Friday, October 28, 2011

That "clean" smell - not always a good thing

Nothing compares to the cleaning power of a good breeze.
One thing I lament about the coming colder weather is the fact that I won’t be opening the windows to air out the house. We have an air exchange system but nothing compares to the cleaning power of a good breeze.

With the windows closed I think more about indoor air quality and the everyday products that can make our homes decidedly unhealthy. Ironically, some of the worst indoor air polluters are the products that we use to clean and freshen up our homes, products like household cleaners, laundry detergents and air fresheners. And although many of the cleaning compounds themselves are related to health concerns, it’s the synthetic fragrances in these products that are a great concern. These artificial scents can contain hundreds of chemicals, none of which are required to be listed on labels. Instead, companies can use the catch-all term “fragrance” in ingredient lists.

In my books, fragrance is just another word for hormone disruptors, a range of common chemicals that interfere with the body's hormone systems and have been linked to some cancers, diabetes, central nervous system issues and fertility problems.

Research is growing regarding the dangers of the free wheeling use of these chemicals, leading to proposed legislation in the U.S. (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Exposure Elimination Act of 2011) which aims to prevent exposure to these chemicals in everyday products. Nothing is on the books yet in Canada.

Think of all of the scented products that you have in your home. Laundry detergent, fabric softeners, dryer sheets, bathroom cleaners, all purpose cleaners, stain removers, air fresheners, carpet cleaners, you name it. Virtually every cleaning product in your home that is scented contains a range of toxic chemicals. (The only safe scents are those courtesy of essential oils).

If you can smell these fragrances they’re entering your body, and holding your breath while you scrub the bathtub doesn’t really help. Children are especially vulnerable to these toxins, including developing fetuses. Hormone disruptors in household products are being washed down the drain and into our waterways causing similar problems with aquatic life.

It isn’t difficult to rid your home of scented cleaning products. Simply choose the unscented version. For those products that don’t offer an unscented option, choose an alternative. Avoid any product with “fragrance” on the ingredient lists or labeled with undeniably artificial scents (think “spring rain” or “ocean breeze”).
  • Avoid aerosols and sprays since they release smaller particles so are inhaled deeper into your lungs
  • Avoid air fresheners altogether, including sprays, gels and plug-ins. The chemical load in these products is especially high.
  • Choose products scented with essential oils (look for the EcoLogo certification to be sure that the scent isn’t artificially enhanced).
  • Go back to basics with products. Use baking soda as an air freshener and vinegar as a cleaner.
  • Open the window to disperse an odor or air out your house
Making the conscious choice to buy safer products is the key to staying healthy in your home.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wallet guides are helpful when it comes to choosing ocean-friendly seafood

If you’re trying to eat less meat, be it for health or environmental reasons, a common approach is to eat more fish. It’s a healthy alternative to meat that’s easy to find and simple to prepare.

Switching to fish can have environmental pit falls though and some potential health concerns, depending on what types of fish you like to buy. Figuring out what fish is healthiest for you and the environment can be very complicated so I rely on a couple of credible organizations that lay it all out for me, listing best-to-worst seafood choices in handy wallet cards and smart phone apps.

One organization is SeaChoice, a Canadian group that was formed by a number of Canadian conservation organizations to help consumers navigate the murky waters of sustainable seafood. The organization produces a comprehensive guide that clearly lists your best choices for seafood, the okay choices, and seafood that you should avoid.

According to SeaChoice, your best choices are species that are abundant, have well managed fisheries, and are fished or farmed in an environmentally sustainable way. On this list you’ll find choices like wild Alaskan salmon, farmed rainbow trout (freshwater), and Alaskan halibut.

The next best category lists fish that may be threatened in some way (mostly related to how they’re fished). SeaChoice recommends that fish in this category be eaten infrequently or only when the best choice isn’t available. You’ll find haddock, lobster and some Pacific cod in this category.

The avoid category lists fish that have a combination of problems: poorly managed fishery, farming practices that cause environmental damage, or they’re over fished. Atlantic salmon, shrimp and tilapia farmed in Asia, and Atlantic halibut are some common fish in this category.

Another guide that I find helpful is Seafood Watch, developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California (and the basis of the SeaChoice guide above.) Seafood Watch produces a guide for the U.S. North East which applies to the seafood that we find most often in our stores. Seafood Watch also has a best-good-avoid approach but it also layers in health info, flagging fish that is a concern due to mercury or PCB contamination (like swordfish and most tuna).

In the Seafood Watch guide, you’ll notice that the “Best Choice” list includes just three with contamination concerns, while the “Avoid” list contains ten fish that you should limit your consumption of due to mercury or PCB contamination. It’s proof that environmentally-friendly seafood choices are healthier for you too.
My favourite part of this guide is the “Super Green” list, a selection of seafood that is healthy to eat (low in environmental contaminants, high in omega-3 fatty acids) and is fished or farmed in an ocean-friendly way. The best of both worlds. Rainbow trout, wild-caught Pacific salmon and farmed mussels are some of the choices on this list.

This guide is updated twice a year and is available as a smart phone app and a printable wallet guide. Visit and for more information.