Friday, April 26, 2013

Video - Safer Non-Stick - Cast Iron Skillet Egg Test

With lots of info out there on the dangers of cooking in non-stick Teflon pans, many are looking for safer alternatives. Cast iron is a great one, but I've heard some complaints that food sticks. However, a properly seasoned cast iron skillet should not stick, even with notoriously sticky foods like eggs. This video (which is probably a bit longer than it needs to be) gives a quick demonstration of cooking an egg in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. If you're having trouble with your cast iron, it may need more seasoning. (See our cast iron series on our Cooking From Scratch blog for some helpful tips for the care of your cast iron cookware.)

Another important tip for preventing foods from sticking is to make sure the pan is well-heated before adding the food - this is especially important with eggs. You don't want it smoking, but it should sizzle when splashed with a couple of drops of water - then you know it's ready.

Alex the cooking photographer cast iron and eggs
Here I show how a properly seasoned cast iron skillet can be as non stick as your teflon pan without adding toxins to your food or home. The fried egg challe...

For cast iron and other safer cooking options, check out

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Is Teflon Toxic?

In the old days of coal mining, miners would lower a caged canary down into the mine, wait a few minutes, then bring the cage up. If the canary was dead, the miners knew that toxic gases had filled the mine and it was unsafe for humans.

Canaries kept as home pets have been known to die from toxic gases released from heated Teflon/non-stick cookware. Could we conclude, like the miners, that air so polluted is not safe for humans? For that matter, what about the chemicals in Teflon - can they leach into food?

Frying pan
Teflon frying pan (Photo credit: JPC24M)
The most controversial chemical used in the making of Teflon is Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. While manufacturers of Teflon claim that the PFOA used in the manufacture of Teflon is not present in the finished product, and that it is safe if used at low temperatures, studies show that Teflon releases a host of toxic fumes at temperatures easily reached on a home stove, including PFOA and phosgene (COF2). (The latter is a chemical analog of nerve gas used in WWII.)

There is usually an "if" to claims that non-stick cookware is safe: Teflon is safe if it is not damaged, if it is not heated to too high a temperature, and if the cookware is not heated when dry or empty.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (, PFOA is persistent in the environment and in the human body - in other words, it does not break down (meaning it stays a part of your overall toxic load).

Potentially carcinogenic, PFOA is implicated in cancer, particularly breast cancer, and can cause birth defects in laboratory animals. Known variously as "polymer fever," "Teflon flu," or "Teflon toxicosis," a flu-like condition can result from the inhalation of fumes released from heated Teflon. Such risks are even greater if the non-stick surface of the cookware is scratched or otherwise damaged.

So What Are Some Safer Alternatives?

-Stainless steel
A combination of various metals, including nickel and chromium, stainless steel is generally considered safe as long as it is not pitted, dented, or otherwise damaged. If it is damaged, its various metallic components can leach into foods. 

English: A cast-iron pan.
A cast-iron skillet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
-Cast iron
When properly seasoned, cast iron is safe and can actually enhance health. The iron that leaches into the food is usually a healthy additive. Your family will probably not need to take iron supplements if you use cast iron cookware! (Note: Cast iron must be properly maintained - see our post here on taking care of your cast iron cookware.)

Aluminum cookware has inconclusively been implicated in Alzheimer's disease. What is known about aluminum is that high-acid foods leach a significant amount of the metal into the food, and scratched or damaged aluminum cookware leaches more. Use with caution.

-Anodized aluminum
This is a form of aluminum that has been specially treated with acid to create a harder version that does not leach into foods. Anodized aluminum seems to be quite safe, and is generally affordable.

Enamelware delivers the even heating of cast iron without concern with proper seasoning. Enamelware is iron cookware that has been coated with enamel (a kind of glass).

Large amounts of copper can leach into foods, but copperware lined with stainless steel or tin is a safer alternative.

With a little research, it is not too difficult to find a safe cookware that will fit your family's needs and budget. Even if you're still on the fence about whether Teflon is all that unsafe, why take the risk, when there are plenty of other safer options out there?

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Health Considerations: Non-Toxic Versus Standard Paints

While most standard paint no longer contains toxic lead, it is still undesirable to many.  That being said, non-toxic paint has a few drawbacks too.  Let’s take a look at the two side by side so you can make an educated decision for yourself.

Paint, once it’s on your walls, furniture and floors, releases gases for years.  These low-level emissions contain toxins called VOCs or volatile organic compounds.  Non-Toxic paint does not emit these toxins and is thus preferred by many, particularly those who are chemically sensitive or may suffer from chronic illness.

English: Cameron, LA, January 11, 2006 - The E...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The benefits of non-toxic paint include:
  • Health benefits including a reduction in toxins released into your home. 
  • Environmental benefits because these toxins are not contaminating our soil, water supply or depleting the ozone. 
  • You don’t have to call the hazardous waste folks to come pick up your leftover paint.
  • Generally considered to be durable and effective.  In comparison to standard paint, non-toxic paint generally covers well, is easy to clean and is durable. 
The drawbacks of non-toxic paint include:
  • Non-toxic paint can be difficult to find. While it’s becoming more and more popular, it’s not carried by all paint stores.
  • Non-toxic paint can be difficult to match.  Non-toxic paint just doesn’t come in the same variety of colors that standard paint offers.
  • Non-toxic paint is also more expensive than standard paint.  In fact, if you’re employing someone to paint your home with non-toxic paint you can expect to pay up to 25% more.
  • Non-toxic paint isn’t regulated and some manufacturers are misleading about the ingredients in their paint.  Buy from trusted retailers who carry familiar and trusted paint brands.
English: Sample of cadmium orange hue paint. I...
Sample of cadmium orange hue paint.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Tips for Buying Non-Toxic Paint
  • Understand the difference between paint options. In addition to standard paint you can buy natural paints made from water, plant oils, clay, and chalk.  This type of paint offers the safest and healthiest option but can be extremely difficult to find.
  • Zero VOC Paint isn’t really zero VOC but contains 5 grams or less of VOC per liter.  Low VOC Paint offers anywhere from 250 grams per liter to 6 grams per liter.  If choosing this option look for 50 grams per liter or less.
  • When buying non-toxic paint be sure to read the ingredients carefully.  The ingredient list should contain only natural, non-hazardous items like plant dyes, essential oils, milk protein, clay and resin.
  • Look for natural pigments.  Standard color tints are what increase the paint’s emissions or VOC content. Purchase premixed colors or add natural pigments even though they’ll limit your color choice. 
Non-toxic paint is better than standard paint for reducing chemical emissions, and if you have any type of chemical sensitivities then it’s a good idea.  It’s better for your health and for the environment. 

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Benefits of Geothermal Heating & Air Conditioning Systems

Geothermal heating and air conditioning systems are gaining in popularity, and for good reason. Geothermal heat pumps are not a new idea - they have been in use since the 1940s - but with the recent green movement, more people are gaining awareness of this efficient technology. Here is how it works, and some of the benefits.

Renewable Energy: Geothermal Heating and Cooling
Renewable Energy: Geothermal Heating and Cooling (Photo credit: Argonne National Laboratory)
Every day, the earth absorbs solar energy and stores it. This is why the temperature below the earth's surface is relatively constant. Below the frost line, it's warmer underground in the winter. In the summer, it's cooler underground (this is the principle behind root cellars). Geothermal heating and cooling systems make use of this sun-to-earth energy.

There are two main types of heating and cooling systems: closed loop and open loop. Both are based in the principle of the heat pump.

An open loop system actually taps into ground water which is, like the earth underground, at a fairly constant temperature. The water is pumped into the geothermal heat pump where it is warmed, circulated through the dwelling, then returned to the earth or used in other ways in the dwelling. Because the ground water temperature is warmer than the cold, outside air, the heat pump does not have to work very hard to heat the water.

Closed loop systems circulate water and anti-freeze through a closed network of pipes. The pipes are laid underground, beginning and ending at the heat pump in the building's basement. As the liquid in the pipes travels underground, it gets heated or warmed by the pump, depending on the season.

English: A hand-drawn picture of a heat pump s...
A hand-drawn picture of a heat pump system schematic combined with cold and heat storage, based on a schematic from Geotherm Energy systems. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Benefits of Geothermal

The benefits of geothermal heating and air conditioning systems are numerous. For example:

1. Much less electricity is used in the generation of hot or cold air with geothermal systems. Because electricity requires fossil fuels to be produced, this helps reduce the use of such fuels. It also lowers your electric bill.

2. Geothermal systems can save energy and water, too, as the hot water produced in an open loop system can be used in various other household applications.
3. Geothermal systems are said to be much more comfortable. There is much less fluctuation in indoor temperature.

4. There are no visible, above-ground components that make noise and can be unsightly. The geothermal system is underground and in the building's basement.

5. No emissions are produced by geothermal systems.

6. There is a great deal of versatility with these systems. They can be customized for just about any dwelling, even going underground vertically in the absence of horizontal property.
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Monday, April 15, 2013

What Is a Zero Energy Home?

In this day and age of growing awareness of conservation of energy and a more holistic approach to building, one term that you may hear from time to time is "zero energy home."  It may sound impossible, but there really is such a thing, and more and more people are striving to attain this ideal when building a new home. So just what is it? A zero energy home (ZEH) is one where all of the energy needs for the household are supplied by alternative means. It does not mean a home that uses no electricity. Solar panels and solar water heating systems are generally the form of energy employed by these homes, because they are residential. Residential wind turbines are uncommon in most community neighborhoods - at least so far.

English: Solar boiler on a rooftop in Israel.
Solar boiler on a rooftop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A zero energy home needs some sort of back-up. It is often not actually an "off the grid" home. The sun is not always shining, and sometimes a home's energy needs drastically increase for a variety of reasons (a cold snap, a heat wave, or an increase in laundry). In fact, zero energy homes remain connected to the utility grid, and often engage in net metering.

Net metering means both the energy you use from the grid and the amount you put back into the grid are measured. Because an electric meter can spin forward or backward, the homeowner gets credit for the energy he or she puts into the grid, which is a good safeguard against those times when you need back-up.

How a ZEH Works

As noted above, a photovoltaic solar power system is employed for electricity generation. Water is heated by a passive, solar-thermal system. Passive systems do not use electrical energy to warm the water. They simply collect the sun's heat and use it to warm water. Energy needs are greatly offset or replaced for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances.

draft of a solarpipe
draft of a solarpipe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
What Else Is Involved In a ZEH?

Some ZEH builders use awnings over the windows and large eaves to block hot summer sunlight but let in sunlight in the winter. Windows in a ZEH home are thick, as is the insulation. Skylights supply much of the indoor light and the solar panels are on the roof, so the angle and location of the home are carefully considered by the builders.

How Do You Obtain a Zero Energy Home?

There are professional builders that specialize in or include the construction of zero energy homes.

You could also take a DIY approach and convert your existing home into a zero energy home. But, although in theory, a conventional home could be converted into a ZEH, the essence of a ZEH is that it is constructed from the ground up. This is because the designers incorporate a lot of "tricks" and design elements within the house's walls, roof, and so forth that would be impossible to insert into an existing home. But you can still achieve great energy savings by incorporating some of the principles of a zero energy home into your existing home if desired.
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Monday, April 8, 2013

No Posts this Week...

I apologize, but we will be unable to post on our regular schedule this week. I am recovering from a severe bout of back pain, and still can't sit for more than a few minutes at a time, which is interfering with my regular routine. However, things are really looking up today, so hopefully I should be back to normal within a few days, and we plan to resume our regular posting schedule next week.

Have a healthy, green week, and enjoy the lovely spring weather!


Friday, April 5, 2013

No More Excuses: If You Want Organic Living, You Can Have It

We’ve covered a lot over the past month, that’s for sure. If you’re feeling any information overload or are concerned about the choices you’ll make from here, just keep this in mind…

Just one small step to more healthy living is an important one. And as you make each new step, the next one becomes even easier. You don’t have to have all the answers before you start because you’re going to learn as you go along. And besides, only you can decide what is right for you.

A small vegetable garden in May outside of Aus...
A small home vegetable garden. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Whether you start a vegetable garden, decide to raise chickens or rework your budget so you can start eating more organic foods, these are all steps in the right direction.

Start by looking at local resources in your neighborhood. Look for farms, you-picks, seed banks and even educational opportunities available to improve your lifestyle. Some of the resources I’ve mentioned in the past few posts that might help you include:

- The EWG Dirty Dozen - find out which fruits and vegetables are most likely to have the highest and lowest use of pesticides.

- Find farmer’s markets, restaurants and grocery stores that sell organic food.

- Look for you-pick opportunities – just check if they’re organic.

The next step is up to you. I know you’ll be glad you took it.

And be sure to stay tuned to this blog every week for more tips, articles, and resources on healthy, holistic living!

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Video - Choosing Supplements Wisely

This is a short but excellent video on the importance of choosing the right supplement for you, and how and why supplements can offer important benefits to your health. Her emphasis on getting your nutrition mostly from food is especially important, and if you do take supplements, a "whole food" form (such as Standard Process or Garden of Life) can be much more effective and impactful for your health.

Choosing Supplements Wisely
Americans spend about $14 billion each year on supplements in an effort to correct less than perfect diets, lose weight, or address specific health issues. H...

Examples of Whole Food Supplements: 
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Monday, April 1, 2013

The Eternal Debate: Does Organic Living Require Supplements?

Welcome back! We hope you had a nice holiday weekend, and enjoyed the eco-friendly Easter tips we shared with  you last week. This week we're wrapping up with our "going organic" series with a couple more important topics for those wishing to live a healthier and greener lifestyle.

There’s an interesting trend happening in natural and organic living. People who tout the consumption of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, also seem to consume a lot of supplements. I’ve had many people ask me about this. If you’re living a healthy lifestyle, why do you need supplements?

Dietary supplements, such as the vitamin B sup...
Dietary supplements, such as the vitamin B supplement show above, are typically sold in pill form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
And it’s a very good question.

Many people living an organic lifestyle cite depleting soils, premature picking, cooking, processing and other factors as decreasing the nutritional value of our food. But here’s my take on it. If you’re eating healthfully, exercising regularly and unless you have specific health issues, supplementation may not be necessary - but it may improve your overall health, just depending on your specific needs.

Supplements are big business. Whether they’re synthetic or they’re natural (if you do take them, go natural), it’s a business that must convince the consumer they need their product.  It’s a decision that each person needs to make for themselves and it’s important to remember that having too much of certain vitamins and minerals can actually be harmful.

And more importantly, supplements can be very expensive and you need to decide carefully if they need to be in your budget.

Many people claim they’ve never felt better when taking a specific natural supplement for a specific purpose. That’s absolutely wonderful and if you’re getting the results you are looking for, more power to you. Just realize that some supplements can create dependence and even though they’re natural, can harm you.

Recently Dr. Oz shared some tips for considering supplements:

- Choose single ingredient supplements and just take the ones you need
- Do your research thoroughly
- Beware of trendy supplements

And here’s how I approach it:

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
- Eat more raw food: The more raw fruits and vegetables you eat, the more nutritional value you can pack in. Cooking strips food of vitamins and minerals, so while you may still eat the same amount of cooked food, you’re reducing the benefit you receive. If you can grow your own, or get them fresh and locally grown, that's even better, as the vitamin content of most fruits and vegetables tends to decline rather rapidly once they're picked.

- When you cook, eat real food, not pre-made processed food. Cooking your own food ensures you can use more wholesome ingredients and use cooking methods that retain the most nutritional value possible.

- Stay active. A lot of your health depends on being active and getting plenty of exercise. You can take all the vitamin supplements in the world, but you still need to get moving. Exercising gives you more energy and can give the same type of boosts that supplements can, but exercise is truly natural. Check out for some fun ways to exercise.

- Pay attention to your body. Eating and living healthy isn’t a foolproof way to stay healthy, unfortunately - it just improves your odds. So do pay attention to your body and seek medical advice, where needed.

- Sleep well. A lot of the reason many of us feel run down is because we simply don’t get enough sleep. Make it a priority and organize your day, giving yourself plenty of wind down time so you can get a proper night’s rest.

And finally, if you're concerned, you can get tested.  There are blood tests that you can get to ensure your body is getting enough vitamins and minerals. Go ahead and get one. You might be surprised that you’re as healthy as a horse. And if you’re not, then you'll know about it and you can take action on those findings. (Vitamin D is definitely one you'll want to ask about - the majority of people in the modern world are deficient in this vitamin, which is one of the most important for your health. The test for this is simple and inexpensive.)

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