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Friday, November 21, 2014

4 Easy Tips for Keeping Your Holidays Healthy

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The holiday season is upon us! That means that you're probably spending a lot more time in the kitchen - whether you're hosting a party or simply cooking a traditional meal for your family. No matter what the reason, you're going to shop for many ingredients, cook, clean, and enjoy lots of yummy food (let's hear it for the leftovers)!

If you're like me (and I'll bet you are, since you're here), you want to buy quality food that is also healthy for your family, while keeping costs down. I've done the legwork for you and created a list of tips to help you accomplish your "green" feasts.

Here are 4 easy tips to keep in mind as you shop, cook, eat and clean: 

- Choose food low added chemicals and toxins

- Avoid toxic chemicals in cookware

- Store and reheat your leftovers safely

- Clean the greener way!

1) CHOOSE FOOD LOW IN POLLUTANTS AND ADDED CHEMICALS:

As you may already know, today's food can contain ingredients that you definitely don't want to eat, such as: pesticides, hormones, artificial additives and chemicals found in food packaging.

Here are 3 ways that you can cut down on these types of chemicals: 

When you go grocery shopping, buy organic when you can. Why buy organic? Two reasons: organic produce is grown without synthetic pesticides and organic meat and dairy products can limit your family's exposure to growth hormones and antibiotics. I know what you're probably thinking: "Organic costs more. I thought that you were going to show me how to save money??"  Don't worry, it's okay to buy some non-organic fruits and vegetables. You can find the list of the 15 least contaminated fruits and vegetables here.

Cook with fresh foods, rather than packaged and canned, whenever possible. Packaging chemicals in some food containers can leach  into food. Bisphenol A, for example, is used to make the linings of canned goods. Go for fresh food or prepared foods stored in glass containers. Pick recipes that call for fresh, not canned, foods.

Cook with frozen fruit and vegetables. When cooking with fresh produce is not an option, your next best choice would be to cook with frozen fruit and vegetables - some would even argue that frozen is the better choiceWhile fresh fruits and veggies may be more visually appealing and taste better, they don’t last as long in your refrigerator and may not even be the most nutritious. Frozen produce is available year-round, and in most cases, is cheaper than fresh. Plus, the vitamins and nutrients are preserved in frozen fruits and vegetables because of the way that they are processed; they are picked, then quickly blanched and immediately frozen and packaged, generally when nutrient levels are at their highest. This means that frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak, in terms of freshness, and nutrition.

2) AVOID TOXIC CHEMICALS IN COOKWARE

Is non-stick cookware in your kitchen? It is in most kitchens across America, but for safer cooking, may I suggest cast iron and oven-safe glass? My family uses both, but there are many benefits of cooking with cast iron cookware: they are inexpensive, conduct heat wonderfully, go from stove-top to oven with no problem, and can last a lifetime, if properly cared for. There are also health benefits when cooking with a cast-iron skillet. You can boost your iron intake from eating food cooked in cast iron cookware. Iron is a vital mineral that is crucial for maintaining energy levels, and it also helps strengthen immune systems.

If you're not completely sold on using cast iron cookware, you can reduce the possibility of toxic fumes when cooking with any non-stick cookware you already own: never heat an empty pan, don't put it in an oven hotter than 500 degrees F, and use your exhaust fan over the stove.

3) STORE AND REHEAT YOUR LEFTOVERS SAFELY 

Who doesn't like leftovers? Leftovers help to keep you in the holiday spirit by giving you a break from the kitchen! When storing your leftovers, it's best to avoid plastic containers - especially when reheating them, even if they claim to be "microwave safe." The chemical additives in plastic can get into food and liquids. Ceramic or glass food containers, like Pyrex, are safer.

If you do use a plastic container, handle it carefully. Use it for cool liquids only; wash plastics by hand or on the top rack of the dishwasher, which is farther from the heating element. Use a paper towel instead of plastic wrap to cover food in the microwave. Also, avoid disposable (or single-use) plastic as much as possible -- reusing it isn't safe because it can harbor bacteria and trashing it fills up landfills, polluting the environment.

4) CLEAN THE GREENER WAY

Having guests means that there will be tons of cleaning to do - before they arrive, while they're there and after they leave. You will also have to clean while you cook, but do you clean the green way? Traditional household cleaners (bleach, etc.) can cause the air inside your home to become polluted with chemicals. It is easy and cheaper to clean the green way. You can try natural alternatives like vinegar, baking soda and water.  Avoid commercial anti-bacterial products (learn about natural alternatives here) and the biggest hazards: acidic toilet bowl cleaners, air fresheners, oven cleaners, and corrosive drain openers.

While cleaning, no matter what products you use, be sure to do it safely! Open the window, use gloves and keep young kids away from toxic products. Dust and vacuum often since dust often contains toxins. Wash your hands with plain soap and water -- it's simple and very effective. Use a baking soda and water paste instead of commercial oven cleaner.

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Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, clean water advocate, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Buying Organic Produce Doesn't Have to Break the Bank: Here Are Ways to Save!

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By Alanthebox (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
There are tons of health benefits that come from eating fresh fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, fruits and vegetables that are pesticide-free, meaning no pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used to grow them.
Most of the produce in your everyday grocery store, unfortunately contains several pesticides. Buying organic food, that is, food that is grown without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, is key. However, organic food almost always costs more than conventionally-grown produce.

As I have previously mentioned in my posts, "Do You Know When To Buy Organic?" and "Save Money By Learning When To Buy Organic: The New "Dirty Dozen" Plus," most of us cannot afford to buy all organic produce; it's just too expensive. That's why knowing those fruits and vegetables that are most contaminated with chemicals is so important when it comes to saving your hard-earned money. I'm going to make is easy and share a list of those fruits and vegetables that are probably okay to skip on the organic aisle, thanks to our friends at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Every year, the EWG analyzes pesticide residue testing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration to come up with rankings for these popular fresh produce items. All 48 foods are listed below from worst to best
(lower numbers = more pesticides).

EWG's 2014 "Clean Fifteen" ™ (Don't have to buy organic):
  1. Asparagus                                   
    By Takeaway (Own work)
    [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)],
    via Wikimedia Commonsion
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Onions
  11. Papayas
  12. Pineapples
  13. Sweet Corn
  14. Sweet Peas (frozen)
  15. Sweet Potatoes

EWG's 2014 "Dirty Dozen Plus" ™ (Buy organic whenever possible)
  1. Apples                                                                  
    By Toby Hudson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0
    (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
    or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)],
    via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry Tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Peaches
  8. Potatoes
  9. Snap Peas (imported)
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers
*Plus: 
- Collards /Kale
- Hot Peppers
To download a FREE, printable copy of the Environmental Working Group's Shopping Guide To Pesticides, click here. I challenge you to take it with you whenever you go grocery shopping.


Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, former corporate sustainability coordinator, clean water advocate, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.

Monday, November 17, 2014

8 Ways To Improve Indoor Air Quality

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Autumn is here, but it's getting pretty cold! Now that cooler weather is here, we are spending more time indoors. Indoor air quality is often much worse than the air outside. One problem that faces many families, including mine, is the poor quality of air in the home during the winter months. This is especially true for those of us that suffer from indoor and outdoor allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues. Everyone in my household suffers from allergies in varying degrees of severity. If you have ever experienced any of the following symptoms: eye, nose or throat irritation, watery eyes, sneezing, cold/flu-like symptoms, fever, digestive problems, skin rash, fatigue, wheezing, headaches, nausea, insomnia, depression, chest pains, asthma attacks, drowsiness, dimmed vision, shortness of breath, or dizziness; ask yourself: Do these symptoms go away when you leave the house? Do I only feel this way when I'm either at home, work or another indoor location?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that indoor air pollutant levels could be two to five times higher than pollution levels outdoors. Since most Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time inside, indoor air quality has a huge impact on our everyday lives. Also, indoor air pollutants are one of the most prominent triggers of allergies and asthma.

These days, most homes and apartment buildings are built to be cost- and energy-efficient by holding heat in the winter time and keeping heat out during the summer. Also, most homeowners tightly seal any cracks in insulation prior to the winter months which prevents cold drafts from entering the home. However, this also seals off the home from any fresh air and raises the concentration of both allergens and pollutants in the home. Some common household pollutants are mold and mildew, pet dander, dust mites, pollen, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or secondhand smoke, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and lead.

Here Are 7 Ways to Get Cleaner Indoor Air Without Spending A Lot of Money (You Can Even Save Money):

1) Circulate Air. I find that one of the most irritating things (pun intended) about indoor air in our home during the winter months is the lack of fresh air due to all the windows being closed. Opening the windows while you're out of your home for a short period of time will greatly improve the indoor air quality. You'll return to a fresher (and slightly colder) home and will breathe easier.

2) Take or Wipe Off Your Shoes. In most Asian cultures, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a home for either spiritual or practical reasons. It is a good practice since estimates show that we track as much as 85% of the dirt in our homes in from the outside on our shoes or paws of pets. The EPA specifically recommends that shoes remain outside the house. However, if going shoeless is not something that the whole family is willing to do, try getting them to wear house shoes, slippers or socks that are solely worn inside the house.

3) Prohibit Smoking Indoors: This may sound like a no-brainer, but this can be a challenge for those who have a smoker in the house or smoke themselves. The best option is to have anyone that smokes, do so outside.

4) Use Safe Cleaning Products: Most cleaning products come with warnings for a reason: they contain harmful chemicals that get into the air when they're used. There are many non-toxic alternatives that you can use, even make, at home, such as baking soda, washing soda and white vinegar and lemon juice that work very well and are also a lot less expensive.

5) Pets: For families with pets, it's often more difficult to keep the air quality in good condition. The issue of hair shedding can be the leading cause, as well as pet dander. However, you can often diminish this problem with improved vacuuming and cleaning habits. Most of us vacuum the carpet on our floors, but don't really think about vacuuming other areas like fabric furniture and drapes and curtains to help them stay dust-free.

6) Replace/Clean Air Filters: Most of us change our air filters, but don't practice it diligently. If you want to extend the life span of your air conditioner and maintain its efficiency, the most important thing you can do is change the filter of your air conditioner or furnace once every three to six months. Most people find pleated filters are sufficient for them. These have an estimated efficiency of 10-60% and need to be replaced every 3 to 6 months. HEPA filters are considered the most efficient filters available, but need to be checked monthly since they can become choked up very quickly and can hamper the airflow if they become too clogged. Electrostatic filters probably offer the best combination of value and efficiency. They can cost twice as much as a good quality disposable filter, but you can just wash them with water when they become dirty, and reuse them.

7) Bring In Some Green: One of the easiest steps to cleaning the air is to bring in plants. Indoor plants actually act as natural air filters, improving indoor quality by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. Also, many of the chemicals that make us sick, such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde, are quickly absorbed by plants. For a list of some plants that are effective in contributing to cleaner air, click here.                            
By Reinhard Kirchner (Own work)
 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)],
via Wikimedia Commons

8) Change Your Candles: You may be surprised to learn that the most popular type of candles are paraffin-based and are a significant source of indoor air pollution. They emit toxic chemicals like toluene and benzene. While burning these types of candles every once in a while is probably harmless, repeated exposure can be problematic, especially for asthma and allergy sufferers.


By applying these low-cost methods, you can dramatically improve the air quality in your home and spend less money on trips to the doctor, and over-the-counter (and prescription) medicines.

Elena White is the founder and editor of  Life The Green Way, former corporate sustainability coordinator, clean water advocate, and a "rurban" wife and mother.  Learn more about her here and follow her on Twitter at @Lifethegreenway.



8 Top Foods to Boost Your Immune System With Vitamin C

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Cold and Flu season are rapidly approaching and most of us are either trying to avoid getting sick or trying to kick seasonal allergies. Since Vitamin C helps the body maintain healthy tissues and a strong immune system, it's a great ally in boosting your immunity. Vitamin C also assists in the body's absorption of iron.  According to the USDA's Dietary Guidelines, the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C for adult men is 90 mg, and for adult women it is 75 mg.  Recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of vitamin C in pill form, so get your vitamin C naturally with these top 8 food sources.

  1. Guava fruit.  Guava are one of the best fruits available since they're cholesterol and sodium-free, plus low in fat and calories.  A 1/2 cup of this fruit contains 188 mg of vitamin C and only 56 calories. They are also high in fiber.  Guava may be eaten raw or blended into a smoothie.  The rind is also edible and contains 5 times more vitamin C than an orange!
  2. Red Sweet Pepper.  Most people instantly think of oranges or orange juice when they think of vitamin C.  However, 1/2 cup of raw red sweet pepper contains 142 mg of vitamin C and only 20 calories; cooked, a half cup yields 116 mg of vitamin C.  I like these peppers chopped into my salads for additional color and amazing taste.    
  3.  Kiwi fruit.  The kiwi is rich in vitamin C.  One medium-sized kiwi contains 70 mg of vitamin C and 62 calories. 
  4. Oranges. Surprised they didn't make the top of the list? A medium orange offers 70mg of vitamin C and approximately 62 calories.  Pure orange juice offers 60-94 mg of vitamin C and 80-85 calories.
  5. Green Sweet Peppers.  Raw, these peppers offer 60 mg of vitamin C per 1/2 cup and only 15 calories.  When cooked, this is lowered to 51 mg of vitamin C.
  6. Grapefruit juice provides almost as much vitamin C as green sweet peppers: 3/4 cup contains 50-70 mg vitamin C and approximately 84 calories.
  7. Vegetable juice.  Have you had a V8 lately? Vegetable juice contains numerous nutrients, including a healthy dose of vitamin C (about 50 mg and 34 calories in 3/4 of a cup).  Tomato-based vegetable juice also provides a healthy dose of lycopene, an illness-fighting
    phytonutrient. 
  8. Strawberries are great sources of antioxidants, like vitamin C, and also contain fiber.  A 1/2 cup of strawberries has 49 mg of vitamin C and only 27 calories.

Frosty Fresh: 15 Frozen Fruits and Vegetable for Your Winter Grocery Shopping List

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Well, it's that time of year again...winter is coming!
Most of us want to be more fit, boost our antioxidant intake, AND save money. I'm going to show you how you can do all three at the same time! Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, I've put together a list of 15 frozen fruits and vegetables - yes, frozen - that will help you do just that!
By Peggy Greb, U.S. Department of Agriculture [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Especially during the winter months, fresh produce is limited - or expensive - in most of the country, which forces many of us to turn to either canned or frozen fruits and veggies. While canned vegetables tend to lose a lot of nutrients during the preservation process (some notable exceptions are tomatoes and pumpkin), frozen vegetables may be even more healthy than some of the fresh produce sold in supermarkets.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the International Food Information Council (IFIC) both agree that nutrients in produce are generally NOT lost during freezing and they provide the same essential nutrients and health benefits as fresh fruits and vegetables.

Once a fruit or vegetable is picked, it starts to lose nutrients, so exactly when it's plucked, and how long after harvesting you eat it, impacts its nutritional value. Did you know that fresh produce can lose as much as 45% of its essential nutrients from the time it leaves the farm to the time it makes it to your table — a period that can last as long as 16 days? These berries, melons, greens, etc., are often exposed to pesticides, extreme heat, and light during transport, which further decreases their freshness and nutritional value.

On the other hand, most frozen fruits and vegetables are quickly blanched, boiled, or steamed, and then frozen within a few hours of being picked, a process that helps lock in both fresh taste and nutritional value. Since the freezing process actually preserves food, no unwanted additives (e.g. no added salt or sugar) are needed in bags of frozen pineapples or broccoli, for examples. Therefore, it's pretty easy to find fruits and veggies with single word ingredient lists-- just the fruit or veggie itself. To be sure, always check the ingredients, but I bet you'll find at least a 10 varieties in the freezer aisle with absolutely nothing added - definitely a win-win!

Also, you'll want to be sure to choose packages marked with a USDA “U.S. Fancy” shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color. These vegetables tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades (“U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.”). Also, try not to wait too long to eat them after purchasing: over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do decrease. Steam (don't microwave) rather than boil your produce so that you can retain as much of the water-soluble vitamins as you can.

Try Any or All of These 15 Healthy Frozen Fruits and Vegetables:

1) Cherries. Research links cherries' red color—provided by the fruit's powerful anthocyanins—to a reduction in inflammation, total cholesterol, and belly fat. Cherries are also rich in two important flavonoids, isoqueritrin and queritrin, which act as antioxidants and work to eliminate byproducts of oxidative stress, therefore slowing down the aging process. You can add frozen cherries to your smoothies or defrost a cup and put them on top of plain Greek yogurt.


2) Blueberries are packed with vitamins C, E, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. One cup of blueberries has only 71 calories, but packs 6 grams of fiber, and it's hard to believe just how much nutrition is jammed into such a small superfruit.

Catechins found in blueberries activate fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells to assist with weight loss, and belly fat loss in particular.  According to research at Tufts University, regularly ingesting catechins increases abdominal fat loss by 77 percent and double total weight loss.

Additionally, blueberries are one of the richest sources of proanthocyanidins, which are phytonutrients that decrease free radical levels that are linked to aging (say goodbye to wrinkles!) and disease.

Keep these berries on hand to boost the flavor and nutrients in your protein shakes, or add frozen blueberries to hot cereal.

3) Peaches are the perfect snack food for losing weight. A peach makes you feel full and keeps you from overeating. One medium peach contains only 35-50 calories and zero fat!

These fruits are high in calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and antioxidants. They also help keep the skin healthy. Vitamin A and C make peaches a great natural moisturizer which is why they’re often used in cosmetics. These vitamins can help regenerate skin tissue.

For a healthy dessert, bake one peach with cinnamon and a touch of agave, then top with low-fat frozen yogurt. Yummy!

4) Broccoli reportedly helps lower cholesterol and detoxifies the body. Steamed broccoli is full of potassium and folate - which helps prevent anemia - and it also gives you solid doses of vitamins A, C, and B6.

It’s also a huge cancer-fighter. Broccoli contains something called sulforaphane, which may help combat prostate, liver, lung, bladder, skin, and stomach cancer. Plus it’s rich in compounds that boost healthy tumor suppressors—and destroy ineffective ones.

Broccoli is great fuel, because with 5 grams of fiber per cup, it helps you fill up fast. And...it’s only about 55 calories per cup. Add some to your omelet to make it even more delicious.

5) Green Beans are rich in eye-protecting phytonutrients and manganese. Aside from relieving symptoms of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis, manganese can also help fight premenstrual syndrome (PMS). A healthy dose of manganese can help alleviate PMS symptoms such as irritability and mood swings. Manganese also helps your body to effectively absorb other nutrients such as vitamins B, E and the mineral magnesium.

Another good reason to eat green beans is that they are packed with vitamin A. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that can help protect you against cancer, heart disease and high blood cholesterol. Vitamin A is also known for eliminating signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines, dull skin and age spots.