admit, this has been a hard one to cut back on for me. Even as I type this, I am doing so from my tablet which connects to our Wi-Fi. However, there are easy ways to cut back. When I am home, I do not carry my mobile on me; I keep it in a central location in our house so that I can hear it ringing without being next to it. On my wireless devices, I turn off the Wi-Fi when I am not using it (which as a plus also saves battery life, by the way). I try to use as many wired products as possible, such as for my mouse and keyboard. When out and about, I keep my mobile in my bag farthest from me, and turn it off when it’s not needed. Also, as good practice, it’s good to hold mobile phones away from your head when they are trying to connect, as this is when the signal is strongest.

How to Still Relax

After hearing all this, you might go, “Eek, now I need to throw out half the stuff I own!”, but relax, don’t panic. You don’t need to switch over everything, and the things you do choose to rethink, you can do so overtime. These are long-term health effects after all.

Also remember, the body is amazing at dealing with what we throw at it. Take a drug too long and your body will learn to counter the effect. Take a poison in small doses, and your body will often build an immunity. I once heard of an experiment they did where they made a guy where glasses that turned everything he saw upside-down for an extended period of time. At the end of the trial period, he actually saw things right side-up, but when taking off the glasses everything was then upside down again. These are the wonders of the human body.

That said, there’s something to be said for not swamping your body with toxins and radiation either. A lot of the products I’ve listed have been shown to cause health problems, and the more of these your body is fighting at once, the more likely your immune system will be weakened and not be able to handle additional load.

The point is to keep everything in moderation. Minimize what you can, remove risks that don’t gain you anything, and you’re giving your body an extra step up. By knowing what’s out there, you can give your body an occasional break while still enjoying modern life, because at the end of the day, if you’re making the right decisions for the right reasons, then your life will be at its best.

 

I find it surprising how “normal” being on medication has become. People are constantly swallowing these chemical compounds during everyday life for headaches, heartburn, depression, ADD, trouble sleeping, stuffiness, etc. etc. In fact, I’ve had plenty of times when people have asked me what I take and when I say “nothing”, they seem surprised. The “more natural” route of vitamins has the same sort of following, with people taking them for everything from more energy to better skin. So what’s wrong with this picture? Here’s what I think.

Medicines

Let’s start with medicines. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there is a time and place for them especially when it comes to medical emergencies. The issue here is that they have become the crutch that people lean on to avoid facing the real problem. ‘Have a headache? Take a pill and keep going!’ Says the ads, but did that person ever stop to think that maybe they have a headache because their body needs to slow down, de-stress, and get more hydrated?

Even when people do realise that, for example, they need to rest even after they have taken something, they often don’t rest as long as they should, because their body’s way of communicating how it’s doing has been muted.

Ever hear of the rare disorder where a person is born without the ability to feel pain? Sounds great, right? Not really. That same person is in risk of serious injury all their life, because their body will not warn them if they start to accidentally damage themselves.

Medicines often treat symptoms rather than causes. Which means relying on them often means not giving the body what it really needs to get healthy. Continually doing this means not only are you risking more long term damage, but you are also creating a continual cycle of needing more medicine.

More because you are still doing what caused the problem in the first place, and because the body is smart. If you start giving it strange substances that mess with it’s system, it doesn’t like it, so it adjusts. This is why, for example, you shouldn’t take sleeping pills. At first it will work great, but then over time your body will work to counteract the effect until you’re not much better off then where you started. So, you have to take more to get the same effect or you can stop. However if you stop, you will now have even more trouble sleeping than when you started, because you’re body is now compensating for the medication it’s expecting, yay!

Finally my last concern with medicine, it’s unpredictable! Yes, it will most likely do what’s advertised on the box, but did you ever read the list of potential side affects, or hear of other disastrous health issues that have cropped up from taking x drug? This is because the body is complicated. And while we like to pretend we understand it, there is a lot about it we still don’t know. Then of course, there’s that fact that everyone’s body is different!

Vitamins

So what about vitamins? Surely taking vitamins, which we need in everyday life anyways, couldn’t be bad? This is the way I thought until I met my husband. He doesn’t trust vitamins. ‘Why?’ I asked, puzzled. To which he answered, ‘because they come out of a factory.’

This got me thinking. What exactly are these pills I’m taking? They’re not exactly natural. I did a bit of research and realised that for one thing, vitamins are not pure. They’re mixed and encapsulated in various other components in an attempt to make them go down well, taste right, and be digested in the right manner. Some of these ingredients have been listed as harmless, others untested, and still others have been marked for concern. Then of course there is the vitamin itself.

When I was pregnant I got a lot of pressure to take the right balance of vitamins. Take folic acid they said, but avoid vitamin A. Why avoid vitamin A? Because it can cause birth defects! Eek!

So, being the natural person that I am, I started looking up what foods had vitamin A in them so that I could avoid an overdose. The answer? A lot. Dairy, fruit, vegetables, and meat; foods from all of these groups have significant amounts of vitamin A in them. With few healthy foods left in the list, I felt like there must be something missing to this picture, and there was.

Vitamin A is actually quite important for your body. It helps with eyesight among other things. Upon digging a little deeper I found that what doctors are actually concerned about is pregnant women taking too much vitamin A in the form of supplements.

Eating foods with vitamin A naturally in them is for the most part (excepting say, liver), just fine, since in these natural food sources the body is accustomed to taking just what it needs and leaving the rest. Vitamins in the form of food supplements are given in a much more concentrated form and digested differently, so an overdose is much more possible. Moral of the story? If at all possible, get vitamins in the way they were meant to be acquired: through food!

Besides, if you aim to get the vitamins you need in food, then you are also giving your body lots of other good stuff you might be low on otherwise – minerals, antioxidants, fiber, etc., and you’ll be leaving less room for those empty calorie foods which add other problems.

Ironically, when I asked my midwife what foods I could eat to make sure I got enough folic acid for the baby, she didn’t have an answer for me. (The answer, by the way, is a lot of green leafy vegetables, among other whole foods.)

It’s sad to me how the natural solution seems to be often not even mentioned in modern medical teachings. Which brings me to a word of warning I have said before: learn what you are eating!

There have been various government policies put in place, at least in the US, to encourage various types of food manufacturers to add supplements to their products, for example iodized salt, and vitamin D in milk. This is an unfortunate solution to the problem that too many unhealthy food items are being sold to the public in the first place, leaving citizens vitamin deficient.

Unfortunately for us, this means things like overdosing on vitamin A or other fat-soluble vitamins can happen much more easily, so do watch for ingredient labels for what supplements might be added.

The More Natural Way

Vitamin deficient? Unfortunately to date there is no magical gruel like they have in The Matrix that has everything the body needs all perfectly balanced. But really, who wants that? Personally I would much prefer a nice energizing salad that tastes great and leaves me feeling great.

And medicine? Give your body rest, nutrients, exercise, and emotional boosts in self confidence and relaxation, and the rewards will be much greater and more long lasting.

So this is my recommendation to you, next time something isn’t right in your body, ask this, “what is my body asking for? What does it really need to fix the balance?” You’re body will reward you for listening.

 

When I was a preteen I took my first dive into the world of healthy but unpopular choices. I gave up all processed sugars, sugar substitutes, and caffeine, along with foods that had unusually long lists of unrecognizable ingredients in them.

Why? Well, as is a common motivating factor for dietary changes, I was overweight.

Luckily I had some guidance. My mom, like many members of my family, has struggled with weight her whole life. As a result of this and her love of reading, she has read probably every book out there on nutrition, diets, and everything in between. And luckily for me, she loves talking about it.

There are many diets out there. In fact, in my opinion it’s the new religion because everyone out there has their own opinion of what people should be eating. The choice for me felt obvious though. Eat food that the body was evolved to eat, in a form that your system already knows how to deal with, and your body will take care of the rest.

Sugar for example, eat sugar in the form of fruit and the body is happy and healthy. Eat it in the form of table sugar and you run into all sorts of problems.

‘Oh I’m not eating that much,’ you might say, but a word of warning for sugar and all food additives: READ LABELS. When I first gave up sugar etc. and started reading labels, I was shocked at what they put sugar in. Bread? Canned vegetables? Salt?? All yes. What a joke. If there is anything you take away from this post, it must be this: Learn what you are eating. Reading labels has been a godsend for me, even when I went back on sugar etc. for a while, because it meant I was in control of the quantity of those substances.

Anyways, so what happened when I gave up eating food that had been through a lab and back? I lost 55 pounds in a matter of months. I was very skinny then, and over time 10 pounds of that came back to leave me at the nice healthy weight of 135 pounds at the height of 5′ 7″, but I was fine with that, because that was where my body was most comfortable.

Where to Compromise

I did my diet for 10 years before taking a few years off, and now I’m back on it again with my daughter. Whenever making a change to your diet, I recommend making changes for the long haul, because fast fixes are temporary.

I actually feel lucky that I have genes that cause me to gain weight at any slight slip in routine, because it’s a reminder to me that I’m doing something that will affect me negatively in the long run. For all you never-gain-weight people, remember, there are many worse problems that come from eating poorly than weight gain.

That said, just because I’ve chosen a life of no processed sugar doesn’t mean I haven’t found ways to enjoy a wide range of foods and sweets. I totally recommend learning how to cook/bake if you don’t already, because being able to make things like BBQ sauce, muffins, and even chocolate (well, carob) éclairs with all natural ingredients makes life amazing.

For those wanting to join me, a few notes to help you get started:

  • Sweeteners I trust: Maple syrup, maple sugar, honey, stevia (pure green powder form preferably!), date syrup, date sugar, fruit juice.
  • Sweeteners to stay away from: sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar, dextrose, maltodextrin, aspartame.

Note: This is by no means a complete list. When in doubt, look it up. I recommend checking out both how they make or acquire said sweetener, and the sweetener’s GI (Glycemic Index).