In high school, I came down with a pretty gross rash. Tiny angry red dots ran up and down my legs. After getting it checked, my doctor informed me the bumps weren’t a rash at all, but a significantly more worrisome condition called petechiae. After an immediate request for bloodwork and an explanation from my doctor, I found out petechiae is a condition of bleeding underneath the skin. It can be an early indication of Leukemia. Petechiae occurs when tiny blood vessels (capillaries) break, leaving tiny red dots of bruising.
Thankfully, in my case, all the blood tests came back perfectly clean. After consulting a dermatologist, we were able to pinpoint the problem — my allergy to yellow dye.
Apparently, the shaving cream I’d been using contained “yellow dye #5” (a common synthetic coloring agent). When I shaved my legs, the shaving cream seeped through open hair follicles and (because I was allergic) caused my capillaries to burst. It sounds worse than it felt; but, my capillaries burst because of an unnecessary synthetic ingredient! It was after this incident that I began to take ingredients more seriously. Because I had such a noticeable reaction, I started wondering what was happening inside my body when I consumed unnatural things. What went on underneath the skin, unable to be seen by the naked eye?
I share this story not to dramatize an allergy, but rather to give you an example of how invasive these unnecessary ingredients can be to our body. And unfortunately, as I checked ingredient list after ingredient list for years, I quickly realized yellow dye wasn't the only unnecessary ingredient put into our foods/cosmetics/cleaning products (as I'm sure you know). I noticed numerous unpronounceable, and unidentifiable to the average-joe ingredients on labels and I started to question their purpose. This fueled my interest in clean living and nutrition. Although we know so little of what these harsh ingredients can do to our bodies when used for years after years, the detrimental effects we do know are alarming. These ingredients can be cancer-causing, hormone-imbalancing, respiratory-harming. And the one thing we do know is that they are totally unnecessary ingredients.
Now, I don't want fear to motivate you. My desire is for stewardship to ignite the passion within you. The Lord blessed us with our bodies and His beautiful Creation. When we steward our bodies and creation well, we bring glory to Him and thus thank Him for the gifts He has freely given us.
As we seek to steward our bodies and health, it is critical to understand how to best keep our bodies free of unnatural ingredients. And if your experience is anything like mine, it can be a bit paralyzing. If you walk through the grocery store, you’ll be bombarded by a myriad of catchphrases such as “Organic, NON-GMO, paraben-free, sulfite-free, synthetic dye-free, non-toxic, natural, free-range, pasture-raised, grass-fed, grain-free, BHA-free, sulfate-free, EDTA-free, silicon-free, synthetic-free, antibiotic-free…” How do you know what these labels and qualifiers stamped over our food in the grocery store mean? I've often wondered:
“Where should I start?
Why is that bad?
What does 'organic' even mean anyway?
AND WOW, why is this all so expensive?!"
Well, I am writing this article to simplify the clean living trend. So before we dive in, what is the clean living trend? For our purposes, I'd define it as the conscious aim to reduce consuming/using toxins in your daily life. Maximizing natural ingredients in your food and reducing the use of harsh chemicals in your household cleaning supplies and commonly applied cosmetics are common starting points.
So, as you consider how to best steward your body and health, I am delighted to share my top 10 tried and true tips to simplify your shopping and empower you to create a chemical-free, clean home.
When buying organic, look for the "USDA Organic" label. The USDA requires specific standards and qualifications to ensure organic regulation. To see the list of these standards, click HERE. This list also offers insight into why organic is typically more costly: Farmers jump through an abundance of hoops to ensure their products are organic. Additionally, fewer pesticides + no genetic modification = the crops are more susceptible to death or to be eaten = a higher risk for the farmers = higher price for consumers...which leads me into tip #2.
It can be costly to buy all organic. Consider following the "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" lists. The "Dirty Dozen" classifies which produce contains the most harmful pesticide residue; therefore, you should buy these items organic. The 2019 Dirty Dozen: Strawberries Spinach Kale Nectarines Apples Grapes Peaches Cherries Pears Tomatoes Celery Potatoes The "Clean 15" is the produce list with the least amount of pesticide residue; therefore in cost-saving measures, those items can be bought conventionally. (Click HERE for more info). The 2019 Clean Fifteen: Avocados Sweet Corn* Pineapples Sweet peas, frozen Onions Papayas* Eggplant Asparagus Kiwi Cabbage Cauliflower Cantaloupe Broccoli Mushrooms Honeydew Melon * "A small amount of sweet corn, papaya and summer squash sold in the United States is produced from genetically modified seeds. Buy organic varieties of these crops if you want to avoid genetically modified produce." - The Environmental Working Group
Buy USDA Organic meat, and pasture-raised eggs. USDA Organic meat "regulations require that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones. To learn more about the USDA Organic meat, click HERE. On top of a myriad of other reasons, pasture-raised eggs are best to buy because they have "1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene" (Small Footprint Family). To learn more about pasture-raised eggs, click HERE.
Consider shopping at Whole Foods, or getting a subscription to Thrive Market for your pantry items. Whole Foods follows a strict list of banned ingredients that they do not allow in the store (one of which being yellow-dye...so you better believe they have my loyalty;)). To see their banned ingredient list, click HERE. Shopping at places with banned ingredients allows you to stock up on healthy foods and saves you time -- there will be a lot less label searching. Unfortunately, Whole Foods can be a bit pricier, so consider shopping there for the staple items. Or, consider getting a Thrive Market membership (it's similar to Costco, just an online version for organic, NON-GMO brands).
For cleaning supplies, consider switching over to the following brands: - Norwex: Norwex sells microfiber cloths to clean counters, windows, floors, etc. The cloths just use water and "remove up to 99% of bacteria from a surface when following proper use and care. They contain BacLock® an antibacterial agent for self-cleansing purposes only." My mom uses Norwex and anyone who knows my family, knows we all swear by them (and are low-key obsessed). Norwex makes your windows sparklier than ever, while at the same time being magic cloths that remove just about any stain. I even use a specific Norwex cloth to remove my makeup at night! It's incredible. Because of our obsession, my mom sells it. If you ever want to try these magic microfibers out, just let me know :) To learn more, click HERE. - Seventh Generation: a sustainable company offering plant-based products. I use their detergent and antibacterial wipes when I want something quick and disposable. 7th Generation discloses all its ingredients (and explains what they are and how they impact the environment) to offer peace of mind and transparency. To see their list, click HERE. - Use simple items like vinegar + baking soda + essential oils to make our own DIY solutions. Additionally, those items can be used to clean your toilet bowl. You can also clean your carpet with 1-part water and 1-part vinegar solution to remove stains. Using simple items that you can consume orally ensures safety and no chemical burns.
For cosmetic supplies, check out Follain. Follain is an online retailer that carries only non-toxic cosmetics. Follain uses its own five-step test to safeguard that they are only stocking their store with the best products. They carry an expansive list of products at a wide range of price points.
If the ingredient list (for ANY product) is looooooonnnnnngggggg, I don't want it. If the list contains multiple ingredients I don't know, I look up the ingredients. The shorter the list the better, and the more you understand the list, the better.
START SMALL. Don't try to change everything at once. It takes time. Tackle one aspect of your home at a time. Start with your food, and then move forward. It is often a multi-year process.
It's NOT all-0r-nothing. Offer yourself grace. I still use plastic wrap and baggies, have cleaning supplies in my house I don't like to use, and eat processed food I know isn't great for me. Again, it takes time and some is better than none. I'm not perfect at filling our home with "clean" everything. With this, I fall back on my nutrition rule of thumb -- 80/20. My hope is for at least 80% of our lives to be non-toxic, chemical-free, and clean.
Last but not least, my general rule is: the simpler the better. Eat foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. Shop in the produce sections (outer aisles of the grocery store) and avoid the inner aisles that are filled with processed foods.
I hope this encourages you to start, helps simplify your life, and inspires you a clean lifestyle is worth it!