A balanced and easy approach to healthy living.

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How to Start a School Garden Program & Where to get Funding

school-garden-image-1Imagine an educational program that can improve students’ health, gets kids excited to learn science and math, and instills a love of nature? School garden programs can accomplish all of these feats and more.

In fact, school gardens are sprouting up across the country, as educators and school administrators begin to realize their many benefits.

For one, they are a hands-on and effective learning tool for teaching just about any subject, including social studies and language arts.

In addition, gardens have multiple beneficial health impacts. Studies on children and adults show that gardening can increase the consumption of healthy fruits and vegetables, alleviate stress, and improve cognitive function. Plus, gardening gets kids moving outdoors.

Finally, gardens teach responsibility, teamwork, and environmental stewardship. Children feel a sense of accomplishment and awe as they witness a tiny seed grow into a sprout, and eventually, a plant bearing fruit.


Whether you’re looking to start or expand an existing school garden program, now is the best time. With the beginning of the schoolyear, many school garden grant opportunities are now live and accepting applications. Check the list below to see if any of the programs are a match for your school. (The list includes national programs and those specific to my own state of Florida.) You can also check out the USDA’s “People’s Garden” web site, that has a searchable list of funding opportunities for different types of community and school gardens.

In addition to getting funding for your garden, check out the many resources on the internet for how to create a program at your school, like this awesome guide published by the USDA. (Hint: the first step is constructing a Farm to School Team of interested parents and school staff).

Finally, contact your local Extension Office (a national educational network concerning agricultural matters) for specific information about which crops will do best with your state’s climate.


National School Garden Grants:

Whole Kids Foundation School Garden Grant Program

The Whole Kids School Garden Grant program provides a $2,000 monetary grant to support an edible educational garden on the grounds of a K-12 school. Schools, or a non-profit organization working in partnership with a school, may apply. Since the grant program started in 2011, garden projects at more than 2,110 schools have received funding.

Apply at: https://www.wholekidsfoundation.org/schools/programs/school-garden-grant-program

Deadline: October 31, 2016

Walmart Community Grant

K-12 public, private, and charter schools are eligible to apply for a Community Grant ranging from $250 to $2,500 in four core areas of giving: Hunger Relief & Healthy Eating, Sustainability, Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Opportunity. Schools can apply under the “Healthy Eating” core area. Potential grantees should located within the service area of the Walmart store, Sam’s Club or Logistics facility from which they are requesting funds.

Apply at: http://giving.walmart.com/apply-for-grants/local-giving-guidelines

Deadline: December 31, 2016

KidsGardening.org Youth Garden Grant

This grant opportunity will be going live later this fall. Make sure to check the web site so you won’t miss it.

Apply at: http://www.kidsgardening.org/upcoming-grants-2/

Deadline: TBD

Annie’s Grants for Gardens

This grant opportunity will re-open in November, so be sure to check back then.

Apply at: http://www.annies.com/giving-back/school-gardens/grants-for-gardens

Deadline: TBD

Slow Food USA’s National School Garden program + Chipotle

This one is not a grant, but a great fundraising opportunity provided by a partnership between Slow Food USA and Chipotle. Chipotle will host an in-restaurant fundraiser where 50% of the sales are donated back to the school. Chipotle can also donate food for a school garden fundraiser taking place at the school. They can also provide free coupons and materials you can use.

Check it out here: http://gardens.slowfoodusa.org/chipotle-resources-for-school-garden-programs


Florida Specific School Garden Grants:

Florida “Agriculture in the Classroom” Teacher Grants

Florida Agriculture in the Classroom, Inc.’s Teacher Grant program strives to fund classroom projects that teach Florida school children about the importance of agriculture and introduce them to agricultural producers and representatives in their areas. The grant is open to general education and agri-science teachers in pre-K through 12th grade who want to use agricultural concepts to teach core subject areas.

Apply at: http://faitc.org/teacher-grant/

Deadline: September 30, 2016. Only the first 40 complete applications will be accepted.

Florida County Farm Bureau School Garden Grants

In addition to the Florida Farm Bureau, County Farm Bureaus may also disburse funds for school garden programs. Check the web site of your county’s farm bureau for more information. To find it, Google the name of your county plus the term “farm bureau” (example: “broward county farm bureau”) or call them directly.

Apply at: County Farm Bureau website

Deadline: Various

TERRA Mini-Grant

The Technology Education Research & Redesign Alliance’s (TERRA) Mini-Grants are intended to support school-based projects in grades pre-K through 12 that utilize technology in a new and innovative way or sustainability initiatives seeking to encourage and support creative, local environmental education and stewardship activities.

Apply at: http://www.terraonline.org/2016-2017%20TERRA%20Grant%20Application.pdf

Deadline: September 30, 2016

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Love Your Gel Manicures? How to Minimize the Risks

Gosh, I love gel manicures.  No chips for weeks?! Fewer visits to the salon?! Super shiny nails?! Gel manis are a busy girl’s best friend.

But are they too good to be true?

Since making their entrance, gel manis have been under scrutiny. Some medical studies have shown that they may be bad for you health. The goods news is that the risks are small, and there are ways to minimize them further. Read on for the potential risks and my tips (get it?!) to making gel manicures a safer option for your health.

1. UV drying can damage skin and lead to skin cancer

When you dry your nails, you’re exposing your skin to UV rays, which can increase your risk of cancer. According to a 2014 study, the UV exposure from nail dryers is “small,” but dermatologists cannot definitively deem them as safe because they do emit UV rays, after all. Furthermore, nail lamps can cause DNA damage to skin that can lead to premature aging. In sum: taking steps to protect the skin on your hands is a good idea.

How to minimize the risks?

  1. Find a salon that uses LED lights instead of machines with UV lights. LED lights dry your nails much quicker (45 seconds vs. 3 minutes) and emit less radiation. Most newer salons use LED technology, but you should always ask first.
  2. Coat the top of your hands with sunscreen before drying.
  3. Wear photoprotective gloves with the tips cut off! (To be extra safe, you can wear the gloves after applying sunscreen.) You can buy sun-blocking gloves like these or use a cheap pair of regular gloves, which will still let some UV rays through, but less so than if you don’t have them on. Remember: put the gloves on BEFORE the technician polishes your nails, so you don’t smudge!
  4. Use an at-home kit. These kits usually don’t require a UV light (though your mani will probably not last as long as the salon version.) You can even use your favorite regular polish and seal with a Gel coat like this one or use a Gel polish kit, like Essie Gel Couture.

2. Gel nail polish contains harmful chemicals that are absorbed by your body

Many nail polishes contain cancer-causing and endocrine-disrupting chemicals like butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), and formaldehyde. A Duke study found that such chemicals are absorbed into the body just hours after their application. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), some brands don’t list all the ingredients of their polishes on the bottle, so it’s hard to even know what you’re being exposed to.

How to minimize your risk?

While several nail polish  brands have removed some of the harmful chemicals from their products, I have not specifically seen this done for gel polishes. Which means that if you want to minimize your exposure to the toxins in gel polish, you’ll have to get fewer gel manicures. (Sorry ladies). Save the gel manis for special occasions; in between, opt for regular manicures using polishes that are made from safer ingredients from brands like Gabriel and butter London.

3. Soaking your nails in Acetone exposes you to a toxin

To remove gel polish at the salon, you have to soak your nails in an acetone-based polish remover for at about 15 minutes. Acetone is a known toxin. Though exposure via polish remover is low and unlikely to be dangerous, I still try to avoid soaking my nails in acetone, especially for the many minutes required to remove gel polish.

How to minimize your risk?

Remove gel polish with acetone-free remover. You can do this at home, or bring your acetone-free polish remove with you to the salon. I’ve successfully removed gel polish at home by soaking my nails in acetone-free polish, and it works great! How? I cover each finger nail with a piece of cotton soaked in the polish remover, and then I wrap each finger tip in foil (just like they do in the salon). Wait 15 minutes. Remove foil and the polish should be coming off. If not, soak for a few more minutes until it does.

4. Gel manicures can damage your nails

Leaving polish on for an extended period of time prevents oxygen transfer to the nail, and can result in discoloration, thinness, and brittle nails. Additionally, the scraping and peeling that often happens when you’re trying to remove the polish can damage the nail bed.

How to minimize your risk?

Moderation is key. Dermatologists recommend not leaving polish on for more than 3 consecutive months. Remember to give your tips a break every so often, and use protective ointments to sooth and hydrate your nails.



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For Halloween: Safe, Lead-free Face Paint for Kids (Coupon Code, too!)

Many of us are aware that house paints once contained lead, but few of us realize that Halloween face paints can contain lead and other heavy metals. The FDA does not test makeup to ensure that it is free of heavy metals and few retailers list all the ingredients on packaging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not identified a safe blood lead level in children, and even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ and cognitive functioning. In sum: Lead is a known neurotoxin.

Back in 2009, Healthy World, Healthy Child, a non-profit affiliated with the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “tested 10 face paints for heavy metals and found lead in every one of them…Six of the face paints contained nickel, cobalt or chromium, all heavy metals that can cause skin allergies.” They also found that product labels gave misleading information. “Some claimed to be ‘hypoallergic,’ even though they were made with known skin allergens.” You can read the campaign’s full report, published in 2009, here. I wish that I could share a more recent laboratory analysis of face paints, but I have not found a similar study that was conducted more recently. Even Senator Schumer of New York took up the cause of warning families of the potential dangers of certain Halloween Make-Up last week in a statement which said,

“Halloween makeup and face paint, often made in China, can contain heavy metals like lead, nickel, cobalt and chromium which could pose a serious danger to the children wearing it. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not conduct routine testing of novelty cosmetic products or face paints and the agency needs to do more to enforce the packaging regulations that require companies to include the full list of ingredients. While lead is banned from makeup in Canada and Europe, it is not currently banned from makeup sold in the United States. Schumer explained that this lack of regulation means that many parents are exposing their young children, and even themselves, to products that contain harmful metals, like lead.”

The solution to the problem is to buy safe face paint for your kids. There are brands that pledge they do not use lead and other heavy metals in their products.

Elegant Minerals is one great option. Their makeup and face paints do not contain potentially harmful products like heavy metals, parabens, fragrances, or synthetic dyes. GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN GET THEM BEFORE HALLOWEEN…and at a special discount I secured for Home Health Love readers! Two ways to order:

  1. Amazon: they have several available kits on Amazon, including the Angel Fairy Princess set, the SCI-FI Robot set, or the Fantasy Butterfly set.
  2. From their web site: Order HERE.  Enter coupon code Halloween15 for a 15% discount. They offer several expedited shipping options. If you order from their site before 4pm CST, they will ship out the face paints that day. Select Priority Shipping for 2-day shipping for $6.50 to get it before October 31st! (Overnight shipping is $19.50. If you need same-day/expedited shipping contact them at 719-205-4480 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST or include in the comments section on the site).

15 Colors Natural STACKABLE Face Paint Makeup Kit - R

Another option is Go Green Face Paint, which you can buy on AmazonFace paint - Certified Organic Face Paint for Kids, No Lead Paint in Stacking Jars, Even for the Most Sensitive Skin, Best for Parties, Halloween and Sporting Events, Makes Your Favorite Halloween Designs even Better, Made in USA.

Whichever option you buy, do your research, first. Read the product description and call the manufacturer if you have any doubts, and…Have a SAFE and fun Halloween!

P.S. This is an unbiased review. I am not receiving any reward from any of the manufacturers recommended above.

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How *Not* to be Fooled By Nutrition Labels

Nutrition Labels

If you’re used to judging how healthy a food is simply by reading its nutrition label you may be surprised by what you find. Some highly processed breads and cereals, for example, appear to be healthy for you because they have lots of vitamins and minerals. As an example, let’s compare the nutrition label of Lucky Charms–a highly processed and synthetically enhanced cereal–to the label of a much less processed breakfast food, such as Bob’s Steel Cut Oats. Look at the images below–which looks more impressive?

Lots of vitamins and minerals in these Lucky Charms!

Bob’s Red Mill Steal Cut Oats…no vitamins, some minerals, but minimally processed. Steel cut oats still have their hull (outermost layer intact) and are not steamed and rolled.

Naturally,you may say to yourself, “the Lucky Charms are healthier and taste better, so it’s a no brainer—I’m buying them!” Right?

Not really. Highly processed foods aren’t always as impressive as the label may suggest–especially when compared to whole foods. “Processing destroys nutrients, and the more processing there is, the more destruction you get,” says Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. Lucky Charms and its counterpart cereals (Fruit Pebbles, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch…you know, all the ones your kids love) are fortified, which means that micro-nutrients are synthetically added. “Fortification adds back some nutrients, so overall you’re better off with a processed fortified food than a processed unfortified one. But a whole food is always going to be superior.” (I highly recommend you read this Wall Street Journal Article on fortified foods.)

Naturally occurring nutrients are always better for us than the synthetic version. They are better absorbed by our bodies, they include a whole variety of micronutrients that are not reflected on the nutrition label, and they will tend to have more protein and fiber. Just as food companies have never been able to re-create breast milk with sythentic formulas, so, too, can we not create fake foods that are as beneficial as the real thing.

So, next time you are comparing products side-by-side, take a look at the whole picture. If you don’t want to be fooled by the packaging, be sure to read the ingredients label along with the nutrition facts label, and consider the following:

  1. Does the ingredients list include colors, letters, and numbers? These are a sign that the product contains artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, and other synthentic substances, that are designed by food companies to make us enjoy and crave their foods, but have questionable effects on our health, and certainly tend us toward obesity. If you want a more complete list, take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives“–the list includes ingredients that have been associated with serious health concerns. Print it out for your next shopping trip.
  2. What is the fiber and protein content? Whole grains will always have more fiber and protein than processed versions. In addition to being essential for body function, these nutrients are heart, gut, and brain-friendly, are filling, and stabilize our blood sugar–which means, less mood swings and less cravings. Ideally, you want products that contain at least 3g of fiber and protein (each), per serving.
  3. Do the words “fortified” or “enriched” appear in the ingredients list? Then you know the food is so processed, that the food company is trying to sell you a nutritionally empty food by adding in synthetic nutrients.
  4. Do you see the word “whole” next to the grains listed in the ingredients list? Whole grains are better than refined ones because they provide lasting energy and stabilize blood sugar. Ideally, you want to see “whole [name of grain]” or “brown rice” when you read the label. If the label says “wheat” or “multigrain,” some parts of the grain may be missing. “100% whole [grain]” is the best. Check out this handy chart for determining whether the grains in the product are really whole or processed.
  5. Are there hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the ingredients? HFSC is an unhealthy sugar that causes weight gain and has little nutritional value. Check the ingredients label for high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar and sucrose, and try to limit the serving amount of sugars to 6g per serving on the nutrition label. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats that clog our arteries and can raise our risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Check the ingredients list for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.”

Going back to our Lucky Charms vs. Steel Cut Oats comparison, we can used this checklist to draw the following conclusions for why the Oats are a better choice: They have more than twice the amount of fiber and over three times the amount of protein per serving. They are made of whole, unprocessed grains. Lucky Charms may have some whole grains in them, but they are full of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and probably all of the micronutrients are synthetically added. Bob’s has 10% Daily Value of  iron and 2% of calcium, naturally. These numbers may seem low, but in the whole, original form, nutrients are better absorbed and produce a better effect in our bodies than do the fake ones.

This may seem like a long check list, but after some time it will become second nature. You will find that ten seconds is enough to scan both the nutrition and ingredients labels to make a good choice for you and your family.

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Why You and Your Kids Should Eat Less Rice

riso bianco chicco lungo

Back in 2013, I wrote a post on the relatively high levels of arsenic found in rice. Consumer Reports had just published a study that found “worrisome levels” of this carcinogenic toxin in rice products, including many baby foods. I was shocked to learn that many foods contain a higher quantity of arsenic than is legally permitted in drinking water. Children are disproportionately vulnerable to exposure–because of their low body weight, a particular quantity of arsenic impacts them much more than it would an adult. Gluten-avoiders, too, are at risk, since so many gluten-free products contain rice.

Though state and federal agencies regulate the amount of arsenic in water, there are no set limits for foods. According to Consumer Reports, the FDA claims that an “ongoing assessment of arsenic in rice remains a priority for the agency.”

Consumer Reports has now issued an updated report based on data (provided by the FDA) concerning the inorganic arsenic content of 656 processed rice-containing products. The great thing about this new report: it contains a point system that can help you determine how many servings of rice and rice products are safe to consume on a weekly basis. Even better, the recommendations are made separately for children and adults.

Below are the “New Rice Rules,” which assign a point value to different rice-based foods. Consumer Reports recommends no more than 7 points per week, and the “risk analysis is based on weight, so a serving of any food will give children more points than adults.” I highly recommend reading the entire updated report here, and watching their brief video summarizing the issues.

In addition to following these guidelines, there are a few ways to further minimize your exposure to arsenic when eating rice:

  • Wash and cook rice in lots of water! Wash and pre-soak rice in water, use extra water when cooking (Consumer Reports recommends 6 cups water per one cup rice), and drain excess water at the end. Unfortunately, this process washes out some of the nutrients from the rice, but it reduces about 30% of the arsenic.
  • Origin matters; Organic does not. Rice grown in CA has the least arsenic; rice from Texas has the most. Try buying imported jasmine and basmati rice from India and Pakistan, as these tend to have lower levels or arsenic. The 2012 Consumer Reports study listed the origins of the rice samples it tested, so you can use this table as a guide when purchasing rice.
  • White rice, thought not as healthy, tends to have less arsenic than brown or wild because arsenic accumulates in the outer layers. These layers are removed when making white rice.

Given these findings, its best to limit rice intake as much as reasonably possible. In my next post, I’ll provide lots of great alternatives to rice and rice products. These are especially relevant for gluten avoiders, since most gluten-free products contain rice.

Stay tuned!

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Make Your Home a Toxin-Free Sanctuary

Do you realize that you have the power to carve out a safe space for your family? A space that is free of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and other hazardous substances? That space is your home. 

family at homeHere’s why it’s so important:

Wherever we go, we’re constantly being bombarded by toxins, pathogens, and electromagnetic radiation. As a society, we’re only beginning to understand what this means for our health. Studies of specific toxins have shown that repeated exposure can damage our immune, nervous, and endocrine systems, particularly those of children, who are especially vulnerable. We are regularly exposed to over 70,000 newly developed synthetic chemicals that have never been tested and whose potential dangers are unknown.The list of environmental toxins we encounter on a daily basis includes air pollution, lead, formaldehyde, BPA, pesticides, flame retardants, mercury, and much more.

Toxic overload– along with poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, the overuse of antibiotics, and other factors– may explain why children today have so many allergies, weight problems, neurological deficits, and behavioral challenges. It may explain why, as a generation, they are “compromised.”  Too much of a bad thing can’t be good.

Now, here is the great news:

I once heard Master Herbalist Andrea Candee say, “My home is my sanctuary.” She had been discussing her rationale for not having wi-fi devices in her home. Everywhere else, she explained, her family members are bombarded with electromagnetic radiation. But, at home, they get a break.

Though we can’t protect ourselves from every health threat, our homes are the only places in the world where we have some control over the environment. Just as we think of sanctuaries as a safe haven for endangered animals, so, too, should we think of our homes as our own special, safer, place. In our homes, our bodies can get a break from the deluge of toxins, pathogens, and radiation that strikes us when we are outside. We get the chance to rejuvenate.

This philosophy, “my home is my sanctuary,” guides the decisions I make about the foods we eat, the products we use, and the things we do in our home. It explains why I have a no-shoe policy. It explains why I make every effort to keep out pesticides, heavy metals, phthalates, BPA, formaldehyde, PVC, VOCs, corn syrup, food coloring, and other potentially hazardous foods and substances.

These limits at home enable us to enjoy all sorts of treats and activities that the great world has to offer us. Outside the house, my kids can eat almost anything, they get dirty, and my son crawls around grubby floors in play areas and waiting rooms. We even invoke the “3-second rule” when teething toys or snacks fall on the floor. We get to roam free without worrying too much about germs and other hazards, because having a “sanctuary” means that we’ll have a chance to repair and rest when we go home. And, we are healthy. While my kids get exposed to all sorts of germs and viruses when we go out (which, studies have shown is important in the development of a stronger immune system), they’ve never been hospitalized or taken antibiotics.

The empowering and protective effects of my “sanctuary” matter not only for my kids’ physiological health, but for their spiritual health, as well. It teaches them about balance and the importance of limits. It teaches them that if we are careful a lot of the time, then when we have fun, we can go ALL OUT. (And, by the way, we have a ton of fun at home, too!)

My home is my sanctuary. It’s a safe haven I carve out for myself, my spouse, and my little ones, based on the trade-offs I am most comfortable with. Think about what your trade-off’s are: What’s most important to you? What can you give up? 

Make your home your sanctuary.


Why You Should Have a No-Shoe Policy at Home

Since having kids, we’ve instituted a no-shoe policy in our house. My three-year-old daughter is so used to this, that she immediately takes off her shoes whenever we go to someone else’s home, and she’ll often ask me why others aren’t doing the same.

I always find it awkward to ask guests to remove their shoes and it feels like an imposition. They just arrived and here I am making a demand of them! I am aware of the nuisance, but I have good reasons for it.

Studies have shown that people track in all sorts of harmful toxins from outside the home when they walk into the house without removing their shoes. These toxins persist in the air in the form of dust, which is inhaled and absorbed by our skin as it settles on the floor and furniture. Chemicals stay in the air and on surfaces longer in our homes than they do outdoors, where the sun and rain help break down pesticide residues.

Children are more highly exposed to these chemicals. They spend most of their time on or near the floor, and can breathe in and touch chemical-laden dust or soil tracked in by shoes.  Little kids who are constantly putting their hands and other objects in their mouths can ingest these dangerous particles, too. In addition, the infant breathing zone nearest the floor is less ventilated than the adult breathing zone.

Now, let me tell you a little about the toxins we’re literally walking into our homes.

These chemicals include pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on lawns and gardens (they can remain on the lawn for up to a week after application). An EPA study found that 85% of the total daily exposure to airborne pesticides was from breathing air inside the home—a result of both indoor use of such chemicals and track-in. At least a few studies have focused solely on tracked-in chemicals and their persistence in homes. For instance, a 1996 study found that the weedkiller 2,4-D used to treat lawns could persist in carpet dust up to one year. Pesticides have been repeatedly linked to cancers, tumors, and neurological disorders, among other things.

The EPA has warned that lead, mercury, and gasoline can also be tracked into our homes from soil outside that is contaminated by deteriorated exterior lead-based paint and other lead sources, such as industrial pollution and past use of leaded gasoline. Lead and other heavy metals have been linked to neurological problems, particularly in the developing nervous systems of children.

And then there is coal tar, a known carcinogen used in driveway sealants, which is tracked into homes from driveways and parking lots. Even the US government is concerned about the carcinogenic nature of coal tar and the dangers it poses to people and especially children, both outside and indoors.

These are just a few of the toxins we regularly track in with our shoes. There are many others. For instance, just this week I read in the news about a trend of young soccer players developing cancer, potentially due to their frequent contact with, ingestion, and inhalation of the black crumbs found in most artificial turf. If your and/or your kids play sports on synthetic fields, you’re tracking these potentially hazardous particles into your home, too.

I hope this post draws awareness to the hazards of wearing outdoor shoes in the home. I know that most people won’t implement such a policy–it is cumbersome and inconvenient, and we all have to make our own trade-offs. But, on behalf of those who do, I’d humbly suggest that next time you visit someone’s home, ask if they’d like you to remove their shoes. This way, it’s less awkward and guilt-inducing for your hosts, and on behalf of us no-shoes-in-the-home-policymakers, we’d greatly appreciate it. 🙂

For those who come to my home: I have slippers available so no one has to go barefoot. (As I’ve learned from my readers, it’s important to offer indoor shoes, particularly for guests with medical issues.) I hope that makes your stay a little more comfortable.

Photo Credit: SportsandHistoryReader521

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Waste Not, Want Not

A year ago, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that as a nation, we waste  40% of our food. The average family plays a role in this. Often, we over-buy food or forgot what we have in the fridge and it goes bad.

But, we also willingly discard perfectly edible food, and we do it all the time! Think about the last time you made broccoli or cauliflower: chances are, you used the florets, but threw out the stems. Or the last time your family didn’t get around to finishing the salad greens you bought before they started to wilt. Perhaps you got rid of those, too? Do you ever throw out fruits, like apples or bananas, that get soft and brown after a while?

When you do this, you’re throwing away nutrition and money (hey, you paid for that broccoli stem!). The goods new is: there are lots of ways that you can actually use veggie stems, wilted greens, over-ripe fruit, and other produce you are used to throwing away.

Read on for a variety of ideas to save food and save money:

  • Stir-fry or steam veggie stems: Instead of discarding stems, slice them and include them in a stir-fry, either alone or with other veggies you enjoy. If, for example, you’re using broccoli, then why not use both the stems and the florets?  Along with those from cruciferous veggies, stems from leafy greens, like kale, collards, and spinach, are great in stir-fries, too! You can also steam stems like you would other parts of the vegetable. TIP: add stems to stir-fries first; once tender, add in your other vegetables. Also: for thicker stems, like broccoli or cauliflower, make sure to cut the stems into thin pieces, so that they cook quicker.

    2013-02-08 13.39.34

    Sauteed kale stems. I added these to quinoa for a yummy meal.

  • Make veggie broth: Keep a Ziploc bag in your fridge or freezer and use it to store parts of vegetables you usually discard: onion ends, carrot tips, herb stems, mushroom stems, parts of any root vegetable, etc. After you’ve collected a bit, use the veggie cuttings to make a tasty broth for your favorite soup! Just throw veggie cuttings into a pot, bring to a boil, and then simmer for an hour or more.
  • Sauté wilted greens: Bought too many salad greens  that are starting to wilt? No problem, put them in a pan with some olive oil, add seasoning of your choice (even just salt and pepper is great), sauté for a few minutes, drizzle with lemon juice (optional) and your going-bad-greens are now a tasty wilted-greens side dish! This works with any leafy green: romaine, arugula, spinach, kale, you name it.
  • Make chips: Another tasty treat you can make with your wilted greens is to drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle seasoning and bake…voila, the healthiest chips you can make! Kale, spinach, swiss chard—any green can be baked into a chip and eaten as a snack, pizza topping, burrito filling, or added into a salad!
  • Freeze for smoothies: If you have fruit that’s getting a little too ripe or soft for your taste (bananas, berries, plums, peaches, nectarines, mangos, etc.), store them in a closed Ziploc or other container in the freezer and use them to make smoothies.
  • Flavor water or seltzer: Something else to do with fruit that’s getting old and going soft, is to chop it into pieces, add to a pitcher of water or seltzer, and then put in the fridge. After a day or so, you’ll have fruit-flavored water (and by drinking the make-at-home kind, you save yourself about $2 for every 16oz, which is approximately how much Hint and other such fruit-flavored water drinks cost).

With these tips you will save money, and enjoy the satisfaction of using what you already have, rather than throwing it away.

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Coconut Oil: The Best All-Purpose Skin Care Product

First, I want to plug the home.health.love Facebook page. If you find this blog useful, then others you know may enjoy it, too. Please help spread the word by clicking on the Facebook “Like” button on the right-hand side of this page. Thank you!

Now onto coconut oil…

People love to cook with coconut oil. Experts say it’s the healthiest of all oils: it’s good for your heart, thyroid, immune system, and can actually support weight loss. It’s also great for cooking and baking because it can withstand high heat and doesn’t break down into potentially toxic components when cooked.  For a good discussion of all of these health benefits, check out Dr. Mercola’s article.

But it’s also a GREAT all-natural skin care product. You’ll love it! Here’s why:

Coconut oil is a great all-purpose skin AND hair moisturizer! It doesn’t clog your pores, or leave your skin feeling dry, as do some products containing water or alcohol. You can use it on your face, body, hands, and even instead of lip balm. You can also use it to deep condition your hair and tame frizz. And, it’s great for moisturizing soft baby skin!

It comes highly recommended as an all-natural personal lubricant (though not for use with latex).

It’s a great alternative to Vaseline for lubricating a thermometer when taking a baby’s rectal temperature. Vaseline is made from mineral oils, which are possibly carcinogenic.

Finally, it’s also a great healer. When I have a rash, skin irritation, itchiness, or burn (from sun, or from a skin product that’s a bit too harsh for my skin) anywhere on my body, I use coconut oil. It cures my skin ailments, and does it quickly. Try it and see if it works for you. At the very least, it should provide soothing comfort.

Coconut oil is a solid at room temperature (up to 76 degrees F.). I keep a little plastic spoon or knife right in the jar to help me scoop some out when I  need it. Once it touches your skin, it melts into a liquid and is easily spreadable. It’s a little greasy, but does absorb quickly. Give it some time to soak into your skin before putting on any fancy clothing (yes, I did that once, necessitating a last-minute wardrobe change, and I was very late to a fancy event!)

Other benefits:

  1. Only ONE ingredient: never worry about what artificial substances have been added. It’s like a breath of fresh air. I hate worrying about unknown substances in my skin-care and make-up regimen. Coconut oil is worry-free.
  2. Same product for the whole family: I keep a jar in my bathroom and by my daughter’s changing table. Sometimes I scoop out some of the coconut oil and put it in mini containers that I can keep in my bag, in my nightstand, or anywhere else I might use it.
  3. Has a barely-noticeable, but pleasant scent, which is good for those of us, like me, with sensitive noses.
  4. Easy to find: you can buy it at health food stores, online and supermarkets.
  5. Affordable: one jar goes a long way. You only need to use a little bit at a time. It lasts me months!

I buy the extra virgin, unrefined, organic kind, so I know it’s not made with GMO and is in its purest form. I’ve used Barlean’s and Spectrum Organics. I don’t have a particular brand preference, but I do like the fact that Spectrum comes in a glass jar. I’m always skeptical of plastic containers, so if I can easily avoid them, I do.

Please share your coconut success stories in the comments section!

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The Scoop on Arsenic in Rice

Though I’ve heard and read a bit about the discovery of worryingly high levels of  arsenic in rice, I’ve realized that many people are not aware of this news. So, let’s talk…I’ll discuss the health issues involved and make suggestions of what to do about them.

Let’s start with the background:

In 2012, the FDA and Consumer Reports conducted independent studies on rice and rice products sold in the U.S. and found that the levels of inorganic arsenic contained therein are quite high.

The concern about inorganic arsenic is that “long-term exposure can lead to the development of different types of cancer as well as serious cardiovascular, neurological, and other health problems.” (source, Science Daily). The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified arsenic as one of more than 100 substances that are Group 1 carcinogens. “It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers.”  (source, Consumer Reports)

A while back, the EPA  set the arsenic standard for drinking water at 10 parts per billion; there is no such limit yet for food and drinks. According to Consumer Reports, the EPA had initially recommended half that amount, of 5 parts per billion, which is the standard enacted in NJ.

So using the 5ppb benchmark, Consumer Reports, testing samples from over 200 types of rice and rice products found that “a single serving of some rices could give an average adult almost one and a half times the inorganic arsenic he or she would get from a whole day’s consumption of water, about 1 liter.” (source, Consumer Reports)

And, why rice of all things? Because it absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants, and most of the rice grown in the US is from the south-central region, which has a long history of producing cotton, a crop heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades. Arsenic also remains in animal feed, so there is danger of cross contamination.

The FDA is refusing to issue any warnings at this time. Here is a statement issued by a FDA Commissioner on the topic: “The FDA is committed to ensuring that we understand the extent to which substances such as arsenic are present in our foods, what risks they may pose, whether these risks can be minimized, and to sharing what we know. Our advice right now is that consumers should continue to eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of grains – not only for good nutrition but also to minimize any potential consequences from consuming any one particular food.” (source, FDA)

As usual, the FDA is slow to act on potential health hazards in our food. Unless there’s a clear bacterial outbreak caused by a food source, they typically drag their feet. For instance, when the National Resources Defense Council asked the FDA to issue a ban on BPA in products, it took the agency almost 4 years to respond (with a “no”). The point is that the fact that the FDA, despite its highly conservative nature, is even investigating the arsenic issue and continues to make it a “priority” to do so, says a lot already. Thus far, the FDA has tested over 200 samples, and claims to be testing 1,000 more.

You can see the results, in table format, of the Consumer Reports investigation (here) and the ongoing FDA investigation (here). If the number in the last column of either graph is above 5, then a single serving exceeds the New Jersey limit mentioned above.

What to do?

If you’re eating only a few servings of rice products a week, then you’re within the standard range for safe drinking water. You’re probably ok, though you should be aware that many food products may contain some rice in them.

But, three populations in particular, should be taking heed: pregnant women, moms of small children, and those eating a gluten-free diet. These individuals, myself including, may be ingesting several servings (or more) of rice per day, putting us way above the safe drinking limit concerning arsenic.

Here are practical steps to take, based on the research, my explorations, and recommendations by the food safety director at the Center For Science In the Public Interest (which I found in this helpful article):

  • Avoid baby rice cereals or limit to one serving per day, which is what Consumer Reports recommends. Consider another type of cereal. Better yet, why make cereal a base for your babies diet to begin with? Other easy-to-eat first foods are far more nutritious and are no highly processed: avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, squash, etc. Even Dr. Sears recommends avocados as the ideal 1st food. My daughter is doing fine without every having eaten cereal, and last we checked, her iron levels were normal, too. Also, be wary of cereals that use rice syrup, since that has arsenic, too. Nature’s One, maker of organic baby cereals, has recently re-worked their organic dairy-based formula to exclude brown rice syrup and they’re doing the same with the soy version (source, scroll down to bottom)
  • Though brown rice is healthier, be aware that white rice tends to have less arsenic than brown or wild (which makes sense, because white rice has the outer layers removed). I’m not quite advocating switching over to white, though…
  • Wash and cook rice in lots of water! Wash rice in water, pre-soak it in water, use extra water when cooking (Consumer Reports recommends 6 cups water per one cup rice), and spill water out at the end. Unfortunately, this process also washes out some of the nutrients from the rice. Apparently this reduces about 30% of the arsenic.
  • Origin matters; Organic does not. Rice grown in CA has less arsenic. Even better, buy imported jasmine and basmati rice as these tend to have the lowest levels. Consumer reports lists the origins of the rice samples it tested, you can use this as a guide when purchasing rice. Otherwise, read labels carefully.
  • Eat less rice and rice products. Check out this nifty table from Consumer Reports which gives you recommendations of how many servings of rice products it’s ok to eat in one week  (based on the 5ppb limit). If you want to use the FDA’s 10ppb limit, then simply double the recommended number of servings. I easily exceed the weekly limits suggested here in a single day! Read the fine print above, as the table assumes you are only eating one of the products for an entire week, which is highly unlikely. (source)
  • If you’re gluten-free: think outside the box! If, like me, you enjoy and rely on rice-baked products to round out your diet, then eating less rice will be quite a challenge. It is for me. I enjoy pasta, waffles, wraps, breads, cereals, cookies, crackers, rice cakes…all made from rice. I use rice vinegar when I cook and make salad dressing. If I bake, my go-to flour mix includes rice flour. It’s hard to find gluten-free products such as these not made out of rice. Products that use buckwheat, quinoa or corn, say, in pasta, waffles and bread, often contain rice flour as one of the main ingredients.

Here are some non-rice GF alternatives I’ve discovered (all are certified kosher):

  1. Breakfast: For cold cereal, there are many none-rice alternatives, including corn flakes and other corn-based cereals. I love Udi’s Gluten-free GranolaHot cereal: Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Steal Cut Oats. You can also use corn grits (polenta) to make a hot cereal, or cut them into squares and serve with butter and honey, yum. I haven’t found any GF waffles without rice. But, you can make your own waffles and pancakes using buckwheat flour, found in most healthfood stores.
  2. Lunch: I have yet to find a packaged GF bread that doesn’t contain rice, but you can make your own, there are lot’s of recipes out there like this one or this one. If you’re into wraps, La Tortilla Factory’s GF wraps are teff-and millet-based. I order them from Fresh direct.
  3. Dinner: Quinoa is an obvious choice, and switch up the colors–white, red, black–to get a variety of flavors. Polenta, which you can buy ready-made in supermarkets or in corn-grit form, is another alternative. You can dress it up with all sorts of flavors and I like to make polenta pizzas as a treat. And don’t forget, you can make buckwheat. In terms of pasta, very few GF varieties have no rice (even when they say they’re made with corn, buckwheat or quinoa), but Eden Organics has a 100% buckwheat soba noodle.

These are just a few suggestions of how to alter your diet to ingest less arsenic. I’d love to hear your ideas about how to minimize rice intake and any non-rice GF products that you enjoy!