Over the past few years, I’ve been trying extra hard to live a healthier life, in terms of chemicals in products that I use/eat/wear. This has come in part from new health awareness in my family, as well as the general amount of knowledge floating around on the internet. (Visiting super eco-friendly Portland didn’t hurt either) The more I research, the more I understand that there are chemicals EVERYWHERE and in EVERYTHING. To be 100% clean of man made toxic chemicals, you’d probably drive yourself nuts after about an hour of venturing out of your home. It really does take some serious dedication and time to figure out what is worth the effort to avoid, and after doing a bunch of research, I think I’ve found a happy middle ground for myself.
In general, I’ve focused mostly on foods and products that touch or go in my body, including shampoos, soaps, food storage containers, clothing, lotions, etc. You could go so far as to monitor the way these items are manufactured, how far they travel to reach you, the companies behind them, etc… but at this point in my life, I want to start with something more manageable. Maybe in the future I’ll dig a little deeper, but for now this is enough.
I’ve found that a lot of informational websites tend to focus very specifically on one brand, or product, or chemical, so you need to visit lots of sites to get a wide range of info. It’s easier to me if I can keep all my info in one place, so this is going to be a REALLY long article encompassing all of those things. If you don’t feel like diving into this all at once, I totally understand, and this would be a good time to click over to Pinterest or whatever. If I’ve peaked your curiosity, I hope I can provide a good base of knowledge to kickstart your healthy living.
In general, there are a few important key ideas…
- Just because a product has the word “organic” on it, does not mean it’s actually organic. Look for the USDA organic stamp, or the 100% organic stamp to be totally certain. Also, organic products aren’t necessarily across-the-board better for you. It’s possible to use organic ingredients to make a harmful chemical.
- Do your research online. Don’t expect to walk into an Ulta, or Sephora, or Marianos and be able to determine what foods or products are good for you just by reading the labels. (unless you plan on spending 20 minutes per item)
The exception to this rule is Whole Foods. It’s expensive and luxurious, and not an ideal place to buy all your products, but it is WONDERFUL for finding good brands and items. Whole Foods follows super strict self-imposed rules on what types of ingredients they allow on their shelves, both for foods and body products.
- Essential Oils are a big factor in the product side of this. Most chemicals that are in your products can be easily swapped out for an essential oil. By the same token, raw ingredients are a big factor in the food side. Your body needs nutrients that are found naturally in raw grains, seeds, and vegetables. Once these are processed, they lose most of the nutrients, making your food far less useful for your body.
foods we love
fruits•raw veggies•seeds•raw nuts•grains
chia seeds•steel cut oatmeal•raw coconut•avocados•coconut oil•spinach•kale•chicken•fish•bananas•eggs•honey•cinnamon•rice•quinoa•almond milk•lemons•water•nut butter
Basically, eat simple. If you know how and where a food is grown, it’s probably good for you. The less processed it is, the better. The fewer ingredients, the better. Fruits, vegetables, and seeds will always be good for you. Meats, gluten, and carbs have some pretty bad stigma, but none of them are wholly terrible. Don’t add sugar (or fake sugar) to your foods. Healthy fat is good, processed fat is not. Oils are great. Everything in moderation.
I read somewhere that if it comes in a crinkly shiny bag or you can buy it at the gas station, it’s not good for you. There are obviously exceptions, but in general, that’s a pretty great place to start.
Your body has a harder time processing certain types of foods, including gluten, dairy, meat, and processed fats. This isn’t to say it CAN’T process, it just means it takes more effort and doesn’t provide as many benefits as other foods.
Think about it like a washing machine. If you put your normal clothes in with the normal soap, the machine does its job and spits out clean clothes. If you put the clothes in with the normal soap, and then add a pound of sand, a pound of dirt, and some dust…. it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder for the machine to do its job, and your clothes won’t be as clean as if you hadn’t added all those extra barriers. Plus, you may have to run a whole additional cycle to get the results you want, wasting energy and time. Your body is a machine and you should feed it what it needs to run well.
Vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, raw, and paleo diets can all be beneficial to your health, but work differently for everyone, so it’s best to figure out which combination works for you. We try to eat less meat and dairy, more raw veggies and load up on seeds and raw nuts for snacks. I hardly eat processed foods anymore, and Brian has significantly decreased his intake of kraft mac-n-cheese from one box a day to one every two-ish weeks! Gotta start somewhere hahah
products we love
It’s a lot easier to be concerned about health in terms of what food you eat, but it’s just as important to consider things that are entering your body in different ways. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and is incredibly absorbent. Your skin touches hundreds of different products a day, from your clothing, to your shower soaps, to hand soaps, to keyboards, etc, and you are absorbing all of those into your body. Not to mention the products that your food touches before it goes into your mouth. You know what happens if you set an apple on a cutting board that just had onions on it, and the same thing happens if you set that apple on a plastic plate that is full of chemicals. gross.
If I were to list all the chemicals that you should be avoiding, we’d be here all day. Here is a list of commonly occurring chemicals that are found in cosmetics, body care, plastics, and food storage containers. They all have unique negative affects, so if you’re specifically concerned about one or another, google it.
parabens•sulfates•phthalates•triclosan•formaldehyde•toluene•dimethicone•sodium lauryl/laureth sulfate•non-natural fragrances•BPA•styrene•plastic
Just like with food, you don’t have to go 100% all-natural chemical-free right away. Even eliminating one or two of the bad ingredients is a step in the right direction. The products below are varying degrees of “good for you” but are ones that I love and feel good about using.
Anchor Hocking glass locking food containers – Glass bowls, with plastic sealing lids. Not ideal because of the plastic lid, but I love that it’s a glass bowl that won’t leak in my bag when I bring lunch to work. Also, less waste.
Mason jars – we use these for everything. for drinks, for storage, for coffee, for snacks… they’re glass and metal, easy to clean, super durable, and totally inert. and cheap!
Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soaps (and other products too) – There are only 11(!) ingredients in these soaps, 10 of which I know are totally natural. Look up the benefits and history of castile soap and be ready to have your mind blown. We’re currently using this as shampoo/body wash/kitchen spray/bathroom cleaner…. and experimenting with more.
Nature’s Gate shampoo+conditioner – this is one of the non-100% chemical free products I’m using, because I like most of the ingredients and I’m trying to ease my hair into sulfate-free shampoo. I tried this out at one of our airbnb’s in Portland and loved it.
Lush face masks+shampoo bars+body soap – I love Lush because I know where every single one of their ingredients comes from. We love splurging on a bath bomb every once in awhile, but I also love their more common products like face masks and the body soap. The shampoos aren’t sulfate free, so that kinda sucks.
Pine Tar Soap – Brian loves this stuff. It’s all natural, smells pretty great, and he uses it for body soap although there are other uses. Beware, it leaves a really gross looking brown residue all over your shower, so you’ll have to clean it more often.
Cast Iron – We’ve been transitioning to using cast iron pans for most of our cooking. There’s definitely a learning curve to cooking on them and maintenance, but we’re starting to get the hang of it. These pans are great for your food, naturally non-stick, and good for the environment.
Better Life products – We’ve used their countertop spray, dish soap, floor cleaner, and dishwasher detergent. I love how natural their ingredients are, and it all smells incredible. The dishwasher stuff worked the least well out of the bunch, but I’m convinced it’s user error mixed with a crappy dishwasher.
Whole Foods 365 body care – Like I mentioned before, WF follows very strict rules about which ingredients they will allow in products they sell. In their Whole Body section, they go one step further with their Premium Body Care category. These items follow the very strictest guidelines, and are specifically marked in the stores. They’re usually only a dollar or so more than other brands, but are so much better for you. I use the 365 brand body lotion and love it.
Trader Joe’s Laundry Detergent – We love this because it is made from plant derived components, and smells delicious.
I’m sure there are tons of other product options to reduce your chemical intake, and these are just a few that we’ve found to work for us. These are not by any means the best, or the only products you should use, but they do contain far fewer chemicals than most brand names.
Note: I wrote this post awhile ago, and haven’t posted it because I don’t want to sound like I’m preaching, or telling you how to live your life, or say that my way is any better than yours. Please don’t take it that way. Nothing is cut in stone, and this is by no means a comprehensive list of how I live my life. If someone gives me a poptart, I’ll eat it. If I’m at Portillos, you better believe I”m getting cheese fries and a chocolate cake shake (with vanilla shake – no chocolate syrup) without once thinking of the nutrition.