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: 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?

Q&A: Safe Cookware

  • May 12, 2011 10:08 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra–I absolutely love The Complete Organic Pregnancy! My hubby and I are actively trying to get pregnant, and I’m using your book as our bible to help get my body and our home baby-ready.

I have a quick question about cookware–I own a set of Farberware that has etched on the bottom “aluminum clad stainless steel.” Does this mean the stainless steel is layered within the aluminum? Or vice versa? If it’s the former, I’m thinking I should replace it with a cast iron or stainless steel set.
Many thanks in advance for your help!

Wishing you joy,
Marcela

THE ANSWER

Hi Marcela,

Actively trying to get pregnant can be a, um, fun time! Thinking about cookware? Less fun. So, thanks for the great question. Safe cookware is so incredibly important and can be so complicated. Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel is a tricky thing. Do a little research and different sources (including manufacturers) say different things. It seems like Aluminum Clad should mean a layer of stainless steel between two layers of aluminum; a metal clad with something means covered by it. However, some sites describe Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel as the exact opposite: a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel. Oof. I’m not hugely fond of aluminum as a cooking surface. And if it is coated with a nonstick layer, which happens not infrequently, I would toss it right in the trash. Like, pronto. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine surface for your food to come into contact with.

The best advice I can offer you is to do what I would do: read the product information very carefully and call your manufacturer (Faberware, in this case) with any questions about what the surface material is. If you have any lingering doubt after speaking with them, just go for the good stuff.  Lodge Cookware is an affordable, tried and true, and reliable option. I have a friend who “recycled” her old cookware and now uses her aluminum/nonstick pasta pot as a training potty for her son. True story.

Here is an excerpt from an recent post about safety and cookware that explains why we have to choose cooking surfaces so carefully when outfitting our kitchen:

As I discuss in The Conscious Kitchen, until recently most non-stick cookware was made with a chemical that has been linked to cancer, infertility, and complications during pregnancy. This chemical—perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA—is so persistent it has been found in low levels in the blood of 98 percent of the general U.S. population. In 2005, DuPont settled with the EPA for $16.5 million for allegedly withholding PFOA health risk information. The EPA called on them and six other chemical companies to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. In the kitchen, we’re exposed to it mainly through scratched pans, and these things scratch easily. They can also break down at high temperatures and the fumes can cause flu like symptoms in humans, and death in birds. Hello, canary in the coalmine.

There are new chemicals now being used to produce non-stick cookware as this phases out. The replacements are largely unknown, so their safety is also unknown. The safest thing to do is cook everything in tried and true durable materials: cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, and stainless steel.

What’s in your kitchen?

Savoy Is Closing!? We’ll Always Have Okra Pickles.

  • May 7, 2011 10:06 am

Peter Hoffman recently announced that his wonderful restaurant, Savoy, will be closing as of June 18th.  As one of the foremost farm-to-table restaurants, New Yorkers will certainly miss this landmark, but Hoffman’s promise of reopening in the fall with a new name and a more informal vibe sounds promising. And he still has Back Forty. (I’m there often).

When writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy I reached out to him for a pregnancy-themed recipe. He sent me a fantastic pickled okra recipe. Five and a half years later, I’m still not sure which is better–the pickles or the fun anecdote that goes along with them. Here are both.

Peter Hoffman’s Pickled Okra

“Caribbean folklore is that okra helps the baby come on and starts labor.  My wife decided that she had enough of being pregnant the second time around, so she ate a big jar of pickled okra (she also took some castor oil, which certainly didn’t hurt), and she started her labor fast and furious,” recalls Hoffman.  “One hour, to be exact.  And I delivered the baby on the front steps of our apartment.

1 pound small okra pods (cut off any darkened stems but leave whole)

3 cloves garlic, halved

1 cup cider vinegar

1 cup rice wine vinegar

1 cup water

3 tablespoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

1 teaspoon dill seeds

Pack three 1-pint canning jars with the okra vertical and alternating stems and tips.  Put a halved garlic clove in each jar as well.  In a nonreactive metal pot, bring the liquids to a boil.  Add the salt and spices.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes.  Fill the jars with the liquid to within 1 inch of the rims.  Wipe the rims and put on the lids.  Put the glass jars on a rack in a deep kettle and cover with hot water by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil, cover, and boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the jars from the bath and leave to cool.  Let the pickles mellow for 2 weeks minimum before tasting.  Best at 1 month.


Q & A: Taming Toxic Furniture

  • April 28, 2011 8:17 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

I have a question for you.  I am coming to you because I actually didn’t know who else to ask. I am about to have a baby and in March we got new furniture from Restoration Hardware.  It clearly has a toxic smell.  I try and avoid the room and keep the windows open but the smell has not gone away.  First I would like to know- what do you think the smell actually is?  Second, how dangerous is this to my bay in my belly?  Thirds, how would you get rid of it? (air purifier, etc.)  Obviously I will keep the baby (when born) out of the room, but I am freaking out that my new furniture is really hurting my baby.

Please Help!!

Thanks!

Carrie

THE ANSWER

Dear Carrie,

Thank you for taking the time to send me your question. What kind of furniture are you referring to? I can’t tell you what the smell is without smelling it myself, unfortunately. And even then I might not know. That said, your nose knows. Truly. If it doesn’t smell good, it likely isn’t good. And you’re right not to want your growing baby around a seemingly questionable unknown. There are all kinds of things that can be lurking in furniture that would be best avoided, including formaldehyde–a known carcinogen–in the glues binding particleboard.

You can avoid this by carefully shopping for furniture. Once you already have a stinky table/cabinet/whatever in your house, there is one way to seal in offgassing chemical emissions from new furniture that has porous surfaces: in The Complete Organic Pregnancy and Planet Home I recommend AFM Safecoat Safe Seal, a water-based low-gloss sealer. Call the company directly to describe what you’re contending with and they can advise you. They also sell a variety of paints, stains, and more.

Ventilation (open your windows!) and air purifiers also help. So can taking the furniture outside if you can (make sure you have it under somewhere in case of rain). And the strongest offgassing will diminish as time goes by. If it continues to bother you, you might want to cut your losses and seek something else.

Good luck!

Thanks,

Alexandra

Here’s a passage from Planet Home where I discuss Safe Seal:

Much new furniture is made of composite woods like particleboard and medium-density fiberboard, which are temptingly inexpensive but best not brought into the bedroom; these can off-gas formaldehyde.  Though the vapors from new furniture containing formaldehyde glue diminish over time, they remain in high concentrations in smaller and improperly ventilated rooms.  If you have reason to suspect the fumes in your home are too high, there are inexpensive kits available that have been used by the Sierra Club to test levels in FEMA trailers.  For less serious levels, there are also houseplants known to act as air filters.  If you have a piece of composite wood furniture you love and don’t want to part with, move it to a room in the house where you spend less time.  You can also seal in the emissions…[from] composite wood parts with a product proven to reduce formaldehyde emissions, such as AFM Safecoat Safe Seal.

For more on which houseplants to use, check this out.

Tips For A Fussy Baby

  • April 19, 2011 10:11 am

A close friend just had a baby (her third). She’s over the moon. I hadn’t heard from her for a few days, sent a prodding text, and heard back that he had morphed very quickly since I saw them last into a fussy baby.

When I was pregnant and writing The Complete Organic Pregnancy, we collected the following organic tips for inducing sleep from friends and families who swore by them for getting seemingly inconsolable babies to sleep. Little did I know I was soon to rely heavily on them, and other odd things, for shushing/rocking/bouncing my own fusser to sleep. (I think I ate too much spinach and grew a mini Popeye.) Here’s hoping any of these bring her–or you–some relief.

And remember: this too shall pass.

White Noise: Make your own white noise with fans, vacuum cleaners, portable vacuums, electric toothbrushes, bathroom fans, electric razors, or, to save electricity, recordings of them. Fish tanks that bubble, loud clocks, and metronomes have also worked. Tape-record the sound of a shower or water running from a faucet. The repetitive monotony of these noises mimics the sounds of the womb and can soothe a baby for whole a silent room might feel unnaturally quiet.

Music: If you don’t have the energy to sing your baby to sleep, tape yourself singing and press play instead. If you can’t stand singing, test-run some other music and discover what your baby finds relaxing.

Taped crying: A recording of your baby’s own crying, or a recording of another baby crying, can be disconcerting enough to interrupt an upset baby long enough for her to fall asleep.

The birth ball: Recycle your old birthing ball and use it the way you would a glider. Your baby will love the bouncing, the same way she seems to love anything that forces you to get off the couch and work for her.

Drive: When worse comes to worst, a trip around the block in the car is often just what a baby needs to fall asleep.

Movement: As long as the baby is safely buckled in, swings and vibrating bouncy seats can be a great way to doze off. Similarly, a sling Bjorn, or stroller can do the trick.

For more tips, check out The Complete Organic Pregnancy. What worked/works for you and your baby? What did not?

What To Expect…When Reading This Blog

  • April 18, 2011 8:36 am

Last night I drew a diagram of all of the things that I do. It was a dot I called “me” in the middle, and then circles all around me of what I’m working on, involved with, or otherwise doing. The verdict? I’m busy! (And, um, overextended.)

In an effort to make sure blogging doesn’t keep getting back-burnered, I’ve come up with the following schedule. This way you’ll know what I’m posting and when, and can come back to read accordingly.

I’m launching the new schedule this Tuesday, in honor of Earth Week, and will be raffling off several free copies of The Conscious Kitchen and Planet Home to new readers who follow me on Twitter and/or fan me on Facebook mentioning the new, more frequent blog via post or tweet and suggesting one thing I should cover on it.

  • TUESDAYS: Look for relevant information and excerpts from all of my books, linked to whatever is happening in the news
  • THURSDAYS: Q&A days! You send in your questions, I answer them.
  • SATURDAYS: Mish-mosh day, mainly food-related. I’ll be posting farmers’ market videos, ingredient thoughts, recipes, and more.

I promise to stick to the schedule, but of course reserve the right to do slightly less or maybe even more, especially when The Butcher’s Guide To Well-Raised Meat comes out on June 7th.

If you like what you read, please let your friends know about it, and make some noise in comments. If you’re interested in hearing even more from me, sign up for my newsletter, follow me on Twitter, or “like” me on Facebook. I’m on there daily posting links to what I’m reading and thinking about throughout my days.