Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What Makes Something "Natural"?

The cost of healthcare, the realization that doctors have limitations and the skepticism of modern processed
foods and their effects on the body have all influenced a growing number of people to turn to natural, holistic and homeopathic health practices and remedies. But a lot of what goes around can be confusing, contradictory and downright ridiculous. 
There are many reasons to go natural. Less chemicals on your body and washed down your drain means keeping nature healthier and in tact. That's also less non-renewable resources, like petroleum, being used for cosmetics and cleaning. It also means less likelihood of absorbing harmful chemicals that can be stored in your body and disrupt your hormonal balance and regular bodily functions. Hormonal imbalance can be linked to a variety of issues, from acne to excess fat and even to cancer. Here are a few tips to staying natural while keeping a level head (and probably saving a buck or two!)

Natural and Organic Foods
I could list hundreds of things to look out for on labels, but really your best bet is to just not buy things that come in a packet or cardboard box to begin with. If you have one particular thing you just can't live without, like chips or pop-tarts, you may want to consider making this a once-in-a-while treat rather than a daily meal. When going to the grocery store, stay on the periphery of the store with the produce and protein, occasionally venturing to the middle to buy spices, nuts and seeds or frozen fruit and veggies. Labels that say natural or organic on them are not very well regulated, and therefore not really a good indicator of health. The same goes for how humanely the animals are treated. "Free range" and "cage free" egg farms, for example, are also not very heavily regulated and often practice the same techniques as regular egg farms, while getting away with charging you a couple bucks more per dozen.

Pesticides and GMOs
The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for which foods are heavily laden with pesticides or are genetically modified. Pesticides can bioaccumulate, meaning they can be stored in the body (usually in the liver or your fat) and cause problems like hormonal imbalance, weight gain, cancer and weakened immunity. Genetically Modified Foods (or GMO's) do pretty much the same thing, as the produce itself is often designed specifically to kill whatever bugs try to eat them. The Dirty Dozen list shows which produce has been tested to have the most pesticides. For these, either buy organic or peel the outside if possible to avoid the most pesticide exposure. Organic isn't necessary for all produce you buy, though. Just be sure to wash your fruits and veggies before you eat them and you should be fine. GMOs, however, should definitely be avoided at all costs. The biggest GMOs to avoid are corn, soy, wheat and potatoes. If you choose to eat these foods, buy organic or non-GMO. Corn, soy, wheat and potatoes often masquerade as different ingredients in packaged foods, listed as things like high fructose corn syrup, lecithin or starch. Again, it's better to just stay away from packaged foods altogether and cook at home.

This is one of those areas where looking at how your grandmother got by and picking up old ways of doing things really makes life easier and healthier. The EWG's Skin Deep Database is a great resource to look up what cosmetics you already have in your home and how toxic they are to your health, as well as providing a list of the healthiest cosmetics you can buy if you prefer to purchase them. But buying fancy organic products isn't necessary. You can use plain salt for deodorant and coconut oil for lotion, and many people have great results washing their hair with baking soda, and liquid castille soap like Dr. Bronner's works great as body wash. It's up to you how basic and cheap or fancy you want to get with your routine.

Common white vinegar and baking soda can clean almost anything, and when followed with hydrogen peroxide is more effective than bleach at killing germs. With everything else, castille soap and hot water will clean everything just as well as those expensive chemical cleansers at the store.

Herbs, Teas, Tonics and Superfoods
When perusing natural health products, it's easy to get caught up in claims and marketing. There are some alternative cures that are tried and true, like aloe for irritated skin and green tea for an afternoon pick-me-up without the jitters. But just like "natural" foods, labels can be deceiving. And just because they're herbs or teas doesn't mean they don't have side effects or do other positive things than what's listed on the package. Be sure to back up your natural cures with scientific research. The National Institutes of Health has a database of research and findings to help find the most effective cure for whatever ails you, from fatigue and migraines to eczema. And as for superfoods-- just don't. Eat nutritious fruits and vegetables and you'll be healthy, it's unnecessary to eat the latest rare nut from South America to have a well-rounded diet.

Use these tips to navigate being healthy practically and simply. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Value of Keeping Health Simple

When navigating the health world, there are all sorts of suggestions, plans, programs and pitfalls. A simple journey to living a healthier lifestyle can become a mind-numbing mess of gadgets, apps, calorie counting, restrictions, 5AM trips to the gym and endless label-scrutinizing that would send any person back to bed to avoid all the work. It's no fun being healthy when you're constantly monitoring every thing you do! Here are a few absolutes that every expert can agree on to help you simplify things.

Enjoy life and the body you were given to live it in.
It's fine to set goals for yourself and have things to aspire to, but focusing too much on the end product will often result in endlessly beating yourself up if you don't get there and frustration. One Ayurvedic lesson is to treat your body like your friend. If your friend was sick or struggling, or if something was clearly wrong, you wouldn't belittle her or get angry at her for not being perfect. Listen to your body and identify what you struggle with and try to work with that. And celebrate and work on improving your inherent strengths.

There isn't one single life plan for everyone.
There are certainly things that will universally help your health and make you look better in the process, but remember too that each body is a unique biological organism. Real lasting change takes a lot of time. Depending on your habits, medical history, genetics and what you've been eating all your life, your metabolism could function completely differently from the next person. What works for one person may not necessarily work for you. What one person enjoys eating or doing may not be what makes you passionate about being healthy. You may look great at 140 pounds while someone else does better carrying 110. That is completely normal and okay.

Eat your vegetables.
Even if you eat vegetables at every meal, you could probably still eat more of them. Everyone agrees and the science overwhelmingly backs it: there is nothing more super and more nutritious for your health than veggies! Eating fruit or a multivitamin or a "superfood" is NOT a substitute! Avoid peas, corn and potatoes and go for nutritional powerhouses, especially leafy greens like spinach and collards, and cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Eat huge salads for lunch, wilt spinach in your breakfast scramble, throw a few handfuls of raw spinach into your smoothie. They will make you feel full, boost your energy and keep you young. No pill, powder or any amount of exercise can replace that.

Don't go crazy with supplements.
There isn't any herb or pill that you can take that will alter your health more than being active and eating well. Some things certainly help. If you're a vegetarian, it's probably a good idea to take a B-complex. To boost your metabolism, you may want to consider drinking more green and herbal teas. Coconut and flax oil is certainly good for you, but there's no reason to go out of your way to eat a tablespoon of it every day if you're already preparing your meals with it. Anything a superfood or supplement has can probably already be found in the foods you're eating daily. What you should do is probably what you already know: Avoid packaged and sugary foods and eat a natural diet of vegetables, lean protein, fruit, nuts and seeds to get your nutrition. Focus on the food and staying active and save your money for better things.

Strength is not complicated.
There's no such thing as "muscle confusion" or shrinking your muscle mass to look long and lean. Your muscle size is determined mostly by genetics and how much weight you lift. That's pretty much it. Doing 100 crunches a day or complex reverse interval training will not give you abs. Do exercises you like to stay active, like yoga, swimming, riding your bike, playing with your kids, taking walks with your significant other, or playing sports. Make sure you  move around regularly instead of sitting at your desk or on your couch all day. If you really want to build muscle, look into doing deep muscle training twice a week (slow, heavy reverse weight lifting until your body can't lift anymore). But beyond that, you don't have to do anything weird to stay fit. Your body doesn't know the difference, and your brain will appreciate the break.

Keeping things simple gives you more time to focus on what matters to you. Instead of making your health the center of your life when life is already short, use that time to enjoy who you are, build your relationships and your talents, and have fun! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Keeping Your Clothes Like New

It's always a little bittersweet to finally part with a piece of clothing, whether it's stained, colorless, the fabric has lost its luster or it's gained a few holes along the way. Sometimes you're ready for it to go, but sometimes  there are pieces you have to repeatedly replace like socks and underwear or that favorite rock concert t-shirt that you just can't seem to let go of. You don't need fancy detergents or dry-cleaning to keep your clothes perfect. Here are a few tips to extending the life of the clothes you have, and saving a few bucks while you do it!

Fading Away
Nothing makes a piece of clothing look old like faded color. To prevent fading, wash colors on cold, avoid hanging colored pieces in the sun to dry, turn pieces inside-out during washing (especially jeans) and consider adding 1/2 a cup to 1 cup of white vinegar to your wash cycle to preserve the color. If the color has already faded, you can add new life to your clothes by dyeing similar colors. Black clothing is great place to start. You can find affordable fabric dye online or in most grocery stores in the laundry aisle.

Hard Fabric
Everyone knows the unpleasant feeling of a scratchy towel or crusty socks. For thicker fabrics, be especially sure that you're not overloading your washer with too much detergent. You can run the washer on a rinse cycle with towels, socks or sweaters and if it looks sudsy, you're using too much. Another good prevention technique is to avoid overloading the washer to begin with. Keep lighter weight clothing and heavier fabrics in separate loads, and don't put more than 5 pairs of jeans or towels in one load. Only loading the washer 3/4 full and not packing in or pushing down the clothes are good rules to remember. Make sure socks are completely unrolled when you throw them in the wash. To soften your clothes, add a big scoop of baking soda to the wash water. Using hot water for sweaty clothes like socks and workout gear and purchasing natural fabrics like cotton, bamboo or hemp help keep things softer too.

Threadbare or Stretched Out Fabric
Hot air is great for fluffing up towels and sweaters and making your clothing feel soft, but most clothing can take a beating if they're heated for too long. Try to line-dry or lay flat your more delicate clothing, anything with elastic or spandex blends and thinner fabrics like shirts. Elastic does not mesh well with heat, so be especially careful with socks, sportswear and underwear. Check the dryer periodically when drying and take out the clothes immediately when they no longer feel damp. Smaller loads, line drying before using the dryer for fluffing or splitting up large loads into smaller ones all insure less exposure to heat and a longer life for fabric and color.

Dingy Colors
In time, lighter and brighter colored clothing can get dingy, grayish or pinkish. For whites, soak in hydrogen peroxide or an oxygenated detergent overnight. Many colored fabrics can also withstand oxygenated detergent, however be sure to test an inconspicuous spot first or use an oxygenated detergent formulated for colors. Always separate your colors into like colors when washing. It can be a pain, but it's worth it.  Wash new clothing items the first few times separately or by hand to avoid the new dye mixing with your older clothes. Did a red shirt sneak in to your load of whites? The minute you notice your clothes have encountered color bleed, take out the offending odd-colored piece of clothing and re-wash the load with oxygenated detergent or bleach. If you let the clothes dry first, chances are the color will set and there's no turning back.

Follow these tips and your clothes will stay with you for years to come! Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Basic Maintenance for Your Washer and Dryer

The great thing about having your own washer and dryer is that it does most of the work for you so you can have time to do other things. But even washers and dryers need a little TLC! Whether you've been doing laundry for years or this is your first time out on your own with your washer/dryer set, here are a few tips and tricks to keep your equipment performing at top notch.

Proper Use
The vast majority of issues that come up with washers and dryers are due to improper use of the equipment. The instructions are basic, but following them incorrectly on a consistent basis can cause damage over time to your machines. If you're ever in doubt about how to use and care for your specific machine, instructions are almost always printed on the inside of the lid or the door. If you can't find the instructions, look up the model number (also on the inside of the door) on the manufacturer's website. Most major manufacturers include a downloadable PDF online of the manual that originally shipped with the machine.

Avoid Soap Scum
You'd think that if you're constantly putting soap and water in something it would always be clean, right? Well, just like your shower, soap and water isn't the only thing going in and out of your washer. Sweat, dirt, lint, and anything else your clothes pick up go into your washer too. First, make sure you check the instructions on your machine and on the type of laundry detergent you like to use to make sure you're not using too much. A little goes a long way! Towels are a great indicator of too much soap. If your towels feel waxy or if you scrub them in a little water and you see suds, you need to dial it back. Always pour in your soap BEFORE you load in your clothes so that your detergent is evenly distributed during wash cycles. And lastly, if the soap scum is already there, spray some vinegar on the scum and let it sit for 30 minutes before running a hot rinse cycle to remove it.

Clean the Lint Out
Every time you change loads in the dryer, be sure to clean out the lint trap. Even if it doesn't seem like much, the more lint that sits in the trap over several cycles, the more lint is getting stuck in the machine where you may not be able to reach it. For when the lint gets into hard to reach places, you can use a pipe cleaner or an inexpensive dryer brush to nab the extra bits. This is also handy for cleaning out lint and dust from under the dryer and under your refrigerator. Most importantly, clean your wall vent every six months. This is the vent that runs from the back of the dryer to the outside of your home. Lint, dust and dirt get trapped and build up in the exhaust over time, causing your machine to run less efficiently. More importantly, not cleaning the vent can become a fire hazard if the heat from the dryer ignites the lint and dust. If you live in an apartment, your maintenance man will have the tools to do this for you. Be safe and clean it out!

Do Routine Maintenance
If your washer and dryer are ever taking too long to do something, are shaking or making funny noises, don't wait until it gets worse. Call your manufacturer (or your friendly customer service team at Azuma!) for further assistance. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it's better to fix the problem than risk damage to your equipment or to your clothes. If you're having problems, service appointments, troubleshooting and machine replacements are always free when you rent with Azuma.

We hope these tips and tricks help you enjoy your machines to the fullest for a long, long time! Until next time, keep it clean!