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!