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Sunscreen: Chemical vs. Mineral


 

If you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you are probably beginning to feel the anticipation of summer sunshine as we make our way through the flora and fauna of springtime.  Longer days, warmer temperatures, ladybugs, and budding flowers all signify the vernal equinox of nature’s renewal.

With the warm, serotonin-inducing promise of summer sunbeams comes the need for sun protection.  Modern societies worldwide seem to have an unhealthy or unbalanced relationship with the sun; we either get way too much or not nearly enough.  There is a reason nature designed our bodies to efficiently synthesize vitamin D from the sun, while punishing us with skin-peeling pain if we get too much. It is finding a healthy balance that seems to elude us.

Extremes of anything are typically not a good thing.  An obsession for basking in the sun is clearly damaging, yet fearing and preventing any exposure at all is risky as well.  In Western societies, we think of a deep tan as a projection of health and radiance.  In Eastern cultures, pure white, almost translucent, freckle-free skin is the desired aesthetic.   Not surprisingly, Western cultures have more skin-related problems (cancer, pre-mature aging) than our Eastern friends, however vitamin D deficiency throughout Asia is a serious problem.

So what’s the answer?  Experts and skincare manufacturing companies have butt heads over the issue for a long time; creating elaborate scare-tactic marketing schemes that either demonize the sun or the creams that block its penetration. We must create a balance.  In truth, only 10-15 minutes of bare skin sun exposure a few times a week is sufficient for maintaining adequate vitamin D levels (however, as we age, we may need to supplement).  Therefore, vitamin D synthesis is not justification for lying out in the sun all day, working on those tan lines country musicians love to sing about.  Balance is key.  Some people are extremely fair and sensitive to the sun so even 10-15 minutes of exposure can be damaging.  For you ivory beauties, I hope you like mushrooms. There is exciting evidence emerging that if you let shrooms sit out in the sun for a day (even after being “picked”), they will synthesize vitamin D in a way that makes it very bio-available to our bodies when we eat the fungi.

To prevent pre-mature aging and skin cancer, we do certainly need to protect our skin from excess UVA/UVB exposure.  While the best option would be to hang in the shade, wear a JLo hat and a turtle neck, this get-up is simply not practical.  Thus, we have a need for sunscreen.   For centuries, tropical cultures around the globe have used pure, unrefined coconut oil as a natural sun protectant.  This may seem odd at first (oil? Wouldn’t I burn?). Studies have shown that coconut oil actually acts as natural sun protection when applied to the skin.  Some people swear that coconut oil, head to toe, is all they need.  Vitamin D still gets absorbed but the burn is held at bay.  If you have skin that naturally rarely burns, then this may just work for you.  The majority of the Western population, however, will probably need something more.

Sunscreens offer either chemical or mineral protection.  Modern science and technology has allowed companies to create chemical concoctions that do in fact prevent our skin from absorbing harmful UVA and UVB rays.  The problem is that our permeable skin absorbs these chemicals, which have shown to be toxic to our reproductive systems.  These chemicals mimic our body’s natural hormones and can lead to major hormone disruption and perhaps even cancer.  So while you may be preventing a sunburn, you are still putting your health at risk.

Top 6 FDA-Approved Active Ingredients on the Naughty List:

Oxybenzone

Avobenzone – *while relatively non-toxic, this chemical commonly causes allergic reactions and should still be avoided.  It requires extra chemical stabilizers to prevent it from breaking down from sun exposure.

Octisalate

Octocrylene

Homosalate

Octinoxate

 

The number one bad boy is oxybenzone, which is found in 80% of chemical sunscreens in the United States.  Fortunately, all these ingredients are listed on the product so you can easily avoid them.

Courtesy of the Environmental Working Group, here is a handy chart that breaks down all the common sunscreen ingredients used in the US, from most toxic to least.

As you can see, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide fall low on the chart.  These are the two active ingredients that make up all mineral sunscreens.  Instead of being absorbed like chemical sunscreens (which is why you have to wait 30 minutes after application before going out in the sun), mineral sunscreen acts as a physical barrier to the sun and actually just sits on top of the skin. The minerals are natural and much more eco-friendly.  That being said, there are still certain risks and uncertainties with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Some mineral sunscreen companies use these two minerals in nanoparticle form, which may make a nice feeling product, but this enables our bodies to absorb the minerals.  Research is ongoing, but it has been suggested that mineral nanoparticles can accumulate in different organs in our bodies and cause complications.  But ah, we do have an answer for that.  Some companies have abandoned the nanoparticle technology and ensure their consumers that the minerals are not nano sized (“non-nano”).  This is the safest bet we currently have.

Bottom line.  100% natural, mineral (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), non-nano, sunscreen is the safest product that we can use on a daily basis, given current scientific evidence.  Better yet, look for organic, vegan, cruelty-free lines.   Avoid all chemical sunscreens containing the Naughty List ingredients (I see you Coppertone, Neutrogena, Banana Boat).  Some drugstore lines, including Aveeno, have “baby” versions of sunscreen that are typically mineral based.  While they may not be organic or cruelty-free, they will do in a pinch.

All sunscreen needs to be re-applied every 60-90 minutes and more often if you are swimming or sweating a lot.  Some mineral sunscreens may seem more expensive than their chemical counterparts, but avoiding allergies, skin irritation, hormone disruption, and cancer makes the extra cents worth it.

Below are some of my favorite natural, nano-free, mineral sunscreens.

coola

Suntegrity

*All images are from the product company’s pages. These are my honest faves, no sponsorship or endorsement here.

 

Love and light,

Renee

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Lemon + Poppy Oat Cakes


 (2 of 2)

 

I was always more of a French toast kind of girl but after experimenting with making some healthy pancakes, I finally came up with a great base recipe that just may compete with the king of sweet brekkies.   These oat pancakes are clean and healthy, providing a nutritious start to your day.  I chose to share the lemon and poppy seed variation but you could flavor them any way you like (vanilla with hemp seeds, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice, walnut and banana, cocao nibs and coconut….).  With spring arriving, I thought something lemony-fresh was in order.

 

Lemon + Poppy Oat Cakes

½ cup oat flour* (you can grind your own by pulsing old fashion rolled oats in a blender)

½ cup rolled oats* (gluten-free if you need)

2 Tablespoons coconut or palm sugar or sweetener of choice (if using liquid, just reduce a bit of the almond milk)

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon poppy seeds

½ teaspoon lemon zest, fresh or dried

1 Tablespoon white vinegar

Scant pinch of sea salt

¾  cup unsweetened, vanilla almond milk (or any milk of choice)

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 Tablespoons organic, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil

1 whole egg  (use only the egg white, if you must. Don’t fear the yolk!)

Yield: about 6 pancakes

 

Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium sized bowl.

Combine all the wet ingredients in a second medium size bowl.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mixed until just combined.

Let batter sit in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

Spoon ¼ cup of batter into the dry skillet (the coconut oil already in the batter will prevent sticking).

After a couple minutes, bubbles should start forming on the top of the pancakes.  Time to flip.

After another minute or so, pancakes should be done!

 

lemon poppy oat cakes

 

*Certified gluten-free oats can be used for those with Celiac.  I have also used ½ quinoa flour and ½ rice flour in place of the oats and oat flour.  Yum yum.

I like to drizzle these spring cakes with plain yogurt mixed with a bit of lemon juice and honey. Today, I added some mashed blueberries to the yogurt.  I have also made these with vanilla extract and shmeared coconut manna all over them with slices of fresh mango.  Helllooooo spring!

 

-Renee

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Matcha Maca Latte


I want to preface this post: I love coffee. Each morning, I look forward to my cup o’ jo, brimming with coconut oil and black liquid goodness. I don’t rely on coffee to get me moving, however, I just simply enjoy the taste and feeling I get while drinking it (ok, maybe I do like the caffeine perk).

Viewing coffee consumption from a health standpoint sparks much debate and conflicting evidence. Among the varying opinions, there are some facts that cannot be argued. The caffeine in coffee will certainly give you energy, mental focus, and may help you burn fat. Because coffee is brewed from a bean, the resulting cup contains riboflavin, pantothenic acid, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and niacin. Coffee is also loaded with antioxidants, and we all known those are good. Some experts argue that all these benefits are cancelled out when considering the diuretic and stimulant side effects of coffee consumption. Adding sugary flavored syrups, whipped cream, chocolate and caramel syrup to the ever popular designer drink does, without a doubt, leech any benefit from the coffee itself. Enjoyed in moderation, without added sugar, and sourced responsibly, I am able to savor my morning cup.

Now, as with many other wonderful things, it is hard to stop after just one cup. We run into trouble when we find ourselves downing the entire pot of coffee ourselves and relying on it as an afternoon pick-me-up. Too much caffeine can cause anxiety, agitation, GI upset, dehydration, and insomnia. I, for one, have certainly been guilty of sipping coffee all day long in the past. I came to believe that my caffeine tolerance was sky high because I was able to drink two cups and take a nap. Oye. Since then, I enjoy my drink sensibly and regularly swap my jo for something a little less stimulating and a little more fabulous. My matcha maca latte.

Matcha

It has long been accepted that green tea has an impressive polyphenol, antioxidant, and flavonoid content. The catechin Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG ) has brought fame to green tea and its extract has become a popular supplement. Multiple diseases are believed to be impacted by ingesting EGCG. Studies have suggested there to be a cancer preventative effect from drinking green tea. Problem is, you need to drink 10+ cups a day to get anywhere near the amount that is suggested to have a therapeutic effect.
Enter matcha. Matcha is a Japanese type of green tea made from high quality shade grown green tea leaves. The leaves have undergone a special process which results in minimal oxidation, therefore preserving their potent antioxidant power. The leaves are essentially ground into a very fine powder that, when whisked with hot water or milk, creates a creamy, silky tea drink. Unlike steeped tea where the leaves are discarded, matcha tea actually involves ingesting the finely ground leaves. Because of this, the EGCG and antioxidant power of matcha is over three times that of regular steeped green tea. We know that blueberries have lots of antioxidants but to put it in perspective, matcha, by weight, has dozens more antioxidants than blueberries (> 1000mmol/100g vs. 9mmol/100g, respectively). Matcha also has a bit of caffeine, just the right amount to be beneficial while giving you a boost.

Gelatinized Maca

Maca root powder, hailing from the Andes Mountains of Peru, has long been recognized by indigenous Andean societies for its healing and nutritive powers. You can find it in both raw and gelatinized (still a powder) form. Some argue that raw is the way to go but it is also known that raw maca root can make people violently ill. Because of this, I can’t in good conscious recommend the raw version. The gelatinized maca has undergone a process in which the starch has been removed, therefore making it more easily digestible and eliminating the risk of stomach upset.
Maca has been found to have a hormone balancing effect in both men and women. It may even make you a little randy. Sustained energy without the jitters or crash, reduced stress, and mental clarity have been said to result from the hormone balancing effect of gelatinized maca. In addition to making your hormones happy, maca also contains impressive amounts of amino acids, essential minerals, fiber, alkaloids, plant sterols, phytonutrients, vitamins, and fatty acids. Oh, and it has a subtle butterscotch flavor. Everyone wins.

 
Matcha Maca Latte

1 teaspoon matcha powder (A little goes a long way! Plus, it is kind of spendy.)
2 teaspoons gelatinized maca
1 mug’s worth of vanilla unsweetened almond milk (or coconut milk) *For a less creamy drink, use ½ water.
½ teaspoon vanilla extract or powder
1 Tablespoon organic, raw, unfiltered honey (to taste)
1 Tablespoon organic, cold pressed, extra virgin coconut oil (optional)
Serves: 1
In a small saucepan, gently heat almond milk (and water, if using) over medium heat.
Add vanilla, matcha powder, and maca powder. Whisk continuously to prevent any clumps.
Add honey and coconut oil (if using) and continue whisking.
The mixture is ready when it becomes slightly fragrant, with a hint of steam, but does NOT boil. You do not want to scald the matcha.
Pour into a mug and enjoy.

 

This is a great alternative for those wishing to cut back on their coffee habit. Because it has some caffeine, it will prevent the withdrawal headaches associated with kicking the habit, while still providing sustained energy. The monks were certainly on to something with this stuff.
*Matcha powder is not cheap. I order mine online and because a little goes a long way, it will last a really long time, if stored properly (air tight, away from light). This powder can also be used in baking or in banana ice cream to infuse a green tea flavor and color.

Cheers.

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100 Percent Pure Fruit-dyed Mascara


mascara

If someone were to ask me what my staple cosmetics item would be, it would be mascara.  Before switching to all natural companies,  I would always be on the hunt for the best way to get the lush lashes I have always wanted.  I have decent lashes, they are just blonde and pretty much invisible.  L’Oreal and Maybellinel were typically my go to brands when it came to mascara (any other L’Oreal Voluminous or Maybelline One-by-One lovers out there??).  While they were effective, they did flake and smudge.  I hate waterproof mascaras and because I wear contacts, flakes of coal falling in my eyes is a pain in the butt.  My eyes were always slightly irritated from the crunchy feel of my lashes but that’s the price we pay right? Eh nah.  I began doing some research and truth is, there are some down right sketchy things added to mascara in particular that I bet if you knew about them, you would think twice.  Sure, makeup is not a necessity and of course it would be easiest to just stop wearing it but you don’t have to.

Mercury

Tuna is not the only thing you need to be concerned about when it comes to mercury; the FDA and the European Union still allow the use of mercury in mascaras as a preservative (small amounts).   You probably won’t find it on the ingredients label because unlike food, the FDA does not require cosmetic companies to list all ingredients to their products.  The cosmetics industry is overall very loosely regulated but I will go into that another time.  Mercury is known to do nasty things to our bodies and placing it directly around the delicate eye area seems…..risky?

Beryllium

Another heavy metal which is common in conventional mascaras.  Oh, and it is a known carcinogen that is able to penetrate our skin.

Arsenic

Pretty sure you know what this one is.  Again, a common little addition to conventional cosmetics, especially those claiming to be mineral-based.

Cadmium

If you aren’t familiar with cadmium, I suggest you do a quick Google search for “cadmium poisoning.”  Nasty stuff, and it only takes exposure to trace amounts to begin developing flu-like symptoms.  This toxic metal is what, in 2010, caused Wal-Mart to stop selling Miley Cyrus jewelry; it all contained cadmium (maybe that explains her twerking…).  But, it is still allowed in your mascara.

Formaldehyde

This is particularly common in many cosmetic and personal care items.  It is a preservative, and a darn good one (high-school biology, anyone?).  And no, it will not preserve your lashes.  But it can give you cancer.

The list goes on, not to mention animal cruelty and environmental damage.  We love the “feel” of conventional products because of all the chemical additives, fragrances, and silicons but those things are only potentially hurting our bodies.  We are so used to the artificial qualities of these products that when we try natural alternatives, we are less than impressed.  But, it doesn’t have to be that way.  This mascara I am about to share with you is proof of that.   Another day, I will go more in depth about what ingredients people should have on their radar.  Always researching and learning.

I have to add, I am simply sharing this information because I found it alarming and I do not think enough people are aware of what they are putting ON their bodies.  (Our skin is quite permeable, contrary to what we once thought.)  So this is just that, information, which you can take or leave.  I hope I encourage you to take the power into your own hands and to do a little research yourself.  Check out PubMed or PMC for some peer reviewed research and evidence that elaborates on what I have said here.  Don’t just take my word for it, educate yourself and be mindful. ♥

Now, on to the all natural mascara.

mascara
100 Percent Pure is an amazing company with great cosmetics and skin care products.  As the name suggests, everything is 100% natural, vegan, and cruelty free.   The products are all pigmented with fruit, no joke.  This mascara is dyed with black tea and berry pigments; actually smells like blueberries!  I got the Black Tea color because black is just classic for mascara.  They also have Dark Chocolate, Blackberry, and Blueberry.
Fruit Pigmented Mascara- Black Tea ingredient list from 100PercentPure.com
  • Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract (Organic Green Tea), Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Cera Alba (Honey Beeswax), Rubus Fruticosus Fruit Extract (Blackberry Extract), Ribes Nigrum Fruit Extract (Blackcurrant Extract), Rubus Idaeus Fruit Extract (Raspberry Extract), Hydrolyzed Oat Protein (Oat Protein), Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein (Wheat Protein), Pantothenic Acid (Pro-vitamin B5), Fucus Vesiculosus Extract (Seaweed Powder), Coconut Stearic Acid (Coconut Acid), Mica, Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter (Cocoa Butter), Pearl Powder, Oryza Sativa Germ Powder (Rice Powder), Theobroma Cacao Extract (Cocoa Powder), Coffea Arabica Seed Extract (Powdered Coffee Beans), Mel (Lavender Honey), Origanum Vulgare Leaf Extract (Oregano Extract), Thymus Vulgaris Flower/Leaf Extract (Thyme Extract), Rosmarinus Officinalis Leaf Extract (Rosemary Extract), Lavandula Angustifolia Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract (Lavender Extract), Hydrastis Canadensis Extract (Goldenseal Extract)
According to their website, this mascara is nourishing as well.  It contains vitamin B5, vitamin E, and oat and wheat proteins.  It claims to lengthen, separate, thicken, and gloss your lashes.  I don’t know how they do it but I love it.  It contains no preservatives so of course it needs to be used up, which makes it perfect for daily use. Yes, it is spendy but I find that I actually need less, really only one coat, to get the effect I like.  I think the price is nearly justified given all the yummy ingredients.   Below, the first picture is me with no makeup, next picture is with one coat of the mascara, and the last picture is with two coats.
No makeup, 1 coat, 2 coats
I don’t really know why one eye looks better  than the other, snaggle clump, but that is just operator error.  I think it is great for daytime use and it does not irritate my eyes.  I imagine it would layer well for a more dramatic nighttime sexay look, if that’s your fancy.
Where to buy it
Of course, you can go through their website directly (they will give you free samples), but I like to try White Rabbit Beauty first because they are committed to selling only truly cruelty-free product brands.
Try it out!
*I am not sponsored nor did I receive compensation for mentioning this product.  I purchased it with my own money and just wanted to share my experience.

 

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Chana Masala


chana masala

Oddly enough, for as long as I have followed a vegetarian diet, I had never really dabbled in the world of Indian cuisine.  It was not until I moved to Korea that I experienced this culinary wonder, thanks to my good friend Jenna.  She shared with me her love of Indian food and boy do I owe her.  I guess I had always been intimidated by the spice combinations and I was convinced that I could never get it “right.”  Truth is, once you get the staples, you can’t really mess it up.  And the result is truly epic.

Chana masala has become my go to choice when I find myself in an Indian dining establishment.  Accompanied with basmati rice, some ghee slathered naan, and a thick glass of mango juice; too good for words.  The, uhhh… “unique” smells of Indian cuisine are entirely forgivable once your taste buds experience the depth and delight of flavors.

Aside from the fried options, Indian cuisine is overall fairly healthy.  Spices, vegetables, beans and lentils, and ghee (clarified butter) all do a body good.  Don’t fear the fats!  I use coconut oil in my version, simply because I have that on hand more often than ghee.  But either is essential to the recipe and should not be omitted.  Our bodies need healthy fats to keep our cells happy and our brain healthy.

Cinnamon is the rock-star of this recipe.  I prefer Ceylon or “true” cinnamon, which hails from Sri Lanka and southwest India but the Cassia variety (Chinese) is awesome as well.  The aromatic, sweet, and warming properties of cinnamon make it a wonderful food enhancer during the winter months.   Some of the scientifically confirmed effects of cinnamon include stimulation of the circulatory system, digestion aid, anti-ulcerative properties, anti-inflammatory properties, and antibiotic properties [1].   A more recent study even suggests positive health implications for those with type 2 diabetes.  Benefits of cinnamon can be attributed to its cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alchol content present in the essential oil [1].  It smells good, tastes good, and is good for you; it’s no wonder this ancient spice was at one time considered more precious than gold.

spices

This is the ultimate one-pot-wonder that will give you a flavorful, satisfying, and complete meal. After looking up the basic spice profile for masala, I created my own take on Chana Masala (like chicken Tikka Masala but with chickpeas).    The lycopene and antioxidant power from the tomato sauce, healing properties from fragrant spices, nourishing fats, and protein from the chickpeas (or chicken) make this a fantastic go-to meal.  It freezes well too.  My husband likes his with cubed organic chicken breast.  We probably eat this at least twice a week because it is easy, warming, and outrageously delicious.   This batch is about 8 servings, possibly 12 if you stretch it.  My husband and I usually get 6-8 servings; our portions are generous.

Chana Masala

  • ¼ cup organic, cold pressed coconut oil (or ghee, if you have it)
  • 2 large yellow onions, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin
  • 1-2 teaspoons sea salt (depending on if your tomato sauce has added salt)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (add more or less, depending on how spicy you want it. We like it medium.)
  • 1 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon Hot Madras Curry powder (any curry powder will work, Hot Madras just has an extra kick)
  • 2 (14 ounce) cans of organic, low-salt tomato sauce (make sure it’s BPA free; Muir Glen is a great brand)
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons coconut sugar/stevia/lucuma powder
  • 2 cans organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed

*Optional

  • 4 organic chicken breasts, cubed

 Yield: 8-12 servings

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan or sauce pan (I prefer the sauté pan).  Once melted, add onion and cook until translucent.  About 5 minutes.

Add garlic and continue to cook for another minute.

Add cumin, sea salt, ginger, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, and Hot Madras curry powder.  Fry to about 2 minutes, until very fragrant.

Add tomato sauce and bring to boil.  Then reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add almond milk, paprika, and sweetener of choice.  Simmer for 15 minutes, until thickened.  Stir.  Add chickpeas and simmer another 5 minutes or until chickpeas are heated through.

*If adding chicken, heat some coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add cubed chicken and coat with curry powder.  Sear until just the outer part of the chicken is cooked.  Transfer chicken and any remaining juices to the masala sauce and simmer another 30 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

 

masala

Simmering times are important so don’t skimp.  This allows the masala to develop complex flavors from all the spices.  Serve over basmati rice, quinoa, or broccoli rice (my favorite) with a side of naan.  Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt to cool down the cayenne, if you wish.   I make large batches and freeze it.  That way, I can have dinner in a hurry by just heating it up and pouring over some rice.  Done and done.  I love this stuff.

 

 

[1] Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York: Atria Books.