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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

42: Xcellent Xylitol

A little while back, I wrote an article (Blog #34) about the devastating effects of eating a dessert and how I was several weeks getting over it. Shortly after that, I happened to read about a new kind of sweetener, coconut palm sugar, made from the nectar of the tree flowers.

Further reading revealed that this kind of sugar, named xylitol, was discovered at about the same time by both French and German chemists, late in the 1800s, and became popular throughout Europe as a safe sweetener for diabetics. During World War II when sugar was in short supply, xylitol became a popular substitute.

What we now know about this sugar is that it has a very low glycemic index (GI). If you haven’t heard of GI before, Wikipedia explains it as “a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating a particular type of food, … relative to consumption of pure glucose. Glucose has a glycemic index of 100.” The GI of sugar ranges from about 60 to 70; xylitol is 7 to 13.

As you look into GI information, you will find much discussion on the difference between “glycemic index” and “glycemic load.” However, for my purposes in this article, and in my kitchen where I have longed for a real and healthy alternative to sugar, I am concerned only with substituting the one straight across for the other, so GI is all that matters. Xylitol has the same sweetness as sugar, so it is used in the same amounts in recipes. With Thanksgiving coming up, I was looking forward to trying it in my pumpkin pie recipe, hoping that maybe I could indulge a little along with my family, without suffering a debilitating crash.

Well, I mixed up my pastry, which I make with half whole wheat flour and half unbleached white, using butter as shortening because I refuse to have “may-be-hydrogenated pig fat” in my home. And into the shell I poured the spicy blend of pumpkin et al. And was that pie ever good! I carefully limited myself to a half-serving and braced myself for the fall. But it never came.

The next afternoon I phoned Greg, who was already on the road again, and told him that in spite of the pie, I was feeling really good. In fact, I said, I felt better than usual.

“So what do you think?” he asked.

And I replied, “I think God is telling me I need to eat more pumpkin pie.”

He was quick to concur. He knows that if I am to eat more pie, I have to make more pie, which means that he will get more pie.

The xylitol I bought was, as I mentioned, made from the coconut tree. It’s rather coarse, and brown in colour, so best suits recipes calling for brown sugar. But now I found a white xylitol, made from birch trees. And when Greg next came home from his project in Vernon, with a box of huge apples from his client, I made the first apple pie that our household has seen in over 15 years. Hubby was ecstatic. He thought it was the best apple pie he’d ever eaten. And I ate lots, with no ill effects.

There are other sources for xylitol being investigated, including corn, but these might best be avoided, due to the GMO question. Coconut as a source is considered to be the most sustainable, being harvested from the flowers. Birch, on the other hand, must be cut down to extract the sugar, so responsible management here is really important. But a great asset of the birch product is that it has the most significant dental benefits of all the xylitols.

Yes, according to Wikipedia, with xylitol in general, “recent research confirms a plaque-reducing effect and suggests the compound, having some chemical properties similar to sucrose, attracts and then “starves” harmful micro-organisms, allowing the mouth to re-mineralize damaged teeth …. (However, this same effect also interferes with yeast micro-organisms and others, so xylitol is inappropriate for making yeast-based bread.)”

At is this information: “Use of xylitol raises the pH of saliva in the mouth. When pH is above 7, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to precipitate into those parts of enamel where they are lacking. For this reason, use of xylitol has demonstrated not only a dramatic reduction in new tooth decay, it also has shown the arrest and even some reversal of existing dental caries."

Bring on the pie!

An addendum, July 4, 2013: Subsequent, to my publishing the article above, a vet friend wrote to tell me that Xylitol will kill a dog, in fairly small amounts. I googled a bit about it and put those thoughts on hold for a while. Recently I looked into it a little more and I decided I don’t want to use this sweetener anymore. It’s an alarmingly complex process, “refining” this “sugar” from birch and coconut trees, and there are reasons to be wary of using this product. Here is the article that set me back on my heels:
Please read it and make your own decision.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

41: Don’t Put It on Your Skin – Part III

So what do I put on my skin, and why? I mentioned previously that I start by washing my face with as pure and simple a soap as I can find. Then I spray with either colloidal silver or copper, in place of an astringent. Silver kills bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, so this is a gentle but effective way to prevent or treat various skin problems. Silver also has amazing healing properties that promote regeneration of healthy, normal cells. Terrific for sun burns too.

Copper has a similar, gentle antiseptic effect, but its real claim to fame is that it enables the skin to keep on (or resume) producing collagen and elastin, provided there are also sufficient resources of Vitamin C and zinc in the body. It is deficiency of copper that causes the skin to sag and wrinkle as we age. With its claim of restoring resilience and flexibility, I even suggested to one customer that she try spraying a little on her husband’s attitude.

Copper also is responsible for helping the hair follicles produce melanin, which is what gives hair its natural colour. Loss of copper leads to greying hair. For this reason, when people buy colloidal copper from me, I suggest that in addition to spraying it on their face, they likewise apply it to the scalp.

After one or the other of these skin “fresheners,” I spray on a 50/50 mix of organic glycerine and rosewater. People with oily skin have found a heavier percentage of rose water to be helpful; conversely, those with dry skin increase the proportion of glycerin.

The rose water I buy is from 100% steam-distilled fresh rose blossoms, picked in the world-famous Bulgarian Rose Valley. It is a pure, undiluted, food-grade product, containing no preservatives, additives, or synthetic ingredients. This is what they say about their product: “Rose water is one of the all-time best and most traditional facial cleansers and has multiple skin-care uses. [It] is used to treat acne and skin irritation. Rose water is also added to bathing water and is used for moisturizing the body after bath. It balances skin pH level ... [and] has anti-aging and rejuvenating effects.”

The glycerin that I mix with the rose water is an organic vegetable product. Glycerin, also called glycerol, is present in all natural lipids (fats), whether animal or vegetable. It is a “skin-identical ingredient,” meaning it is a substance found naturally in our skin. It is a humectant, that is, it attracts water. When applied to the skin, it seals in moisture that might otherwise escape. It also draws moisture from the air and from the deeper layers of tissue. With the use of glycerin, the skin takes on a healthier, more attractive appearance and a softer, more supple feel.
Glycerin helps maintain the outer barrier and prevent dryness or scaling. It is used not only in cosmetic and but also medical applications. For example, it fights the effects of skin conditions like psoriasis.

I’ve used glycerin and rose water products off and on since I was a little girl. Now with all organic ingredients, I feel confident that I have the best mix yet. Not only do I use it on my face but for an all-body moisturizer as well.

The final product I use in my facial regimen is organic coconut oil, something that’s getting a lot of press recently. Not only is it an excellent edible oil, hair tonic, and massage oil, but it’s a wonderful balm for the skin.

Comprised of healthy saturated fats, coconut oil keeps skin smooth to the touch and helps it retain moisture. It naturally contains certain fatty acids having effective disinfectant and anti-microbial properties. As a result, coconut oil protects skin from infections. Coconut oil is rich in proteins, which keep skin healthy and rejuvenated on the surface as well as deep down. It is loaded with anti-oxidants so it doesn’t go rancid, a real plus whether it’s used as a food or for skin care. You can use it as a lip balm and make-up remover as well. On a warm summer’s day, I’ll often find my little jar of coconut oil has become liquid; in the winter it’s more like refrigerated butter: I scoop some out and rub it between my hands until it’s liquid and will smooth easily onto my face.

At first I used it plain, but when I discovered the healing benefits of frankincense, I began to add a few drops of that essential oil to the coconut. Frankincense oxygenates cells, improves elasticity and reduces wrinkles. An added bonus, it’s recently been proven that breathing the fragrance eases anxiety and depression. Go ahead: put it on your skin.

40: Don’t Put It on Your Skin – Part II

A health regimen is a work in progress, continually evolving. It’s only two weeks ago that I first wrote about skin care, and now I’ve already changed my mind. (It’s a prerogative of my gender.) I said that I washed my face with Pears soap or good old Ivory. But it seems that Pears, the lovely clear amber bar whose packaging boasts that it is “a 200 years old brand” is quite up to date ingredient-wise, in its use of sodium laurel sulphate and a long list of other chemicals. And Ivory’s old recipe, sadly, is recently replaced with one new and not-so-improved.

Sodium laurel sulphate (SLS) and its shirt-tail cousin sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are harsh, inexpensive chemicals that cause our soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and detergents to foam up in that pleasing way that makes us feel the product is really doing its job: i.e., effectively cleaning. It’s the identical agent that is used in car washes, and even in garages for degreasing car engines. Heavy duty stuff.

These chemicals are extremely drying to the skin and hair. It can cause permanent eye damage in infants and young children, and the exposure need not be directly to the eyes but even indirectly through the skin. It is retained in the tissues of the body, for as long as five days after using a single drop. It can cause damage to the hair follicles, leading to early balding. It denatures skin proteins, causing irritation and also allowing other environmental toxins to gain entry to the deeper and more sensitive layers of the skin. In this light it may be implicated in cancers of the skin.

Once it has been absorbed into the skin, one of its many effects is that it mimics estrogen. This can have all kinds of health implications, including PMS, menopausal symptoms, male infertility, and increased incidence of breast and others female cancers.

Long story short: I went hunting and found a very gentle, natural soap containing only three things: saponified olive oil, sea salt, and natural fragrance. Saponification is the process whereby lye is combined with vegetable oil or animal fat, causing a chemical reaction that produces soap and glycerin. Interestingly enough, many of the commercial, mass-produced hand soaps on the market today have had the naturally occurring glycerine with its inherent moisturizing properties removed to sell as a separate commodity, generating higher profits.

As you are inspired to read labels before buying personal care products, there are some ingredients (in addition to SLS and SLES) to watch out for and avoid:
Petrolatum, also known as petroleum jelly, is a semisolid mixture of hydrocarbons obtained from petroleum. Its presence in skin products reduces oxygen absorption and suffocates the skin, causing the death of skin cells and thus premature aging. It increases acne and causes skin irritations and rashes. It causes skin photosensitivity and promotes sun damage. Petrolatum may also interfere with the body's moisturizing mechanism, leading to dry skin and chapping, some of the very things it’s used to combat.

Mineral oil is made from petrolatum, therefore I think we can safely assume that the foregoing side effects apply here as well.

Parabens are preservatives used extensively in personal care products and even foods. They are implicated in breast cancer and also adversely affect the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system.

Phylates or phthalates are used as plasticizers or solvents. They are found in nail polishes, deodorants, fragrances, hair gels, and sprays, and hand and body lotions. They are endocrine disrupters, wreaking absolute havoc on the hormones especially of boys and men. For a sobering and frightening video on the subject, check out the following link:

This list of must-avoid chemicals is by no means exhaustive. And as bad press leaks out about a given ingredient, companies work overtime to replace it with another unknown chemical so they can get back below the radar. So my rule-of-thumb will remain, “If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it on your skin.”

Thursday, November 8, 2012

39: Don’t Put It on Your Skin – Part I

If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin. This is an adage I’m learning to live by. Ever since I began to use bio-identical hormones, I’ve rethought what I use on the outside of me. Some of the hormones I take are applied transdermally (via cream on the skin), and it’s made me realize that a lot of what I put on the outside ends up on the inside. That’s a pretty scary thought when you look at the list of chemicals on some of the cosmetics, skin creams, and shampoos on the shelf. And I don’t care if you bought it for two dollars at Walmart or forty at a spa, if you can’t pronounce the ingredients or you don’t know what they are, don’t put it on your skin.

I was recently at a dermatologist to whom I’d been referred after breaking out in strange lesions on the side of my face, back in early June. By the time I’d seen three doctors and waited to see a specialist, it had all but disappeared, thanks to my trusty iodine (Lugol’s Solution) and, due to a timely tip from an acquaintance, frankincense oil. Still, I kept the dermatologist appointment because I had four or five other spots that I’ve wondered about and this was a golden opportunity to lay my mind to rest about them. The doctor, after looking me over quickly and thoroughly, assured me there was nothing of concern. She fried two of the spots with her liquid nitrogen. Then she said brusquely, “Remember, protection is key,” and handed me a sample of SPF 30 sunscreen before bustling out of the room.

Although I’d smiled and nodded at her counsel, I left the sample sitting on her desk. Call me crazy, but I just can’t bring myself to put that stuff on my skin. I’ll call you crazy as you slather it on. Okay, on the rare occasion that my husband and I have found ourselves on a tropical beach somewhere, I have made an exception to extend the tolerance to sun and surf. But generally I cover up with light clothing when I think I’ve had enough sun and I spray with colloidal silver when I’ve had too much. It’s a terrific healing balm for a sun-burn.

In all likelihood, we will eventually discover that skin cancer is rooted in nutritional deficiencies. My guess is that Vitamin D is a big player here, along with generous amounts of other antioxidants, via food or supplements. Enter Lugol’s solution, again.

So what do I do for skin care? I’ve always been a fan of glycerin and rosewater because that’s what my mother used. Tritles, it was called. A pretty, clear pink lotion in a hand-pump bottle or white frothy cream in a jar. I was so disappointed when they stopped manufacturing it fifteen or twenty years ago, as this was my staple for hand and body cream. But now I realize anyway that the nice pink colour was probably not a good thing and that what made the white cream so frothy was probably sodium laurel sulphate.

Regarding facial care, for thirty years I was a faithful customer of a well-known multi-level skin-care and cosmetic company. More recently I have seen these products sized up on a site that rates personal care products for safety health-wise. I have since stopped using all that stuff too.

This is where I stand today. I buy organic vegetable glycerin from one website and organic Bulgarian rosewater from another. I mix them 50/50 and put the clear mixture in a glass spray bottle. It’s terrific for face, hand, and body moisturizer, and a smaller spray bottle carries handily in purse (or shaving kit, in my husband’s case). One is perfectly assured of its safety on the skin, because both of the ingredients are safe to eat. In fact, the rosewater comes with a little pamphlet that includes a couple of recipes for using it in exotic desserts.

I wash my face (and body) with good old Ivory soap or glycerin-based Pears. After rinsing thoroughly, I spray with colloidal silver, in place of a mild astringent or skin freshener. Then I spray lightly with my glycerin and rosewater mix and gently rub it in. Finally I smooth on some coconut oil that has a bit of frankincense essential oil mixed in. I’m trying to find Vitamins A, E, and D in a pure oil form to add in, as these are all very good for the skin. I may eventually make this skincare “set” available at the Farmers’ Market; then if customers would like, I can tell them how to source and mix the ingredients themselves.