'Natural' Products You Should Avoid

It's easy to find personal care products labeled "natural" or "organic." But labels can be misleading.

As we walk through the aisles at the health food store we see hundreds of products labeled with the words "organic" and "natural."

Naturally, we assume that foods with such labels were produced using sustainable farming practices that do not include artificial fertilizers or pesticides and are free of toxic chemicals, artificial ingredients, additives, preservatives and petroleum derived ingredients.

Unfortunately, not all "organic" products are created equal -- or even organic. Many such products are blatantly and misleadingly branded such by unethical companies.

The USDA has not established standards for organic personal care products, which adds to the confusion. Companies can, however, choose to be certified under the USDA National Organic Program through which food producers are certified. Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap company, for example, is has been certified as an organic processor and also certified Fair Trade.

Not all companies are as exemplary. A recent study found that some "organic" personal care product companies are cheating and making products using petrochemical ingredients such as olefin sulfonate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium myrth sulfate and methyl and propyl paraben preservatives. They package, label and sell these products to unsuspecting consumers as "organic." And, although these products are not certified organic, we buy them because we trust that their claims are truthful. This is another example of greenwashing.

While conventional personal care products such as Johnson's Head-to-Toe Baby Wash by Johnson & Johnson might be laden with carcinogenic petrochemicals, these products are not misleadingly sold as "organic." But to health oriented and environmentally conscious consumers, who pay a premium for organic and biodegradable products, it might be shocking to realize that some of the products they have been buying are not much better than conventional products found at mainstream grocery stores.

For instance, a close look at a label on Jason "Pure, Natural & Organic" liquid soaps, body washes and shampoos, reveals that one of their main ingredients is Sodium Myreth Sulfate, a cleansing or foaming ingredient, whose production involves the ethoxylation of petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which produces the byproduct 1,4-Dioxane, a well known carcinogenic. Avalon "organic" soaps, body washes and shampoos are made with Cocamidopropyl Betain, which contains the petrochemical Amdiopropyl Betaine, which can cause allergies and skin irritations. Nature's Gate "organic" hair care products contain Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, which involves ethoxylation and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Although these can be produced with coconut oil, the production process often involves petroleum. Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate is used in 90% of all foaming personal care products that exist in market, which can be contaminated with carcinogenic nitrosamines posing a serious health threat. Kiss My Face "obsessively organic" It's free!cleansing ingredients include olefin sulfonate, which is a petrochemical. Giovanni "organic cosmetics" are made with cocamdiopropyl betaine.

The vast majority of us spend our lifetime using soaps, shampoos, conditioners and shaving creams all over our absorbent bodies. We use laundry detergents, fabric softeners and even bleach on towels, beddings, table linens and clothing that come in direct contact with our skin. Every single day of our lives we lather our bodies, clothes and dishes with cleaning liquids and bar soaps that could be poisoning us and the environment. The damage from a single use might be miniscule -- maybe insignificant -- but the long term cumulative effect can be seriously hazardous to our health. Skin irritations, upper respiratory illnesses and even cancer can result from exposure to the varied toxic chemicals found even in baby products branded as "organic", gentle and safe.

Shallow, unethical and shameless companies are cheating consumers by selling products that violate the principles of the organic movement and consumer trust. What is seemingly a wonderful and healthy organic product made from botanicals created from nature might actually be a bottle deceptively branded as "organic" but in fact filled with a smidgen of organic ingredients or a pinch of herbs drowned in distilled water, preservatives and synthetic ingredients produced partly or fully with petroleum.

Truly organic all-vegetable soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, etc., should be made using ecological materials and environmentally friendly methods. We certainly don't expect an organic product to be just another synthetic cocktail of harsh detergents and petrochemical compounds that produce byproducts such as 1,4-dioxane, which can not only cause cancer but also pollute our ground water.

How do we protect ourselves from being scammed by these crooked and deceitful companies? On a previous blog posting I ask readers to boycott companies that have been unashamedly deceiving consumers by selling products labeled as "organic" despite the fact that they've been produced with the same toxicants usually found in mainstream conventional products.

Some readers asked me why not just boycott only the products containing toxicants instead of the entire company? Before I answer that, I ask you, would you buy fruit from a farmer who claims his fruit is "organic" but when the said fruit is tested, it's found to contain high levels of cancer-causing pesticides? Can you continue to believe in anything sold by a company that has so derisively betrayed your trust? Can you and should you support a company that has no consideration for your health or the fact that you pay a premium of 200 or even 300 percent more for what you believe to be a truly organic product?Amira Elgan

What these shady companies have done is a premeditated infringement on consumer trust purely out of avarice. Their actions are a demonstration of their absolute lack of respect and appreciation of consumers as well as complete lack of environmental stewardship.

Thinking that the solution is to selectively purchase products from a company that has proven to be deceitful is a disjointed notion. The practice of misbranding, misleading and mislabeling can stop only if consumers stop buying products from corrupt companies.

It's up to consumers to hold dodgy companies accountable. Until these companies either desist from calling themselves "organic" or publicly commit to making all their products 100 percent free of toxic petroleum compounds and adhere to organic practices. We should not spend a penny on their fake "organic" products. Our only power over a company who profits from our consumption is choosing wisely how we spend our money. Use your buying power to reward companies that are ethical and have not been lured to increase their profits by lying and cheating at the expense of your health and that of the environment. This is the only way to send a strong message to unethical companies to force them to adopt higher, ethical and safe standards.

Although you may be feeling frustrated and thinking that "everything is bad" or that "everything causes cancer," that's simply not true. It's just a matter of being an educated consumer. Learn what to look for and be an active and conscious consumer. Here are some helpful suggestions to keep in mind next time you buy personal care products:

1. Buy organic products that have been certified under the USDA's organic food standards. These products are produced in accordance to strict organic guidelines of the USDA National Organic Program that currently apply to organic food.

2. Take the time to read the *ingredient label* carefully. The list of ingredients should be easily understood and pronounced with words that are familiar. Be suspicious of hard to pronounce words on the ingredients list. The Organic Consumers Association recommends to avoid buying products that contain ingredients with words such as "myreth," "oleth," "laureth," "ceteareth," or other words ending in "eth" (which implies the ethoxylation process that generates 1,4-Dioxane). Also, avoid products with ingredients such as "PEG," "polyethylene," "polyethylene glycol," "polyoxyethylene," or "oxynol."

3. Buy products made with real ingredients that come from herbs, flowers, vegetables, fruit, trees, spices and other nontoxic plants. The bulk of the ingredients should have been grown, not synthetically created in a lab.

4. Avoid buying products that contain toxic and even carcinogenic phthalates, FD&C artificial colors, methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens.

5. Avoid any ammonia compounds such as DEA (diethanolamine) and TEA (triethanolamine), which cause dryness and irritation of eyes, hair and skin but also can be contaminated with cancer-causing nitrosamines when exposed to nitrates.

6. Avoid buying products with the word "fragrance" on the labels. Synthetic fragrances can cause skin and respiratory problems.

7. Other ingredients to avoid include stearalkonium Chloride, a toxic anmonioum compound used in hair conditioners, lotions and creams. PVP/VA copolymer used in hair sprays can cause damage to lungs. Petrolatum is a cheap mineral oil that offers no benefits and can create skin problems. Diazolidinyl urea and imidazolidinyl urea are chemical preservatives that may cause contact dermatitis and release formaldehyde, which is toxic.

Here is a list organic and natural companies whose products were recently tested and came clean with no detectable carcinogenic petrochemicals such as 1,4-Dioxane.

Buy These:
Aubrey Organics
Burt's Bees
Earth Tribe
Desert Essence
Dr. Bronner's
Dr. Hauschka
Nurture My Body
Real Purity Products
Sensibility Soaps (Nourish products)
The Natural Alchemist

Here is the list of companies, which had some of their personal care products test positive for carcinogenic ingredients.

Don't Buy These:
365* Everyday Value By Whole Foods
Aura Cacia
California Baby
Circle of Friends
Citrus Magic
Earth Friendly
Ecco Bella
Emerald Forest
Giovanni Organic cosmetics
Healthy Times
Hugo Naturals
Kiss My Face
Life Tree
Nature's Gate Organics
Sea-Chi Organics
Seventh Generation
Ultra Hair Conditioning Shampoo (by Nature's Plus)

Go here for a complete list of products tested as well the specific results. I also recommend that you check out Skin Deep, a safety guide to cosmetics and personal care products.

For a list of my favorite personal care products, check out my blog posting.

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Rapadura OK for Diabetics?

Q: I understand Rapadura is a healthy alternative to Refined Sugar for normal individuals. But what about the diabetic patients. Is Rapadura better than aspartame or saccharin for a diabetic patient?


Rajesh (Seattle, WA)

A: Dear Rajesh: Thank you for asking such a great question. Although Rapadura is not a refined sugar (unlike white table sugar, which has been bleached) and contains the nutrients from the sugar cane, it is still sugar. Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are best avoided due to possible negative health effects. Some women, for example, have experienced side effects from using aspartame including headaches and worse symptoms of PMS. Aspartame is believed to be an "excitotoxin," which can damage nerve cells through over stimulation. The best available non-caloric sweetener is stevia, an herb in the chrysanthemum family native to Paraguay. It’s available at health food stores in the form of whole-leaf powder or extract. A little bit of stevia powder or just a few drops of the extract goes a long way providing lots of sweetness. Diabetics are better off using stevia as regular sweetener. Raw agave nectar is also a good sweetener but should be used only sparingly by diabetics.

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Homemade Savory Baked Tofu

Click on the last picture for a closer look!

Baked tofu makes a quick and yummy snack. It’s also a versatile ingredient as part of a meal, such as in a salad or sandwich or in a stir fry with vegetables and quinoa or brown rice. It even makes a fast breakfast meal: Grab it out of the fridge and eat it as a finger food on the go. Baked tofu is definitely a staple food to keep in every healthy kitchen.

Store-bought organic baked tofu is not the healthiest or cheapest you can buy. In fact, one of the most expensive prepared foods sold at health food stores is organic baked tofu. One package of two small pieces of tofu (8 ounces) costs between $3.70 and $4.50 in the U.S. That’s one to two servings only. Baked tofu sold at stores often comes also packed with additives and preservatives. But you can bake your own at a tiny fraction of the cost of store-bought baked tofu, and make it healthy, organic and free of additives or preservatives.

2 (16 or 20 oz) extra firm tofu
3 garlic cloves, pressed or finely minced
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1¼ cup vegetable broth
3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons stone ground whole grain mustard
3 tablespoons raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar
¼ cup fresh orange juice (one juice orange)
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, very finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 teaspoons fresh basil, very finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
½ teaspoon ground yellow mustard seed
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon blackstrap molasses, unsulphured
2 teaspoons raw agave nectar or brown rice syrup (optional sweetener)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. This step is optional. Skip to step two if desired. For better baked tofu texture and absorption of flavors, place packaged tofu in freezer overnight but no more than six months. When ready to make baked tofu, transfer packaged tofu from the freezer to the refrigerator overnight to defrost slowly.

2. Remove tofu from packaging and gently squeeze it over the sink, taking care not to crumble it or break it, to remove as much liquid as possible. Wrap tofu in clean and lint-free cotton kitchen towel and place a heavy object over it letting it sit for 30 to 60 minutes to allow it to further drain.

3. Cut tofu into about eight (more or less depending on shape and size) equal pieces about half-inch thick. In an extra large or two medium deep baking dishes, whisk all the ingredients together (except tofu). Place tofu in baking dish tossing in the marinade. Arrange tofu pieces to fit flatly in baking dish without overlapping. With a spoon, take some marinade from the side of the dish and pour over all the pieces of tofu.

4. Cover the dish with lid or plastic wrap, place in refrigerator and let tofu marinade for 24 hours but no less than half a day. Half way through the marinating period, take tofu out of the fridge and flip over all the pieces. The tofu should absorb most of the marinade. Note that the tofu will be baked with all remaining marinade.

5. When ready to bake tofu, preheat oven to 350 F. Right before placing tofu in oven, turn over all the pieces in the baking dish then place baking dish in middle rack of oven. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from oven to turn over once and bake for another 15 minutes for a total of 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow it to cool off. To store it, place in glass food storage container with plastic lid and keep refrigerated for up to two weeks.


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