Oral health habit

When was the last time you brushed your teeth today? While it may seem like a question you’d likely to brush off, it is a reminder that you may be doing (not doing) things that could significantly affect your overall dental health. Did you know that missing that scheduled dental appointment could lead to more severe health issues? Although you’ve been used to rescheduling your dental appointment to make way for more important concerns, making it a habit could cost you more in the long run. What could you be doing (or not doing) wrong?

·         Not Flossing at all

Flossing may seem like something that you do in addition to regular brushing, but it is something that is more likely to be skipped and forgotten at all. If you are guilty of skipping this simple way of taking care of your teeth, you are not alone. While regular brushing does its job of keeping the teeth clean, flossing helps remove the food particles that may be stuck in between teeth. This simple tooth care step helps get rid of the plaque around the teeth and the gum area. If you are still not convinced how important it is to floss, then here’s a little advice – You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you would like to keep.

·         Grinding your Teeth Could Cause Irreparable Damages to it

Grinding is the sliding of your teeth back and forth. For some, the grinding sound relaxes them. Since tooth grinding usually happens at night when one is asleep, it is a relatively severe oral health problem that needs to be addressed before the teeth, and the joint connecting the teeth to the jaw gets damaged. Although there hasn’t been any agreement as to what could be causing people to grind their teeth in their sleep, high-stress levels are considered as one of the factors. Over time, this simple habit could lead to broken, chipped or fractured teeth

·         Smoking Could Lead to Oral Health Problems that Could Develop to Serious Health Concerns

Smokers find it hard to quit. For those around them, it is easy to quit. You need to stop smoking, and that’s it. However, for smokers, this simple task could mean a huge deal for them. This habit can be tough to break, but dentists in Edmonton say you need to start working on it. Whether you have been smoking for a year or ten years, quitting will be as hard, but it will be very beneficial. Not only does it lower the risk of developing oral cancer, but it protects you from developing heart disease or lung cancer even.

Having the right oral health habits and keeping it in practice could make a massive difference between having just a beautiful smile and living a healthy life.

Adventures in Raw, Vegan, and Grain-free Food – Raw "Doughnut" Dessert Balls and "Cheezy" Kale Crackers

raw vegan doughnut hole dessert balls - healthy sweet treats

I often take my mad scientist leanings into the culinary arena.  It’s where I started a journey towards mixology in my childhood with experiments in scratch-made Saturday breakfasts and a predisposition for anything messy.

Several years ago when my family was on a squeaky tight budget cooking came even more to the forefront of my daily life.  Boxed and frozen food “starters” can be surprisingly expensive to purchase and need dictated that I resort to buying the basics in bulk.  This was the genesis of my giant jars of rice, beans, a cabinet full of spices and many hours in the kitchen.  Freshly laden with a mortgage and with a recession on strong there was no money for nights out on the town – no movies, no drinks, and no restaurantsI might have felt trapped but instead to keep myself occupied and spirits up I spent my Saturdays and Sundays cooking enough food to keep the family steady for the busy week to come.  

Cooking during this time felt empowering.  It was something I connected to not only creatively but also gave me a small corner of the world where I had a reasonable chance of success.  The wide world might be chaotic and bills might be suffocating me but the assurance of a tasty batch of baked beans had me glued to my oven, watching as they simmered for hours.

Julie and Julia movie making chocolate pie
photo courtesy Julie and Julia

I think of the movie Julie and Julia where it is said, “I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say ‘nothing’ I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick.  It’s such a comfort.”

This comes back to me often as I’m hovering over my stove watching a recipe come together.  Food for me is always an interesting mix of daring and repetitive.  Once you have some basics down you can generally venture forth and start throwing things together with some reasonable assurance it will come out all right.  It has the alluring quality of living on the edge with all the safety of knowing that the worst that may happen is something will get dumped down the drain, a minor consequence in a world filled with far scarier ends.  Bravery can be practiced as you fiddle with flavor and confidence gained.

The most exciting thing about alternative dietary practices like raw, vegan, and grain-free diets is the fact that they completely blow the hinges off the structure that is conventional American cooking.  Think you really knew something?  Get ready to be a beginner again.  The ingredients and combinations are completely different.  This isn’t just adding lemon flavor to a cake and feeling novel, it’s reinventing the very flour from which the cake is made, the entire structure, and whether you bake it at all.  While to some this might seem daunting to me it is the very thing that makes it fun.  I love “first times” and the improvisational feel.  The thrill of not knowing what will happen is the very reason to show up.  I do this dance with the known and the unknown in cooking all the time, choosing each day whether I want a foray into foreign territory or another rendezvous with an old friend.

While I don’t have a stringent need to eat dairy or grain free it is enjoyable to practice these guidelines on occasion to experiment with flavor and test boundaries.  Rather than feeling like restrictions it instead resonates as just a separate palette.  We’ve actually been missing a lot by sticking to our grain and dairy staples and I enjoy forcing myself to see what works in this new realm.

For a sales event lately I made some raw, vegan, and grain free snacks as hospitality.  People raved about them.  When I served them again at my daughter’s birthday party a week later the response was the same.  They are different, but they are tasty!  With the right recipes and flavors there is no sacrifice to eating nutrient rich foods.

“Doughnut” balls have been popping up on raw blogs for months and I had been meaning to try them.  The 2 types I made give an option with nuts and one without.  Grain free and raw recipes tend to be heavy on nuts but I didn’t want to exclude those who had nut problems.

And if we can say anything about me it is that I am a cracker fanatic.  I figured if I could find a cracker that would satisfy my urge for savory crunch I’d be doing myself a favor.  Enter the “cheezy” kale grain-free crackers…

Two of the base recipes were found courtesy of Rawmazing, who lured me in with her beautiful photography, because a delightful picture of food is almost as good as eating – almost.  I tweaked both recipes, though, and so the versions I am posting here are revised.  You can visit her site to get the original versions and of course offer her some kudos on her amazing work.  I prefer my updated versions and my guests were also hooked, so I wanted to post the changes I made.

I ended up adding water to both of the “Doughnut” ball recipes I found.  Both were too dry and flaky without it.  The addition of water means you may wish to store them in the refrigerator, but made them so much more soft, tasty, and easy to eat and store.  Anyone who ate raw cookie dough as a child (or as an adult) will adore these dough balls.  They have all the allure of unbaked cookies and far less guilt.

raw vegan dessert, healthy doughnut holes or sweet energy balls

Raw Vegan Vanilla “Doughnut” Balls

30 Medjool Dates
2 Cups of real Dried Coconut Flakes (unsweetened, natural coconut)
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 pinch fine Sea Salt
2 Tbsp Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp water + more as needed

Put all ingredients but water into a food processor and let the machine run until the mixture is crumbly.  Add water and run until it looks like cookie dough.  This may take a while for the coconut to break down into small enough pieces, so run and scrape the sides as needed and then run some more.  Add a bit more water if the “dough” is not sticking together well enough.
Spoon up approximately a Tablespoon of “dough” at a time and roll into a ball.  Serve and eat them room temperature or chilled as you like.  Store in the refrigerator.

raw vegan brazil nut doughnut holes with cinnamon and sucanat, healthy dessert or snack

Raw Nutty “Doughnut” Holes 

(modified from the Raw Doughnut Holes recipe on Rawmazing)

2 Cups Brazil Nuts
1 1/2 Cups Oat Flour or Raw Flaked Oats
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil
1/3 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 cup water, added slowly

1/3 cup Sucanat
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon

Place Brazil nuts and oats in the food processor.  Run the food processor until the Brazil nuts are finely chopped and the oats are finely powdered.  Add the oil, syrup, cinnamon, and water and blend thoroughly until the mixture resembles cookie dough. 
Spoon up approximately a Tablespoon of “dough” at a time and roll into a ball. 
Combine the topping ingredients and roll each ball in the sucanat/cinnamon blend.
Serve and eat them room temperature or chilled as you like.  Store in the refrigerator.

vegan cheezy kale crackers for healthy snacks, grain and gluten free

“Cheezy” Kale Almond Crackers 

(modified from the Cheezy Kale Almond Crackers recipe on Rawmazing)

I adjusted the amount of water, spices, added garlic and created my own baking strategy.  These can be dehydrated in order to be completely raw but I had only an oven and a more limited amount of time (and a LOT of crackers to produce).

1 cup ground Flax
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups Almonds, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
1 bunch Kale (I used Lacinato/Dinosaur Kale and really only put in about 3/4 of a bunch)
1 cup Coconut Flour
3/4 cup Nutritional Yeast
2 tsp Chipotle
2 tsp Paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
Salt to taste

Mix together ground flax and water.  Set aside.
Place soaked almonds in food processor and run until finely chopped.  Remove to a large bowl.
Wash and de-stem kale and place leaves in the food processor.  Pulse until finely chopped.
Add nutritional yeast, coconut flour, paprika, chipotle, and garlic powder to the chopped almonds.  Mix well.  Stir in kale.
Add flax and water mixture.  Mix with a sturdy spoon or with your hands until thoroughly combined.  Add salt and taste test to determine the level you desire.
Preheat the oven to 225 F.
Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil the same size as a baking pan.  Scoop out a ball of dough and press to shape into a thick rectangle.  Dust with coconut flour.  Roll the dough out to approximately 1/4 inch thick and rectangular on the foil, pressing the dough together to make it stick to itself.
Use a pizza wheel to cut crackers in the size you desire, slicing off the loose, crumbly edges if you like.  Slice lightly through the dough as to not cut the foil beneath.
Pick up the entire foil and transfer to a baking sheet without disturbing the crackers.  
Bake at 225 F for 2+ hours until fully crispy and no softness remains.  Check periodically to gauge progress.
Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet.  Once cool peel the crackers off the foil and put in a tin to store.

vegan cheezy kale crackers for healthy snacks, grain and gluten free

vegan cheezy kale crackers for healthy snacks, grain and gluten free, healthy crackers, grain free cracker

What a fantastic way to get your flax and kale in!  These crackers are great with hummus and other dips or stand alone perfectly well.  My sincere compliments to Rawmazing’s Susan Powers for a lovely recipe concept.  I’m going to be continuing to follow her blog for more food adventures and gorgeous photos.

These three recipes are friendly to your skin as well, providing a boost of nutrients, minerals, healthy fats and only a moderate amount of sugar in the “doughnut” holes.  Snacks and desserts can be good for you and your looks if you step outside the plethora of processed options at the store.

Here’s to your health!  Hopefully you’ll have some fun in the kitchen and give these recipes a try.

Does this cupcake make me look old? How sugar is aging your skin.

How sugar is aging your skin

Consult the Herbal Chemist - Sugar and your skin

If you’re a person “d’un certain âge” or even someone slightly younger it’s time to face up to the truth about sugar.  Put down the cookie and your caramel flavored coffee and lend me your ears, cause it’s time for a smackdown.

Most of us are well familiar with the fact that refined sugars especially are empty calories. Unless you’ve had your head inserted in a box of Captain Crunch ostrich-style for the last decade or so it’s no secret – sugar offers only a quick caloric spike, a dive into abysmal blood sugar depths after the high, and no trace nutrients whatsoever.  It’s a dietary distraction at best.  Sugar is like that bad boy from high school with the motorcycle, the sexy smile and dangerously good looks that gives you one hell of a ride physically and emotionally and then drops you cold, craving more, and definitely worse for the wear.  The alarm bells go off but we don’t listen – we’re suckers for the rush and we just want more.  How could something so much fun be so bad??  But oh, it is.

Sugar is like legal crack to your body.  It’s fuel but it’s addictive.  It changes your brain chemistry so memory functions are impaired and you’re more prone to depression and dementia.   Sugar is also linked to the release of opioid, euphoric chemicals in the brain which causes you to go back for more like the little red rubber ball attached to a paddle.  You’re after that next hit, after which you just bounce back for more.  High consumption of sugar in all its forms (glucose, fructose, sucrose, processed grains, etc) prompts you to retain weight, can spur the onset of diabetes, and prevent you from consuming quality foods that actually have benefits for your body.

But that’s not all.  Sugar is also a culprit in aggravating acne, and recently has been implicated in the onset of wrinkles and age related damage.  Your skin can quite literally be a billboard for every Cinnabon and eclair you’ve ever eaten. 

Your age shows by virtue of AGEs – Advanced Glycation End Products.  These are chemical compounds created by the presence of excess sugar in your body that react with, harden, and thereby degrade your collagen and vascular structures.  Glucose in your bloodstream attaches itself to a lipid or protein in your tissues to form them.  Skin’s youthful appearance is supported by collagen, a prime target of AGEs.  Nutrient delivery to the dermis comes via tiny capillaries which can become hardened and restricted through glycation.  The AGE buildup process becomes exacerbated after age 35 and continues to worsen with advancing years.  Unless you don’t give a hoot (and chances are you give at least a little one) then as you reach your third decade of life you should be fighting to preserve your skin structure like an ecologist preventing a piece of native prairie from being bulldozed.

skin wrinkles from eating too much sugar

AGEs are formed in large part by consumption of simple, processed carbohydrates, though they may also accumulate by a few other routes such as oxidative stress, sun exposure, and even consumption of foods that are fried, grilled, roasted or baked. (per the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 2013)

The good news is that this means those fine lines, the sagging, and loss of firmness are to a degree within your control.  While our bodies need some sugars as part of our diet for at least a portion of our fuel avoiding excess and refined sugars can make a marked impact on your efforts to retain your youthful visage and healthy resiliency inside as well.

Restorative Recommendation: Cut your consumption of foods containing excess sugar and high levels of refined carbohydrates.

This can be a really tough proposition for a lot of folks, especially in the USA where sugar is added to practically everything and whole foods are uncommon.  It sneaks its way into you by way of sauces, dressings, processed juices, sodas, most mass market yogurts which are little better than sugared dairy with fake fruity colors, your daily latte (even if you take it without a sweetener, because dairy has a lot of lactose, which is a sugar), and even low fat foods which are pumped up with sugar to replace fat content.

Here’s the basics. Sugar is digested and released into your blood stream shortly after it is consumed. The simpler the carbohydrate molecules the faster the release. If you eat a whole bunch at once then what you get is a big blood sugar spike. If you’re active at that moment and the sugar is needed as cellular energy it gets burned off. If not then the pancreas has to emit insulin to control the spike and bring levels back to normal, as well as convert the unused glucose to glycogen for storage in the liver and muscles for future energy usage. If you are constantly overworking this cycle insulin is constantly deluging your bloodstream, and excess insulin can cause inflammation.

So you’re inflamed, and there’s free glucose running about in your blood.  That glucose then reacts with your lipid and protein structures, resulting in glycation.  Those little lines on your forehead you love to fret over are actually all those cookies coming back to haunt you…

No skincare product can eradicate the results of these internal processes.  Your food is powerful and literally changes the structure of your body.  If you think you can get away with a super dose of anti-aging serum and eat your cake too, unfortunately the truth is damage is still piling up.  And, double whammy, a recent study has even shown that sugar consumption increases free radicals in your blood stream and lowers your levels of alpha-tocopherol, the active form of Vitamin E and an excellent antioxidant.  This leaves all your organs more vulnerable, and your skin more prone to sun damage.

Healthy eating is one of the most affordable ways to have fantastic skin. Anti-aging specialty skincare may cost $50 to $200 per product.  With expenses like that buying and eating your organic produce starts to look quite cost-effective and prudent.  

The best results of course would come from both clean eating and excellent, nutritive skincare. If you’re binging on processed foods and heavy sugar you are effectively throwing your skincare dollars down the drain.  Not many of us have money to be tossing, and besides the other side effects of too much sugar are dire – increased diabetes risk and all its complications, hardening of the arteries, strokes, arthritis, and other ailments.

It is impossible for you to avoid ALL sugar.  Fruits and vegetables digest as sugar in the body and the beneficial micronutrients that come from plants are valuable, and your body has to run on something.  The goal should be to eat foods that digest and release sugars more slowly into the body.  Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also come with a lot of fiber that slows digestion and therefore slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream.

How to avoid buildup of Advanced Glycation End Products in your body from food

1. Eat as many raw foods as possible. 
The raw food camp really has something going for it in avoiding buildup of AGEs.  The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes, “Browning of food during cooking is used to enhance the quality, flavour, color and aroma of the diet. This process (known as the Maillard reaction) generates large quantities of AGEs.”  
Fresh raw foods have none of these complications, and contain higher quantities of beneficial nutrients as well.  Veggies and unroasted nuts are fiber filled and supply antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and lots more good stuff.  Fruits are good too, but be mindful of how much sugar they are adding.  They’re the best kind of sugar to have – at least it is bringing lots of vitamins with it – but to avoid AGEs you still need to balance them with consumption of less sugary foods.  Raw or sprouted “breads” and cracker recipes are available on many raw blogs to help you use just whole, raw grains more often. 
One of the awesome things about raw foods is that just by virtue of the fact that they are pure, whole, and unchanged you can be sure easy-peasy that they don’t contain added sugar.  That’s one load off your mind and makes your eating simpler.  Processed or packaged foods must be examined closely.  Dried fruits often contain added sugar, making what otherwise seems like a natural, healthy choice into something you should limit.
Meat might seem like a fine way to avoid sugar – a la Atkins – but the problem becomes that most meat is cooked, and as I’ll cover below the way a food is cooked determines its content of AGEs as well.

2. Cook foods only by boiling, steaming, poaching, boiling or slow cooking.  Avoid dry heat cooking methods like baking, grilling, roasting, barbecuing, and frying which exposes fats to oxidation and rancidity in addition to AGEs.
Wet heat cooking methods were found to have the lowest AGE formation.  Grilling and barbecuing have already been found to create carcinogenic substances in meats especially – that blackened crispiness is packed with Heterocyclic Amines or HCAs, which are cell mutagens
Other roasted foods are also suspect, even ones you might not immediately think of.  Coffee, for example, is roasted to give the beans their lovely dark flavor which means coffee could increase AGEs in your body.  Roasting is very common for nuts to give them flavor.  Even roasted veggies (which taste delicious due to the caramelization) are suspect.  During the roasting of red peppers the skin blackens in the oven, part of how you know it is done.  That blackening and caramelization has AGE written all over it.  It’s enough to make a girl cry over her pan of peppers…
Since baking is a problem any baked bread is a potential AGE source also.  Not only are refined flours spiking your blood sugar, the baking process itself is adding AGEs.  Limit your bread and baked goods consumption.

3. If you eat grains choose only whole grains. 
Processed grains are a major source of refined sugars.  This includes pastas, white rice, any white breads, and flours.  Your body desperately needs the fiber included with whole grains to slow the digestion of carbohydrates.  Most mass produced baked goods are major offenders.  Purchase artisan, whole grain fresh breads if you desire bread, or consider skipping bread altogether.  
Oats make a lovely raw muesli with a little almond milk, nuts, and dried fruit in the mornings.  Boiled whole grain blends can be seasoned sweet or savory and don’t contain the AGEs created by baking. 

4. Make your own sauces and dressings whenever possible.
Sauces and dressings are huge sources of hidden sugar.  Look at any barbecue sauce, ketchup, and even many salad dressings from a conventional store and you’ll see high fructose corn syrup marching right at the front of the ingredients panel.  
Even organic and “natural” sauces are often sweetened just with less offensive, less processed sweeteners.  You can add flavor to your foods by using vinegars of all types, citrus juices, unique culinary oils like hemp seed, walnut, and quality olive oils, chiles (one of my favorite flavors), garlic, onion, and herbs.  If you want a little sweetness you an add it yourself and control just how much goes in.

5. Eliminate all sugared beverages.
Beverages are one of the biggest sources of excess sugar, especially for Americans hooked on sodas and processed juices.  A single soda or juice beverage can have between 150 sugared calories – about 40 grams.  The American Heart Association recommends a sugar limit that “for most American women is no more than 100 calories per day and for most American men is no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.”  That is 25 grams of sugar for women and 37.5 grams for men.  Just one soda puts you over your healthy limit.  
Then add in all the hidden sources of sugar in your day and you can easily see we blow our limit by a lot.  Save what little sugar you do eat for your food consumption and it will be much easier to control. 
Instead drink water, carbonated water, fruit infused waters, unsweetened herbal, green, red, and black teas, and vegetable juices.  Stevia can be a way to add a touch of sweetness without calories.  
Just don’t think you’re doing yourself a favor by reaching for anything with aspartame or other artificial sweeteners.  You’re better off learning to appreciate the flavor of unsweetened beverages, since these franken-sweets can damage your liver, alter your brain chemistry, and may actually encourage you to crave sugar in the long run.  Kimberly Snyder, nutritionist and author, lists more dangers of diet soda.

6. If you must sweeten study your options and choose less processed sweeteners.
This lovely article on Inspiration Green details dozens of different names of sugar and sweetener additives. The author edits the list of options down to a number of cleaner options to use in moderation including:

Unrefined Coconut Palm
Organic corn (or glucose) syrup (not high fructose!)
Raw honey
Maple Syrup
Brown Rice Syrup
Barley Malt Syrup
Black Strap Molasses

Drastically decreasing sugar in your diet is not always easy work to do.  For many people these changes require a holistic lifestyle overhaul.  Once you start trying to avoid it you realize just how much of it you may have been eating.

The bonus is that the benefits of these changes extend far, far beyond your skin.  The entire quality of your life and health will be improved, acne generally decreases, weight and body fat come into balance, and energy levels stabilize.  The return to a whole food lifestyle can be inspiring in many ways as you explore flavor combinations and foods you may not have previously tried.  In fact many people experience a renaissance in their excitement for food when switching to clean, plant-based, minimally processed foods.  There are many raw, plant food, and vegan blogs that can offer you creative cooking ideas.

For further articles detailing information on glycation and sugar-induced aging check out some of the following links.

Prevention: Too much sugar can cause wrinkles

Glycation enhanced in post 35 and photo-aged skin.

Care2 Sugar and Inflammation

Study shows Glucose Consumption Increases Production of Destructive Free Radicals, Lowers Levels of Key Antioxidant 

Elle.com Sugar and Aging: How to Fight Glycation 

Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary advanced glycation end product restrictions

Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Aging

North St. Louis Community Garden by Blissoma and Friends – a spring tour in photos

flowering greens in a community garden

Spring is on here in St. Louis and I’ve been hard at work in the garden.  I’m growing organic food and flowers to share with our North St. Louis neighborhood.  The goal is to help residents learn more about self sufficiency, the benefits of organic methods, and clean, delicious eating.  

I also love beautifying my ‘hood.  Glorious things can spring even in areas long deemed to be derelict.

My neighbors, helpers, and I were blessed this spring to start receiving some help from other local businesses that also want to do good in St. Louis.  

St. Louis Composting donated a full load of compost.  The city compost piles were low this spring and none was available.  The grand plans of enriching and growing in several new areas of our lot couldn’t happen without compost which is essential to feeding plants naturally with beneficial microbes, nutrients, and organic matter.  St. Louis Composting was kind enough to supply all we needed for this spring.  Thanks to them our melon patch is sprouting right now with Organic Sweet Dakota Rose Watermelons, Charentais Melons, and honeydews.  A second plot is still in the works for corn, squash, and okra – progress mainly held back by the fact that a sidewalk and a bunch of brick were buried in that area and had to be dug up.  Digging up bricks is some of the most miserable digging you can do, but we’re just about done.

Raspberry bushes and the new melon patch.

Rolling Ridge Nursery also gave us some of their distressed plants.  We’re tickled to finally have some strawberries!  Some impressive rosemary plants, herbs, and onions also wandered our way.  All will go in the ground this coming week.  Many of the plants carried by Rolling Ridge are from small nurseries and greenhouses and they also had a lovely supply of native Missouri and prairie wildflowers.  As I learned from Deanna English of AdventureFarms.org a few weeks ago, native plants are especially important for keeping bees and other pollinators happy.  They are also usually quite low maintenance, as they are wild plants.  This is a huge plus if you are sporadic about watering or just want something that will need little care.

We still have more to do, and our best flowers haven’t even started blooming yet but there is lettuce, chard, the peas are starting to produce, and the leeks are starting to flower which is a pretty sight.  

Enjoy your virtual trip through the garden…

Oak leaf red lettuce in a community garden
Oak leaf red lettuce

Community garden in Hyde Park neighborhood of St. Louis City
Red stem chard, fennel, and a view of our more established plot

Witerbi Mangold chard getting ready to flower
Witerbi Mangold chard

North St. Louis City community garden
A view from the front

Sugar Snap Peas flowering
Snap peas blooming

Baby raspberry bush just starting to grow
A baby raspberry bush

Raspberry bush getting bigger
Slightly bigger raspberry bush

Giant leek flowering
Leek just starting to flower

Leeks getting ready to flower
Leek flower buds

Ladybug on a radish blossom
Ladybug on a radish blossom

Early Jersey green cabbage growing
Early Jersey green cabbage
All garden photos in this post taken by and copyrighted by Julie Longyear, 2013.

The Importance of PH for Skin (and flashbacks to Jr. High chemistry class)

PH is one of those things that many folks may remember from basic chemistry class in Junior High or High School.  It’s also one of the things the skincare industry loves to bandy about as a reason to use a toner or to sell you a product that claims to be “PH balanced”.  Like many other terms in the skincare industry there is no actual standard for what the phrase “PH balanced” means.  For shoppers that means your best plan is to get a better understanding of this issue so you can avoid discomfort or just being convinced to purchase products that are not ideal for your skin.

From youthful days in middle school you may remember pipettes and putting liquid drop by drop into a beaker to watch for a color shift, telling you the PH had changed.  This is, of course, assuming that you weren’t too busy staring at your cute lab partner or daydreaming about pizza, new shoes, or your latest drama with friends (and there was plenty of that).  The very important issues vying for our brain space may have caused some of the chemistry to float out as soon as it was unused.  Not everyone revisited that knowledge in later classes so for the sake of all we’ll go over the basics.

PH is a measure of the free H+ or OH- ions running around in solution sending off electronic charges.  You might recall that neutral PH is a 7 on the scale and anything below 7 to 0 is acidic and has H+ (Hydrogen) ions.  Above 7 to 14 is basic or alkaline and has OH- (Hydroxide) ions.  This knowledge is also handy for keeping fish alive in aquariums and growing plants, as water and soil PH can have drastic effects on living things attempting to make a home in either environment.

Your skin has a natural PH of about 4.7 to just under 5.  That is an acidic PH.  Your skin is made up of protein which in turn is made up of amino acids.  There is also a protective acid mantle on the skin that provides you natural defense against your environment.  That means there’s at least some happy H+ ions hanging out on your skin.

According to scientific evidence it is beneficial for the good bacteria and flora on your skin as well as keeping skin moisturized to maintain a PH below 5 as much as possible.
Not only prior use of cosmetic products, especially soaps, have profound influence on skin surface pH, but the use of plain tap water, in Europe with a pH value generally around 8.0, will increase skin pH up to 6 h after application before returning to its ‘natural’ value of on average below 5.0. It is demonstrated that skin with pH values below 5.0 is in a better condition than skin with pH values above 5.0, as shown by measuring the biophysical parameters of barrier function, moisturization and scaling.”   Lambers H, Piessens S, Bloem A, Pronk H, Finkel P, 2006

This same evidence shows that your natural defenses are decreased when your skin PH is raised too high.  Another study, The Importance of Skin PH by Gil Yosipovitch, MD and Judy Hu, MD from 2003, found that it can take up to 14 hours for skin to return to normal PH after washing with a soap cleanser.  Skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, and dry skin can also cause unwanted increases in skin PH all by themselves, which soap only aggravates further.

While your acid mantle is eroded your defenses are down.  That leaves you more vulnerable to acne bacteria, moisture loss, and irritation.

While Blissoma does make 2 soap bars that are designed to be mild enough for facial use the fact remains that anyone with an irritated skin condition or who is prone to acne should use a low PH, non soap cleanser.  I generally recommend our soaps to younger individuals or just to people who have resilient skin.  If you are not prone to irritations, dryness, acne, dermatitis, or eczema then you should be able to use a bar soap without trouble.

However, if you do have skin that is prone to any of these irritated conditions you should use our Fresh Mild Rice Cleanser or Free Rejuvenating Herbal Gel Cleanser for best results.  These cleansers are both acidic PH of about 4.5, perfect to keep your skin at the acid PH it loves.

All of Blissoma’s moisturizers are made with a skin-friendly acidic PH as well to work with your acid mantle and replenish hydration.

Cleansing with soap based cleansers is one of the primary things unfortunately going wrong in the natural skincare world.  While natural liquid soaps can be wonderful products for cleaning your home and even your hands they are not ideal for your face.  You may be surprised what a simple switch to a PH correct cleanser can do to heal your skin.  Acne can be reduced just by this simple switch.

So what about that toner the lady at the department store counter is trying to sell you to “correct” the PH of your skin after toning?  Can a toner do that?  Well, sortof.  Applying an acidic product will help urge your skin back towards a happier, acidic PH if you’ve just used a basic cleanser or if you are located in an area with high PH water.  Quite frankly, though, nothing can replace your actual acid mantle except your own skin working hard to restore itself.  It’s ideal to avoid disturbing it at all when you have irritable skin.

If you are going to use a soap is there a reason to choose a bar soap over a liquid soap?  Yes, there is.  Natural bar soaps are more superfatted than liquid soaps, which means they have extra oil in them that was not made into soap by the lye reaction.  This extra oil helps deposit nourishment as the bar cleanses.  Blissoma’s facial soaps also contain portions called “unsaponifiables” which are fatty portions of the oils that cannot be made into soap and come from solid oils like Shea Butter.  These are calming and emollient for skin.  Unsaponifiables cannot be used in liquid soaps as they would still be solid or would cause cloudiness.  This is one way bar soaps are superior for moisturizing skin versus a liquid natural soap.

Cleansing in particular is one of the steps of skincare routines that is frequently done improperly.  People think washing their skin is no big deal.  Many people think moisturizer must be much more important since it is on for longer.  Unfortunately this is just not true.  If you are cleansing your skin in a way that is incompatible with your PH balance needs you are upsetting your skin for the whole day to come.  Your moisturizer cannot fix that.  

Your overall skin comfort and  health will be dramatically improved if you cleanse in a way your skin can tolerate.  For many people this means transitioning off of soap and onto acidic PH cleansers.  This is especially true for your face, which is much more delicate skin than much of the rest of your body.  You may still be able to get away with using a good quality natural soap to cleanse your body but receive dramatic benefits when you use a non-soap cleanser on your face.

Oil Cleansing Method would qualify as a routine that doesn’t damage your acid mantle.  It uses clean oil to lift dirty oil from your skin, and since oil is made up of fatty acids that acid aspect makes it really friendly. It’s not ideal for everyone though, so the good news is that most gel and cream cleansers also fall into the non-soap cleanser category.  Some people even debate the worthiness of cleansing with water at all – which in some ways is understandable if your water PH is an 8 as that would indeed be irritating.  I’m a big fan of cleansing though as a good bit of gunk can build up on your face day in and day out.  I just like to do it with a product that is soothing, not stressing, and I’m personally a twice a day girl to maintain my skin’s brightness and comfort.

I hope this information helps you transition to a happy PH for your skin.  Let me know if you try switching to a skin-friendly non-soap cleanser and the difference it makes for you.

A Pickled Beet Surprise – what this root rockstar can offer the health of your skin and body

How beets are good for your health

Beets.  They were one vegetable that despite my mother’s “Girl Scout Bite” rule I had never tried even into adulthood.  Why?  For the simple reason that they were never served in my household as a child.  My mom, it turns out, had never liked them and therefore chose never to serve them.  Because I had no habit of eating them and didn’t know what to do with them I never specifically chose them despite my longrunning love affair with so many other types of veggies.

Isn’t that funny how a simple dislike from one of our parents can result in years worth of stalemate with a new food?  As I have gotten older I have definitely become more adventurous with my eating. I was always interested in ethnic foods and would have told you that I love trying new things.  A simple trip to the big international grocery store in my area taught me about the tiny sliver of foods that I have actually been consuming.  Many of the vegetables there I have never even seen before, much less have any idea how to prepare for a tasty repast.  Lack of knowledge brings hesitation and perhaps avoidance in some cases when new foods are concerned.  My ex would tell you that my first attempt at cooking a Thai soup after becoming enamored with the dish I ate at a local restaurant turned him off Thai for years to come due to my overzealous use of some of the stinkier ingredients…. so in some cases the caution is well advised.

But back to beets.  My first taste of a beet came at the end of a business trip to New York City several years ago.  I had to take the train to Astoria to then take a bus to the airport.  I got off at the last train stop and had time to burn.  I have never been a fan of airport food – too expensive, too limited – and so I made sure to investigate my area for some sustenance prior to departure.  Directly under the train platform I found a tiny, newly opened falafel restaurant.  I adore falafel, especially when it is prepared from a family recipe – oh so tasty!  And bonus, the sandwiches were only $5.  I couldn’t believe my luck and promptly ordered my dinner.

Several bites into my intensely delicious meal I noticed something red in my wrap.  What was that?  It was good, whatever it was, and I inquired with the cook.  Pickled beets was the answer.  I was stunned and delighted.  My falafels at home had just found a new accompaniment, one that I never would have chosen on my own.

That sneaky pickled beet that rode in on my sandwich launched a sincere interest in this ravishing root.  I decided that beets most certainly were one thing I would grow.

I planted a bunch in the Blissoma comunity garden.  They were ridiculously easy to tend and in a few months we had a bumper crop.  I can vouch that I didn’t have a single pest problem with growing these organically (unlike other plants) and they nearly took care of themselves.  As a crop for the budding gardener they are a great bet for a satisfying result.  Unsurprisingly many people, just like me, have not made any habit of eating beets due to unfamiliarity and therefore don’t know what to do with them.  I served them to as many friends as possible but still had many left that I couldn’t bear to waste.  So like a good thrifty gardener I set about preserving them.

I was longing for that perfect pickled flavor – not too sweet, not too sour, not too salty.  Something you can eat a lot of without puckering or feeling overwhelmed.  As the pickling recipes I found for beets generally included more sugar than I knew I’d like I tampered with one to achieve what has been dubbed truly delicious by the numerous people that have eaten them since.

Since this isn’t entirely a food blog, but also a blog about skincare, beauty, and health I’d be remiss if I didn’t inform you about the fabulous benefits these colorful veggies bring to your body.  Flavor isn’t all you’ll get when you venture into the land of beet eating!

Beets are a food generally known in the natural health community for detoxing the body.  Betalains, a special class of phytochemicals found in beets, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cellular cleansing effects.  Betalains are part of the deep pigment you see in beets.  Their concentration is decreased with extended cooking times so if you enjoy beets raw you’ll get the maximum benefit.  However we all know that we most readily eat the foods we enjoy so if you like the flavor and texture better when cooked just try to keep your roasting time at an hour or less to avoid degradation of your healing benefits.  A healthy food doesn’t do anything for you if you won’t eat it because you don’t like the preparation!

Beets have benefits for your digestive tract, nervous system, cardiovascular system, and may inhibit cancer cell growth.  The anti-inflammatory benefits are something to truly consider when thinking about skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and even just general signs of aging.  Chronic inflammation causes your body’s immune system to begin attacking healthy cells.  This can be one cause of degradation of collagen and skin tissues as well as extending to vital organs like the heart.

Psoriasis especially is a disease related to inflammation and improper immune system function.  The immune system begins to attack healthy cells, prompting a buildup of irritated cells as the skin cells attempt to rebuild and reproduce more quickly than they can be shed.  A recent imaging study showed that inflammation is widespread throughout the bodies of people who have psoriasis.  Inflammation was detected in the liver, joints, tendons and aorta.  The anti-inflammatory compounds in beets which inhibit this process by several mechanisms then would be exceptionally helpful in managing the effects of this bodywide problem.

Beets are also a super-rich source of minerals.  They concentrate the minerals found in the ground, many of which are vital for dozens of metabolic processes and reactions in your body.  They give you a great dose of manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, and copper.

A detoxed body can give you a healthy complexion too.  The raw foodies often expound about how their complexion just seems to glow while eating raw and plant based foods.  This can be partly because a body laden with too many toxins can develop a sallow complexion.  The liver is also responsible for helping process, store, and maintain sugars in the body and if you read my post on how sugar is inflaming and damaging your skin you’ll understand how a properly functioning liver can contribute to your good looks.  Prescription and OTC medications are generally metabolized by the liver so our modern use of so many drugs can impact how well our livers are functioning.  Additionally the majority of people that I know do consume alcohol, which is processed by the liver and most people will generally have some load related to alcohol to deal with.  Beets can help keep your liver performing its best through detoxification.

Best ways to eat your beets. 

One simple way is to create a raw juice.  The Heart Fortress beet juice recipe from Young and Raw has got you covered for a basic beet juice recipe.
I’ve also been mooning over this Beet Tartine with Marinated Caper Berries recipe from My New Roots.  Must try with this year’s harvest!
A simple way to serve them is just to roast the beets, salt them, and serve them sprinkled with feta or your favorite nut cheese for a creamy and earthy bite of heaven.
You can also make a tasty soup called borscht.
As I’ve mentioned they also add a delicious spin to falafel sandwiches!

To add to the mix of options I want to share with you my adapted recipe for pickled beets.  Then next post I’ll share with you a recipe for Strawberry and Pickled Beet Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette that will have your mouth singing happy, beety praises.

Blissful Pickled Beets recipe

Blissful Pickled Beets

3 quarts beets
4 cups vinegar
4 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 TBSP salt
3 TBSP Pickling spice
Sliced white or yellow onion

Wash beets, oven roast them in foil, peel and slice them.  Try this roasting recipe if you are unfamiliar with how to roast beets.  Set aside.
Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a pot.  Place pickling spice in a tea ball or muslin bag and add to pot.  Many recipes for pickling spice are available online or you can purchase a blend from the grocery store.  Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Remove pickling spice.
Pack beets into hot jars layered with onions, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Ladle hot liquid over beets, leaving ½ inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two piece caps.  Process pints 30 minutes in a boiling water canner.
This recipe can also be used to make refrigerator pickles if you prefer not to hot can them.  Allow to marinate 2 weeks for best flavor, then consume promptly.

homemade pickled beets recipe

Enjoy your foray into the finger-staining adventure that is the beet.  I hope to be hearing that many of you tried adding this many splendored food to your regimen for beauty and health.