Archive for the ‘Household Tips’ Category

The Wonders of Coconut Oil

Have you discovered the wonders of coconut oil?  For years, we’ve been told  that coconut oil is bad for you, but the reality is coconut oil has just the right kinds of fats, the same medium-chain fatty acids found in mother’s milk and essential to optimum health and disease prevention.  Coconut oil is in fact a miracle oil and one of the earliest oils  used as a food and as a pharmaceutical.  People who live in tropical climates with a coconut-based diet have fewer incidences of heart disease, cancer, digestive complaints and prostate problems.

Coconut oil adds protective and healthful qualities when eaten internally and used topically.  How much do you need?  Two to four tablespoons is recommended daily, obtained from cooking, as a supplement, or through the skin. Use coconut oil in all recipes calling for butter, shortening or vegetable oil.   It’s an ideal all-purpose cooking oil and has 100% less cholesterol than butter.   You can also get the benefits from coconut milk which comes in a can and is found in lots of Thai recipes, or from  drinking coconut water, hailed as Nature’s Sports drink.   More potassium than a banana, it helps with rehydration, replenishment and concentration. (I also hear it helps alleviate hangovers.)

 

coconut milk
Coconut oil is known to reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.  It stimulates metabolism so that you burn more calories (we all love that) and may promote lower cholesterol.  Coconut oil is a concentrated source of medium-chain fatty acids.  Research has shown that these fatty acids may help prevent and treat a wide variety of diseases too numerous to list here. Recent studies are showing its effectiveness in treating Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut oil applied to the skin and hair absorbs quickly and not only adds luster and shine, but helps with dandruff, blemishes and other skin ailments.  It’s the only moisturizer you need and a must try for winter’s dry, chapped skin!  It is also anti-microbial and a natural germ fighter.  Coconut oil is also used for oil pulling, an age-old remedy started in India thousands of years ago that uses oil to clean, detoxify, and nourish teeth and gums; it also whitens teeth.

I keep one jar of coconut oil in the kitchen for cooking and one jar in my bathroom for use as a moisturizer.   As with olive oil, make sure you buy extra virgin, expeller pressed. You can purchase coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water from Whole Foods, Trader Joes or natural food stores.

As you can tell, coconut oil is an extremely diversified and amazing product. I highly recommend replacing some of the fats you eat now with coconut oil.

 

Information compiled from The Coconut Oil Miracle byBruce Fife, C.N., N.D.  This easy-to-read and informative book explains very succinctly the benefits of coconut oil and is worth the read.  It also includes lots of delicious sounding recipes using coconut oil.

 

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Steroid-free Chicken

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Read carefully the above menu description for Five Spice Chicken.  Does this  strike anyone else as weird and unappetizing?  While I’m pleased the chicken is steroid and antibiotic free, what a commentary that we have to write that on a menu description.  All chicken should be steroid and antibiotic free, but the reality is conventionally grown chicken is injected with growth hormones and antibiotics and often tainted with harmful bacteria.  The steroids are used to make them grow quicker and plumper, and the antibiotics are a preventative measure to counteract the problems of being raised in confined quarters on big factory farms.  Furthermore,  conventional chicken feed is loaded with pesticides.  All of this is passed onto us when we eat conventionally raised chicken.

The good news is that we are aware now of these problems and healthier choices do exist.  The many healthy choices you find in a supermarket however, can be overwhelming, confusing, and often without proper varification. Below is a list from Consumer Reports explaining the various labels, which you should find helpful.

Organic: In order to be labeled “USDA Organic,” the chicken had to have been fed not just a vegetarian diet, but a diet that does not include any genetically modified ingredients or toxic synthetic pesticides. It also means that antibiotics can not be used for anything other than medically necessary antibiotics (though some may argue that there are farmers who stretch the boundaries of what is medically necessary). However, chickens can be provided with antibiotics during their first day of life; the drug-free rule kicks in the day after the shell breaks open.

Organic certification, which requires annual inspections, mandates that access to the outdoors be provided for the chickens, but sets no specific standards for the size of the outdoor area, the size of the door leading between inside and outside, or the amount of time the birds spend outdoors.

No antibiotics: These chickens are never given antibiotics, including in the egg. That said, there is no inspection process to verify this label before it is employed.

No hormones: This label can be used on all conventionally raised chickens in the U.S. as the use of hormones in not allowed in the production of chickens for market. So if you see “no hormones” on a label, it just means “chicken.”

Cage-Free: Another label that is just touting the industry minimum, says CR. “No chickens raised for meat in the U.S. are kept in cages. Neither does it mean that the birds have access to the outdoors.”

Free-range: The only difference between conventionally raised chickens and free-range is that the chickens have access of some sort to the outside. Once again, there are no standards for size of the outdoor area or for the door to the outside, and inspections are not required to use this label.

No GMOs: To get the “Non GMO Project Verified” label, the chicken’s feed must be comprised of less than 0.9 percent of genetically modified crops. Verification is required for this label.

Natural: CR dubbed this one “the most misleading label” of the bunch, as more than half of the survey respondents said they believed “natural” meant the chickens didn’t receive antibiotics or chow down on feed containing GMOs. 42% of respondents said they thought the term meant the chickens were raised outdoors, while 1-in-3 said they thought it meant the same as “organic.” The only substantial requirement for “natural” chicken breasts is that they contain no artificial ingredients, but even then there is no process to verify this claim. 

 

If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch Food Inc, an eye-opening documentary exploring the way food has changed in the last 50 years and not necessarily for the better.  It’s well worth the watch.

The bottom line when eating chicken? Eat locally grown and organic whenever possible, as with most foods.

 

Some information compiled from: http://consumerist.com/2013/12/19/organic-chicken-is-different-than-antibiotic-free-and-natural-means-nothing/

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

 

If You Can’t Garden, Clean!!!

Happy Spring!  Whether it feels like spring or not, there is a psychological lift to just spotting a crocus or two and knowing that winter is officially over.  It may be too early to start gardening, but it’s not too early to start a thorough spring cleaning!

If you don’t already use non-toxic cleaners, now is the time to switch!  Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies among other diseases. Fortunately you can find several brands of non-toxic cleaning supplies at your local grocery store and many of the conventional brands are now making a less toxic product.  Be sure to read the ingredients though; some products claim to be “natural” when they really aren’t. Visit Environmental Working Group’s Cleaners database “Hall of Shame” for the worst offenders in cleaning products.

Seventh Generation, Mrs. Myers, Shaklee’s full line of biodegradable concentrated cleaning products, and The Optimist Company, a local Cape Cod company whose owner makes pure cleaning and laundry products in her own kitchen with cool biodegradable packaging, are all effective “clean” (toxin-free) products.  Start with an all-purpose cleaner, an abrasive scrubber, and a toilet cleaner.  You really don’t need a different product for each surface in your home.

Making your own cleaning supplies using baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice is a fun and easy option too!  Baking soda cleans nearly everything from stained kitchen sinks to mildewed showers to tea stained coffee mugs to flatware to fruit or even teeth, and it’s cheap!  White vinegar works great on hardwood floors.  Easy, long-lasting microfiber cloths lift off dirt, dust and grime with no need for additional products.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that if there is no “clean” smell, then it’s not effective – fragrances are part of the chemical danger. (There are some organic cleaners containing safe, essential oils as a fragrance.)

Happy spring cleaning!

Recipe for All-Purpose Cleaner

All-Purpose Cleaner: Mix 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup baking soda (or 2 teaspoons borax) into 1/2 gallon (2 liters) water. Store and keep. Use for removal of water deposit stains on shower stall panels, bathroom chrome fixtures, windows, bathroom mirrors, countertops etc.  Keep out of reach of children.

Check out the short video on green cleaning your kitchen.

Some information compiled from http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm#substitutions and http://www.greencleaningcoach.com/ 

For more green living  tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Is Your Shower Curtain Toxic?

Don’t be fooled by the “new shower curtain smell” emitted when you buy a new plastic one.  That smell is actually an indication of the toxic substances that are released, or off-gassed.  Most shower curtains and curtain liners are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, which contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and metals, all of which cause a host of problems like respiratory irritation, damage to the central nervous system, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and even worse.   You also want to avoid shower curtains with anti-mildew treatment, antibacterial or antimicrobial claims.  Who knows what’s been added to make these unregulated claims and you don’t want to inhale chemicals in the shower curtain!

In a study recently published by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice entitled “Volatile Vinyl: The New Shower Curtain’s Chemical Smell”, claims more than 100 chemicals are released into the air when consumers open the curtain packages. The level of total VOCs measured was over 16 times greater than the recommended guidelines for indoor air quality established by the U.S. Green Building Council and Washington State Indoor Air Quality Program.  Seven of the chemicals released by shower curtains are classified as hazardous air pollutants by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act.  The heat and humidity in the shower may make the VOC concentrations even worse.

Alternatives to toxic PVC shower curtains?

Cotton, (organic cotton is even better), duck cotton, recycled sailcloth or hemp shower curtains, are best and available on line. If you can’t find cotton ones, synthetic materials are okay as long as they are made of the more environmentally friendly EVA, PVA, nylon, polyester or microfiber. Retail giants like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond are now aware of the problem with PVC and are carrying non-PVC shower curtains and liners.  I just bought an inexpensive curtain liner made from 100% EVA Vinyl produced without chlorine.   So – stop inhaling toxic substances and replace your shower curtain now!  You’ll be happy you did!

Some information compiled from  http://healthyhomefocus.com/?p=925

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

Clean, Fresh Babies

Lucie's baby JeanThere is no more special time in life than the anticipation of your first baby – pouring through baby development books, choosing a name, decorating the nursery, researching the best stroller and car seat, buying those adorable baby clothes, and finding the right laundry detergent that won’t irritate your baby’s soft newborn skin.  Many new parents wonder if it is really necessary to buy a specific, costly detergent like Dreft, just for baby clothes?

The answer lies in what kind of detergent you usually use.   If your detergent is loaded with dyes, fragrances, phosphates and optical brighteners, then yes.  But if you use a ”clean” laundry soap, or one without toxic additives, you don’t have to spend the extra money and run a separate load for baby clothes. 

Most conventional detergents now make a non-toxic product.  You can check out the toxicity level of your favorite brand or find the safest ones by going to the Environmental Working Group website, a well-respected consumer watchdog organization.  They analyzed over 2000 products and rated them according to concern for general ecotoxicity, biodegradation, and general systemic/organ effects.

Here are a few laundry soaps I recommend.

Seventh Generation products are fantastic– they contain plant-derived cleaning agents, soil disperants and non-animal derived enzymes; they are naturally biodegradable, phosphate-free and hypoallergenic. Seventh Generation products consistently score the safest rating and they are a genuinely eco-responsible company.

http://www.seventhgeneration.com/learn/video/brighter-way-care-baby

I like supporting local companies and cottage industries.  The Optimist Co, based on Cape Cod and run by a mother of two small children, makes fabulous laundry soap with 100% soap oil flakes and no chemical detergent. You can’t get much purer than the laundry soap she makes right in her own kitchen!  Shaklee, another eco-responsible company, offers a highly effective, chemical-free laundry soap as well, and for a non-toxic soap that does it all – clothes, dishes, body, hair – there is nothing better than Dr. Bonner’s Pure Castille soap.

One other thing, forget fabric softener which is highly toxic and full of harmful chemicals.  It also breaks down the fire retardancy in infant clothing.  Instead use dryer balls or add ¼ cup white vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Make the switch today to non-toxic laundry soap and protect everyone’s skin, especially your baby’s!

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com

Information compiled from : http://babyclothes.about.com/, http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/responsible-living/stories/7-least-toxic-laundry-detergents

 

Men, Ask Me Your Green LIfestyle Questions!

In an effort to reach a broader audience, I’m starting a series of posts pertinent to different groups – men, children, teens, new parents and grandparents.  Most posts apply to everyone obviously, but it’s usually women who take the lead in making greener and healthier changes in the home and for the family.  As Bella Abzug says, Women will not simply be mainstreamed into the polluted stream. Women are changing the stream, making it clean and green and safe for all…”  Or to quote Margaret ThatcherIf you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.

The reality is it takes everyone’s commitment towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle to make positive changes for the environment.

So, I’ll begin with men.  Below are questions asked from a male reader.

Question:It’s slippery outside on my front walk.  What can I safely use besides salt to melt the ice?  Any other choice besides ice melting pellets?” Mark C., Charleston, MA

Answer:  Thanks for asking such an important question, especially with the polar vortex gripping most of the country!  Slippery walks are dangerous.

Rock salt is the most common and the cheapest ice melt, but it is damaging to vegetation, polluting and corrosive. Calcium chloride, urea and blends also contain a lot of salt and pollute the soil. Generally products labeled “Pet-Safe” are safer for the environment, but make sure to read the label for salt additives. Avoid sodium chloride, the worst of all salts.

From my research, there are really no toxin-free ice melts.  The least toxic products are the natural ones like sand, sawdust, wood shavings, kitty litter, or even fireplace ash that provide traction for walking on ice.  They don’t actually melt the ice however.  Their downside? They are messy – you definitely have to remove your shoes when you come indoors, which is a good idea anyway.

Question:  “The leather on my tv chair is getting hard and cracked.  What should I do about it?” Mark C., Charleston, MA

Answer:  Good question.  I know how important special chairs are.  My husband loves his chair too!  It’s best to keep leather chairs out of direct sun, which will bleach it and cause deterioration.  Heat makes it dry and crack too.  To maintain your leather chair, wipe it down regularly with a clean, dry cloth (avoid cleaning products not designed for leather specifically) and vacuum dust and debris from the crevices as you would an upholstered chair. Apply leather conditioner regularly to keep it soft and supple, but make sure you use a conditioner that won’t darken light leathers.  For those cracks you mention, you can buff small scratches gently with a microfiber cloth until their appearance fades.  And I’m sure you know, never let water stand on leather.  Good luck.

Information compiled from: http://www.wikihow.com/Care-for-Leather-Furniture

Home Comforts, The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson, http://grist.org/article/de-salt-of-the-earth/

 

For more green living tips, visit greenwithbetsy.com.

 

Swiffer vs An Old-Fashioned Dust Mop

Below is a question from a reader about Swiffer.

Dear Betsy:

I just got the latest issue of Vermont Country Store catalog and inside is an old-fashioned wool dust mop, which up to 10 years ago I used and used to shake outside like my Mom used to do! 

This made me think about all the Swiffer products I use.  Hmmm – I’m wondering if anyone has compared cleaning efficiency of an old-fashioned dust mop vs Swiffer – certainly one is more economical.  The Swiffer products are expensive!  Thanks -

Jennifer M.

Winchester, MA

Hi Jennifer:

Great question!  I don’t know of any actual studies about the cleaning efficiency of an old-fashioned dust mop vs. Swiffer, but I know I prefer an old fashioned dust mop.  Swiffer disposable dry cloths are made of polyester and polypropylene and work well to pick up dust and grime from most surfaces, but so does an old-fashioned wool dust mop.  The natural lanolin in wool attracts and holds dust. Wool won’t scratch floors and gets better every time you wash it. I try to avoid single use products that go directly into the landfill, as well as petroleum-based products like polypropylene.

The Swiffer wet cloths are treated with propylene glycol and though categorized by the FDA as “generally regarded as safe”, that’s not assurance enough for me. According to Swiffer, the wet cloths may irritate skin and aggravate known skin conditions.” Considering that concentrations of toxic compounds are higher inside than outside, it’s best to avoid them when you can. Indoor air pollution, partially caused by the use of chemical based cleaners, is a much more serious problem than people realize and one of the reasons for increased cases of asthma and allergies.  Additionally, the chemically treated, single use wet cloths end up in the landfill leaching toxic chemicals into the soil and water table.

There is no question that Swiffer is easier than an old-fashioned mop, but what happened to cleaning with natural and safe ingredients like soap, water, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice and borax?  All it takes is a little elbow grease and a good sponge mop.

If you insist on the convenience of a Swiffer, there are similar, more eco-friendly options.

  • Method Home floor cleaning mop with non-toxic compostable sweeping cloths.
  • Gaiam’s Spray Mop Kit where you add your own cleaner or nontoxic vinegar and water, spray the fine mist and mop up with a microfiber cleaning cloth (the eco-friendly cleaning rage today).  The set includes five washable MicroTech Cleaning Cloths.

    Gaiam’s Spray Mop

  • Amazon also sells a microfiber mop called E-cloth microfiber mop, as do Bed, Bath and Beyond and Whole Foods.

E-cloth Microfiber Mop

I hope this helps Jennifer– let me know what you decide.  Safe cleaning!

Betsy

Information compiled from www.treehugger.com, inhabitat.com, www.swiffer.com, vermontcountrystore.com, classic.akc.org

 

 

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