Why You Should Filter Your Water

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Those of us who care about our health put a lot of thought into selecting and preparing the foods we eat. But what about our water? We all know that staying well hydrated is essential for optimal health, but do we adequately consider the quality of the water we are ingesting?

If you live in a town or city, you likely consume treated water–which is to say, before your water flows through your pipes and into your glass, it passes through a municipal water treatment plant such as the one described in this PBS article. The article, along with another from Scientific American, broaches the problematic issue of pharmaceuticals ending up in our drinking water–our treated drinking water. The EPA, despite regulating dozens of potential contaminants in our municipal water supplies, does not regulate pharmaceuticals. Limited research has been conducted to determine the level of potential risk posed to human health by traces of antibiotics, antidepressants, birth control pills, and other drugs regularly excreted and/or dumped down the drain by people; however, there is substantial documented evidence of damage to aquatic life, so I operate under the assumption that any amount of pharmaceuticals in my water supply is an inherently bad thing.

Other harmful components present in municipal drinking water are chlorine and, often, fluoride (not all municipalities fluoridate their water, but most in the United States do). But wait, we need fluoride for healthy teeth, right? Wrong. Check out this article published in Wise Tradition, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation; it relates the controversial collusion between industry and academia that resulted in an industrial waste product (fluoride) being used to “enhance” municipal water supplies.

Cox was a major force in giving the Mellons and other industrial giants a way to shift liability from their huge fluoride waste dumps by promoting fluoride as a health benefit. He became a vital cog in the fluoridation machine as one of the first researchers to propose, based on his rat studies, that fluoride prevented cavities and to suggest its addition to public water supplies.

Dr. Gerald Cox was a fellow at the Mellon Institute, which received funding from the same Mellon family that owned Alcoa Aluminum; fluoride, incidentally, is a toxic byproduct of aluminum manufacturing. Enough said.

Chlorine is also problematic. It is used in our water supply because it kills pathogens–but it also kills beneficial microorganisms such as those that reside in our guts and perform key functions to support our immune systems (see my post on Gut Health if you’re new to this topic). When we shower and bathe, we also absorb significant quantities of chlorine through our skin.

So what do we do to protect ourselves from the contaminants in our water? Purchasing a filtration or purification system is essential if you rely on municipal water for your drinking and washing. The Healthy Home Economist gives an excellent overview of the options available to you for removing most of the contaminants. The most effective option is a reverse osmosis system, but for those of us like me who rent their homes or apartments, installing such a system may not be an option. For us, the most effective option is a Berkey water filtration system such as the one pictured above. Berkey’s are pricey, but the filters last for quite some time and are more effective than Brita and Pur filters. I purchased a Berkey because I could still smell chlorine in my water after filtering it with a Brita pitcher, despite the fact that Brita claims to remove chlorine.

As for bathing and showering, bath ball de-chlorinators and shower head de-chlorinators can be purchased from websites such as Radiant Life, where I purchased mine. To save money, you can simply buy a shower head de-chlorinator and fill up your bathtub by running the shower head instead of the faucet, which eliminates the need for a bath ball de-chlorinator (I discovered this trick only after investing in both, but I wouldn’t have purchased the bath ball de-chlorinator if I had thought of this earlier!).

One final note about filtering your drinking water: along with contaminants, you will also end up removing the mineral content, meaning you will need to replace those trace minerals in your diet. My method of doing so is by incorporating Bone Broth into my family’s diet; this is by far the cheapest method. Another method is to purchase mineral drops online or from a health food store; ConcenTrace is a good brand.

I hope I haven’t scared you TOO much with this information–just enough to convince you to protect your health by investing in the best filtration/purification system you can afford!

Bone Broth: A Super-Cheap Superfood

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What on earth is that clearish, goopy stuff in my crock pot? Only one of the cheapest, easiest superfoods known to man, of course! Why is it so amazing? What can you use it for? And how do you make it? I’ll answer all of these questions and more in this post.

Like many “new” health fads, bone broth is actually an age-old tradition aimed at extracting as many nutrients as possible from every portion of an animal’s body, allowing nothing to go to waste. It is made by boiling the bones and/or carcass of an animal in an acidic medium for hours or even days at a time. As the bones stew, the minerals, amino acids, and collagen that comprise the bones leach out into the water, creating a nutritious beverage or base for other dishes.

Collagen is essential for healthy bones, tissues, joint, skin, hair, and nails. When cooked, collagen turns into gelatin, which is why the bone broth pictured above looks so jiggly. If your bone broth turns into a bowl of jelly once refrigerated, you know you have a collagen-rich supplement to consume! Note that your broth won’t always turn out this way: it depends on the amount of collagen in the bones you’ve used as well as on the length of time you’ve boiled them. I always source my bones from the same ranch yet sometimes the broth is jiggly and sometimes it’s simply a thick liquid; even as a thick liquid, it contains a beneficial amount of gelatin and other nutrients.

So what can you use this stuff for? Almost anything! I use it instead of water when I boil rice, beans, lentils, or veggies, adding extra nutrition to my dishes. I also use it as a base for soups and as a hot drink when someone isn’t feeling well. When my girls were infants, I used it along with veggies, squash, sweet potatoes, and/or meats to puree homemade baby foods. Now that they’re older, I add several ounces of bone broth to their milk or water as a natural supplement–and they don’t even know it! (Note that this will only work with bone broth made from beef bones–chicken bones lend too strong a flavor to blend with other beverages, at least in my experience).

When you make your own bone broth, you’ll also be able to scrape off the layer of fat that forms on the top once refrigerated. Since only saturated fats are stable at high temperatures, I use this fat to grease my pans when frying eggs, tortillas, or stir-frying meats and veggies; unsaturated fats such as vegetables and olive oils shouldn’t be heated (for more on this topic, see this post and related links from the Healthy Home Economist).

Unless you live in New York City or one of the other metropolitan areas where trendy bone broth shops are popping up (check out NYC’s Brodo Broth Company), you’ll need to make your own broth. Fortunately, doing so is super simple and cheap. The hardest part will likely be sourcing your bones if you’re not already familiar with a place to procure organic, grass-fed animals. If you’re wondering why the way the animal was raised matters, see my post on non-pastured meat and eggs.

I purchase my bones from my local food cooperative for $2.29/lb, meaning I get about 5 quarts of broth for $4-$5. I’ve also found them at health food stores and butcher shops (just make sure to inquire about the way the animals were raised). During hunting season, our local meat market will give away deer and elk bones for free. You’ll want to ask your grocer or butcher for the bones to be cut into sections that will fit into a large pot (ask for cuts that weigh 1-3 pounds). If you have no idea where to find bones for your broth, you can visit eatlocalgrown.com or contact your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for suggestions.

Once you’ve sourced your bones, you’ll want to place approximately 2 pounds in a 6-quart crock pot (or similar size). For instructions on chicken broth, see my earlier post on utilizing a chicken carcass. For bone broth from beef or game bones, follow the instructions below.

Once the bones are in your slow cooker, add a few tablespoons of vinegar along with enough water to fill the pot within two inches of the top (or whatever your max fill line is). Allow the bones to soak for 30-60 minutes before turning your cooker on low; this will help to maximize the amount of nutrients released from your bones. Once on, leave your cooker on low for 24-48 hours, adding water as needed to keep the pot filled to the max. After 12 hours, you can begin using the broth for cooking or consumption, making sure to replace the amount you consume with an equal amount of fresh water (I try to time my broth-making for days when I’ll be making the dishes mentioned earlier).

During the first few hours, you may need to skim off any scum that forms along the top of the pot (it will be dark and foamy). The bones I use rarely produce much scum, if any; if your bones produce large amounts of scum that you’re constantly having to skim off, consider sourcing your bones from elsewhere.

At the end of your 24-48 hour period, turn off your crock and allow the pot to cool for an hour or two before handling (unless you have a pair of oven mitts with really good grips). Pour the broth through a strainer into another large pot or bowl to remove the bones and any pieces of meat and marrow that have fallen off of them (eat these–just like the broth, they are full of nutrients!). Then store the broth in your refrigerator overnight to allow any fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Once the fat solidifies, skim it off using a slotted spoon to drain off excess liquid (it’s okay if some liquid remains); store it in a container in your fridge for up to a week or in your freezer indefinitely. Pour the broth into glass containers and likewise store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer indefinitely. In my experience, Mason jars are more likely to crack if used for freezing; I’ve found that using glass jelly jars, peanut butter jars, coconut oil jars, etcetera, works better (you could also use plastic jars, but I am wary of the plastics leaching into the broth). In either case, place the jars in the fridge for several hours before moving to the freezer, which will help prevent cracking; when defrosting, do so in the fridge as well rather than on the counter (faster temperature changes are more likely to induce cracking).

With so many uses for bone broth, I almost always use up a full pot of broth within a week. Once you get used to substituting water with broth every chance you get, you likely will do so, too!

Super Simple Toothpaste

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No, that is not a jar of some sort of weird white ketchup–it is a jar of my homemade toothpaste, which uses four simple, non-toxic ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry, especially if you’ve tried out my no-bake mint chocolate pie.

Most commercial brand toothpastes contain questionable ingredients such as fluoride, which is a particular concern for those with children, who often swallow a certain amount of toothpaste when learning to brush. For a fascinating–and disturbing–article on the transformation of fluoride from a toxic-waste problem to a health boon, check out this article put out by the Weston A. Price Foundation. It’s a tale of industry and academic collusion to find a productive use for fluoride, a by-product of aluminum processing.

Even fluoride-free toothpastes can contain flavorings and dies that aren’t sufficiently tested for safety. So-called natural toothpastes such as Earthpaste and Uncle Tom’s of Maine are better options than standard commercial brands, but they are quite expensive.

My personal solution to the toothpaste issue is to make my own using the following four ingredients:

  • Aluminum-free baking soda
  • Celtic sea salt (or another higher-end salt)
  • Filtered water
  • Peppermint extract

Simply combine 4 parts baking soda with 1 part salt, add just enough water to turn pasty while stirring up the mixture, then add a few drops of peppermint extract and stir one more time to distribute the flavor. A drop or two of essential oil (peppermint or lemon work well) can be used in place of the peppermint extract, you’ll just have to be more careful about not swallowing the toothpaste since most essential oils are not intended for ingestion.

The reason I use a higher-end salt for my toothpaste (and for flavoring my food) is because the cheaper sea salts are often harvested from more polluted parts of the ocean, meaning they can contain trace amounts of toxins in them–or so I’ve read. Since salt doesn’t get used up very quickly, I don’t mind spending a higher price for higher quality.

Compared to $3-4 per tube for natural commercial toothpastes, this toothpaste costs just pennies to make and can be mixed up in a matter of minutes. I prepare a new batch about once each month and have never had a problem with bacterial growth even though I dip my toothbrush straight into the jar. A salt and baking soda mixture isn’t exactly the sort of environment in which microorganisms thrive 🙂

Note that this toothpaste is not going to be the smooth, gelled toothpaste you’re used to from commercial manufacturers. It will be grittier and grainier but it’s SO incredibly cheap and easy that I’ve never minded. The mangy munchkin loves it, and although I’m trying to teach her to spit it out rather than swallow it, if she does ingest a small amount–even if she ingests the whole kernel-sized amount I put on her brush–I have nothing to worry about!

 

No-Bake Mint Chocolate Pie

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This dessert was such a hit yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner that I decided to share it with everyone in time for Christmas, when it would make a great addition to holiday traditions. Sprinkle this little piece of delectable pie with some crushed candy canes and you’ve got yourself a festive treat that’s actually pretty good for you!

I’m proud of this pie because it’s my own creation, whereas many of my other recipes are modifications of meals I’ve come across elsewhere. The amounts in the recipe below are approximations since I’ve never actually measured anything when making it:

  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 bar dark chocolate or about 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 18 mint-chocolate sandwich cookies (I use Newman-O’s)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the crust, crush the sandwich cookies and mix with the melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish. For the filling, combine the first four ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the filling onto the crust and refrigerate for several hours until the filling is firm. It’s THAT easy!

Not only is it easy, it’s pretty healthy as far as desserts go. In my post on chocolate brain pudding, I mention the health benefits of dark chocolate and coconut. If you really want to make this pie good for you, skip the crust and pour the filling on its own into a pie dish; you’ll eliminate the refined sugar and carbs found in the cookie crust. Another alternative would be to cut the number of cookies in half, in which case you’d have less of a crust and more of a light cookie crumble embedded in the pie; or simply sprinkle a handful of crushed cookies on top of the pie as a decoration. There are lots of possibilities!

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream”

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In my post on sugar, I mentioned that my girls don’t know the word “dessert” because we don’t eat dessert in our household. While that is absolutely true, it is absolutely NOT true that we don’t enjoy a variety of tantalizing foods that could easily be classified as desserts were it not for their dearth of sugar and depth of nutrients.

Frozen banana “ice cream” is one of those foods. Sometimes we eat it as a snack and sometimes it is simply part of lunch, but one thing is always for certain: the bowls are licked clean! It is one of the easiest treats in the world to make: simply peel 2-3 bananas, cut or break them into 1-2 inch pieces, freeze the pieces, and put them in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (this amount will make about 2 servings).

If you have a single-serving processor such as a Magic Bullet, like I do, you may have to puree, then stop and shake the container, then puree, then shake the container, and so on until all of the bananas are blended. It’s a bit annoying, but I prefer it to cleaning out my full-sized blender every time I make the ice cream, which is almost daily.

It will take the banana pieces at least 4 hours to freeze, so I generally put them in a container in the freezer the day before I plan to make the ice cream. If you’re not the plan-ahead type, simply cut up several bananas once you’re done reading this post and store them in the freezer so they’ll be ready whenever you want to give it a try! Once you use up those banana pieces, refill the container with more pieces and put it back in the freezer for the next time you get a hankering.

My girls and I love to add nut butter to our banana ice cream; we’ve discovered peanut butter and sunflower seed butter to be especially delicious. Adding a tablespoon or two of nut butter to the blender along with the banana pieces adds a bit of fat and protein to make the snack more satiating. Half an avocado, virgin coconut oil, and/or coconut flakes will have the same effect. Other frozen fruits such as blueberries and strawberries taste good, too. If you’re sticking with plain bananas, adding a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a touch of heavy cream or whole milk will enhance the flavor.

Frozen banana ice cream is an excellent alternative to sugary desserts for those who’d like to transition their children to a lower-sugar diet. The natural sugars in the bananas make it sweet enough to pass as dessert for those used to eating sweets, while the complete lack of processed sugars makes it better for our bodies. Try some of the different flavor combinations above–or invent your own!–until you find one that you and your kiddos like. You will be so thankful to have a food that your kids crave and is actually good for them!

Healing Eczema, Asthma, Sleeplessness, and Tantrums Naturally

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It might come as a surprise to you to learn that it is possible to “heal” sleeplessness and tantrums, and as even more of a surprise that it is possible to heal all of the conditions mentioned above simultaneously through dietary changes. But it is!

Let me tell you the story of the mangy munchkin’s legs, pictured above at the beginning of summer 2015. She’d been suffering from persistent eczema for several months and had also started developing symptoms of asthma. Non-steroidal creams wouldn’t clear up the eczema so I took her to a pediatrician for advice. The doctor’s suggestion was to try a name-brand cream and then to try an over-the-counter steroidal cream if one of the non-steroidal creams she recommended didn’t help. Knowing about the connection to gut health and overall health, I asked if a change in diet might make a difference but the pediatrician insisted that food was rarely an issue with eczema except in serious cases (I guess she didn’t think Libby’s case was serious).

None of the non-steroidal creams she recommended worked. Not wanting to use steroids on the mangy munchkin’s delicate skin, I took her to a naturopathic doctor for alternative advice. The naturopath immediately concurred that food was likely an issue, so she ordered a food sensitivity test that examined antigens in her blood to determine whether certain foods may have been causing an autoimmune reaction in her body, resulting in the eczema. Sure enough, a handful of foods that she ate commonly (including eggs, dairy, coconut, and beans) registered on the test. After eliminating these foods from her diet for a month and applying a bit of Neosporin to the last remaining spot of eczema on her left leg (which had become infected from scratching), her eczema cleared up completely–and along with it, her systems of asthma disappeared.

Just one month of eliminating certain foods from her diet healed her eczema, whereas nearly three months of trying various creams did not. While the steroidal cream may have cleared up the eczema (we’ll never know since we never tried it), her rash surely would have returned given that all of the foods she was sensitive to would have still been in her diet had I followed the first pediatrician’s advice. Had I not turned to her diet to heal her, we would have been dealing with bouts of eczema indefinitely, and very likely with a worsening of her asthma.

What’s more, her nighttime awakenings and fits as well as her daytime tantrums subsided, something that I didn’t even think to associate with her diet at the time. I only recently realized that her food sensitivity issues were connected to her sleep issues as well when she experienced a resurgence of her eczema this week after she ate handfuls of cashews one afternoon. She’d never had them before so we didn’t realize she was sensitive to them, and along with the rash came several nights of midnight awakenings and several days of crankiness and bad behavior, which is just now subsiding as her rash has disappeared.

Dr. David Perlmutter and Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride both share countless stories of behavior and sleep improvements promulgated by dietary changes in their books on gut health. If you have a toddler who has trouble sleeping and/or throws lots of tantrums (or is depressed), don’t assume it’s the terrible twos or threes–it could be a food sensitivity (or sensitivities, as in the mangy munchkin’s case). Any child or adult, for that matter, who exhibits anxious or moody behavior could be suffering from a damaged gut, which is connected to the brain through the vagus nerve and has been proven by scientific studies to influence not just our digestive tract but also our minds.

What if you can’t afford a naturopath or there simply isn’t one in your area? The GAPS diet is an approach developed by Dr. Campbell-McBride that offers a more-or-less surefire way of healing the gut even if you don’t know what your or your child’s food sensitivities are. It requires a drastic alteration in diet, eliminating most foods besides meat, vegetables, and broth for several weeks to several months depending on how serious a person’s symptoms are (and thus how seriously their gut is damaged). If that seems difficult to swallow, think of it this way: meal planning becomes super easy since there’s only so much you can eat! The website linked above provides a wealth of resources for those considering the diet, including recipes.

The good news about a natural approach to healing is that once a child is off of the foods to which they are sensitive for a period of time, giving their digestive and immune systems a chance to heal, those foods can be reintroduced and enjoyed once again down the road; how much further down the road depends on how quickly they heal. It only took a month of eliminating the foods to which the mangy munchkin was sensitive before her symptoms cleared up and she was once again able to eat butter, coconut, gluten, and other foods she had previously been sensitive to, only now without any side effects.

I urge anyone with children—indeed, anyone at all—to take seriously the connection between food and health. Modern medicine and the media would have you believe that the only thing food affects is our weight, but in reality it affects so much more. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin had it right when he coined the phrase “you are what you eat.” If you eat crap, that’s what you’ll feel like. If you eat well, you’ll nourish your body into performing at its absolute best.

The Mangy Munchkin’s Meal Plan

Licking her plate clean

After my last post on the evils of sugar, I received a request to write a post about what I feed my kids. If we don’t eat breakfast cereals, processed foods, desserts, or drink juice, what do we eat? It might seem that there’s not much left to please children if you cut out everything with sugar and refined carbohydrates, but as you can tell from the photo above, there are still plenty of delicious foods left to keep our little ones happy.

In this post, I’ll give a basic run down of the current menu in our household (it varies from time to time as I discover new foods and recipes) and then share some ideas for snacks to keep your kiddos satisfied in between meals and on the go. If I’ve already posted a recipe that I mention, it’ll be linked to the appropriate post; if I haven’t yet posted a recipe, I’ll try my best to get to it soon so that you can start trying out some of my ideas in your own home!

Breakfast is a big deal in our household. It competes with dinner for the largest meal of the day and is always hot except for a side of sauerkraut. Most mornings my youngest and I eat eggs from our free-range hens while the mangy munchkin, who has an egg sensitivity, eats sausage from one of the farms and ranches in our area (for more on why I’m careful about the meat I select, read my post on pastured meat and eggs). All of us eat a side of homemade sauerkraut with our meal to aid with digestion and to provide a healthy dose of probiotics. Occasionally we’ll enjoy a bowl of soaked oatmeal for breakfast instead of (or in addition to) our eggs and sausage. Oatmeal is absolutely delicious with a dash of cinnamon and a tablespoonful of virgin coconut oil, which enhances flavor, satiation, and nutrient absorption. Instead of fruit juice, which has as much sugar as soda, we sip water kefir with our meal.

If we don’t eat oatmeal with breakfast, we often eat oatmeal cake for lunch along with chocolate brain pudding and frozen banana ice cream. When I make chocolate brain pudding for my girls, I just use a few squares of chocolate since I don’t want to expose them to too much caffeine. Another common lunch we enjoy is homemade sourdough rolls smothered with butter (we prefer Kerry Gold) and a side of milk kefir, which I make nice and thick so that it has a consistency somewhere between yoghurt and cottage cheese. Believe it or not, my girls LOVE this super tart, probiotic treat and always ask for seconds.

Dinner typically involves some sort of meat or poultry and as many veggies as I can muster. If I make slow-cooker chicken I dump in kale, beets, beet greens, broccoli, zucchini, onions, garlic–whatever looks fresh and good at the grocery store (although we usually buy the broccoli frozen). If I brown ground beef, I do it in a large cast-iron pot with a lid so that I can add chopped mushrooms, eggplant, and onions to cook along with the meat for a healthy hash. Baked sweet potatoes or squash mashed with butter and cinnamon are a common side with any dinner, and “dessert” is often one or two pieces of crystalized ginger, which doubles as a digestive aid.

So what about snacks? Since I make most of my meals from scratch, I want snacks to be easy. Here are some things I keep on hand for simple, healthy snacking:

  • Cheese
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Raisins
  • Apples
  • Dried coconut
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Frozen peas (boil a handful at a time–takes two minutes!)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Popcorn (tastes great drizzled with virgin olive oil and sea salt)
  • Organic, nitrate-free jerky (we make our own but buy it at our health-food store when we run out)
  • Dehydrated veggie snacks (also purchased at our health food store)

If your kids are used to a more sugary, starchy diet, switching them over to the kinds of meals and snacks mentioned in this post might be challenging at first, but it is definitely possible (see my last post for tips on transitioning your children away from refined carbs and sugar). Your reward for sticking it out will be cheerful, healthy children who won’t require a trip to the doctor’s office every month!

Oh, and a note about olives: if your kids refuse to eat them at first, show them how to pop them on their fingertips and see if they don’t eat them up once they realize what a fun “finger” food they are!