Reduce Toxins Through Your Beauty Routine

I would like to think I’m a fairly “eco-aware” person because each year when we go camping, I refrain from washing for three full days as to not contaminate the lake water.

No, come on!  I do more than that.  Biking to work counts, as does reusing, reducing, and recycling.  When I was a kid, we had a compost in our backyard but urban living and hyper vigilant neighbours no longer allow this unique contraption.

But, have you ever thought about what your beauty routine is doing not only to the environment but also to your body?  I hadn’t considered this at all until I read “There’s Lead in Your Lipstick” by Gillian Deacon.  Wow, this book has really opened up my eyes to the plethora of harmful chemicals in everything from a bar of soap to toothpaste and face cream.

There is a list of the most 20 most harmful chemicals in the back of Deacon’s book and when I started checking my products…I found these in almost everything.  Example?  Lauryl Sulfate is in my shampoo – it’s a probably carcinogen.  My lip balm is made with petroleum derivatives.

Chemicals seep into our skin regardless of where it’s applied; feet, hands, head, or legs.  The toxins enter our blood stream and may impact one our multiple systems in our body.  All toxins eventually end up in the liver which may become overloaded over time leading to a weakened immune system.  An overtaxed immune system can’t combat allergies and diseases, and cancer.  This isn’t to say that toothpaste is causing cancer but anything we can do to reduce the load on our liver will help your overall health and wellbeing.  It’s of course, also better for the environment.

Soooo…I tried one of the recipes in the book and created my own deodorant.  I decided to try it out on a day where I was biking 20 km’s and working in a hot kitchen and let me tell you, I did not stink!  Tested on my main squeeze El Branno, my co-worker Amrita, and classmate Emily, I did performed a “drive-by” where they were forced to smell my pits and all reported no stench.

Here is the recipe:

1 tbsp shea butter + 1 tbsp coconut oil + 2 tsp baking soda + 1 tsp cornstarch + 15 drops lavender oil.  Melt the shea butter and coconut oil in a small pot.  Remove from heat and add other ingredients.  Mix well and store in glass pot/jar.  It takes about 1 day to thicken into a paste which you can then use!  Shea Butter and Lavender Oil can be purchased at any health store.  If you’re in Toronto, check out Essence of Life in Kensington Market.

Another DIY project I test out was a moisturizer face mask consisting of 1/2 an avocado mashed and mixed with 1 tbsp of honey.  I added a tbsp of oats and 1 tbsp of water as well since I have sensitive skin.  Smooth it on your face and rinse after 10 minutes.  My skin felt soft and had a nice sheen.

This book is FULL of amazing DIY recipes for every beauty product you can imagine.  It also suggests truly safe and organic store-bought products in case you’re pressed for time or have no desire to create a mess in your kitchen!

Check out David Suzuki’s “Dirty Dozen” chemicals to avoid in your beauty products:


Feeding Our Future & Practicing What We Preach

A while back,The Health Junction did a series on the importance of breakfast for the optimization of cognitive function and a healthy Body Mass Index.  While many adults don’t eat breakfast and suffer the consequences, it’s far more troublesome when children skip this most important meal of the day.

In my new job as a Nutrition Staff with The Toronto Foundation for Student Success (TDSB) I work with middle school children and when I ask them what they had for breakfast, I would estimate 7 out of 10 of them say “nothing”.  The TDSB recent published a report called “Feeding Our Future” that studied breakfast patterns and academic performance and it confirmed what we already knew:  when kids are well fueled, they are less often absent from school and their performance is improved.

Key findings from the study outlined that meals should be diverse, clean, and involve student participation.  Breakfast was able to be provided to children in the Feeding Our Future study for only $1 a day but I was surprised to learn that 75% of the budget came from fundraising.  In fact, Canada does not have a national child breakfast program.

This got me thinking about a TED talk I just listened to by Chef Ann Cooper – you may know her as the Renegade Lunch Lady.  Ann Cooper use to be a famous chef but gave it all up to work at the Boulder District School Board as their Director of Nutrition.  Cooper believes that nutrition for children is so important it should be under the jurisdiction of the Centre for Disease Control rather than the USDA.  In her talk, Cooper states that “if we believe that everything that happens in the school is part of the educational experience then we have to think that school lunch is training our kids, teaching them, and educating them to eat in a certain way.”

By not mandating healthy breakfast and lunch for kids in all schools, are we failing to practice what we preach?  We can fund curriculum but does any of it even matter if a child doesn’t have the capacity to learn because he/she is hungry?  Do you think it would be worth transferring funds from academic curriculum to cover off school breakfast and lunch programs?


May 2012 Cookbook Reviews

I’m always on the lookout for new cookbooks and luckily the Toronto Public Library is privy to an excellent selection.  It’s nice to investigate and test out a book before making an investment – so without further ado, here are a couple of reviews:

Best Recipes Ever

Best Recipes Ever is a co-production of the CBC & Canadian Living and is featured on CBC daily at 3 pm.  The host, Kary Osmond, is your everyday girl just looking to get a delicious (and somewhat healthy) meal on your plate.  What I like about both the show and the book is that you can make some seriously tasty meals that will impress your taste buds and your guests.  I tried about a handful of recipes from this book including; after school granola bars, stuffed ricotta-parmasean-mozzarella cheese pasta shells, and sweet and sour chicken stir fry and they didn’t disappoint.  My only concern with the recipes is that the sodium and fat content are on the high side, however, there are usually creative ways of revising the ingredients to make healthier choices.  This book gets 3 our of 5 stars!

Hungry Girl 300 Under 300

This book written by Lisa Lillien is aimed at helping those looking to watch their calories make healthy and filling meals – all under 300 calories per serving.  There were some seriously creative recipes in here sure to delight like Lasagna Cupcakes, Rockin’ Red Velvet Pancakes, Cheesy Squashtaki, and Naked Chicken Parm.  Overall, I thought this book did an excellent job at showing how food can be healthy AND tasty.  Where it fell short, in my opinion, was the overuse of synthetic sweeteners (almost every breakfast recipe had zero calorie sweetener included) but as with Best Recipes Ever, a creative cook can always modify the ingredients for a more wholesome end product.  3 out of 5 stars!

Kids Kitchen:  Good Food Made Easy

I had such high hopes for this book!  Written by Mitchell Beazley and Amanda Grant, Kids Kitchen is geared towards young chefs who want to have fun in the kitchen while learning key cooking skills.  Unfortunately, the recipes included ingredients that picky pallets wouldn’t touch (like flounder and lamb chops?!).  Having a little experience working with kids in a kitchen environment, the recipe must be simple and easy to construct  – anything over 7 ingredients is tough for most kids to follow.  The recipes in Kids Kitchen were lengthy and too complex to complete without heavy parental supervision.  From what I have observed, kids enjoy cooking when it’s hands on and low stress which cannot be achieved with this book.  1 out of 5 stars.



The Great Vaccine Debate

Like most people of my generation, I received the typical slew of vaccines against measles, mumps, and polio as a child.  To my knowledge, these vaccines caused no side effects and protected me from some potentially harmful viruses.  Peripherally, I had heard some rumblings about vaccine controversy when Jenny McCarthy claimed they were a major contributor to her son’s autism – in fact, she even wrote a book about the topic called “Louder than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism“.

I wanted to find out more on this topic so recently attended a talk called The Politics of Vaccines given by Dr. Chopra who was a Senior Scientist at Health Canada for 35 years and whose job it was to research and approve vaccines.  It’s important to note that Chopra was fired from Health Canada for speaking out publicly about the pressure he and a colleague ensured to approve various drug usage which may skew his views on the topic.

Throughout his speech, Chopra outlined the sort of politics that are involved in vaccine approval and gave an interesting example of how President Ford was believed to have approved and ordered $200 million dollars worth of a Swine Flu vaccine from Merck in 1976.  It was seen by some as a tactic in his re-election campaign that promised health to all Americans without taking into consideration the necessity or effectiveness of such a drug.

So, this brings me to the effectiveness of vaccines which essentially work by introducing an antigen in small amounts so that the body can create its own antibodies as a protective mechanism.  The problem as seen by some with vaccines is that the drugs go directly into your blood stream and therefore bypass some crucial components of the innate immune system.  There is a theory that skipping the innate immune system and going directly to the adaptive immune system is connected with autoimmune diseases 20-30 years down the line.  The innate immune system works in conjunction with the adaptive immune and skipping this first step is seen as potentially problematic.

When vaccines are given to children, there is a theoretical risk that the immune system at that stage of life is too weak to completely clear the virus and so it will lay dormant.  It’s interesting to note that the flu shot vaccine is contraindicated for anyone with a compromised immune system which includes; kids under 7, the elderly, and people with autoimmune diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

When we look at statistics showing the effectiveness of vaccines it’s interesting to note that those who are critical of vaccines often use graphs such as the one shown below to explain that the decline in communicable diseases is a result of improvements in sanitation rather than vaccines.

This subject is one of great debate and as we get more information from both sides of the argument perhaps a more definitive answer will come to light.  It must be a hard decision for parents who obviously have the ultimate goal of ensuring the health and safety of their children.  What are you thoughts on the topic – are you swayed one way or the other?


Clean Sleeping Series – Fat Gene Expression & Sleep

The idea that we inherit a certain body type is being challenged more and more in current scientific research.  The way our “fat genes” choose to express themselves is in large part determined by our environmental – what we eat, how we move, stress levels, and even sleep.

Yes sleep!

In a recent study conducted by the University of Washington, scientist Dr. Watson and his team looked at sets of twins and tried to figure out if there was a link between the amount of sleep obtained and the associated BMI.

It was found that twins, how have the same genetic baseline, have vastly different BMI’s depending on the number of hours of sleep they were able to get each night.

The twin who sleeps more than 9 hours a night had a genetic contribution to their weight determination of only 32% compared to a 70% contribution for the twin who only got 7 hours of sleep.

Think about it like this; our weight determination genes are there and they are ready to spring into action.  The more we sleep, the less of an influence the genes have on our weight because their impact is being suppressed.

Pretty amazing eh!?

If you want to read the full study check out this link:




Wake up and smell the food insecurity….Finding North

Toronto is currently hosting a documentary festival called Hot Docs and I went to watch a film last night called “Finding North”.  The opening credits of this movie played to melancholy music and treated the viewer to beautiful American landscapes; wheat fields, mountains, canyons, urban skylines, and then we were introduced to one of the main subjects of the film, a student named Rosie.

She had a roof over her head, clothes on her body, proper glasses, and goes to school everyday but she is among the 49  million Americans who is food insecure – meaning, she doesn’t get enough to eat.

Throughout this documentary, the complex issue of hunger and the stereotypes we have of those who use food banks and soup kitchens are examined.  As someone who works in the field of nutrition, I was reminded of the fact that obesity and starvation sit side by side on the spectrum of food insecurity.  When someone only has a few dollars to spend at the supermarket they can choose between processed food which provides VOLUME and whole foods (like fruits and vegetables) which don’t provide volume but provide QUALITY.  If I were starving, I would probably choose chips over an apple too.

Food policy was explored through reviewing the role of the USDA.  It became clear that the US government doesn’t reward farmers who make fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient high crops but instead are heavily influenced in policy making to reward large conglomerates that produce just five crops; corn, wheat, soy, rice, and cotton.

Right now, one in every two kids in the US is on federal food assistance and what is provided is not enough to keep people from going hungry.


I felt enraged most of the movie at the inequity we seem to accept as a societal norm but there were slivers of hopeful stories told and the message is clear – we can make a difference through making food accessibility at home, schools, and industry a priority at the polls.  This is a hugely important issue to me and I will be watching Canadian food policy closely for both the next municipal, provincial, and federal elections.

Hunger is a complex issue both in the US and Canada alike and if you have an interest in this topic check out Finding North.  There is a great trailer to wet your taste buds: