One of my themes is resourcefulness, the valuable ability to devise effective ways and means of meeting any situation we face. I’m curious about how we can increase our capacity for resourcefulness. And about how we can discover and engage with available resources without being duped or overwhelmed.
To engage fully, we must recognize that there are two aspects of resourcefulness—what we find within ourselves, and what we can learn from others.
Our inner resources are the attitudes and skills developed from life experience. They keep us going and make us resilient. When we tap into our inner knowing, we bring these resources to the forefront. That’s why it’s helpful for each of us to find our own best method of accessing that inner wisdom. It makes us stronger and better able to cope. My recent blogs have been about accessing inner resources. But… Continue reading →
Albert Einstein is frequently quoted for saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Much of what goes on in medicine fits this definition. Researchers and practitioners go around in circles, trying small variations on the same approach, and not finding the results they hope for.
The issue is, all of the variations are rooted in the same mindset. In medicine, the prevailing mindset is that the solution to any condition is a magic bullet in the form of a pill to correct the issue. It’s an outdated attitude that worked in the days when penicillin was discovered to kill the bacteria that caused pneumonia, rheumatic fever, blood poisoning and other infections. Penicillin was the magic bullet that ushered in the age of antibiotics at a time when untreated infections were a major cause of death.
However, the landscape has shifted. Today’s health issues are primarily complex chronic conditions. Think heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer’s. Despite the enormous amount o money and effort put toward finding the magic bullet, it hasn’t happened.
The prevailing medical view of Alzheimer’s is a good example of stuck thinking.
Doctors are taught that once a person shows signs of Alzheimer’s, continued deterioration is inevitable. Drugs might be able to slow the progression, but there is absolutely no possibility of reversing the condition.
As the title of this post suggests, that belief has now been proven to be untrue. Continue reading →
My recent posts have covered a lot about the mental-emotional aspects of becoming well. But without doubt, the food we eat plays an equally important role. That will be my focus for the next few weeks.
What to eat…and why?
That’s not a simple question. It depends on your individual constitution and condition. And even if you’ve got a handle on that, you’ll find conflicting opinions among practitioners.
I’m going to start by giving you a chance to listen to Dr. Sarah Myhill. Then in the next few weeks, I’ll unpack some of the concepts she introduces and questions they might raise.
Dr. Myhill is a conventionally trained medical doctor in the UK. She was in general practice with the National Health Service (their version of medicare) for twenty years…and left to set up a private practice when the system did not allow her to practise the holistic, functional medicine that she is passionate about.
She was frustrated by the conventional approach with its focus on symptom-suppressing medications. When patients had chronic illnesses, there was no opportunity to investigate why the person was in this condition—in other words, what were the mechanisms causing the illness and what could be done to address them?
You’ll get two things from watching this video
Well-considered answers to a wide range of questions from an experienced practitioner.
An excellent example of functional thinking about why our bodies may not function well and what can be done about it.
Part 4 of my book Conscious Spending, Conscious Life is about health, safety and integrity of the future. It covers food and toxics, among other things. People are often surprised that I included health in a book about consumerism. But the truth is, food has become the ultimate consumer good—commercially grown, highly processed, and heavily marketed.
Navigating the consumer culture—unharmed—is a tricky task these days. Remaining healthy is one of the challenges. Despite relative wealth and an abundance of food products in North America, we continue to become more and more unhealthy.
Much of what we call “food” really isn’t. The dictionary defines food as “material that is used by the body to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes, as well as to furnish energy.” In a consumer culture, it is so easy to make poor choices and eat a lot that fills us up but doesn’t support our bodies in carrying out vital life processes. The choices we make can end up haunting us sooner or later.
When we become conscious of what we eat and try to do the right thing, we’re faced with confusing and conflicting information to sort through. While I was writing my section about food and toxics, I was frustrated by not having enough space to say everything I wanted to.
November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. This annual event acknowledges the need to educate ourselves in a crucial area of life—how to navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.
This initiative came out of the work of a task force that travelled the country to assess the state of financial literacy in Canada. My submission to that task force expressed the view that all post-secondary students should be required to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate.
I was pleased that the final report of the task force recommended that “…all provincial and territorial governments integrate financial literacy in the formal education system, including…post-secondary education and formalized adult learning activities.”
Widespread use of pesticides is a major issue in conventional fruit and vegetable production.These chemicals are absorbed by the plant as it grows, and cannot be removed simply by washing. Organic foods are grown without pesticides, so you don’t consume toxic residues when you eat organics.
Issues with meat production relate to what the animals are fed. Conventionally raised animals are typically fed grass and hay that has been sprayed with pesticides. Those residues end up in the meat, and eventually in your body if you eat that meat.
Even more troubling, though, is the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to healthy animals—not because they are sick, but to promote growth or prevent disease. This is resulting in drug-resistant strains of bacteria, and that means common antibiotics will no longer work in treating human illness. Organic animals, in contrast, are raised on plants grown without chemicals, and their daily feed does not contain antibiotics.
Better for workers
If pesticides pose a health risk for those of us eating them, imagine the health implications for workers who must apply the pesticides and then work in those fields day after day. This is especially concerning in developing countries, where there are few safety regulations to protect workers. When we buy products produced under these conditions, we contribute to harming to the workers. When we buy organic, we know that the workers have not been subjected to chemical exposure.
Better for the environment
Pesticides pollute the air and ground water wherever they are used. And they are persistent, accumulating over time because they don’t degrade and disappear quickly.
We used to think they went “somewhere” and weren’t a problem for us. Now we know better. We know that air and surface water circulate around the globe. As pollutants disperse into the air and water, they become part of that circulation. Eventually they reach everyone. What we do affects others. What they do ultimately affects us.
The issues of cost, price, and value
The consumer culture promotes a narrow view of value, focusing mainly on price. And although it may seem that going for the lowest price saves you money, that isn’t necessarily so. If you buy food with chemicals that cause your health to deteriorate, you might make a short-term saving but will pay for it in the long run. It’s all in how we look at it.
Basing our decisions solely on price is like wearing blinders. We don’t see the long-term consequences because we are focused on the low price of what we are buying right now. We overlook the fact that we are spending a lot on supplements to make up for the deficiencies in our food. We forget that we haven’t been feeling great for the last couple of years but the doctor hasn’t found a reason.We ignore the little inner voice saying that maybe we should eat better food.
From the viewpoint of a conscious consumer, value encompasses many other factors—including healthy bodies, healthy farm workers, healthy environment, better taste, and leaving a better world for those who come after us.
Managing the cost of eating organic
It’s true that organic foods usually cost more, and there are several reasons for this. Production is more labour-intensive, certification is expensive, and businesses are small so there are no economies of scale.
Grow some food…
One way to get organic foods and keep your cost down by growing your own. You’ll know exactly what went into growing it, and will have free food to put away for winter.
You don’t have to live in the country to grow food. There is a huge movement of city-dwellers starting backyard gardens or growing edibles on balconies, in window-boxes, and at community garden plots. There are also innovative ways that unused backyard space is being used to grow food. To explore possibilities, google “urban farming” or “urban gardening” for lots of examples of what people are doing.
For those who aren’t up for a gardening adventure, let’s look at some principles of managing food cost. This is good advice whether you’re buying organic or not.
Buy food that is as close to its original state as possible. Avoid processed and pre-prepared foods, which are expensive because of the extra work that’s gone into making them. If you buy a ready-made hummus or apple pie, it will cost you more than if you made it yourself. So buy real food.
Buy produce that is in season. Imported produce is costly, whether it’s organic or not. Buying local products in season is better for the environment because less fuel is used to transport it. And seasonal food tastes better because it comes from a short distance and can be left to ripen longer before picking.
Meat is generally expensive, and organic meat more so. Eat small portions and purchase less-expensive cuts such as ground lamb and beef instead of chops and steaks. Liver is economical and very nutritious…if you will eat it.
Make exceptions judiciously…
Free range turkey is about half the price of organic turkey. My feeling is that producers using free range practices are generally conscientious about how they raise the animals, so I choose the more economical option.
I apply the same logic to buying vegetables. Since the organic certification process is time-consuming and expensive for growers, I know that some opt for using good practices but not going through the formal certification process. If the sign says “pesticide free” and I trust the grower, I buy the produce.
Some fruits and vegetables are more contaminated than others. Useful information about this comes from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which publishes a yearly shopper’s guide reporting on pesticide residues in produce. They identify the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15” based on USDA data.
The 2017 Dirty Dozen list singled out, in order, strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, peaches, celery, grapes, pears, cherries, tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and potatoes. These are foods you would be wise to buy organic. The Clean Fifteen are the ones where you could make exceptions with fewer health consequences.
Other guidelines to consider…
If you have children, pay the extra cost of organic for the things they consume most.
Chemicals are stored in fat. So you may want to make sure fatty foods you buy are organic. This would include oils, meat, butter, milk, and other dairy products.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you’re eating out and don’t know if the food is organic or not, don’t worry about it. You won’t die from eating non-organic food now and then.
Worth the bother? All in all, I’d say that eating organic as much as reasonable and possible will be worthwhile in the long term and one of those things you’ll likely be glad you did. Your thoughts?
Last week I wrote about food and why we might want to eat organic to minimize exposure to toxic chemicals, However, food isn’t our only point of exposure to toxins. Our other daily choices are equally significant—personal care products we put on our bodies, chemicals we use to clean our homes, and furnishings in those homes. These pollutants are right around us and we absorb them daily through our skin and lungs.
But really, is this an issue?
You might wonder if we really absorb ingredients that are in our shampoo, toothpaste, household cleaners, and water bottles. Canadian environmental activists Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie also wondered. And they decided to investigate by experimenting on themselves.
For two days, they lived in an apartment where they exposed themselves to seven major toxins in foods, personal care products, and household items. All these consumer products were readily available and widely used.
Smith and Lourie had their blood levels monitored before and after, and it was shocking to see the increase in levels of chemicals in their bodies from only two days’ exposure. Here’s their summary of the experience.
So, there is an issue. Who’s responsible?
Typically we think that pollution comes mainly from industrial plants and toxic waste dumps. Significant as those are, the real issue is our private spaces—our homes, where we spend most of our time.
The good news is that we are in charge. We make the choices about what to buy and bring home. With some basic information, we can steer clear of a lot of problematic products.
Lightening the toxic load
Slow Death by Rubber Duck is the book that Smith and Lourie wrote. Before we talk about non-toxic alternatives, here is a brief description of the seven chemicals they tested.
Fragrance (phthalates) Watch for phthalates in body products, air fresheners, and soft plastics often used in shower curtains and toys (including the rubber duck for which their book is named).
Non-stick products (PFCs – perfluorochemicals) You’ll find PFCs applied to frypans, carpets, and upholstered furniture, as well as in windshield washer fluid and lipstick. You might recognize them by the brand names Teflon, Gore-Tex, and Scotchgard. You will also find PFCs in fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, and microwave-able popcorn bags.
Flame retardants (PBDEs – polybrominated diphenyl ethers) Flame retardants are used in highly flammable synthetic materials. PBDEs are typically found in electronics, and in foam used in furniture and carpet underlay.
Mercury Mercury is found in some fish (especially tuna), certain dental fillings (amalgams), and products such as batteries, thermometers, compact fluorescent lights, and fluorescent tubes. Dispose of mercury-containing products mindfully. If you decide to have amalgam fillings replaced, be sure your dentist knows the protocols for safe removal.
Antibacterial/antimicrobial products (Triclosan) Triclosan may be found in hand sanitizers, body products of many kinds, toothpaste, household cleaning supplies, and some clothing (socks, sandals, and underwear). Watch for this it on products like cutting boards, J Cloths, knives and even aprons under the brand name Microban. Other brand names include Irgasan DP 300 and Lexol 300, as well as the chemical name 5-chloro-2-(2.4-dichlorophenoxy) phenol.
Pesticides Pesticide is a general term for chemical preparations that destroy plant, fungal, or animal pests. You may also encounter the specific terms herbicide (for plants), fungicide (for fungi), and insecticide (for insects). Washing fruits and vegetables is a good general practice, but be aware that it does not remove all pesticides because some are absorbed internally as the plant grows. Grow a chemical-free lawn and garden. If you have to use a chemical for a specific reason, choose the least-toxic one possible.
Bisphenol A (BPA) BPA is a plasticizer widely used in the production of consumer goods, particularly food containers. Never microwave foods in plastic containers or wrap. Hot foods leach plasticizers from the plastic and you end up eating them. Although Health Canada issued this warning years ago, many people still don’t know about it. Instead, microwave foods in glass or china containers. If they need to be covered, place a plate on top to act as a lid. It does the job, keeps you from eating plastic chemicals, and is better for the environment because the plate is reusable.
Check out the products you use…
The best strategy is to avoid these chemicals as much as possible, which involves initial work to find out what your favourite products are made from. For me, the fine print on labels makes this challenging. One of my favourite tricks is to look up products on their website. There’s usually an ingredients list that I can enlarge enough to be readable.
Or you can check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cosmetics database of 70,425 products. and their healthy cleaning database of 2500. I looked up a fabric softener I have used and it came back with enough information to make me glad I stopped using it. (The rating was D in a scale that goes from A-F.) It also referred me to the page where I could check out which products got higher scores. Very helpful for making better choices.
Phone apps make it even easier…
Phone apps are convenient because you can scan the UPC code and get information in the store before you choose to buy an item. Scanning uses the camera, so you will asked to allow the camera to be activated and transmit data from the bar code. Here are some apps you might want to play with. All are free.
Think Dirty checks cosmetics and personal care products. Offers you a chance to try it before setting up an account.
GoodGuide has more than 75,000 items in the categories of personal care, food, household, and children’s products.
The Non GMO Project Shopping Guide has an up-to-date list of products that have been verified through the Non-GMO Project’s Verification Program. There are several reasons for avoiding genetically modified foods. One is that some have been modified to survive heavy spraying with herbicides such as glyphosate (Roundup is a common brand). This leaves the plants with high levels of residue which we consume.
If you don’t like what you find out, make your own.
Making at least some of your own cleaning and personal care products is the easiest way to avoid toxic exposure. Household cleaners use various combinations of vinegar, baking soda, borax, salt, and hydrogen peroxide. Personal care products include moisturizing oils such as coconut, olive, and avocado: essential oils for their healing and antibacterial properties; and baking soda or arrowroot starch for absorption of odour. From there, you can branch out to include cocoa butter, shea butter, and various tropical oils that are highly nourishing. If you buy organic ingredients, you’ve covered all bases.
There are lots of recipes online. One source I’ve used is Wellness Mama. Katie is the mother of six kids under the age of ten. She posts real food recipes, natural living and cleaning tutorials, beauty recipes and health hacks with natural ingredients—all well-researched and practical. You’ll find an example at the link below the photo.
And here’s a simple weed killer recipe, recommended by a friend who has a large yard and refuses to use glyphosate. Combine 1 gallon white vinegar, 1 cup salt, and 1 tablespoon liquid dish soap. Spray onto weeds at the sunniest time of day for best results. The vinegar and salt draw moisture out of the leaves and the soap makes sure the liquid sticks to the leaf surface. Hot sun accelerates the process.
A product I love…
I decided against making laundry and dishwasher detergent, though I did find DIY recipes. Instead, I looked up reviews of natural products I could buy. A dishwasher detergent made by the Canadian company Bio-Vert does an awesome job in the hard water where I live. It’s far better than anything else I’ve tried, and has only four simple ingredients.
I’m mentioning this product because it didn’t show up in the app or the database. That’s one of their downsides—with so many products out there, they don’t yet include everything.
Word-of-mouth recommendations are one of our best resources when researching products. If you have non-toxic discoveries to share, please leave them in the comment box so everyone else will know too.
For me, credit card interest rate is a non-issue. I use my card as a convenience and for the cash-back feature. I never use it as a means of living on borrowed money.
The paradox of credit cards…
Why you can’t win when you pay interest on a credit card…
As long as there’s a balance on your credit card, you are in debt. The lender requires you to pay interest for the use of that money. Credit card companies are happiest when you pay the bare minimum, because that extends the time you are making payments. The longer the time you are paying, the more interest they get from you. The table below illustrates the effect of time using two different credit card balances. In each case, we see that the higher the monthly payment, the shorter the time to repay the loan. Continue reading →
Regular readers will recognize this post from last year around this time. I’m bringing it back for new readers…and for those who wish they had bookmarked it last year!
First, a quick primer…
There are so many people with dietary restrictions these days, it can be mind-boggling to figure out who eats what.
Veganseat plants only. Nothing produced by animals (cheese, milk, cream, butter, eggs, honey) and of course no meat, fish, or poultry.
Vegetarians eat plants plus food produced by animals (dairy products and eggs). No meat or poultry. Some eat fish, though most don’t.
Gluten-free means eliminating wheat, rye, barley, and oats (unless the oats it is labeled gluten-free). This also translates into beverages made from these grains—think beer and rye whisky, for example. Someone who is celiac has a severe gut reaction to gluten and can be in agony from eating even a very small amount. Some people experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity, though this diagnosis is not yet accepted by mainstream doctors. People affected by gluten eat non-gluten grains—e.g. rice and quinoa.
Grain-free means no grain of any kind—wheat, oats, barley, rye, rice, quinoa and corn being the main examples. The issue isn’t gluten, it’s carbohydrates and their effect on blood sugar. This is sometimes referred to as a low-carb diet. In practical terms, it means avoiding corn chips, crackers and breads, along with sweets, juices, and most alcoholic beverages (alcohol acts like sugar in the body).
Paleo is a broad category describing what is sometimes called ancestral eating. The idea is to mimic the dietary proportions and unprocessed nature of food that was eaten by our long-ago ancestors. There is considerable variation, but these are a few of the common practices: No grains or refined sugar. Moderate amounts of animal protein. Plenty of healthy fats. Emphasis on real food rather than processed. Lots of vegetables.
Allergies and sensitivities mean the person’s body over-reacts when a particular food or food category is eaten. Common allergies are dairy, nuts, peanuts, wheat and shellfish. Mild allergic reactions are uncomfortable to varying degrees. But allergies can be life-threatening if a person goes into anaphylactic shock. A lot of children have this sort of reaction to peanuts these days, which is why peanut products are not allowed in schools any more.
Coping when you’re the host…
Think: Does this need to be a sit-down meal? It’s much easier to accommodate variations if you have an open house with a buffet of snacky foods and beverages. Some suggestions and good recipes follow. But buffets don’t always work and you might find yourself organizing a sit-down dinner despite the complications.
Guests have a responsibility to give the host a heads-up. “Thanks so much; I’d love to be there. A lot has changed since we last saw each other and it’ll be good to catch up. I’ve become a vegan recently so I only eat plants. I’m perfectly happy eating just the veggies, so don’t feel you need to make anything special for me.” The guest can have a protein shake at home before leaving, and all dietary bases will be covered. Another option is to ask, “Can I contribute my favourite casserole or salad to the menu?”
The host can ask. Sometimes guests don’t mention their food preferences because they mistakenly think they’ll sound rude. As the host, ask directly when issuing the invitation. “Anyone have allergies or preferences I should know about?” This opens the door for the guest to say something, and avoids any awkward surprises at the event.
The Host’s Survival Guide…
The rest of this post is a guide to drama-free ways to accommodate health-conscious guests. Some key principles:
Serve good food that you can present to anyone without explanation or apology. Gone are the 1960s when the granola crowd served some concoctions that were just plain weird. I admit to making some of them myself! But today there’s an abundance of very good recipes for real food, and I’ve included links to several of my favourites.
Put out foods in their whole form as much as possible. This makes it easy for people with sensitivities to choose what works for them without having to find you and ask what’s in everything. In this spirit, you might decide to put cheese on a board rather than incorporating it into several dishes.
Alert guests to ingredients they might not expect to find. For example, almond flour is not a usual ingredient in crackers. So someone with a nut allergy could inadvertently eat them and have a reaction. From another perspective, a wheat-sensitive person might pass by the Rosemary Crackers (below) without realizing they are grain-free and perfectly suitable. A simple strategy is to make small tent cards. Those in the photos were easily made by folding business cards in half.