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Archive for Healthy Living

March 18th, 2015

Ask Lori: Should I Peel Cucumbers or Leave the Skin On?

Ask Lori: Should I Peel Cucumbers? Groovy Green Livin

I’ve been asked many times how I come up with topics to write about. Cucumbers for example-how did this make it to the top of the list? Here’s the answer: Readers submit questions all the time and I do my best to respond. I’ve mainly been responding via email. A week or so ago I was meeting with a colleague and she suggested that I use some of the fantastic questions submitted for blog post topics. And so here we are. Keep those fantastic questions coming. You never know, they could end up the topic for “Ask Lori” .

QUESTION: Should we be peeling the skin off cucumbers or just leave it on? I don’t know if pesticides were used in the growing of the cucumber so I’ve been peeling off the skin. What do you think? 

Did you know that cucumbers belong to the same family as melons? The first cucumbers are believed to have come from India. They’re fairly easy to grow here in the Northeast. I grow them every year in my garden.

Cucumbers are low in calories and high in vitamin K, anti-oxidants and potassium. Cucumber peel is a good source of dietary fiber that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers.

I recently started eating  most vegetables whole, raw and with the peel on.  Sometimes they don’t look as pretty , but the taste is sweet and delicious. The peel stays put so I can reap the full benefit from the veggies-lots of fiber and nutrients.  Nature made them that way, and let’s face it- peeling is a pain.

There are a few situations where you SHOULD peel cucumbers:

  • If the outer skin or peel has a bitter taste.
  • When the cucumber isn’t organic and could be laden with heavy doses of pesticides. Cucumbers are listed as one of the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen”. The Dirty Dozen is a  list of 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticides detected on the parts you eat, after typical washing.
  • If your digestive system can’t handle peels.

If you have an organic cucumber leave the peel on. You’re peeling away layers of nutritional value.

Vitamin K and unpeeled cucumbers

Eating an unpeeled cucumber adds to your daily vitamin K intake. Eating 1 cup of unpeeled cucumber provides you with 17.1 micrograms of vitamin K, while peeled cucumber slices contain only 8.6 micrograms.

Cucumbers and Vitamin C

Add unpeeled cucumber to your diet as a source of vitamin C, or ascorbic acid.  Each 1-cup serving of peeled cucumber contains 2.9 milligrams of vitamin C.

BOTTOM LINE: It sounds as though my reader’s cucumbers were not organic. I would suggest peeling the skin off since they are listed as one of the “Dirty Dozen” and trying to buy organic cucumbers in the future.

Do you peel your cucumbers?  Are you willing to try eating them with the peel on?
photo credit: cucumbers en route to pickledom via photopin (license)

 


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March 10th, 2015

Getting to Know Your Oatmeal: The Different Types of Oats

Getting to Know Your Oatmeal: The Different Types of Oats Groovy Green Livin

Oatmeal is a pretty common breakfast food in our house. If I remember the night before, I prep a batch for the next morning in my favorite slow cooker. I’m able to delay the start time so that it’s ready when we wake up. A bowl of oatmeal is an easy, nutritious crowd pleaser. Add a few mix-ins to that bowl of oatmeal and you have your own fabulous creation. Perfect on a cold, winter morning.

The oatmeal aisle at the supermarket can be overwhelming. There’s the prepackaged oatmeal in single servings, the boxes of oats and  bulk oats. If you don’t know your oatmeal, it turns into a guessing game. Here are a few tips to help you make your next bowl of oatmeal healthy and perfect.

Oatmeal: The Different Types of Oats

All oatmeal starts off as oat groats (say that three times fast). An oat groat is the most complete grain of oat, with only the inedible hull removed. Oat groats can be used straight up to make oatmeal. These are best in the slow cooker since they take about an hour to cook. Here’s a simple recipe.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats are also sometimes called “Irish Oatmeal” and “Pinhead Oats”. Steel cut oats are oat groats cut into several pieces. This type of oatmeal is the least processed and as a result it takes a long time to cook. Well worth the wait. This is my favorite type of oatmeal.

Rolled, Regular or Old Fashioned Oats 

Rolled oats, regular oats and old fashioned oats are all one and the same. They are created when oat groats (whole oats) are steamed, flattened and dried. This is what most of us think of when we envision a bowl of oatmeal. They are slightly processed, but still a whole grain (the whole oat).

Quick Oats

Now we’re talking processed oats. The quick oats used to make your oatmeal are no longer whole grains and loose much of their nutritional value when processed. Quick oats go through the same process as rolled oats, but even more processing. They’re actually rolled thinner than rolled oats. The added processing allows them to cook quickly, thus their name.

Instant Oats

Instant oats are the most processed of all the oatmeal. These oats are pressed even thinner than quick oats, enabling them to cook very quickly. You can add boiling water to these oats and they’ll thicken almost instantly. Instant oatmeal is high on the glycemic index, causing your blood sugar to sky rocket and then drop back down quickly.

Oatmeal quick tips

  • Be on the lookout for added sugar, salt and other ingredients that don’t belong in your oatmeal. Read labels carefully. Be especially wary of the single serving oatmeal in a variety of flavors.
  • When possible opt for steel cut oats and old fashioned (rolled or regular). They are the least processed.
  • Buy organic when you can. There are no GMO oats at this time, but pesticides can be used in the growing process.

What’s your favorite type of oatmeal?

 


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photo credit: Coffee Granola via photopin (license)

March 6th, 2015

Mom Detective: My Hunt for a Flame Retardant Free Couch

toxic flame retardant in furniture Groovy Green Livin

This piece was originally published over at Moms Clean Air Force

Change is happening. As buyers continue to demand flame retardant-free furniture, manufacturers have no other option but to listen.

It’s no secret flame retardants have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other serious health problems, yet much of the furniture in the market place continues to be filled with these toxic chemicals.

There’s some good news to report.

Office Furniture and Toxic Flame Retardants

A group of companies that cumulatively spend over $520 million annually on office furniture have pledged to purchase furniture that contains no chemical flame retardants. By taking this pledge they are joining forces to demand their office furniture suppliers offer safer products without flame retardant chemicals.

This is a big shift in the right direction. With these companies taking the lead, they’re sending a strong message to all furniture companies that it’s time to end the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals.

According to the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) a small group of office furniture companies have already committed to selling flame retardant-free furniture.

CEH also released the names of the corporations and government entities that have signed the CEH Purchaser’s Pledge. The companies on this list have taken a pledge to purchase furniture made without toxic chemicals. Their commitment to purchase chemical-free furniture kicks off a national trend towards safer products made without flame retardants.

Some of the companies committing to purchase furniture made without toxic chemicals include: HDR Architecture (North America’s 2nd largest design firm, with 8,500 employees working in 200 locations worldwide), Facebook, Staples, Autodesk, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and San Francisco Department of the Environment.

Residential Furniture and Toxic Flame Retardants

Back in 2013, a study of 102 couch samples (including one from Moms Clean Air Force’s Public Health Policy and Outreach Manager, Molly Rauch), were gathered from around the country and tested for the presence of flame retardant chemicals. An alarming 41% of the samples were found to contain chlorinated Tris, a carcinogenic flame retardant which was banned for use in baby pajamas in the 1970s.

Thankfully, there’s good news coming out of California. Beginning on January 1, 2015, companies that sell furniture in the state of California (manufacturers are applying this to products sold nationwide) are required to include a label that discloses if upholstered furniture products contain flame retardants. Check for the label underneath or on the back side of furniture.

These new safety regulations also allow upholstered furniture to be made without flame retardants. It’s important to note that these regulations don’t ban added flame retardants from furniture. Unfortunately, only products manufactured after January 1, 2015 will require the label, and mattresses are not required to be labeled. But again, it’s a step in the right direction.

The Chicago Tribune reported reported:

“…that major furniture retailers including Crate and Barrel, Room & Board, and Williams-Sonoma (Pottery Barn, West Elm) all say they have mostly eliminated the chemicals from their products. IKEA, La-Z-Boy, The Futon Shop, Scandinavian Designs and Wal-Mart also said they have told vendors to stop adding flame retardants to furniture.”

The nation’s largest furniture company, Wisconsin-based Ashley Furniture, reported to the Chicago Tribune it is committed to making products that don’t contain flame retardants.

This is big news. According to Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, Ashley Furniture is not only the biggest furniture retailer in the US, they’re also the biggest manufacturer, and one of the biggest in the world with nearly $4 billion in sales. We now need Ashley Furniture to take the next step by announcing a clear public time frame for phasing out these chemicals in furniture foam and fabrics.

How to find flame retardant-free furniture

With the new safety regulations in place my search for chemical-free furniture just became a bit easier. While manufacturers aren’t required to remove flame retardants from their furniture, these new requirements are a few steps closer to transparency when it comes to our furniture purchases.

Let your dollars do the talking and seek out furniture retailers and manufacturers that commit to carrying furniture without toxic flame retardants.

  • Check if the company is on the CEH list and has removed all flame retardant chemicals from their furniture.
  • Ask retailers and manufacturers if the product/model you are considering is flame retardant-free.
  • Verify that the furniture you’re planning to purchase was manufactured after January 1, 2015.
  • Let retailers who continue to use toxic flame retardants know that you won’t be purchasing their products.
  • When purchasing furniture, use the NRDC guide and verify with the store that the product is flame retardant-free.
  • Look for the new label from companies that sell furniture in the state of California which discloses if upholstered furniture products contain flame retardants.

Are you in the market for a new couch? Will you ask if there are flame retardants before buying?

 


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photo credit: Paragon Properties / Northville Woods via photopin (license)

March 3rd, 2015

6 Things in Your Home that Could Cause Cancer

6 Things in Your Home that Could Cause Cancer Groovy Green Livin

A person is more likely to die from heart disease than cancer, but cancer is closing in quickly and could take the lead.

According to a recent New York Times article, the most encouraging gains in the war against cancer come from taking steps to prevent this disease. We all know that not all cancers are preventable, but through some simple lifestyle changes we can sometimes lower our risk.

The home is an easy place to begin since there are several possible cancer-causing substances that might be lurking under your very own roof. 

Non-Stick Pots and Pans (Teflon)

Many homes are filled with nonstick pots and pans, which are loved for their ease and convenience when it comes to cooking and cleaning. Nonstick finishes have come under fire in recent years due to the toxic fumes emitted when the cookware is exposed to high heat. Most nonstick pots and pans are metal pans (such as aluminum pans) coated with a chemicals from the Perfluorinated chemical or Perfluorochemicals (PFC) family. Studies in humans found that workers with exposure to PFOA have higher risks of bladder and kidney cancersAnother study showed that PFCs have been linked to infertility in women.

Bottom Line: Ditch the Teflon.

Candles

Candles come in varying scents, colors, shapes and sizes. If you’re not careful about your candle purchase they could add nasty pollutants to your indoor air. Most of the candles on the market are made with paraffin wax, derived from petroleum, and scented with synthetic fragrances, also derived from petroleum. In a study by the American Chemical Society the researchers found that the petroleum based candles emitted varying levels of cancer-causing toluene and benzene, as well as other hydrocarbon chemicals called alkanes and alkenes, which are components of gasoline and can irritate respiratory tracts and trigger asthma.

Bottom Line: Time to replace those petroleum based candles with a safer alternative.

BPA 

For many years BPA has been on the minds of parents, consumers and public health advocates. I’ve been following the BPA issue closely and devoted much of my writing to this topic. I was even interviewed by ABC World News about the FDA’s decision not to ban BPA. There have been some wonderful victories surrounding BPA. The good news is that many companies are starting to listen and BPA is transitioning out. The bad or unsettling news is that even though a product is considered BPA-free the replacement could still be releasing high levels of other chemicals that mimic estrogen.

Bottom Line: Just say not to plastic as much as you can.

Radon

According to the National Cancer InstituteRadon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air.”  People who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Believe it our not radon is the second largest cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Radon can enter your home through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors.

Bottom Line: Test your home for radon. 

Household Cleaners and Cosmetics

There could be cancer-causing chemicals in your household cleaner and cosmetics. Seems crazy, right? Unfortunately our system is broken both of these industries are highly unregulated. This leaves it wide open for these toxins to land in our products. Remember Tide and 1,4 dioxane (a known carcinogen)?

Bottom Line: Become an avid label reader and find products that contain simple ingredients and avoid products that contain long chemical ingredients that you can’t pronounce (*update see comments for additional information). Best bet-make some of your own personal care and cleaning products at home.

Flame Retardants

Much of the furniture in our home is filled with flame retardants. It’s no secret flame retardants have been linked to cancer, birth defects, hormone disruption and other serious health problems. The market place seems to be shifting as more and more retailers decide not to use toxic flame retardants, but as consumers we still need to be cautious.

Bottom Line: Let your dollars do the talking and seek out furniture retailers and manufacturers that commit to carrying furniture without toxic flame retardants.

How do you prevent cancer-causing chemicals from entering your home?

 


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photo credit: The House, Lately via photopin (license)

February 26th, 2015

Everything You Need to Know About Cast Iron

Everything about Cast Iron Groovy Green Livin

I’ve been gradually making the switch to safer pots and pans. Nonstick finishes have come under fire in recent years due to the toxic fumes emitted when the cookware is exposed to high heat. Bye, bye Teflon, hello cast iron and stainless steel.

About a year ago I was sent a Lodge 10-inch cast iron skillet ($14) for review and it rocked my world. Since then I have an arsenal of stainless steel and cast iron in my kitchen. Cast iron certainly has its drawbacks- it’s extremely heavy and cast iron requires a little extra elbow grease to keep it in tip top shape. But I’m finding the pros far outweigh the cons.

Just this past week I invested in a Lodge Cast-Iron Reversible Grill/Griddle ($45) for the top our our range. We’ve been using it for pancakes, pancakes and more pancakes.

Since I’m a newbie when it comes to cast iron I thought I would devote some time to a few cast iron basics.

Why Should I Buy Cast Iron?

Cast iron is the pan that your grandmother used. Cast iron pans keep getting better and better as they age. The more you cook the better they get. These relatively inexpensive pans are virtually indestructible, provided you take care of them. Cast iron pans can be transferred from the stove top right into the oven (or on the grill, or even over the campfire). Also, the seasoning of the pan creates a nonstick surface without the toxic chemicals found in Teflon pans (see below for information on seasoning). Note of caution: Acidic foods like tomatoes, beans, and certain sauces can damage seasoning, and should be avoided until the seasoning is well-established.

What Cooking Tools Should I Use With Cast Iron?

Many cast iron devotees have heard rumors that wooden cooking utensils are the best. This isn’t necessarily true. Stainless steel spatulas work fine and won’t damage the seasoned pan. If you choose to use metal cooking utensils with your cast iron you might see black flakes in your food. Those flakes are probably pieces of food and shouldn’t be of concern.

How Do I Clean and Season Cast Iron?

Cleaning cast iron is actually very simple.

  • After cooking, clean your pan with a sponge and hot water. No need to use soap. Careful not to put a hot pan in cold water-this could causing it to warp or crack.
  • TIP: If you are having trouble removing stuck-on food, boil some water in your pan for a few minutes to loosen residue, making it easier to remove.
  • Towel dry immediately and apply a light coating of oil while the pan is still warm.

There’s been a video flying around the internet on how to clean and season cast iron. It’s fascinating and involves using kosher salt. Take a look.

What Cast Iron Pan Should I Buy?

Here’s what I have in my kitchen:

On my wish list:

Do you have any cast iron pots and pans? Any tips to share?


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Disclosure: Please know that if you make a purchase using a link on this page, I may earn a commission (at no extra cost to you), which in turn helps support this site. None of the companies I promote on this page have paid me, I just really like their products. Thank you in advance.

photo credit: DSC_0331.jpg via photopin (license)

February 12th, 2015

Join Me: Tell Congress We Have the Right to Know What’s in Our Food

Tell Congress We Have the Right to Know What's in Our Food Groovy Green Livin

Everyone has the right to know what’s in their food. It’s hard to disagree with that, right?

More than 90% of Americans believe GE (genetically engineered) foods should be labeled. Unfortunately, there are a few who don’t agree that GMOs should be labeled and they’re giving the pro labeling community a tough time.

Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and  G. K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) have introduced legislation dubbed the Deny Americans the Right-to-Know Act (DARK Act), which would deny consumers the right to know if there are genetically engineered ingredients in their food.

National Week of Action to Label GMOs

This week has been designated “National Week of Action to Label GMOs”. Together, we are trying to prevent another DARK Act from coming before Congress and possibly passing.

What is the DARK Act?

DARK is an acronym for the “Deny Americans the Right-to-Know” Act.  Last year the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” officially H.R. 4432, came before the 113th Congress and is likely to appear before the 114th Congress this year in a new bill.

The DARK Act would make the failed voluntary labeling system that we have had in place over the past 13 years permanent. Simply put, we have the right to know what’s in our food and the current system isn’t working. We need labeling.

How You Can Help. Let Congress Know that You Care.

There are many organizations working tirelessly to make sure GMO labeling remains on the forefront of the political landscape. As consumers, we can work alongside these organizations.

During this National Week of Action to Label GMOs we can work together to put a stop to this new version of the DARK Act.

Here’s what you can do to help: 

  • Sign THIS petition at Just Label It. You will be asked to enter your zip code. This will allow your petition to be sent directly to your members of Congress.
  • Call your Senator. This isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Use WhoIsMyRepresentative.com to determine who to call and then let them know why you care about GMO labeling.

It would also be fantastic if you shared this info with your friends and family. We need to work hard, quickly and together to make the DARK Act go away.

If labeling GMOs is important to you and your family please spend a few seconds on this. Can you help? Thank you!


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photo credit: OccupyTheFarm: “Family Weekend At The Gill Tract Urban Farm” 4/28/2012 via photopin (license)

February 9th, 2015

4 Climate-Friendly Valentine’s Day Gifts

 

Climate-Friendly Valentine's Day Groovy Green Livin

 This was originally published on the Huffington Post.

It’s hard to ignore the sea of red gifts and boxes of chocolates lining the aisles in most stores this time of year. Valentine’s Day is upon us. While we ponder how to best surprise our loved ones, many areas in the country are being hammered with multiple blizzards. It’s hard to imagine, with several feet of snow on the ground, that winters have, on average, been getting warmer since the 1970s. According to Climate Central there has been an overall drop in the number of nights below freezing in most cities.

This increase in warmer weather throughout the world is becoming the new normal. Climate change is real. With 61 Senators (a vast majority of the Senate including 15 Republican senators) admitting the scientific reality of man-made climate change, we can now move forward and talk about solutions.

While discussions of political solutions to climate change are beginning to circulate we can continue with our own personal efforts to reduce our individual carbon footprints.

This Valentine’s Day rather than focusing on those red and chocolate filled aisles why not look outside the box and give a gift that will truly make a difference and impact climate change.

Adopt a Polar Bear

American polar bears are on the brink of extinction unless we take immediate action. These large marine mammals spend much of their time on the Arctic Sea, in areas where they can hunt seals at openings in the sea ice hundreds of miles from land. But the Arctic Sea ice is rapidly diminishing due to climate change, thereby destabilizing the polar bears’ habitat.

This Valentine’s Day give the gift of adopting a polar bear. Your gift will help to protect the fragile Arctic by fighting climate change through vital research and policy work, advocating a ban on all drilling in the region, and pushing for polar bears to gain the full protection they deserve under the Endangered Species Act.

Declare Your Love for the Planet 

The Climate Coalition is the UK’s largest group of people dedicated to action on climate change. This Valentine’s Day they’re asking everyone to submit photos of things they love and that they fear losing due to the effects of climate change. The #ShowTheLove campaign is a way to show politicians and those in decision making roles that climate change is something we all care about.

Climate change affects the things we love most. Our childrens’ future. Our hobbies. Our passions. Our lifestyles. Our safety and wellbeing. We’re saying loud and clear – let’s act on climate change, for the love of everything we hold dear. 

In honor of Valentine’s Day head on over HERE and #ShowTheLove by sharing what you love and how it could be impacted by climate change. There’s also a short film and green hearts to make, wear and share with your loved ones.

Plant a Tree in Honor of Someone You Love

Instead of giving cut flowers this Valentine’s Day why not give a tree? According to the Arbor Day Foundation planting trees helps to fight climate change.

Through the natural process of photosynthesis, trees absorb CO2 and other pollutant particulates, then store the carbon and emit pure oxygen.

You can reduce your energy use by strategically planting trees near your home. Trees will keep your house cool in the summer and allow the sun to warm your house in the winter. According to the U.S. Forest Service Center just three trees, properly placed around a house, can save up to 30% of energy use. Forests are the world’s second largest carbon reservoirs (oceans are the largest). We can’t create new oceans, but we do have the ability to plant new trees. One acre of forestland will capture between 150 – 200 tons of CO2 in its first 40 years.

Honor your friends and loved ones this Valentine’s Day with the gift of trees. Every dollar donated to the Arbor Day Foundation plants a tree in one of our nation’s forests.

Forgo the Cut Roses and Give a House Plant

So often we forget that the environment has the natural ability to clean itself. Many common houseplants act as an air purifier, removing toxins from the air we breathe. They are known to produce oxygen from CO2 and they absorb toxins including benzene (gasoline, inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber), formaldehyde and/or trichloroethylene (printing inks, paints, lacquers, varnishes, and adhesives).

Through air purification household plants reduce the amount of humidity in the home, which in turn means less air conditioning is needed during the hot summer months.  Most electricity needed to run an air conditioner is currently produced by burning fossil fuels. Reducing the amount of air conditioning needed will require less electricity to run an air conditioner, which will in turn reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.

A few years back NASA scientists studied nineteen different plants over a two year span to see which did the best job cleaning the air. The NASA study recommends that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house.

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day this year?

 


P.S. If you liked this post you might enjoy our Groovy Green Livin NewsletterReceive new posts and special opportunities delivered right to your inbox! Sign up HERE.


 

photo credit: Rex Rosetta Fur Heart via photopin (license)

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About Lori

I’m Lori Popkewitz Alper, a recovering attorney, mom of three and the Founder of Groovy Green Livin. Come along with me as I work hard to make the world a little safer for each of us.

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