Q&A: Juice Bars And Pregnancy

  • September 16, 2011 12:30 pm
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Just recently finished [The Complete Organic Pregnancy]. My husband and I have been recently trying for a baby and prior to that I probably devoured a dozen books on pre-pregnancy and I have to say your book is the most substantial and downright fantastic out of all of them! What I appreciated most from your book was how easily your research and tips could translate into everyday life and also how to truly make both your body and the environment both inside and outside the most optimal possible.

In saying that, I am left with a few questions:

1. Juices: I now know to avoid them, but what about smoothies, ingredients consist of whole fresh organic fruits, organic milk and ice??

That’s it, thank you so very much! Your book is the best gift I could have asked for and consult it regularly!!

With gratitude,

Meika

THE ANSWER:
Meika actually sent a few questions, so I’m answering them in separate posts.

You’re so welcome! Thanks for writing in.

The juices you’re referring to are the ones found at juice bars and smoothie shops.  Often these juices are from conventionally grown fruits and vegetables and the juicing machines are breeding grounds for dangerous bacteria like E. coli. You cannot guarantee that the juicers have been cleaned regularly (or with what–i.e. chlorine bleach or other chemicals that leave residues that get into your drinks).  Because juice bar juices are unpasteurized, they’re a major concern if you’re pregnant.  Even organic juice products are suspect. Odwalla faced a total recall of their products in the 1990s due to E. coli.  It’s just not worth the risk when you’re expecting. Far better to get your fruit and veggie fix from the actual thing. Or, as I mention in The Conscious Kitchen (excerpted below), you can make your own at home. That way you know what the ingredients are, where they came from, and that your juicer is clean.
Fresh squeezed, 100 percent juice is fabulous in moderation.  Thankfully, it’s so expensive at my local organic organic juice bar that moderation isn’t a problem.  If you’re someone who really likes juice, look into buying an energy-efficient juicer.  Having your own means  you can control what kind of fruit is used (local or organic or sustainable), how much and what kind of sugar is added, and how the machine is cleaned.

Alternatives to fresh squeezed are a mixed bag.  Most store-bought juice actually contains very little juice, so it’s up to an adept label reader to find the real deal.  Otherwise, you may suck down a lot of unnecessary and expensive sugar water (along with other unexpected additives, like synthetic fragrance).  Organic jarred or cartoned juices are sometimes guilty of containing as much sugar or sweeteners as their conventional counterparts, but at least it’s not derived from genetically modified corn.  When it comes to artificial sweeteners, all bets are off.  I don’t put those things in my body, and suggest you don’t either.  Real sugar is vastly preferable, unless, of course, you have a medical condition that means you can’t tolerate it.

Hope that helps!
Best,
Alexandra

The Complete Organic Pregnancy on Bob Vila

  • September 16, 2011 12:16 pm

Many thanks to Bob Vila for mentioning The Complete Organic Pregnancy in an article about a green nursery challenge!  See the excerpt below, and/or check out the whole article here.

“As for the paint, I read ‘if you can smell it, it’s probably bad for you’ in “The Complete Organic Pregnancy.” The authors advise latex rather than alkyd- or oil-based paints, and suggest looking for paints labeled zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds),  no-VOC, or VOC-free, as they are “almost completely free of carcinogens.”

What You Don’t Know: Cotton

  • August 23, 2011 9:05 pm

Can you believe it’s back to school/work/life season already?  Ugh. As cooler temperatures and new wardrobes (for some people, anyway) are on the horizon, it’s time to pause for a moment and think about what clothes are made of and what it entails to manufacture them. I found and continue to find the following facts about conventionally grown cotton shocking. They’re enough to send anyone straight to vintage/consignment/thrift shops. Second hand clothes are obviously a great way to reduce/reuse/recycle, but you’ll also likely be surprised by the gems you can find.  It might take some digging, but you’ll be rewarded with unique items and you’ll save money, too.

When buying new clothing, organic cotton is solid choice. Here are a few motivating facts excerpted from Planet Home about the cotton industry:

Conventional cotton often comes from genetically modified seeds and has been sprayed with pesticides, which is bad for farmers and the environment.  According to the Sustainable Cotton Project, cotton farming uses about 25 percent of the world’s insecticides and more than 10 percent of the pesticides.  These pesticides used on cotton happen to be among the world’s worst: Five of the nine most commonly used have been identified as possible human carcinogens.  Others are known to damage the nervous system and are suspected of disrupting the body’s hormonal system.

That said, organic isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to sustainable fashion–not by a long shot. I explain further in this article I wrote recently about sustainable denim for The New York Times.

Meanwhile I’m personally just avoiding this whole change-your-wardrobe moment. My daughter could use a few items for school as she’s growing up up up, so I’ll fill her wardrobe in with hand-me-downs and maybe a few new things. I prefer to hold on to summer by avoiding wearing long sleeves for as long as possible, and to “shop my closet” when the weather forces me to. Amazing how much I’ve bought over the years that can be resurrected!

Thank You Jeffrey Hollender

  • August 8, 2011 11:00 am

Loving this blog Jeffrey Hollender posted today: If I Wanted Someone To Talk About My Brand It Would Be Alexandra Zissu.

A few highlights:

“If I wanted someone to talk about my brand–especially to moms who own a lion’s share of purchasing power and who vote for change with their wallets (and actions)–it would be Alexandra Zissu.

Alexandra is the author and green living expert par excellence who helped me write Planet Home: Conscious Choices For Cleaning and Greening The World You Care About Most….

Alexandra she has a knack for translating hard to understand sustainability issues and environmental health science into easy, pithy consumer English. She’s passionate about giving people the education and tools to make conscious decisions as they go about their daily routines—and especially about the collective impact this can have. She knows what parents and other eco-interested consumers really want to hear and what they don’t want to hear–drawing on her experience with her own active group of followers via books, articles, blogs, social media, talks, and demonstrations. She also has a deep understanding of the full spectrum of green—from people just getting started to the diehard lifers.

Don’t think that anyone’s going to pull the wool over Alexandra’s eyes. I’ve found her a tough critique of Seventh Generation’s as well as almost every product we reviewed for Planet Home. But that’s exactly what you want. Trust comes from transparency, a balanced perspective on the great, and the not so great. That’s what the best brand ambassador is uniquely able to do. She won’t read from a script, she’ll visit your lab, talk to other customers, do a little bit of her own testing and research, maybe even tell you quietly a few things you might not be so eager to hear….A better brand ambassador you won’t find!”

Read it in full  here.

Q&A: Stuffed Animals

  • July 28, 2011 9:42 am
THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,
I was really interested in your post about buying safe toys for your daughter.  I found this extremely timely, as I’m expecting my first child momentarily (literally; due date is tomorrow!).  I’d love to know your philosophy on stuffed/plush animal toys– most all the ones we’ve received as gifts are made in China.  My husband and I are trying to avoid products made with harmful chemicals, sketchy manufacturing processes, etc. through product research and just buying LESS stuff (which dovetails nicely with our having no place to store it anyway).  Stuffed animals don’t (hopefully) contain lead paint, which I feel like is the concern I’ve read most about with toys made in China.  But are there other concerns with stuffed animals you’re aware of?
Best regards,
Carter
THE ANSWER:

Carter,
Get off your computer and enjoy your final moments of freedom! Kidding! Well, not really.
Still here?
Fine, I’ll answer. Great question–you’re right to wonder. Stuffed animals often contain questionable/unhealthy flame retardants and are filled with random plastic pellets–also potentially unhealthy. It’s difficult to impossible to know which contain what. The dyes are also of concern, especially as young children mouth everything.
When you introduce a “lovie” to your baby, start with one made from certified organic cotton. Usually a company that bothers to use  organic cotton on the exteriors of their plush toys is doing ok on the interiors as well as the dyes. But there is no guarantee here;  unfortunately there is no one standard/third party certification families can turn to to be sure. Ask questions about materials, interiors, flame retardants, and dyes as well as read the fine print when you shop. I also like to consult HealthyStuff.org.
As for the stuffed things you have already gotten as presents, use them for toys when your baby is a bit older. Or do as I did–exchange them! I spent hours with a sleeping girl strapped to me wandering around town in the delirious haze of early motherhood exchanging gifts for things we might be able to use. It was an amusing way to spend the time and stock up–we really hadn’t bought much of anything before she was born as I was convinced we needed nothing more than my breasts, love, some diapers, and a blanket. Plus we also have little room for stuff. Makes me laugh to think of it now. You could also always exchange a few stuffed items for glass bottles or other staples to donate to mothers in need.
Enjoy your babymoon. There’s nothing like it.
Best,
Alexandra

Q&A: Beanbag Chairs

  • July 21, 2011 9:10 am

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

Can you recommend a beanbag (or beanbag-like thing) or a place to look for a beanbag? It’s for my son’s room. I’ve been looking online but don’t trust these sites selling “eco-friendly” bags made with recycled foam. That sounds bad, no? My gut says to steer clear of styrene, too. I wonder if you may be able to point me in some other good directions.

Thanks, R.

THE ANSWER:

Dear R.,

What an excellent gut you have. Trust it. There really is no telling what that foam is and what flame retardants might be in it. And I also wouldn’t willingly put styrene in my kid’s room. It can be hard to suss out what is in any given beanbag chair. The first thing to consider is the outside–I’d go for organic cotton here if you can. No stainproofing needed/wanted (those chemicals aren’t pretty, either; they’re the same thing that is in non-stick pans). But preferably something you can toss in the washing machine when it gets dirty.

The second thing to consider is the stuffing, which is what you were talking about re the foam and the styrene pellets. There are many eco-friendly ways to stuff a beanbag chair. The first thing that comes to mind is buckwheat hulls. I have a neckroll stuffed with this and the texture always reminds me of a beanbag. The second is actual beans, though this might be too heavy. There are other hull-like things that eco-futon stores tend to make pillows out of including kapok.

Next up is how to find an organic cotton cover filled with buckwheat hulls. Some people do make them (I just did a quick online search). Many people making conventional beanbags allow you to upgrade to choose organic cotton and buckwheat or natural latex for the filling–safe, safe, and safe. Ask what the certification on the organic cotton is. Or call a local futon store and see if they will make you one. If you cannot find something you want or like, you could make one yourself. That way you really control the filling and can use things like old t-shirts.

Or you could have someone make one for you. Sourcing organic cotton canvas and buckwheat hulls is pretty easy. If you don’t have a local seamstress (what’s the word for a male seamstress? tailor? I’m tired today!) near you, Etsy is a great way to go. I turned to Etsy for a similar project over the winter, and had a small organic sleeping bag made for my daughter.

I’m not comfortable recommending one store over another without further research, but here’s a good Mothering.com forum thread on the topic. And here’s a good place where you can buy wholesale organic buckwheat hulls.

If you’re reading this and do have a good product to suggest, please post in comments.

Hope this helps.

-Alexandra

Q&A: Sunscreen (And DIY Skin Products)

  • July 7, 2011 8:22 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi Alexandra,

Its that time of year again!  Lots of sunshine and playing outside.  My kids and I are all very sensitive to lotions and sunblocks, so we’re always trying out new products.  What sunscreens do you suggest for us?  Thanks so much!

Best,

Carolyn

THE ANSWER:

Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for your question.  Sunscreen has  been on everyone’s mind now that summer is officially upon us. Hats, shade, and staying out of the sun during its strongest hours are the best ways to avoid the bad rays (and maybe even catch a little vitamin D). But most of us duck out of the shade from time to time–sometimes for hours at a time–and so we need added protection. As far as sunscreen goes, choosing a mineral cream with an SPF above 15 and below 30 that does not contain nanoparticles is your best bet.  Oxybenzone is the main chemical used in sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group calls it a toxic chemical and says it has been linked to allergies, hormone disruption, and cell damage.  To find out more about safer sunscreens, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. (I’ve been wearing Soleo and Badger this summer.)

The other thing to consider when taking care of your skin this summer are the cleansers and scrubs you’re using.  Reading the backs of labels can be confusing and frustrating, so why not make your own?  Its inexpensive, easy, fun (if you like this sort of thing), and, best of all, cheap.  Follow these simple recipes from Planet Home:

Dry Skin Face Mask:

Mix 1/2 cup cooked plain oatmeal with 2 teaspoons honey.  Apply to face, let sit for ten minutes, and rub off.  This mask is both moisturizing and cleansing.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 1:

Combine 4 teaspoons powdered brewer’s yeast, 2 teaspoons plain yogurt, 2 teaspoons almond meal, and 1 teaspoon organic honey and mix well.  Rub gently over face, then rinse with warm water.  Use immediately, do not store in the refrigerator.

Exfoliating Face Scrub 2:

Mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, a dab of mild, plant-based liquid soap, and a few drops of water.  Rub evenly over face and rinse with warm water.

Happy summer!

Q & A: Safe, Plastic-Free Mattress Waterproofing

  • June 16, 2011 9:48 am

THE QUESTION:

Hi,

I like to use a waterproof cover on mattresses due to the fact that my daughter is STILL not night potty trained (don’t get me started). Is there such a thing as a non-plastic but effective waterproof cover for a mattress? Once we go to all the expense and trouble of buying nice mattresses so they breathe good things when sleeping, I hate to toss a plastic cover over them to protect from the pee when they’re potty training, but I’d also hate to soak the durn thing with pee as soon as we buy it…

Jessica

THE ANSWER:

Thanks for the question.  You’re in luck; there is an easy answer for such a difficult problem.  Here is an excerpt from Planet Home explaining what to use for waterproofing your mattress. I also discuss this in The Complete Organic Pregnancy.

For the safest waterproofing, avoid plastic altogether and opt for a wool “puddle pad.”  Lanolin in wool is naturally water resistant.  Wool is also durable: a flat pad (i.e., not fitted) can grow with the child, transitioning to a single bed when the time comes.  Sleeping on wool is also more comfortable and regulates body temperature better than plastic.

Wool puddle pads can be found all over the place, especially online. I prefer eco or pure grow wool. Keep in mind that while lanolin is naturally water resistant, wool still does get wet. You’ll want to purchase more than one pad to swap in when/if needed in the middle of the night. Good luck!

Q&A: How To Deal With Mold

  • May 26, 2011 4:40 pm

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

I live in a 17th Century building with very thick walls and lots of black mold. We Clorox-spray it off in the winter, but now have a newborn baby whose lungs are probably going to be black with mold before he picks up his first Gitane / or perhaps bleached with Clorox before his first sniff of blow. It’s too cold to leave the windows open (what rids us of the mold).

Any suggestions on getting rid of it other than Clorox?

Thanks, Daisy

THE ANSWER:

Well leave it to my old school buddy to ask an extremely colorful and yet important question. (Hi, Daisy!)

Mold can grow anywhere in your house, and it can be easy to get rid of. But you have to know what you’re dealing with. There is black mold (bad for you) and then there is black mold (unsightly but safe). It can be hard to tell which is which, but the toxic stuff is rare and tends to crop up primarily on consistently moist material that contains cellulose (paper, wood, ceiling tile etc.). That doesn’t sound like what you’re contending with on those walls. But if it is, I’d call in an expert asap.

If you know that your black gunk is the run of the mill variety, here is an excerpt from Planet Home on how to deal with mold in your bathroom. This method involves hydrogen peroxide and can work elsewhere, too.

I’m more concerned about that Clorox spray than I am about Gitanes, especially for the moment. Chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner accidentally swallowed by children. If mixed with ammonia, the combo releases highly toxic chloramine gas. It’s considered a severe irritant and a carcinogen precursor. And there are all sorts of environmental concerns that come up regarding what happens when chlorine bleach is released via wastewater and comes into contact with natural materials (it can form dioxins, furans, trihalomethanes, and more). It’s best avoided, especially in a home with a newborn.

The excerpt:

If you see any mold forming, particularly at the bottom of your shower curtain or on that hard-to-keep-dry crack between the tub and the wall, use a cleaner containing hydrogen peroxide or plain old 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.  Keep in mind that peroxide is good at killing active mold, not mold spores.  The gray color won’t go away immediately or sometimes ever (this usually comes from mildew that has gone deep into porous grout).  It can’t hurt to spray this area daily if you have a perpetual mold issue.

And do keep those windows open from time to time, even if it is chilly. Ventilation is key when battling mold, so is reducing moisture.

How are YOU dealing with mold?


What You Don’t Know: What’s In Your Makeup

  • May 17, 2011 10:16 am

I cannot tell you how many times a VGP (very green person) leans over to me and quietly says, “Can I ask you a question?” The first few times I thought I was in for something awkward or scandalous or worse. But now I know: they want my makeup list. They’ve greened everything from their cookware to their conditioner, but haven’t been able to take the final leap into natural concealer. I get it. Sacrifice is part of the game when you go green. But looking (or at least feeling) ugly? That’s too far for most of us. Some people find caring about how you look superficial, especially compared to other issues in the environmental movement. To which I say: whatever. Especially as there are important environmental health concerns to consider when it comes to cosmetics.

It takes a while to hit on the products in any given makeup bag. The process of finding the right color foundation, the perfect lip shade, a favorite blush is usually a circuitous one. Here’s the bad news–and the very reason for the whispers from VGPs: the concealer that can erase any sleepless night or banish a blemish like nobody’s business is likely filled with the worst possible wildly unregulated crap. I’m talking carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting,  petroleum-derived ingredients. Things with heavy metals like lead. Nothing you would slather on your skin–your largest organ–if you knew better and really considered it. Now you know better. Time to consider it. If you put this gunk on your lips you know you’re eating it. I don’t have to tell you that. The pink-hued rim of your coffee cup speaks for itself. Grim grim grim. And: no thank you.

Thankfully there are several ways around this conundrum:

1. Have perfect flawless skin. (Ha!)

2. Get a degree in reading cosmetic labels and spend all of your time turning bottles around and researching. (As if.)

3. Memorize the names of a few third party certified natural brands, try out their products to see what works, and wear a minimal amount. Less is more anyway.

I went through this process when reporting the The Complete Organic Pregnancy. It wasn’t fun to have to give up all of my favorite products as my belly grew, but it was extremely worthwhile. Here’s an excerpt from that book where I explain what to avoid and how to find the best buys for your makeup bag.

Beauty products smell good, make us look pretty, and promise instant perfection – flawless skin, think, shiny hair, solid nails.  Unfortunately most are loaded with chemicals linked to birth defects, carcinogens, ingredients derived from nonrenewable petroleum, and preservatives that can end up in breast tissue.  The Environmental Working Group says 89 percent of the ingredients in everyday products aren’t tested for safety.  Which is why – especially when pregnant – organic beauty products are the way to go.  But there’s a catch: our government doesn’t regulate personal products the way it regulates food (though there have been some advances made recently, and hopefully more to come).  This means that any…[cosmetics] company can slap the label “organic” or “natural” on its product.  In the absence of government regulation, the genuine organic- and biodynamic-beauty-product producers (a significant minority) have tried to find a way to differentiate themselves.  Many of them are European companies and adhere to comparatively strict European standards. 

I wear minimal makeup (unless I’m going on television to talk about things like…organic makeup). Here are a few brands I have tested through, am currently comfortable with, and think work well. Nothing is perfect. There have been others in the past and there will be others in the future. These are just my current staples. That said, I still always read labels before I buy any product; ingredients, certifications, and packaging changes. I’m not a manufacturer.

One caveat: the natural makeup world needs to continue their quest to develop products for darker skin tones.

And one tip: try organic olive oil or coconut oil on your lips for moisture and shine; that’s what I wear and I don’t have to give it another thought if I swallow either.

Suki

Dr. Hauschka

Jane Iredale Minerals

RMS Beauty

What have you found that works for you?