DIY Friday – Bathtub & Sink Cleaner in a Flash

It always felt a bit weird to scrub my sink, toilet, and bathtub with Clorox or Vim and then watch all those toxic chemicals go straight down the drain.  Right into to our water system where yes, it’s filtered from our water system but that doesn’t stop damage to lake species.

Most mainstream abrasive cleaners are full of toxic chemicals and it’s a bit ironic that we use them to keep our house free of germs of bacteria.  I know that when I am cleaning the tub I often cough as a result of those nasty toxins entering my lungs.  Enough is enough!

This may be the easiest DIY recipes ever as it requires only one ingredient:  baking soda.  Sprinkle liberally and clean using a sturdy rag or cloth.

I tried this out on my sinks today and it was easy as pie – no extra elbow grease required.  I’m happy with the result – gleaming clean sinks and a guilt free conscious.

Check out The Health Junction’s Resources (under links) section for a list of environmentally friendly products suggested by the City of Toronto.




My Beef With Conventional Symptom Suppression

This past winter, I got a nasty, nasty, nasty flu that knocked me out for a full week and lingered for around 14 days.  It came on strong and furiously right after coming home from seeing a movie with El Branno and was relentless.  I did what I’ve always done – went straight to the drugstore to get a pack of extra-strength Tylenol Cold & Flu and took two pills every four hours without fail.

What I did with my flu was a classic case of symptom suppression which is the very backbone of Western medicine.

Have a headache?  Pop an Advil

Feel blue?  Grab an anti-depressant

Heartburn driving you nuts?  Take down some Pepto Bismal

Do you have gallstones?  Well then, let’s remove your gallbladder

The thing about symptoms is that they are like the Town Crier and are working hard to let us know something is out of balance.  Let’s take the example of my flu where the symptoms were fever, chills, runny nose, cough, aches and pains.  My body was dealing with an acute virus and in response it tried to get back to its normal state (nerdy science term for normal is homeostasis) by bringing up my temperature to fight the infection and producing more mucous to keep bacteria and germs out of the lungs.  Symptoms like these actually help us return to homeostasis and by suppressing it with over-the-counter drugs I was muffling the Town Crier in a big…bad…way.

The problem with symptom suppression over time is that we aren’t really addressing the root of the issue.  If I am taking Tylenol every time I have a headache, I’m not stopping to think about WHY it exists in the first place.  Perhaps the cause is dehydration, tension, stress, lack of sleep, or waiting too long to eat between meals.

Over time, the suppression of symptoms associated with acute illness actually cause chronic disease and impacts larger body systems.  Conventional medicine believes the gallbladder is a non-essential organ and thus it’s often removed after repeated incidences of gallstones to suppress the uncomfortable symptoms.  Bile, which is produced in the liver is stored in the gallbladder where it’s secreted into the small intestine in order to emulsify fats.  By removing the gallbladder, bile becomes much weaker and constantly drips into the small inestine causing irritation and is actually indicated in colon cancer.  Gallstones, btw, are usually caused by a poor, high fat diet and there are lots of things we can do to flush gallstones out and repair digestive health so that the symptoms are naturally relieved and homeostasis achieved.  A happy gallbladder is healthier digestive system!

Try to attention to what your body is telling you and try have trust in it’s ability to fight disease.  Symptoms are nature’s way of making us consider WHY something is out of balance.  Symptoms are a gift and if you have them consider yourself lucky.



UPDATE: Day 5 of no coffee (well, sort of)

I’m attempting to stop the consumption of caffeine, and it’s going just a medium level of OK.  The first two days were tough and I felt a little like this guy below.

It wasn’t pretty.  I didn’t have a headache, but felt like a zombie and experienced major brain fog which can be described as “feeling spacy, confused, forgetful, lost, tired, along with difficulty thinking, concentrating, focussing, and completing tasks“.  Seriously, I drove myself crazy trying to remember the name of my high school French teacher who terrorized me – she’s the kind of person you just don’t forget.  After frantically calling my brother I was reminder her name…it’s Mmme. Blanchon in case you were wondering.  Needless to say, the physical and mental symptoms are real and unpleasant.

By Sunday morning, day 3, when El Branno went to get himself a coffee I begged for one myself.  I only drank about half but felt like a colossal failure.  My classmate Emily, who recently gave up the bean herself had these encouraging words via the master himself Gandhi:

“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

Okay, so I’m back on the road to recovery and so far it’s okay.  Lesson to be learned here is a little slip up doesn’t mean we are starting back at square one.



Beat the heat wave with these cool books!

Note:  all books reviewed are available at the Toronto Public Library.



The Kind Diet

Despite having seen this slightly weird video of Alicia Silverstone feeding her son pre-chewed food directly from her own mouth, I wanted to check out her book “The Kind Diet” which was suggested to me by a friend.  In her book, Alicia Silverstone outlines her path to becoming vegan and managed to examine the benefits of such a diet without being preachy.  I learned a lot about how mainstream animal protein is farmed and merchandised to the public which makes me feel like I have more power as a consumer.  There is a recipe section which is divided into three sections which build up on going vegetarian to vegan (the later by the way means eating no animal or animal by-products).  I made Eggplant Chana Masala with a group of middle school students and we all quite enjoyed it!  If you are interested in the topic of veganism or just want to learn more about whole and natural foods check this book out.  Four out of five stars!


Meals That Heal Inflammation

Julie Daniluk is a pretty well-known Canadian Nutritionist and is the host of OWN’s Healthy Gourmet – and she graduated from the school I’m going to so I’m extra proud of her book “Meals That Heal Inflammation”. I waited 3 months for this book at the library, but it was worth the wait.  Julie’s book talks about how inflammation within the body is often caused by food.  By using anti-inflammatory healing foods as medicine, we can give our body a break and restore balance.  Both recipes that I’ve tested so far were 100 percent delectable; African Nut Butter Stew which was a creamy white bean, sweet potato, almond butter, and kale based concoction as well as Cinnamon Baked Apples, a lovely grain free version of apple crisp. Five out of five stars!


DIY Sunday – Getting Clean Green Stylez

I have been so encouraged by my DIY deodorant project that as my beauty and cleaning products start to run out I’ve been trying to replace them with greener homemade options.  So far, so good – still cleaning my teeth with homemade toothpaste and my armpits happen to smell of lovely lavender.  Next on my list of projects is a DYI Laundry Detergent and All Purpose Cleaner.

By the way, I’ve noticed that getting started on an at home pharmacy can be a little pricey at the beginning, but you’ll soon start to realise both the financial and environmental footprint benefits so keep at it!

Laundry Detergent

(adapted from Lindsay Coulter’s Queen of Green section of The David Suzuki Foundation website:

7 L water

1 cup soap granules

1/2 cup borax

1/2 cup washing soda

20 drops essential oil (optional)

Add 1 L water and soap granules to pot. Heat until diluted.

Pour into pail with 6 L water, borax, and washing soda and stir until dissolved. Add essential oil. Soap will gel as it cools.

Use 1/2 cup per full load

NOTE: this makes upwards of 7 liters so make sure you have a bucket or pail with a lid on it before you get started.  I think lavender and eucalyptus essential oils would work nicely in this recipe.  You can find these ingredients at some grocery stores and almost all health food stores.


All Purpose Cleaner

(adapted from Gillian Deacon’s book Green For Life.  Check out her website at

This couldn’t be any easier.  When your current spray cleaner runs out, keep the bottle and refill it almost to the top with water.  Add 10 drops of both Lavender and Tea Tree essential oil.  Tea Tree Oil is antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic, and antiviral.  Lavender Oil is also antiseptic and smells divine.  This can be used to wipe counter tops, tables, bathroom counters, etc.  The essential oils run at about $9 CND per bottle but since you only need a little bit, they do last quite a while.



Isolation in Japan, Ally McBeal, and Coffee Loving Co-Workers…the start of my caffeine addiction and my plan to quit it for good!

Let’s get one thing straight – I love my daily coffee and I’m sure most of you out there do too.  Let’s go back to the place where it all started.I returned to Japan in 2006 to teach English and was placed in a barren no man’s land called Mobara which is located in Chiba Prefecture.

Red marks the spot

My Western friends Natasha, Stephen, Paz, Sarah, and Martha affectionately refered to it as “NO”bara and shuddered dramatically whenever there was a mention of the tiny seaside town.

The Ladies of Japan: Natasha, Sarah, and Paz

The trainer that hired me told me it was close to Tokyo but having lived in Japan as a teenager I knew I was in for some serious isolation when pulling up a map and seeing its location.

How does this relate to coffee?  I’ll get there, bare with me.

So, upon arriving I had no friends and moved into a hot, dirty, cockroach invested apartment that was below the only train tracks in the town of Mobara.  Even though this town was crap and small, it had lots of trains that careened outside my door starting at about 4 am and continued till 12:30 am.  My first night in Mobara, I slept in that terrible apartment on someone else’s dirty futon (the school forgot to order me a new one) where I heard the pitter patter scattering of tiny little cockroach feet and was so freaked out that despite the heat I cocooned myself in a hot stain laden blanket all night.

Those first few months in Japan were hard and lonely.  My only friend was Season 1-3 of Ally McBeal (or as they refer to in Japan – Ally My Love) and delightful little chocolate covered pretzel sticks called Pocky.  It was depressing but I am glad I stuck it through because I met some of the greatest people there and it all started with my Japanese co-workers Yuki, Hiromi, and Ryusuke.  Besides being patient and fun teachers, they took me under their wing and kept me sane.  All three of them loved coffee and I started having daily cups of java with each of them where we discussed ridiculous students, staff members who couldn’t stop farting, world politics, and of course food and drinks.

I love these two ladies: Yuki and Hiromi

 Before I knew it, I had a coffee addiction and it continues to this day.  As a nutrition student, understanding the impact of coffee on the multiple systems of our body was eye opening.  In short, it puts our body into a fight or flight response which impacts our endocrine, circulatory, and nervous systems.  It causes a blood sugar reaction, cortisol levels to rise, and also impacts digestion.  It isn’t good for people with hypoglycemia and is super addictive.

I know all of this but I still don’t want to give up coffee.  As I type, I have a delicious coffee right next to me and it occurred to me today that it’s not necessarily the effect of coffee that I crave (alertness and of course it is tasty), but in fact the ritual.

Even though I love it, I’m ready to try to give up coffee.  No guarantees, but I’m committed to at least trying.  Here are the steps I am planning to follow – join me if you like!

1.)  Half the quantity you drink.  I am on day number two of this.  So far, so good.  If you are a  more than 1 cup a day right now, start to reduce the number of cups over the next week.

2.)  Let’s look at our diet.  If you are like me and rely on coffee to combat fatigue now is the time to start looking at what dietary factors may be contributing to your morning or afternoon low.  As a general rule, refined carbs, sugar, booze, and coffee (ironic I know) cause dips in blood sugar.    You can combat this by eating smaller more frequent meals that contain whole grains, lean proteins (try nuts and bean or bean dips), and most importantly water.  Stabilizing blood sugar combined with removing the Fight or Flight response inducing coffee will hopefully help us feel more alert.

3.)  Create a new ritual. I like the a hot morning drink so will be trying to have some herbal tea instead.  I have a box of Vanilla Honeybush tea on standby.  Some of the online sources I have been reading suggest that Stinging Nettle Tea is a good energy boosting alternative to coffee – it contains iron and adrenal gland supporting agents.

I will be updating you all on my progress over the next several weeks.  God Speed!


On the road again…stay healthy while traveling

Eating healthy while on the road isn’t an easy thing to accomplish but can definitely be achieved with some planning.  It’s pretty common to return home after a trip feeling sluggish, sleepy, and bloated – here are some tips to help you avoid those pesky symptoms.

1.)  Bring your own snacks.  When I travel, I try to bring a trail mix with pumpkin seeds, dates, pecans/almonds, and pistachios.  Pack it in a plastic ziplock and squeeze it in your backpack or purse.  Homemade muffins, Cliffbars, and of course fruit are other ideas.

2.)  Stay on a healthy eating schedule.  Eat breakfast!  Most hotels have a coffee pot so you can get some hot water and mix it with instant oatmeal.  Top it off with some fruit and nuts.

3.) Research healthy restaurants in advance.  As a general rule, vegetarian places offer a healthy array of nutrient dense foods that will keep you feeling and looking great.

4.)  Choose smart meals.  When eating out, choose lean proteins such as chicken, beans, and fish alongside salads, steamed veggies, and complex carbohydrates.  Bring half of your meal back to your hotel and ask the staff to store it for you – maybe you can eat the rest of it for lunch the next day.

5.)  Avoid drinking alcohol and coffee especially on the plane and make sure you stay hydrated by drinking water frequently.

6.)  Run. It’s the most versatile way of exercising when you don’t have a gym nearby and it’s also a fun way of exploring the place you’re visiting.

7.)  Get a good night’s sleep before you leave and while you’re on the road.  It’ll help keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent cravings.

8.)  Take a multivitamin.  While traveling, we often get run down and are more susceptible to picking up bugs.  By getting enough sleep and taking a multivitamin you can give your body a crutch to lean on.

9.)  Fiber is your friend.  Arg, how many of you have had a rotten bout of constipation while on a trip?  A change in schedule can often bring on intestinal distress causing constipation which is really not fun.  By ensuring you get enough water and fiber you will be helping your digestive system big time.  You can get fiber from fruit, veggies, and whole grains.  If you’re in a real bind (pardon the pun) you can mix two teaspoons of milled flax seeds in a glass of water and drink that followed by lots of water for the rest of the day.  Water is the key to keeping things moving.

10.)  Bring wet wipes. Think about how many people have used the washroom and walked out without washing their hands.  Gross.  Stay germ free with these bad boys that are a travel staple!

Sleep, Beauty, Eco-Ideas, and Tricking Your Kids…More June Book Reviews

Note:  all books reviewed are available at the Toronto Public Library.


A Good Night’s Sleep

At school, my teachers are constantly talking about how important sleep and stress are to our overall health and wellbeing but it’s something that we often discount and it’s the first to go during busy periods.  This book, written by Lawrence J. Epstein and published by The Harvard Medical School breaks down why we need sleep and explains ways to overcome sleep issues in a way that is readable and understandable.  Sleep related issues such as insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and even night terrors are discussed and examined for possible solutions backed with scientific research that supports the evidence supplied.  If you, or anyone you know has ever experienced problems sleeping, definitely check this book out.  4 out of 5 stars.

Deceptively Delicious

I love Jerry Seinfeld, who doesn’t!?  Well, his wife is pretty much just as awesome.  In her book Deceptively Delicious, Jessica Seinfeld paves the way for parents to sneak healthy food into foods.  For real, you can put beets in cupcakes, cauliflower into tuna salad, and spinach and broccoli into chicken nuggets.  YES!  This is the book I’ve been looking for.  I work at a middle school teaching nutrition and cooking to 6, 7, and 8th grade kids and the minute I pull out any type of vegetable they start to moan and groan.  This book will allow me to get their stamp of approval on the taste of a dish BEFORE telling them what’s in it.  Brilliant!  The author teaches you how to puree and store foods so that “hidden” ingredients are quick and accessible even on a busy weeknight.  5 out of 5 stars!!!

The Green Beauty Guide

I loved the book There’s Lead in Your Lipstick so much that I decided to explore the topic of DIY beauty even more and was pleasantly surprised with the information contained in The Green Beauty Guide. Written by Julie Gabriel, this book suits those looking to up the ante on their home pharmacy and will allow you to avoid purchasing most beauty products from your local drugstore.  Learn how to make your own perfume, soaps, creams, and oils and if you decide to purchase items instead, Gabriel has outlined the safest and most environmentally friendly products on the market.  4 out of 5 stars.

Green for Life

By the same author as There’s Lead in Your Lipstick (can you tell I loved that  book??!), Green For Life teaches readers how to be environmentally conscious without having to live on a commune.  Learn how to purchase a car, have sex, have a baby, and do renovations to your house while keeping the environment in mind.  Did you know that cloth diapers have half the environmental footprint as conventional diapers which stay in landfills for more than 200 years?  By installing a low flow shower head and turning off the water while you soap up you can save you $250 dollars a year.  I hadn’t even considered that you could throw an environmentally friendly child’s birthday party…wow!  Some of the suggestions in Green For Life are too much for the average person to implement but most are totally doable and so, this book is absolutely worth reading if you care about reducing your eco-footprint.  5 out of 5 stars!



June 2012 Book Reviews

1801 Home Remedies:  Trustworthy treatments for Everyday Health Problems

This book, published by Reader’s Digest, was put together by a group of MD’s, Nurses, pharmacists, and Herbalists and the result is an informative and realistic approach to treating everyday aliments without necessarily reaching for a bottle of pills.  Each issue has a few pages dedicate to the causes and treatment options for everything from constipation, a sty, ingrown toe nails, and jock itch to snoring and the common cold.  The suggestions given are really easy to implement and there is a sidebar that indicates when the problem could be more serious requiring a trip to the doctor.  5 out of 5 stars!


There’s Lead in Your Lipstick

My teacher recommended this book during a class discussion on toxic buildup and she outlined that many of our beauty products are laden with harmful chemicals (check out a more in-depth post on this issue).  Until I read Gillian Decon’s book, I really hadn’t given much thought to the ingredient list on my shampoo, conditioner’s, deodorant, and makeup.  It’s hard for me to now discount the harmful effects of these chemicals on my long-term health and so I was especially glad that there were a ton of suggestions on safer product options on the market.  “There’s Lead in Your Lipstick” is also speckled with DIY recipes with I keenly tried out and now have a bathroom shelf complete with my own homemade deodorant, toothpaste, and body moisturizer.  5 out of 5 stars!


Fit and Fast in Minutes

I’m always on the lookout for recipes that meet the needs of a busy weeknight so was pleased when I saw this book on the shelf of my local branch of the Toronto Public Library.  Written by Prevention Magazine, this book has 175 recipes that all take under 30 minutes to make.  What I enjoyed about “Fit and Fast in Minutes” was that there was a focus on fruits, vegetables, and high fiber foods while keeping sodium and saturated fats in check.  The author, Linda Gassenheimer, was able to introduce readers to short but varied ingredient lists while keeping things realistic for those of us who shop at a No Frills type grocery store.  Some recipes that caught my eye include Wild Turkey Hash, Smoked Trout Salad, and Chicken Satay with Thai Peanut Sauce.  Yum!  For those of you watching your dietary intake, you’ll be pleased to know that the per seving nutritional information is included.  4 out of 5 stars!



DIY Friday: Minty Fresh Toothpaste


Here is what is different about DIY toothpaste; it doesn’t foam and the taste takes some getting use to because the primary ingredient is baking soda.

I tested out the final product and my teeth felt super clean the aftertaste was actually refreshing.

Get a small container (I used an old jam container) and combine 6 tbsp baking soda + 1/2 tsp salt + 4 tsp vegetable glycerine + 15 drops peppermint essential oil.  Vegetable glycerine can be found at most health food stores; in Toronto check out Optimum Natural Foods in The Junction.  I use a brand called Now as seen below.

The consistency could be described as a loose paste.  To keep things sanitary, I just added a small spoon to the jar which can be used to scoop paste onto my toothbrush.

If you have kids, I hear that an orange or vanilla essential oil works well instead of peppermint.

Let me know what you think of these recipes!