Monday, March 19, 2012

Cutting out the crap: the dreaded BPA.. in food

I'd seen the stickers on kids' lunch boxes and drink bottles which read "Does not contain BPA" but not really understood what BPA was or why it shouldn't be in plastics and why we need to avoid it.  I'd clearly missed the whole BPA news item boat. Bad mother.

However, recently I read an article from one of my food-related email alerts, and in the article it mentioned that BPA, a type of plastic, had been linked not only to cancer but heart disease in otherwise healthy people.

Danger, Will Robinson.  What was this BPA and was it in my house? My food? My body?

Luckily, when I tweeted about the article, the very helpful and well-informed Lesh from @mindfulfoodie sent me a link to an article she'd written on her blog about BPA, where it was found and how to best eliminate it from your environment as much as possible.

Read her great article here.

After I read it, I must confess I felt pretty ignorant and also a little alarmed.  However, as Lesh says, no point in getting worried: get informed and take action.

I guess the most enlightening aspect of the article was finding out that (with a few, small notable exceptions) all canned foods are in cans lined with BPA!  I can't understand why we'd be concerned about buying lunch boxes and drink bottles without BPA but not be concerned about our cans of food being lined with BPA?!?!? Food that can sit on a shelf for 12-18 months?

So what is BPA?

BPA, or Bisphenol A is a colourless solid that is used to make polycarbonate plastics.

The reason why BPA is so bad for humans is because it is a known endocrine disruptor.  The endocrine system in humans and animals contains glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to regulate the body.  Endocrine disruptors either mimic hormones or disrupt their function in the body and even in very low levels, can have detrimental effects on humans.  

These disruptions can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects and other developmental disorders, in particular, learning disabilities, severe ADHD and autism, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs), early puberty and fertility problems. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

BPA itself exerts a weak, yet detectable chemical that mimics estrogen in the body.

In 2008 health concerns were raised about BPA being used in food containers and many manufacturers began voluntarily removing it from production.  It is banned as a toxic substance in some countries, but yet it still lines much of our canned food.

It's in all my canned food?

Well, yes, most of it, especially the large commercial brands.  I recently emailed Heinz to ask if all of its brands' (Heinz, Watties, Weight Watchers, Greenseas, Cottees, Golden Circle, Original Juice Co) canned foods were lined with BPA.  I received a fairly irritating response, saying that they needed more information, giving me a 1800 number to call and quoting a reference number.  I wasn't impressed, because surely they have this information that they could email to me.  Either all their cans were lined with BPA, or some weren't and they could let me know which ones were not.  Pretty simple I thought.

I also emailed Edgell.  Their response was far more transparent and helpful. They confirmed that their canned foods were lined with BPA but that:
"actions have been underway for some time to find alternatives that will enable BPA to be phased out from our canned food products."

Edgell also referred me to Food Standards Australia statement on BPA which states that the current tolerant daily intake (TDI) level of BPA "represents no significant risk to human health."

Much more helpful.  But not the answer I wanted.

More recently, studies have been calling into question the TDI of BPA, suggesting that even at very low levels, it may be responsible for disease.

A new study published on 14 March 2012 (5 days ago), conducted over 3 years by 12 scientists, has stated that:

"There truly are no safe doses for chemicals that act like hormones, because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels.”
The report cites an interesting comparison:
"The breast cancer drug tamoxifen provides an excellent example for how high-dose testing cannot be used to predict the effects of low doses. At low doses, it stimulates breast cancer growth. At higher ones, it inhibits it."
Read the full study here or a summary here.

We don't eat a lot of canned food in our house, but I realised we rely on certain items quite heavily. I immediately went straight to the pantry and removed all the canned products. Canned corn kernels, tuna, beetroot, legumes (oh the legumes!), coconut milk, baby corn, etc. Goneski. I had been buying passata in glass bottles for a while as I'd read something a while ago about canned tomatoes but couldn't remember what the issue was (!?!). However it should be noted that the lids of glass bottles and jars are also lined with BPA.

Lesh had mentioned on Twitter that Spiral Foods don't line their cans of tinned tomatoes with BPA.  I found Spiral Foods in my local health food store and saw their branded coconut cream also. I bought a few cans of the coconut cream and when I returned home, couldn't find any information on their website about BPA and coconut cream (and assumed the worst).  By email, Spiral Organics confirmed neither their coconut milk nor coconut cream were in tins lined with BPA.  

A big HIP HIP HOORAH for Spiral Foods!!!!  I am now (of course) a massive advocate for Spiral Foods and will be buying all my canned tomatoes and coconut cream from Spiral. 

Ok, so which brands DON'T use BPA?

I have limited information about brands who do not use BPA, however here are a couple, courtesy of Treehugger, via Mindful Foodie:
  • Spiral Foods: tinned whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, coconut milk & coconut cream;
  • Eden Organic (distributed by Spiral Foods and available in good health food stores) - legumes, beans etc
  • Vital Choice - tinned, sustainable (wild caught) seafood: salmon & sardines only 
There was an issue with minute, detectable amounts of BPA in Vital Choice their tuna. I contacted Vital Choice regarding the findings.  Vital Choice responded to me quickly and thoroughly, stating that as a result of the study, much testing had been done to find the source of the BPA contamination.  The source was not found however it has made Vital Choice more vigilant and all its suppliers are required to certify that they are BPA free.  Read about the study which found detectable amounts, possibly from the can lids here. And read an article in the Washington Post about it here; and Vital Choice's response here.

Personally, I'll be buying supporting Vital Choice and buying their seafood.

If you know of any other companies who sell canned foods which aren't lined with BPA I'd love to hear from you.  And let's give them a massive plug so that their efforts can be rewarded.

More about endocrine disruptors

Unfortunately, there are many more endocrine disruptors in our environment apart from BPA.  Other notable endocrine disruptors include:
  • parabens (found in shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, makeup, toothpaste and food additives) which have been found in some breast cancer tumors;
  • Phthalates (found in tubing, vinyl flooring, glues, inks, pesticides, detergents, plastic bags, food packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair spray and nail polish);
  • Pesticides and herbicides; and
  • Heavy metals (to name a few).
A helpful list of common endocrine disruptors is listed here.

Boy, am I glad I have decided to cut the crap out of my life. Little did I know why, it just seemed to make sense.  However now I really know I'm on the right track.

With new research emerging on a regular basis about the harmful effects of endocrine disruptors on humans (and indeed other animals), I am going to do my utmost to eliminate them from my environment as much as possible.  Unfortunately their effects can be long term and I hope and pray that my prior exposure to them won't harm myself or my children in future, however I know now that knowledge is power, and I will do everything in my power to cut that crap right outta my life!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Healthy Jaffa Bombs

Raw choco coconut amaze balls

Related to their cousins, the Healthy Jaffa Bombs, these little raw choc bundles of deliciousness are perhaps even easier to make.  Because we forgot about the sultanas.


10 medjool or California dates, pitted
1 cup raw cashews
3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
Organic desicated coconut to roll the balls in
2 tablespoons creamed coconut (use coconut oil if you don't have creamed coconut)


Using a food processor or hand held whizz stick, process cashews until finely ground.  Leave in the food processor.

Pit 10 dates and place in food processor.  Add cocoa and blend into a thick goey paste.  Add the creamed coconut and if the mixture is a bit dry, add a small slurp of filtered water. Not too much water as the mixture will become too sticky.

Using a teaspoon, take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls and then roll in the coconut.  Makes about 20-30 balls depending on the size of them.

Refrigerate for several hours so they firm up a little. Totes amaze-balls!!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cutting out the crap: will the greenwashers like Aveda please stand up?

It's Murphy's Law, isn't it? As soon as I think I've found nature's answer to hair spray, I dig a little deeper after reading through the comments on Jess Ainscough's blog regarding the Best Natural Beauty Brands. Hurrumph.

I have since discovered the EWG Skindeep Cosmetics Database which, I must say, is an incredible resource. Although based in the US and won't have information on all our local brands, it does have a lot of information on beauty brands, contains a database on many ingredients (69,000??) and then rates them according to how hazardous they are. Its really easy to use and a little disturbing.

Especially when I've bought Aveda hairspray, being told it was natural and made from plants, and then type in one of the ingredients, PEG-40 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, only to find it is rated 4-6 on the hazard scale, and described as being "a polyethylene glycol derivative of castor oil; may be contaminated with potentially toxic impurities such as 1,4-dioxane".

However, worse is the ingredient Ethyl Ester of PVM/MA Copolymer, which is used as a hair fixative and described as "a polymer consisting of the partial ethyl ester of thepolycarboxylic resin formed from vinyl methyl ether and maleic anhydride." Huh?  That doesn't sound like it came from a plant!


This is not at all what I was after when I bought my lovely sounding, plant based, botannical hairspray.

Blergh. Not happy, Jan.  Not happy, Aveda.

So back to the drawing board. More research required.

I for one will be taking my Aveda lipgloss back to the store as it contains an ingredient list as long as my arm (as I am an orangutan) and will be asking for a refund.
And a tip to everyone out there. Don't believe what you're told in a shop. Read all the ingredients on the packaging. And if in doubt (Aveda don't list the ingredients on their website, only selective botanical ingredients), jot a couple down and then plug them into the Skindeep Database. You might be surprised and you could save yourself some money.

Hoorah to Skindeep. Boo to Aveda.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cutting out the crap: skin and hair care products

After making a conscious decision to "cut out the crap" (see first blog post here) in our pantry and fridge, it then seemed the natural next step would be to cut a swathe through our other cupboards. Like the bathroom cabinets.

This meant turfing all my moisturisers, shampoos, sunscreens, hairsprays and all the bottles, containers and jars of goo. 

Staring at the beautiful labels of my beautiful Clarins products that were oh-so-beautiful was a little sad.  I pulled a sad face a few times when I thought about ditching my beautiful and expensive skin care.
But if that's the worst thing happening in my life, I'm pretty lucky, right?  Yeah, so I stopped feeling sorry for myself over such a stupid first world problem and decided to view this as an opportunity to find some really yummy potions and lotions.

Mmmm.  Here we go.....

Okay, so unquestionably the most difficult product to replace has been deodorant.  I've had my eyes & ears shut regarding the evils of aluminium in deodorants because it suited me not to sweat or smell.  I told myself all the evil ingredients wouldn't affect me.  I've been quite head-in-the-sand about this issue for years and it's because, deep down, I've known that it's virtually impossible to find a natural product that will stop one's sweat glands from effectively operating.

Perhaps fortuitously, hubby developed a nasty allergy to the deodorant he'd been using for years, just before I went through this exercise. He broke out in a horrible red, angry and itchy rash and only ditching the deodorant for a mineral salt stick cured the rash.  It doesn't stop the sweating but he doesn't smell.

Armed with this information I bought quite a few natural products to test the waters, so to speak.

The results have been alarming, interesting and varied.

The most alarming aspect of this whole experiment was something that hubby & I both experienced: when ceasing the use of aluminim-filled deodorant, it took 10-14 days for the stuff to entirely leave our armpits.  Ergh!  "So effective you can skip a day"??  I think not.  So effective you can skip 2 weeks because that stuff will coat your armpits for much longer than you care to imagine.

Because I'm clearly very paranoid about the issue of moisture and smell, I use the mineral stick and then when that's dry, I spray Natural Alternative Deodorant Spray on top of that.  Because I'm mental.  But I like the idea of spraying some essential oils (vanilla, bergamot, patchouli etc etc) into the area to add that bit of pong-protection.  It works!  On really hot days I do get a bit moist, but I can actually handle it because I don't smell.

Sorry I don't have the name of the crystal deodorant. It comes in a stick thing that you push up through a cylinder and the label was attached to the blue foam-covered cylinder which I removed, so I have no idea what brand it is.  However most good health food stores sell variations and even some big pharmacies.  They're good.

Another one I'm trialling which I really like is MooGoo.  It's an Australian company and makes safe products.  The roll-on deodorant is milky in appearance and the inclusion of magnesium hydroxide (or milk of magnesia) makes it quite absorbant so you'll find it will stop some sweating.

The packet claims its safe enough to drink, but then a little disclaimer says that drinking too much will have a laxative effect. Amusing since magnesium hydroxide is a common ingredient in laxatives and ant-acid products.  I don't know about you, but I'm not  accustomed to drinking my deodorant, so I'll just roll it on my armpits :-)

This is another difficult one to completely replicate with natural ingredients.  Or should I say, replicate with something that is thin and non-ghosting.

Wotnot make a 30 SPF natural sunscreen which contains a lot of zinc oxide, so its quite thick and greasy.  I try to use as little as possible and wear hats and long sleeves.  But when I can't do that, I just lather it on and feel like a bit of a greasy chip, knowing that it's better than lathering my body with chemicals and nano-particles.

Soleo also make a natural sunscreen which I haven't yet tried but a friend of mine says it too is quite thick.   Sarah Wilson has done a lot of research on the topic and is a fabulous read, you can read her blog post on sunscreens here.

Face moisturisers, serums & goop
I had recently read a post on Mama Mia about rose hip oil and how its the best thing for aging and skin care.  Being *cough* of the "over-40" variety of lady, I was particularly interested in the anti-aging properties of rosehip oil.  There are several organic rosehip oils available, but I bought a two-pack of A'kin Organic Rosehip Oil, which comes with an eye dropper in the lid.  You only need about 4-6 drops to cover the entire face.  And it smells pleasantly like a cross between fresh cut hay and pencil shavings.  I quite like that.

Mama Mia recommends using a moisturiser over the top (like when you use a serum), so I use the A'Kin Rosehip and Shea Intensive Moisture Anti-Oxidant Complex at night time over the top.  It's incredibly concentrated so will probably last me a year, if not more.  During the day I don't need anything on top during summer, but I will remain open to a lighter moisturiser during winter.
Just using these 2 products I'm quite fond of A'kin. The products are 100% natural and contain no nasties, no artificial colours and 100% vegan. The range is lovely, smells and feels good and the packaging is attractive.  For more product details, click here.

Sukin also manufacture organic rosehip oil and a beautiful range of skin and hair care products.  And they're Australian!  Had I realised this fact earlier I would have sought them out with more vigour. Next time I guess.  

Body washes, lotions and oils
The best thing to use on skin straight after a shower or bath? Organic coconut oil.  I bought a jar for the shower and a jar for the pantry.  It really is amazing stuff, can remove makeup and you can put it on your face too if you wish.  In winter I think I may need to add some body lotion on top, but for summer time it's perfect.  It doesn't smell like that 1970's suntan lotion Reef Oil, which is a slight shame, but on the plus side it has very little smell at all, which is great for cooking (its the best oil to use for cooking as it has a very high smoke point and doesn't turn rancid on heating like olive and other vegetable oils).

When I don't feel like oiling up with coconut oil, I use Sukin's Botanical Body Wash and Hydrating Body Lotion which are both divine.  A word on body washes: as they're plant derived they don't foam like products containing sodium laureth sulphate (sls) and sodium lauryl ether sulphate (sles).  SLS's and derivitive products are used in industrial cleaners and engine degreasers, as well as domestic cleaning products. They are the ingredients which make our soaps foam like crazy. Whilst links to cancer have been claimed and possibly not proven, sls and sles are known to be skin irritants and generally quite harsh on skin.  Check out the Sukin website here.

Hair care
Shampoos & conditioners?  I'm using Bod Ecology shampoos and conditioners, which I actually prefer to the conventional hair care products I was previously using.  Luscious is one word I'd use.  Mmm. Bod Ecology Website. Aussie brand too (yey!).
Natural Alternative also make lovely natural shampoos, conditioners, room sprays, body washes, hand washes and the like.  And they do an Anti-dandruff shampoo too. Another Aussie company. Woot.
In relation to hair spray, don't buy Aveda's Pure Abundance if you are after something natural, because it's FULL of chemicals with a medium to high hazard rating on the EWG Skindeep Database (a fantastic resource, by the way).  See my other post on this topic.   Poo to you, Aveda. 

So I'm still searching for a natural hair spray.  Will post later if I find one.

Puretopia. They have a fantastic Eye Rescue Roller which delivers very cooling anti-puffing eye gel via a metal roller.  Ahh. Perfect for first thing in the morning.  And another Aussie company (although this information was a little hard to find and should have been more prominent on their website).

Face scrub: Try Natural Instinct Natural Facial Scrub or for something slightly gentler, Puretopia Gentle Exfoliating Face Scrub.

Hair Oil: Give that Moroccan Oil the flick (have you seen the ingredient list?) and buy some pure Argan Oil.  Argan Oil is the key ingredient in Moroccan Oil that is good for hair.  I bought some Zwena Argan Oil which is 100% Argan Oil.  Easy peasy.

If you're interested in learning about more natural products, have a gander at Jess Aincough's blog, Wellness Warrior. She discusses the best natural body brands here.  

All of these items were available in health food stores and in some instances, Priceline and bigger pharmacies.  Priceline have an awesome range of natural skin care products, some I haven't tried but am figuratively itching to try.  Like Grown, for instance. 

If you don't live in a city with large pharmacies or health food stores nearby, many appear to be available online, if not through their own website, then through other beauty/skin care websites.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gonna cut that crap right outta my life

A couple of years ago I read the rather life changing In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.  As with his other books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules, he advocates returning to a diet of unprocessed, organic foods.  The thrust of much of his books (with a lot of research to back it up) is that those of us living in Western Countries are eating ourselves to death, with heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and other diet-related illnesses.  These illnesses are almost non-existent in cultures eating a traditional diet. Traditional diets vary widely: however they have one thing in common: the diet is unprocessed.

Not only are we eating too much, we're eating the wrong things.

As humans, we're not designed to eat cheerios, twinkies, pop tarts and lots and lots of meat that has itself been fed an unnatural diet of grains.  As he said, "we are what we eat, eats". I also like James Colquhoun's analogy: "We don't feed chimps in the zoo that kind of food, so why would we eat it ourselves?"

One of Pollan's great food rules is to check the packets of any processed food we buy.  If it contains more than 5 ingredients: don't eat it.  If it contains ingredients our great grandmothers wouldn't recognise: don't eat it.

Great advice.  And rules I've been following ever since I read his book.  I'm quite anal about checking labels and turfing anything with preservatives, numbers or stuff that doesn't sound like food.

Which has led me to cooking more food from scratch. Increasing the amount of fruit & veggies bought every week. And doing without some of the stuff we used to eat, like pikelets.  Those things are not meant to sit on a shelf for 10 days. Ewww!. 

This has been a mild curse, especially when I am tired, time poor and it really would be easier just to open a packet of Ole Mexicana Plastic Burrito Bake Sauce and serve it up to my enthusiastic, wide-eyed kiddies.  But knowing what I know now, looking at their beautiful enthusiastic wide-eyes, I just can't bring myself to do it. Mind you, they're not 100% happy about it. Kids will be kids.

The blessing has of course been not only a re-disovery of my love of cooking, but we're eating such a varied diet now, consisting of a lot of seasonal produce and formerly mysterious ingredients, such as quinoa, Thai eggplant, purple carrots, kale, rainbow chard and golden beetroot.  We're having more vegetarian meals every week and loving them. Real food cooked from scratch tastes awesome.

However...... it doesn't take long before the "cut out the crap" thinking starts to extend to other areas of one's life.  

I mean, it's hard to check food labels with nazi-like precision whilst throwing aluminium-laden deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, perfumes, moisturisers, hairsprays, hair gels, window cleaners, surface cleaners, oven cleaners, floor cleaners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners AND EVERYTHING ELSE CONTAINING POTENTIALLY HARMFUL STUFF in my trolley.

So..... I've decided that 2012, with it's lovely, even and rounded-numberness, is going to be the year I eliminate as many harmful chemicals from my life. As much as possible.

Ugh.  It can be a little overwhelming and exhausting to have one's eyes opened a crack.

The good news is: whilst I'm impatient; and whilst I'd like everything to be perfect immediately; I know that this is a gradual process.  I can't wave a magic wand and have it all done.  And I know that with each new thing turfed and replaced with something kind, I am making progress.

But I did take a shopping bag into the bathroom and filled it with all the things that contain sodium laureth sulphate and all those other compounds that belong in a lab.  I have replaced those products with beautiful products that contain plant derived ingredients, organic coconut oils, rosehip oil and other stuff that is kinder to my body and the ocean. It's actually been a revelation and a lot of fun finding new products that are just as good to use that aren't full of numbers and words I can't pronounce.

As this is such an extensive and life changing process, I'm going to blog about it, hopefully to inspire others to follow suit and demonstrate that it's actually not that hard.  It just takes a little commitment, some mindfulness and a bit of enthusiasm to keep up the good fight.

Wish me luck.