Saturday, June 15, 2013


One of the most glorious aspects of summer is the abundance of fresh produce, and then preserving some of it for enjoyment in later seasons. One of the yummy and simple ways to preserve fruit is by making jam, and today I made fourteen pints of strawberry jam.

Jam is difficult to find in grocery stores without high fructose corn syrup, food dyes, large amounts of sugar, and artificial flavorings. Organic jams with quality ingredients can cost a vast amount, and in general homemade jam just tastes so good!

I like to use Pomona's Pectin brand as it works really well for low-sugar jam recipes and doesn't have any preservatives in it. Though you can use honey, I used evaporated cane juice crystals just because I had more of them. I basically followed this recipe.

My family likes to put jam on toast or pancakes, but it is also yummy in plain unsweetened yogurt. What do you use jam for?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why Lowfat Diets Might Not Be As Healthy As You Think

Practically every grocery store you walk into advertises things to the "health conscious", and at the peak of their advertising campaign is pushing the LOWFAT label. Lowfat have less calories, they say. Lowfat prevents heart disease, they say. But is lowfat really healthier? 

Fat in food is vital for bodily function for cell repair and growth, brain and organ development and protection, moisture for skin, hair and nails, and regulating fat soluble vitamins.  Of course, too much of anything is harmful, but as is too little. 

One major problem with lowfat foods, is that the fat is replaced with sugars, carbohydrates, and fillers. You might put less calories from fat into your body by consuming low-fat foods, but you end up skyrocketing your bloodsugar because carbohydrates were added to the food to replace the fat. Fat can act as a bloodsugar regulator by causing starches to take longer to absorb. Bread for example, takes longer to be used by the body when topped with butter or olive oil and causes less of a sugar spike than if the bread was just eaten on its own. 

Fat in food also tells your body that it is satisfied and full. And thus, taking most or all of the natural fat out of a food can lead to overeating. The hormone the body secretes upon fat consumption, cholecystokinin, will curb hunger and cause the brain to think you are full. This way, you are less likely to overcompensate at other meals.

Additionally, lowfat milk can also actually contribute to osteoporosis. Everyone knows you drink milk for the calcium which strengthens bones, right? Upon consumption, the body must use bone mass to compensate for the high acidity of the food. This pulls minerals out of the bones to help the body re-establish its pH levels, which can cause decreases in bone mass. Of course, small quantities will not have this effect, but if you rely on lowfat dairy products as your sole source of calcium for osteoporosis prevention, you might need to reconsider. Try eating spinach, collard greens, salmon, sesame/chia/sunflower seeds, quinoa, brocolli, or white beans for alternative calcium sources. 

Politically, encouraging lowfat dairy product consumption is profitable for dairy companies, as it is cheaper to skim the fat off the milk, selling the milk without the fat/cream and using the cream for other dairy products to sell.

Your body also does not know how to properly absorb the fat in "reduced fat" foods. When fat cells are altered, the body processes them differently and thus you do not always reap the health benefits from the fat.

Another benefit and important function of fat in food is for the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and therefore require fat to be absorbed (and stored) properly, as opposed to the water soluble vitamins which the body absorbs into the intestines and then are dissolved into the bloodstream. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in fatty tissues and the liver for current and future use. If fat-soluble vitamins are consumed without food that contains fat, the vitamins aren't assimilated and used by the body, and are rendered useless. Thus, fat in the diet is very important for the absorption of proper vitamins and nutrients.
In conclusion, avoiding low-fat products is important to avoid added sugars, fillers, artificial flavorings, and metabolism and hormone altering chemicals. God knew what He was doing when He put fat in food! Of course, a balanced diet is always important so avoid packaged foods and sugar as much as possible, and fill your plate with fresh vegetables. 

No-Sugar Challenge!

What is three times as addictive as cocaine but three HUNDRED times as socially acceptable as cocaine? (ok, I made the 300 thing up, but really... what police officer hand-cuffs you for a candy bar?) Sugar! Sugar is loaded into all sorts of foods and is America's #1 food additive aside from salt. But sugar can wreak havoc on your body by disrupting your blood sugar and metabolism, creating an acidic environment within your body, as well as causing tooth decay and weight gain.

So, for the month of July I cut out all sugar from my diet including honey, high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, cane juice crystals, molasses, you name it. I did still consume fruits and grains, and yes, I am aware that they contain naturally-occurring sugar. ;) I try to go off sugar completely twice a year for 2-6 weeks each time. In general, I try to consume more natural forms of sugar when I have it and avoid high fructose corn syrup entirely. But, there are times when abstaining 100% is in order. :)

I have felt so good and it is really encouraging because certain times I have gone off sugar, I have literally displayed symptoms of withdrawal. No such thing this time which is exciting because my body is not as addicted as it has been previously. Yay!

I wanted to share a couple of recipes that I have found to curb a sugar craving when you're avoiding sugar... because, hey, everyone needs something sweet occasionally. :)

Carrot Cake 
Carrot Cake

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts 
4 ounces unsalted butter, heated until just melted
1/2 cup dried dates, seeded and finely chopped into a paste
3 ripe bananas (1 1/4 cups), mashed well
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 3 medium)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt 

For cream cheese frosting:
6-8 ounces cream cheese
Pineapple juice to sweeten
A few drops of stevia to sweeten
(Though I do prefer honey when I am not 100% off sugar)

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a 9x5x3 / 8-cup loaf pan (or 8x8 cake pan) and line it with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the walnuts and set aside.
Stir the dates into the melted butter, breaking up the dates a bit.
In a separate bowl combine the bananas and carrots. Stir in the date-butter mixture, breaking up any date clumps as you go. Whisk in the yogurt and the eggs. Add the flour mixture and stir until everything just comes together. Spoon into the prepared pan. Bake for about 50 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick tests clean in the center of the cake - it'll be less if you are using a standard cake pan. Remove from oven and let cool.
Beat cream cheese and pineapple juice. Add stevia. Spread over completely cooled cake. 

Ice Cream

2 Bananas, frozen
2ish TBSP whole milk/cream/half and half
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Place bananas in blender, add milk slowly until desired consistency is reached. Add vanilla extract. If you don't like banana taste, freeze green bananas. You will get your ice cream consistency but not the banana-y flavor. The riper the banana when you freeze it, the more banana taste you'll get in your ice cream. Try adding peanut butter, berries, cinnamon, or cocoa powder for an added twist. Enjoy!

Chocolate Mousse
1 can full-fat coconut milk
5 TBSP. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
A few drops of stevia to sweeten

Leave open can of coconut milk in frig overnight until thick. Beat in other ingredients to milk and serve right away. Really good with strawberries or just on its own. :P

So, there you have it, my blogging friends! Try going sugar-free but beware of artificial sugar substitutes that are worse for you than sugar itself, as they mess with your metabolism, hormones, and body's way of absorption. Beware of Splenda and aspartame! :)

Also... Here is a short video with a few tips on how to kick the sugar habit:

Natural on a Budget: Body Care

I decided that I am going to write a blog series on living naturally on a budget. I know for myself that natural foods, etc. are a priority especially as I learn more and more about nutrition, but at the same time, I am living on a budget so my goal is to find where the two meet. This series will just be a little bit about what I have found that works for me (and my family) that will hopefully be a help to others.

Starting out, I want to discuss natural care products for body and hygiene. In general, health conscious people try to be mindful about what they ask their body to process through their foods, but few think about what they ask their body to process through their SKIN. We might not want to eat a pound of conventionally raised bacon because of its processing and high nitrate/nitrite chemical content, but when we wash our hair once with conventional shampoo we ask our body to process as many chemicals and nitrates as if we had eaten the pound of bacon. And most of us wash our hair (at least) two or three times a week! Toxins are everywhere in this world and they are especially abundant in body care products. We must realize that the skin absorbs 60% of products used topically on it and be careful with what we put into our bodies through our skin.

So, practically, what types of body care products WORK and don't cost your whole paycheck to buy?! Here are some suggestions and ideas.

Hair Care 
This took me a while to get down. I tried the "No 'Poo" method with baking soda and apple cider vinegar and it was a disaster for my long, thick hair. It works for some people but not me. Next, I tried making my own homemade shampoo with castile soap and again it made my hair greasy and heavy and just didn't work. I also didn't care for either of these because I like my shampoo to lather when I wash my doesn't feel clean if it doesn't. :P The routine I have right now is using JR Liggett's bar shampoo which I love...and, it lathers. :D The bar costs about $4 and lasts me 2-3 months. You don't need conditioner when you use it, but for long hair I did use Nature's Gate conditioner on occasion although it was fairly expensive. ($5 a bottle, though it would last me 6 months) When dandruff is an issue I just massage a small bit of coconut oil onto my scalp before bed-- that's the only downside of the bar shampoo I've found.

I don't use mousse, hairspray, or any other product like that so I haven't really researched what good options are for those.

I had been using Nature's Gate Spring Fresh deodorant for a long time and for an organic deodorant, it is fairly well priced at $3.90 a stick but it is still a little pricey for me and also contains propelyne-glycol which I try to avoid. I've made a transition to Naturally Fresh Crystal Deodorant Spray which is basically mineral salt and water in a spray bottle. It works SUPER well and I also spray it in my athletic shoes (and my siblings shoes too...shhh). It is $3 a bottle and lasts me 6 months. Say no to aluminum anti-perspirants people. Just say no. (Aluminum linked to breast cancer, Alzheimers, seizures, and general un-healthiness because God made people to sweat. You don't have to stink but you do have to sweat. ;)

For soap I use Sappo Hill bar soap that is roughly $1 a bar. It  also doubles as my shaving cream as it lathers quite nicely. A bar usually lasts me about 2-3 months.

I have been making my own lotion with beeswax, coconut oil, and shea butter. I buy the supplies in bulk from Amazon for about $15 total and they make about a gallon of lotion.

My face breaks out-- that is just reality. I have used honey, castile soap, popular conventional face wash brands, Alba... you name it. Now I am using The Oil Cleaning Method which sounds counterproductive but it has been the the most effective thing I have ever used. Still not perfect but it is improvement. I use a mix of castor and coconut oil every evening with a few drops of lavender essential oil (kills bacteria) so for each face washing, it costs pennies. 

I tried to like homemade toothpaste and powder, I really did. But I failed. So I use Nature's Gate creme de mint paste that is $3-4 a tube but lasts about 3 months. Fairly expensive but the baking soda/coconut oil/arrowroot powder just didn't do it for me. Flouride is evil - avoid it. (Do your own research, if I get going I may not stop...) For chapstick, I either make my own with beeswax and coconut oil for less than $1 a tube or I use 1/2 a pea sized amount of coconut oil.

To the Ladies 
I don't wear make-up but maybe once a month so it's a rarity. I have Cowgirl Dirt brand liquid foundation that was fairly expensive (about $20 a container) but will last me at least two years since I use it so rarely AND it is the most natural make-up I've found. I've read you can use plain corn starch with a little bit of tinted powder for foundation but have not tried this. Make-up is a huge culprit for estrogen dominance and hormonal issues because of all the parabens, chemicals and toxins so be careful.

I have done quite a bit of research on importance of natural products for female cycle needs... Dioxin is one of the most toxic carcinogens in this world and it is used to bleach pads and tampons. I have found that I feel SO much better when I am not using conventional (dioxin-bleached) products! Seriously, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you feel when you stop using the conventional products. For me, organic/natural pads weren't in budget (14 for $4-5) so I looked into natural menstrual cups. I am too small for most of the options out there but the Softcup seems to be small enough and is hypo-allergenic and latex-free. The reusable ones are about $3 and last you through a cycle. If that grosses you out to have to wash it out and re-use, they make disposable ones that you change every 12 hours or so for about 75c each. Far less mess at night or sports, have to change less often, and you feel better... seriously what could be better. Kotex makes a Natural Balance brand that isn't chlorine or dioxin bleached and is priced comparably to conventional brands, and using cloth panty-liners is not as gross as it sounds. Just throw them in with your regular laundry load. 

I don't wear perfume or use any type of fragrance cause they give me headaches but I have friends who make their own with alcohol and essential oils for a good price.

So, bottom line: average monthly cost for body care/hygiene products for myself is about $5 a month. I don't think that is too bad overall. What do you spend per month on body care? What types of natural products have you found that work? I would love to hear!

Also, a really great website where you can check the toxicity of your body care products is

Natural on a Budget: Household

This post will focus on another aspect of natural living, this time focusing on cleaning and household products. A significant source of toxins, parabens, carcinogens, and chemicals are found in the cleaning and washing supplies we use on a daily basis. Most of the cleaning supplies in the cabinet are accompanied by poison warnings and ingredient lists with un-pronounceable dangerous chemicals. Your lungs also have to filter through what you breathe in so be mindful of that too. 

But what alternatives are there to your typical products that get the job done and don't rob your pocketbook? Here are some solutions that I've found.  

Laundry Supplies I've started making my own laundry liquid with borax, washing soda, pure castile bar soap, and water. It averages to be about 2 cents per load. Yes 2 cents. It works super well, and sometimes my mom and I will add tea tree oil to the extra sweaty athletic laundry loads from teenage boys for a little extra clean. 

Here is the recipe: Grate half a bar of soap into a pot and add 6 c warm water. Stir on low heat until melted completely. Add 1/2 c washing soda (not baking soda) and 1/2 c borax. Pour 4 c hot water into a 2 gallon bucket. Add soap mixture and stir well. Add another gallon plus six cups water. Stir. Rest 24 hours. (I make it in a 2-gallon bucket and it fits just perfectly) Use about 1/2 cup per XL family sized load. 

Use 1/4 cup of straight white vinegar (about $3 a gallon) as a fabric softener and it won't leave a smell. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil if you like. I don't really get the point of fabric softener but my mom likes it so she tends to buy the conventional brand. I'm trying to sell her on using the vinegar but we're not quite there yet. :) 
I find I don't need a stain remover with the laundry liquid I make, but I do use some conventional type stain remover for extra difficult stains on occasion. I've tried straight hydrogen peroxide and wasn't super happy with it and also baking soda paste but that didn't do the job either.

Kitchen Soap
I would really like to use homemade dish soap made from castile soap which averages about $1.50 per 16oz container but haven't gotten the time to try it yet. I'd also like to experiment with dishwasher detergent with borax, washing soda, and citric acid (like you use in canning) that costs only about 3c per load but haven't tried that either. 2013 goals. :D I have had good success with white vinegar put in the dishwasher rinse aid compartment (where you're supposed to put the blue Jet Dry stuff) which is much more frugal and chemical free. Think about it, you're eating off of these dishes that you just washed with chemicals that say harmful if ingested... 

All-Purpose Cleaner 
I don't like the smell of vinegar. I just don't. A great all-purpose cleaner is vinegar diluted in water and costs only about 50c per large spray bottle you make. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil and it almost masks the vinegar scent. (which will disappear once it dries... no worries, your bathroom won't smell like a salad all week) Right now we are using Biokleen all-purpose cleaner which we buy in concentrate and dilute with water for about 15c per bathroom or kitchen cleaning. Not bad as organic cleaning supplies can be $5-8 per 32oz bottle.
Sticky spills and stains on floors/counters clean up really well with some baking soda and water to form a paste. 
Bathroom Cleaners
I usually just use all-purpose cleaner for the counters, sink, and toilet and that seems to work fine. I think straight baking soda or borax (about 1 TBSP- costs you pennies) makes a great toilet bowl cleaner but my mom disagrees so she buys conventional toilet bowl cleaner and likes for me to use that instead. 
For the tub I use 1/2 c of baking soda (15c ish) and about a tsp of castile soap (pennies) and then use it as a scrub. I think it works pretty well and you don't almost pass out from the harsh smell of tub cleaner either so that's a plus. For shining up the shower handle/spigot, use a few teaspoons of lemon juice.   
Glass cleaner I use vinegar diluted in water (pennies) and with paper towels it wipes streak free. 
For some simple, natural air freshener, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to a spray bottle of water with a little baking soda. 
To mop, we use a conventional floor cleaner since mopping only happens once or twice a month. I've had success with borax and also used all-purpose cleaner or vinegar that has worked fine. I don't think I am planning to buy more mopping cleaner once this stuff is gone and will probably just start using the vinegar cleaner unless someone notices and complains. :) 
Most of these things you probably already have in your kitchen cabinet. You can purchase washing soda and borax at Walmart or online, and can usually find castile soap in a health foods store or online. For a year's worth of cleaning and laundry supplies, $25-30 is a very doable amount for a family. We spent more than that this year since we're still buying some conventional products and dishwasher soap (which is pricey...) but my goal is to move into more natural cleaners through 2013 which can save money too! 
What are your favorite cleaning supplies? 

Natural on a Budget: Food

Continuing the Natural on a Budget blog series, I am going to tackle food. This can be a huge topic and vary greatly from family to family. (And even within families :-) One of the most important beginnings in proper health and medical care is diet, which makes this subject even more important!

I've written a little on my blog in the past about food, specifically about sugars and fats. You can read those articles here and here.

I hope to be writing more articles in the future, especially about what I'm learning in my Nutritional Counseling certificate! To preface this blog, you should know that my approach in nutrition is in large part drastically different than what you'll get from the FDA, mainstream nutritional advice, or traditional medical doctors and dieticians. I am learning more and more each day and really enjoy researching various perspectives on proper eating habits.
I believe that good food is a budget priority. I am willing to sacrifice in other areas to be able to buy healthy, nutritious food. While I aim to be as frugal and wise about spending as possible, I do esteem good food higher than other things. This is mainly because eating well saves medical costs in the long run. Proper nutrition is key for bodies to function properly and when you're taking care of your body, you spend drastically less on medical costs. In that way, food pays for itself. I should also state that I don't buy packaged organic or healthy convenience foods like frozen chicken nuggets, pizzas, cookies, crackers, cereals, etc. Even though they're better than conventional packaged foods, they are expensive and we couldn't afford to eat naturally if we relied on any amount of convenience foods.
I've grocery shopped, meal planned, and cooked for my family for several years and at this point in life do most of the jobs pertaining to the above duties. While I'm not nearly as experienced in budgeting and cooking as many, I do hope I can share a little bit of what I've found has worked for my family and me.
Fruits and Vegetables We eat a lot of fresh produce. This Summer, my Mom and family had a garden and we were able to bring in a ton of food for eating and also preserving to eat later. If you can, try to grow your own vegetables as it saves lots of money! Other ways to save are to buy through a farmer's market (year-round or seasonal), directly from a farm, in bulk, through a program such as Bountiful Baskets, and stocking up when something goes on sale. For example, our farmer's market/produce barn had bananas on sale for about 10c a pound several months ago so we bought 20 pounds of bananas and froze them to use in smoothies, banana breakfast bread, thaw out for snacks, etc. We also buy fruit from Azure Standard in 25lb boxes that will last us for 2-3 weeks. Usually you can get quality, organic fruit at a good price: apples, pears, and oranges at 50c-$1.10 a pound. While organic produce is a plus, it can be expensive, so check out this "Clean 15" and "Dirty Dozen" list to know which produce doesn't really matter if it's organic or not: We also don't buy expensive produce like berries, mushrooms, etc. and stick to the basics of onions, carrots, celery, lettuce, etc. at cheaper prices. We do buy frozen berries for smoothies in 10lb cases from Azure for significantly cheaper than average grocery store prices and also occasionally buy dried fruit in the bulk bins at the grocery store to put in oatmeal, homemade trail mix, etc.
Grains We buy rice, oats, polenta, quinoa, wheat berries for grinding into flour, and other grains from Azure Standard. (Usually in 25 or 50 lb bags) It saves money to buy in large quantities and they keep in 5gallon buckets for a long time. Get creative with breakfasts - polenta with butter and veggies is a yummy start, oatmeal is just about the cheapest breakfast around and can be made in dozens of ways, rice with milk and cinnamon is fun too... the list goes on. We don't buy cereal unless it is less than $2 a box and even that is rare. Try buying bulk granola or making your own...  it's a great cereal alternative and super simple. (We buy 25lb of granola when Azure has it on sale and then ration accordingly. It is a fun treat for snacks or breakfasts)  We buy pasta in bulk from the grocery store and eat that about once a week.
Non-animal ProteinsBeans and lentils are my favorites, and cheap too! Stretch your taco meat with pinto or black beans, add pureed white beans to make creamy vegetable soups, use chickpeas to make hummus, use lentils rather than ground beef/turkey in your next casserole, put beans or lentils on top of salads... the list goes on and on. We buy beans in 25lb bags from Azure, again saving money by buying in bulk.
Peanut butter is a culprit for hydrogenated oils which are detrimental to health, so read the ingredients label and aim for organic or natural peanut butter without added sugars. We buy 2 gallon buckets from Azure usually about twice per year. Almond butter is my personal favorite since I'm not huge on peanut butter but one little jar can be $8-12 so I try to limit myself to two jars a year. Buying nuts in bulk is a great option too, but they can go rancid so you have to be more careful than when you're buying beans or grains.
Dairy Products Milk is considered by most to be a staple, but limiting milk consumption and use can not only benefit your health, but also your wallet. Raw milk is the best (it's ok, don't freak out, here's all your questions answered and safety hazards debunked: but it can be hard to find a source at an affordable price. (Plan to pay $5-10 a gallon) Organic milk is your next best bet but pasteurization and homogenization makes it subpar to raw milk, though it's easier to find. (Plan to pay $4-6 a gallon) Try looking for raw milk sources here:, consider buying a "share" in a cow for a raw milk co-op, find a farmer who's willing to sell or share, or call local health food stores to see who's got it.  I personally hate to drink milk but love using raw milk to make other dairy products, and my family enjoys milk.
We buy yogurt by the case from Azure for about $3.50 a container, but you can find full-fat, all-natural, no-stabilizer yogurt at some grocery stores for less than that sometimes and you can also make your own for even cheaper! (One of my goals for 2013...) I also want to experiment with kefir which is just YUMMY and so good for you but SO expensive at the store.
We buy cheese (usually 10-15 lbs a month) from Azure in 5lb blocks. They have white raw milk cheddar at an unbeatable price and their mozzerella is a staple for my fam. :) If you can't use 5 lbs before it goes bad, consider shredding and freezing. It thaws quite well and doesn't change the taste or consistency.
At this point we just buy conventional butter from the grocery store for $2-3 a pound. If it's on sale, we try to stock up and freeze what we can't use. Butter is a health food! Don't be scared of it. :) Buttermilk, whipping cream, etc. are usually just bought at the conventional grocery store since they're a rarity.
Meat and Eggs This is probably the most expensive part of eating. Meat isn't necessary for every meal and you can stretch it even longer by cutting it with beans, lentils, veggies, or starches. It's tempting to buy the cheap stuff but not worth it in the long-run. (Watch Food, INC for a start on the why...) Make your meat last longer... when I cook a whole chicken (purchased from a friend who raises organic, soy-corn free [which means GMO free! really important... do some research] chickens and turkeys), it lasts for at least four meals. For example, the first meal we might eat it by itself or on rice/potatoes with veggies. Next meal would be shredded in a chicken pot pie or casserole or on a salad. Next I'd make bone broth out of the carcass and use it to make two pots of soup. This chicken that cost $12-18 dollars just fed 6 people for 4 meals. Well worth it nutritionally! Try to locate a farmer near you who raises animals naturally... usually it's cheaper to buy good quality meat from farmers directly than through the grocery store. We have a butcher shop near us where I can find chicken breasts for $1.99 a pound and ground beef for $2.68 a pound sometimes... I buy 10 or 20 lbs of each and keep the freezer stocked. We've also bought part of a cow where you get several cuts of meat which is a cost effective option as well. We'll buy turkey bacon or turkey/chicken sausage on occasion when we can find it on sale and then I'll use small portions in egg/veggie breakfast casseroles.
Speaking of eggs, currently we buy Azure eggs for $3-4 a dozen. It can seem like a lot but they are much more nutritionally dense and well worth it! We go through a lot of eggs at my house and they're a prime breakfast or snack option.
Baking Products and SeasoningsWe buy wheat berries in bulk from Azure to grind into flour as I mentioned earlier and all the baking I do is with either hard red wheat or soft white-wheat whole-wheat pastry flour. Wheat berries are less than 50c a pound. Bleached, enriched, white, all-purpose flour is to be nixed completely - it harms your poor digestive system. Baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, seasonings, etc. are all bought in 5+ lb bags from Azure for about the same price as you're paying for the little 6oz container at the grocery store. Bulk saves serious money, especially in seasonings. Oil (canola, olive, and coconut) are all bought in gallons from Azure and we also get Apple Cider Vinegar from them too. We get condiments usually just from the grocery store but Vegenaise (like mayo but better) in a gallon from Azure that lasts a while and a goal of 2013 is to make my own condiments. We make oil and vinegar salad dressings at home but also buy salad dressing from the grocery store (a habit I'm trying to end in 2013 and learn to make more of my own).
Sweeteners I am to use no artificial sweeteners and refined white sugar. We buy stevia powder, raw honey, molasses, and evaporated cane juice crystals in bulk from Azure and use as sparingly as possible. I make unsweetened applesauce and can it myself from juice grade apples we buy in the fall for 25-50c a pound and use that too. If I'm baking cookies for a birthday, I generally cut the sugar in half (at least) and substitute with the cane juice crystals and then cut the oil in half and substitute with unsweetened applesauce. I'm also experimenting with baking with honey. For the most part I try to use sweeteners as seldom as possible, but am not 100% sugar-free. I'd love to be able to afford pure maple syrup but it's so expensive so I've been making my own for pancakes with cane juice crystals, water, and maple extract.
Packaged Foods We buy all-natural tortilla chips from the grocery store and usually have those on hand or I'll occasionally buy whole-wheat crackers to have with cheese but otherwise I don't buy chips or crackers or snacky foods. We all enjoy CLIF or Luna bars so I try to stock up when Azure has cases on sale for less than $1 a bar. They're handy during sports seasons when you're running out the door to a game so though they're not the most frugal, it's a convenience food that's worth it. (Plus I haven't found any particular recipe I've made myself that I've liked) As much as possible we try to stay away from packaged food!
BreadGoal of 2013 is to master making my own bread! For now, we buy 100% whole-wheat all-natural bread from the grocery store for $2-3 a loaf. We buy cases of whole-wheat tortillas to freeze from Azure but I want to make my own of those too. Sandwiches and wraps with veggies and cheese are common around my house - especially with athletes and kids in school. Hamburger buns and things like that aren't usually around but I try to keep one package of the whole-wheat ones from the grocery store in the freezer for a quick meal with veggies and shredded chicken on them.
Does eating healthy take time and planning? YES! Don't say you're too busy to try - I am a part-time student, work 20-25 hours a week, play sports, have a family, and try to sleep 8 hours at night. :) (I know a lot of you are busier than I am and still make it work!) I meal plan once a week, and then grocery store and produce barn shop about once a week or every other week and we pick up Azure every 2 weeks. Planning ahead saves a ton of time.
If you're not able to use food in such big quantities, try a food co-op or sharing with a friend. Also I've been trying to get better about bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. They usually give you 5-10c discount per bag and that adds up over time. If you have any tips on how not to forget them in your car, let me know. :P We don't eat out... like ever. Sometimes I will get food after a game out of town but by and large, my family doesn't eat out but for birthdays or celebrations once or twice a year. This also saves major money.
What about you? How do you save on food and how much do you spend? It can be a hard balance to find and I know I'm working to improve as well.

Natural Ways to Overcome Sick Season

Seems like everywhere you look, someone or some sign is warning you of the flu. In fact, the CDC is saying this is the worst flu season in over a decade. Besides the flu, there are plenty of colds, coughs, viruses, and general sickness going around. But before you call the doctor, here are some ways to avoid sickness and treat it if you've caught it.

1. Decrease Sugar Intake (Or Eliminate Altogether If You're Already Sick)
Just one teaspoon of sugar suppresses your immune system for up to 5 hours after consumption. Eat sugar several times a day, and you're setting your immune system up for hard work to have to deal with sugar so it can't protect you from sickness as effectively.

2. Increase Vegetable Intake
Your body is always striving for homeostasis/balance and needs a balanced pH level. Sugar, white grains, caffeine, etc. provide acidic ash for your body to process and when your body is working to neutralize itself, it naturally gives less attention to fighting disease. Veggies and certain fruits help keep your body alkaline and properly balanced, and additionally contain many helpful vitamins and nutrients to strengthen your immune system.

3. Sleep Well
Sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night gives your body the chance to rejuvenate and heal itself. Lack of sleep is lack of sufficient melatonin secretion, which in turn suppresses your immune system.

4. Hydrate
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day... add a little lemon to help your body's pH balance out. Dehydration even in the slightest amount reduces your body's ability to fight disease. Drinking water also helps keep your cells and mucous membranes (which keep invaders out of your body) soft and moist which help them fight germs better.

5. Wash Your Hands
But stay away from hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps! They not only kill the bad germs, but also the beneficial bacteria that keep your body balanced. Excessive use can also lead to anti-biotic resistant bacteria, which is a growing issue. Most of the hand sanitizers and anti-bac soaps contain triclosan which is a dangerous chemical linked to endocrine issues, as well as mass amounts of alcohol. Alcohol dries the skin which can invite bacteria into the body through the dry and cracked skin. So, to keep your hands clean, use normal, non-anti-bac soap and warm water as much as possible. But, when you're on the go and don't have a sink nearby, you can make your own hand-sanitizer with aloe vera gel, witch hazel, and tea tree oil. Another option would be to use a spritz bottle with water and a little bit of plain soap (such as baby mild castile soap).

So, what if you're already sick or have a cold... sore throat, cough, running nose, etc. Here are some ways to get healthy again. (In addition to the preventative tips already listed above)

1. Drink warm tea with honey and lemon
Sore throats can be painful, so to soothe them try making some mild tea (like chamomile) and adding a healthy dose of honey and some lemon juice. It's actually quite tasty and coats even the sorest of throats and calms coughs. Add ginger if you've got stomach issues (or not - it's yummy too), and a little cayenne pepper if you can handle it, as it will kill bacteria especially if you have strep. 

2. Coconut oil
Mix a tablespoon or two of coconut oil in with your tea or soup. It has anti-microbial properties and is an anti-viral plus it is just a great supplement all around -- don't just take it when you're sick. :)

3. Drink bone broth
Make some broth out of a good quality whole chicken or beef bone. (Super simple - just stick it in a pot on the stove on low with water and let simmer overnight) It contains natural gelatin which will help balance your intestinal flora (you want more good bacteria than bad in your gut so you don't get sick) and hydrate your cells and membranes. It also has amino acids that help cleanse your body of toxins, and contains a ton of nutrients to help heal. Add some seasalt to replenish elecrolytes, especially if you have cold sweats.

4. Don't treat your fever
This could be a blog post in and of itself, but basically, your body uses the fever to kill the germs. Now, I do believe at a point (fever over 104 for more than a day, etc.) they should be treated but by and large, fevers are beneficial. Read this article for all the reason's why:

5. Use essential oils
Peppermint and eucalyptus oils in a humidifier or applied directly to your chest can help coughs and sore throats. Ginger, lavender, and peppermint oils behind your ears or onto your stomach can help upset stomachs and vomiting.

And please, please, please don't get the flu shot and don't give it to your children. It's a guessing game on what strains of flu it will actually protect from and contains dangerous ingredients that could actually weaken your immune system. Use the $30 you were going to spend on a flu shot to invest in aforementioned ingredients from tips above instead. Again, this could be a whole other blog post but here are some articles to read if you're considering getting one:

Sometimes your body just gets sick and that's reality. Being sick sometimes is normal, getting sick every month is probably a symptom of a bigger health problem. I get sick about once a year and am usually down for at least four or five days but that is usually about it - this year it was strep throat (not 100% sure it was strep... but some kind of throat thing), last year it was a stomach bug. It ALWAYS happens the week between sports - this year the week between volleyball and basketball, last year the week between basketball and track - so at least now I know and can be prepared. ;)

What about you? What sorts of remedies do you find helpful?

Natural on a Budget: Medicine Cabinet

It seems like there is a pharmacy on every corner and the medicine aisle of the grocery store gets bigger and bigger. The pharmaceutical industry is running rampant in our society, and it seems like for every little bump we are going to the doctor or seeking a pill to cure us. I am thankful for modern medicine and believe it to be helpful in many cases; but, overall, it is far overused. Toxins and harsh chemicals enter our bodies through average over-the-counter medicines and so here are a few things I keep on hand to self-heal whenever possible.

The class I am currently taking in my Nutritional Counseling certification program has been a really informative resource for nutritional and natural healing remedies. Literally 800 pages worth of natural, often inexpensive, fixes!

1. Coconut Oil
Put on mild scratches, burns (gym floor or otherwise :P), scrapes, etc. Basically a "Neosporin" type of substitute. Love the stuff!

2. Colloidal Silver
For spraying on sore throats and curing strep, it is like magic! Also in ears to get rid of earaches or infections. You can also use it topically on more serious burns or boils. For yeast infections of any kind, it is said to work well, but I have not tried this myself.

3. Tea Tree Oil
I use this to clean wounds before bandaging, and also for insect bites. 

4. Arnica
We have oral tablets that can be used like ibuprofen, as well as cream/gel for sore muscles or body aches.

5. Essential Oils
Peppermint essential oil rubbed on your temples generally help headaches, and along with eucalyptus oil can be used to help breathing and colds. Ginger or lavender essential oils on stomach or behind ears help with nausea.

6. Apple Cider Vinegar
They come in tablet forms if you can't handle the nastiness. :) For general detox, colds, pH balancing, stomach ailments, and much more.

7. Bentonite Clay
Put this on scrapes, cuts, etc. and also on face breakouts, insect bites, and more. I've heard it can be taken internally but I've only used it externally. Apparently it is good for food poisoning as well.

I'd also like to make a case for preventative medicine. I take a whole food based Multi-Vitamin, get adjusted at the chiropractor about once per month, drink or take probiotics, and try to take care of myself by sleeping, drinking enough water, and eating properly. Benjamin Franklin said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure", and there is a lot of truth to that!

What are your favorite natural medicine cabinet staples?

Gut Health for Good Health

As you sit reading this post, 100 trillion little micro-organisms are abiding in your gut. Keep in mind that one-trillion dollar bills laid end to end would stretch from the earth to the sun and back again... times that by 100 and you can start to vaguely imagine just how many little creatures call your gut their home. These intestinal flora are responsible for a bevy of your bodily functions, including normal gastrointestinal function, metabolism regulation, infection protection, vitamin absorption, and so much more. About 70-75 percent of your immune system is housed in your intestinal tract, so you can see why a balanced gut is key to healthy living.

It's crucial to maintain an adequate level of healthy flora in your gut, not only since they are beneficial, but also because they need to be more prevalent than bad bacteria to keep your body balanced and free of illness. Additionally, beneficial bacteria help to strengthen the immune system by adapting to foreign bacteria and building up resistance and immunity against them.

In the Standard American Diet, there are plenty of ways that the average person kills their beneficial intestinal flora each and every day. The most obvious way being through anti-biotics which are occasionally necessary and lifesaving, but most of the time excessive and unnecessary as the body was made to heal itself. One might not consider that other medications such as ibuprofen, birth control pills, and more also diminish flora in your gut. White carbs and refined sugar are also major culprits.

There are several ways to help your body gain more beneficial bacteria. Cultured foods such as yogurt and kefir (without added sugar) made from dairy are a great way to add probiotics into your diet. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickled vegetables are another prime source. Beverages that contain beneficial bacteria include water kefir and kombucha. Some people prefer to take probiotics in capsules but this is not as potent of a method.

Personally, I try to consume one serving of a probiotic food or drink per day, most commonly it is kombucha or dairy kefir or yogurt. Fermenting and culturing foods is a fairly simple process and usually just requires prepping a few ingredients and leaving them out for a few days. I've had success making yogurt, kefir, pickled vegetables, and kombucha. Some of these foods can be an acquired taste, but starting with the milder tasting ones like water kefir or adding fruit to dairy yogurt and kefir can be a good way to start.

Healthy guts are key to healthy bodies and there are plenty of tasty ways to help restore them. How about you? What are your favorite ways to get probiotics into your diet?

Feeding Babies

On average, I spend about fifteen hours per week caring for young children and am also the eldest in my family so I have younger siblings around pretty much 24/7. I definitely see children's nutrition as a hugely important issue! I want to start off this post be saying that I am not a parent and thus cannot tell you exactly what is right for your child(ren), as I believe ultimately parents are responsible for their children and need to make the best decisions for their family. However, I research and learn to the best of my ability so the goal is that you'll be able to apply this information in feeding your children. :)

Breast milk is the most nutritionally superior and natural food to nourish babies. Not only does it provide the perfect balance of fat, calories, protein, and carbohydrates, but it aids in the development of healthy gut flora for a strong immune system. (See why this matters here) Mother's milk contains omega-3's, DHA, ARA, enzymes to aid in digestion of fat called lipase, antimicrobial enzymes, cholesterol (important for brain development), highly digestible form of iron, and so much more. In addition the vast nutritional benefits, nursing is a key way of emotional bonding between mother and child. From a pure common sense stand point, nursing is cheaper and easier. No bottles or equipment to warm or clean, no expensive formula to buy and risk running out of at an inconvenient time, and all you need to feed is yourself and your child. Nursing should hopefully continue to AT LEAST one year, preferably at least two years, but some mothers choose to nurse longer.

Though nursing is not always possible, it is usually a lot more doable than some medical personnel make it out to be. The mother's body is designed to nourish a child and generally does not need formula supplementation to do this. In my personal experience, I have known many mothers who have been "scared off" from nursing their baby because their doctor told them the baby wasn't getting enough nutrition. While I am sure at times there is truth in this and sometimes supplementation is required, by and large mothers are capable of nourishing their baby without modern intervention. For mothers unable to nurse for whatever reason, there are several homemade formula recipes that are much more nourishing than commercial formulas which are usually filled with extra sugars, GMOs, vegetable oils, and preservatives. You can find some recipes using raw cows or goats milk here. Also, look into milk sharing and milk donor banks.

Starting Solids
The common first food in our society is rice cereal. Amylase is the enzyme necessary for grain digestion and is only present in scant amounts in a baby's digestive system, thus making it unwise for a grain to be the first food. Most commercial infant cereals are highly refined and contain preservatives. Promising first foods include cooked egg yolk (not the white, which contains hard-to-digest proteins and shouldn't be fed until baby is 12 months) and steamed and mashed vegetables such as avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes or squash, peas, and carrots. Remember that breast milk contains lactose (a sugar) and is sweeter than vegetables. Often mashing the veggies with breast milk or banana will give baby a familiar taste to help accustom them to the new flavors. Mashed fruits such as applesauce, pears, or prune puree are sweeter and thus should be introduced after vegetables or else you run the risk of your baby rejecting vegetables in favor of the sweeter fruits. Simply steaming and mashing vegetables and then freezing them in ice cube trays is a cheap, easy way to make your own baby food.

Now that good first food options have been established, the obvious question remains, when should baby begin solid foods? Breast milk is nutritionally sufficient through age 12 months so there is no need to rush starting solids. Babies digestive systems are still developing, and as a general rule, solids should not be started until 6 months. Common signs of readiness include loss of tongue thrust reflex, stability sitting up without assistance, and able to make a "chewing" motion with mouth. If you start solids and baby gets diaper rash, spits up more than usual, or has no interest in food, it's too early so try again in a few weeks. Remember that breast milk is still the baby's key source of nourishment so the mother's continued focus on a nutrient-dense diet to nourish her baby is important.

Key Nutrients for Babies 
Babies need fat, cholesterol, and calories to grow and develop properly. Healthy brains, cardiovascular systems, eyes, and bodies require all sorts of nutrients and thus a varied diet is advisable.  Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly important, so consider adding a small amount of cod liver oil into baby's solid foods and if you are nursing, ingesting it yourself so that your baby may gain the nutritional benefits from your milk. Iron is also important for growing babies which is why egg yolks are a great food to be feeding your little one.

Often, keeping a "schedule" of what foods you will feed each day helps to ensure adequate vitamin intake through various vegetables. For example, broccoli on Monday, avocado on Tuesday, squash on Wednesday, etc. This way, you make sure your baby gets different nutrients from different foods.


Remember that you are developing your baby's palate for life. Children can actually like vegetables if they're fed them at a young age. :) Avoiding sugar as much as possible is recommended as keeping children from getting addicted to sugar is doing them a major health favor.

What other questions might you have about nutrition for babies?