The Crunchy Cookie

Equal parts deliciousness and hippiness

A Note About My Family’s Experience with Going Gluten-free: After consulting with our doctor, DG and I decided to maintain a gluten-free household about a year and a half ago and now, it seems that gluten-free menus and options are everywhere I turn.  Which is good for us, but maybe bad for people in general.  It seems to be the next big thing in diets, which makes me cringe because reaching for something just because it’s labeled “gluten-free” isn’t best if you don’t do your homework.  Gluten-free living can and has helped thousands of people who suffer from things like celiac disease and IBD but it’s not necessarily a healthier lifestyle for everyone: in fact, many gluten-free foods are higher in fat, calories, and carbohydrates  and lower in fiber than their glutinous counterparts.  (Now if you want to discuss removing processed foods from your diet, that’s a horse of a different color.)  If you’re considering going gluten-free, please consult your medical provider and not something like Elizabeth Hasselbeck’s book that promises that it’s “the secret to a healthy life”.  And now back to the post…

The American Dietitic Association recently published a study that analyzed the amounts of gluten found in supposedly naturally gluten-free foods.  The results are reason for the gluten-intolerant and gluten-adverse to be concerned: 7 out of the 22 samples showed gluten levels above the proposed FDA rule for gluten-free labeling.  The study states that “gluten contamination of inherently gluten-free grains, seeds, and flours not labeled gluten-free is a legitimate concern.”

If you’re gluten-free, you probably already know that gluten can pop up in unexpected places, including oatmeal (which is naturally gluten-free but grown and processed in such a way that it’s usually contaminated by gluten), sauces, milk and meat products.  You probably also know that the FDA currently has no definition for “gluten-free” and that gluten-free labeling is voluntary and not regulated or enforced.  What this new study shows is that we also now have to be extra careful when buying things like rice flour because they may be contaminated by gluten.  In my mind, it’s probably safer to buy flours and products labeled “certified gluten-free” because even though they are generally more expensive, they have been tested  to ensure that they don’t contain gluten above 10 ppm.  If a product is simply labeled “gluten-free”, there’s no guarantee that it has been tested and it may just be a marketing ploy because of the gluten-free diet’s new-found popularity.  Sigh.  We’ll just have to wait until the FDA actually decides on a definition for “gluten-free”, a process that’s been in the works since 2006.

Do you have any tips for or questions on healthy gluten-free living?  Please post in the comments section below or write me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

I’m trying to incorporate more meditation in my life and I find that I’m afraid of not doing it right.  This, I have heard, is fairly common among novices who not only find stillness and mindfulness to be a challenge, but are used to accomplishment, not practice.  I try to keep this in mind (ironic, considering it’s meditation) but somehow in yoga class or during prayer, I find myself wanting to sneak a peak at everyone around me and compare myself: Am I sitting right?  Am I going too fast or too slow?  Do I look serene enough?  Am I the only one not getting this?

So maybe, I figured, sitting meditation isn’t for me.  Many people discover activities like washing the dishes or running to be meditative and I do enjoy the sense of quiet that can be found in day-to-day activities.  I’ve come across a meditation technique that is spot-on for me right now: the Orange Meditation.  Created by the founder of the Unified Buddhist Church, Thich Nhat Hahn, the Orange Meditation is a mindful eating technique that engages the senses and is helpful to me in that it has a beginning, middle, and end.  Here are the basic steps of the Orange Meditation (borrowed from Suite101.com):

  1. Breath deeply three times, slowly and carefully, or until one feels connected to the self.
  2. Pick up the orange and hold it in the palm of the hand. Feel its texture. Notice its color. Spend some time examining and enjoying the orange.
  3. Slowly begin to peel the orange. Notice the change that occurs under the orange’s skin. Take time to smell the orange. Gently touch the exposed flesh.
  4. When the orange is peeled, pick up a segment. Bite into it, and close the eyes to concentrate fully on the orange’s flavor. Do not take another bite until all of the previous bite is gone.
  5. Pause occasionally to reflect on any new sensations from eating the orange.
  6. When the orange is gone, focus again on the self with several deep breaths. When ready, open the eyes.

If you want to try this technique, find a quiet space away from distractions like TVs, computers, and phones (which, let me tell you, is a challenge in my house) and give yourself at least ten minutes of uninterrupted time.

Have you discovered any meditation techniques that work for you?  Do you have any meditation stories you’d like to share?  If so, please add to the comments section below or shoot me an email at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com.

The New York Times just published an interesting article on vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine vitamin”.  Many studies have suggested that many cancers and diseases such as Type I diabetes are caused by vitamin D deficiency and what I’ve heard from many people is that they’re choosing to forgo sunscreen in an attempt to increase their levels.  I really liked the New York Times article because it gives a good, general prescription for safe-sun levels in the summer that will help you get your vitamin D fix for the whole year.  Here’s the takeaway:

  • Those most at risk for vitamin D deficiency are the sun-phobic, babies who are exclusively breast-fed, and the elderly, especially those in nursing homes.  It’s very hard to get adequate amount of vitamin D purely through diet.
  • The amount of sunscreen you use, the color of your skin, and the amount of sun exposure you get, as well as when and where you get it, affects your ability to produce adequate amounts of “quality” vitamin D.
  • To get enough vitamin D, the general prescription is to go outside in the summer between 10 am and 3 pm for 5-10 minutes, wearing “minimal clothing” and no sunscreen, two to three times a week.  (It’s okay to always wear sunscreen on your face and neck.)
  • In general, you can fill your reserves of vitamin D for the year by getting limited but direct sun exposure in the summer.  If you’re concerned about your levels, you can ask that your doctor check them by doing a blood test at your next physical or wellness appointment.

It seems pretty easy to get more vitamin D, at least according to this prescription, and it also seems easy to incorporate your “dose” into other healthy behaviors.  Take a walk at lunch or during a break at your office or school.  Walk or bike to do errands on the weekends.  Try mediation or yoga outside and feel the warmth of the sun on your body.  Garden with exposed arms and legs.  Take some reading with you outdoors.  But keep in mind that you should be wearing sunscreen and using sun protection most of the time.  Be aware that chemical sunscreens often take 20-30 minutes from application to be effective while mineral sunscreens like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide take effect immediately.

There is a balance to be struck between getting vitamin D and practicing safe sun: do you have any tips for doing so?  Please share them in the comments section below or by emailing me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

My very talented friend Catherine just published a great piece about things you can do in five minutes a day to be happier and less stressed, and they’re not necessarily what you would expect! My two favorites from the list are drinking tea and eating chocolate, but maybe that IS sort of obvious. This article makes me think about other healthy living activities I want to incorporate in my daily routine, like yoga and meditation. Keep checking back for more on those soon, and check out the article for great ideas on how to be more balanced today: http://lifeandbeautyweekly.com/feature/stress_relief/index.html.

Since launching The Crunchy Cookie, I’ve received several questions from friends looking for insight into certain products or wellness topics.  With their permission, I’ll address these questions in a feature called “The Crunchy Cookie Presents”.  If you have a question, please feel free to send it to me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com.  I’d be thrilled to look into it for you and give you the “crunchy” perspective!

My friend Monique has a great question about a product her dermatologist recommended for her, Cetaphil.  She writes: “I was wondering what your thoughts are on Cetaphil products?  I have been using their face wash for years but now I want to make sure it’s healthy for my skin.  My dermatologist in high school also recommended it which is how I started using it.”

I love this question because it helps me expand on one of the main purposes of this blog: providing an alternative, “wellness” perspective on health and beauty.  I am not a doctor or an expert of any kind and I firmly believe that Western medicine has a lot to offer.  So when Monique says that her dermatologist recommended it for her skin, I don’t necessarily want to contradict that because I think there’s a lot to be said for finding a product that works for you.  (For the record, my grandfather is a dermatologist and has recommended Cetaphil to me in the past.)  Dermatologists generally recommend products that are fragrance-free and considered gentle on the skin, something I can definitely get behind.

But I hope the the “crunchy” perspective can come in handy, too.  For example, while the cleansers in Cetaphil may work well on your skin, Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser includes two things I try to stay away from: parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

Parabens are chemical preservatives found in many cosmetics and are widely regarded as an endocrine disruptor, meaning that they affect your body’s hormones.  As far as my own health is concerned, I am most worried about parabens’ potential contribution to the  increase in the risk of blood clots.  Researchers have found that parabens mimic estrogen’s activity in the body and it’s known that estrogen absorbed through the skin, such as in the Ortho Evra birth control patch, increases the risk of blood clots in women similar to how the estrogen in oral birth control pills does.  You can check the Cosmetics Safety Database for more info on parabens’ ill effects on the body’s neurological system, their likelihood to cause irritation, and more.

SLS has also received a lot of bad press recently and you can find more and more products labeled “SLS-free” on the market.  This generally means that the ingredients do not contain sodium lauryl sulfate or its cousin, sodium laureth sulfate, both of which are used as emulsifiers in cosmetics.  Emulsifiers are used to create suds and bubbles to superficially signal to users that cleansers and soaps are doing their jobs.  Both of these SLS’s, however, have been shown to cause skin irritation and organ toxicity in animal trials.  Sodium lauryl sulfate has even been linked to cancer mutations.

The good news is that if you’re using products with these ingredients in them and rinsing them off thoroughly, you probably haven’t given your skin a lot of time to absorb the chemicals.  That said, I would try to find another cleanser for your skin that works as well as Cetaphil has without these potential toxins in them.  For combination skin, I like Juice Beauty’s Organic Facial Wash ($22.00 for 4 oz) and Alba Botanica’s Pineapple Enzyme Facial Cleanser ($12.95 for 8 oz).  A new discovery for me has been Blum Naturals Daily Combination/Oily Towelettes ($6.99 for a pack of 30), which are infused with tea tree oil and salicylic acid.  They’re perfect for travel, lazy nights when you don’t want to wash your face, and for keeping at your desk or in your gym bag when you need to freshen up.

Monique, I hope these suggestions help and that you’ll let me know what you decide to do with this info!

I was in Napa this past weekend to celebrate my mother’s 60th birthday (happy birthday, Mom!) and we stayed in Calistoga, CA, which is famous for its mineral springs.  The Roman Spa Hot Springs Hotel where we stayed had these wonderful pools filled with mineral water pumped in from the hot springs.  On a lark, the whole family, including my two rather macho brothers, opted to try out the spa’s mud baths yesterday.  They were… interesting.  We lay in these bathtubs filled with Canadian peat moss, volcanic ash from Napa, and the local mineral water.  We all expected the mud bath to be more akin to spreading a clay mask over ourselves, but it kinda felt like lying in a very supportive, warm, dirty, stinky pillow.  And yes, we probably should have known better.  And no, I don’t think any of us are in any hurry to have another treatment.

That said, today my skin is super soft and my husband, DG, is reporting the same thing.  This got me thinking about the supposed detoxifying properties of volcanic ash (of which I remain skeptical) and the benefits of another volcanic byproduct, pumice.  Pumice can be used in its stone form as a great exfoliation tool for rough areas like the feet and elbows and is found in its powdered form in one of my favorite exfoliators, derma-e’s Microdermabrasion Scrub (retails for $32.50 for 2 oz but can befound on Amazon for $16.46).  This treatment is gentle on the face and neck yet effective for smoothing my skin and getting rid of flakes on my forehead and nose.  It has a very light, pleasant smell and every friend I’ve had try it has raved about it.  There is a disclaimer, though: it contains alumina, which gets low (or rather, high) marks from the Cosmetic Safety Database for neurotoxicity and enhanced skin absorption in moderate doses.  That said, the data gap is pretty high for alumina, it’s pretty low down on the ingredient list, and you’re washing it off so it may not have the same opportunity to enter your bloodstream as if you were to apply it and let it remain on your skin.  Even with this in mind, I do recommend this product!

Another good product out there is Naturopath’s Espresso Mud Body Scrub (retails for $32.00 for 5 oz).  This scrub combines black silt clay and pumice with coffee for a much better-smelling alternative to the Calistoga mud bath.  The caffeine in the coffee may help temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite by constricting blood vessels and plumping up the skin.  In any case, the ground coffee does help provide extra exfoliation but be sure not to scrub too hard or the jagged edges of the grinds could create irritation.

Pumice stones themselves can usually be bought for about $3.00 at natural and health food stores and pharmacies.  You can also make great exfoliation treatments at home using ingredients in your kitchen.  Try mixing olive oil with sugar to make a paste to use in the shower as a body scrub.  For the face, try mixing a little baking soda with your cleanser for extra exfoliation, but be sure to rinse thoroughly as some people find that baking soda irritates their skin and do not use it on broken skin or acne.  Generally, salt and sugar scrubs are too harsh to use on the delicate skin on your face and neck.

Have you had luck with an at-home exfoliation treatment?  Want other product suggestions or at-home spa ideas?  Leave your feedback in the comments section or email me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

In the best news I’ve heard in a loooong time, today is National Ice Cream Day, which I’m putting on my calendar and planning to celebrate religiously in the years to come. Here are my resolutions for keeping this indulgence from becoming too guilty of a pleasure:

-I will try to keep my portion size reasonable: no more than a one cup scoop.
-I will try to use toppings like fruit and nuts than provide some nutritional value.
-I will remember that the more complicated the flavor, the less healthy it will probably be for me.
-I will remember that “low sugar”, “low carb”, and “low fat” don’t necessarily mean “low calorie” or that the ingredients are all good for me.
-I will remember to support local and organic ice cream makers.
-I will remember that these are guidelines and not rules. Because a little ice cream is good for the soul and it’s good to enjoy a treat now and then, especially if I enjoy it with purpose.

Do you have guidelines on eating ice cream healthfully? Post below in the comments section! Happy Ice Cream Day!

All year, I look forward to summer berry season.  I grew up in Oregon (the nation’s leading producer of berries, woot!) where you could buy flats of strawberries at a stand in my high school parking lot for ridiculously low prices.  I would come downstairs every morning to find that my dad had left a colander filled with berries in the sink for the family to add to cereals or just snack on.  Ah, memories…

For two years now, I’ve made this recipe most summer mornings and it’s made me look forward to breakfast.  It has a great blend of fiber, protein, and carbs to start my day off right.  It’s also quick to make and easy to tailor to your tastes.  Enjoy!

Sarah’s Summer Parfait

Ingredients

-2-4 tablespoons ground flaxseed (I like Bob’s Red Mill Ground Flaxseed)

-1 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I like Nancy’s Organic Nonfat Yogurt)

-3/4 cup berries

-Honey or agave nectar to taste

Directions

Spoon flaxseed and yogurt into a bowl and stir.  Add berries on top and drizzle with your preferred sweetener (if desired).  Enjoy!

Notes and Variations

Ground flaxseed is a good source of fiber (two-thirds of the fiber is insoluble fiber and one third is dietary), so feel free to add more to enhance the dish’s nutty flavor and to up the fiber content.  Dietary fiber helps you feel full while insoluble fiber keeps food moving in your digestive system.

On occasion, I’ll mix in a tablespoon of matcha green tea or a half-teaspoon of powdered cardamom for a different flavor.

Interestingly, the two companies I recommend in this post are both from Oregon.  Coincidence or do Oregonians just make good food?  I’m leaning towards the latter in a completely unbiased way.  :)

Have you created your own summer breakfast staple?  Let me know about it in the comments or by emailing me at sarah@thecrunchycookie.com!

You may be familiar with The Story of Stuff, a short, informative Internet film that takes us through the creation, distribution, and disposal of consumer products: it’s been viewed on the Web over 10 million times!  (If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!)  My awesome friend Renée works for The Story of Stuff Project and gave me a heads up on their new project, The Story of Cosmetics, created in association with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.  I’m really excited to see it when it comes out on July 21, but until then, all I have is the teaser they released today.  It promises to follow in the footsteps of the Project’s earlier films in its accessible tone and direct explanation of what happens when corporations aren’t looking out for the little guy.

See the teaser for the new film here and let me know what you think in the comments section!  Are you as eager to see it as I am?  Do you have thoughts on The Story of Stuff Project’s other films?  Let me know below!

If you’re like me, you care about what goes into your cosmetics but don’t have a PhD in chemistry.  There are certain chemicals I know to avoid–like parabens, PEGs, phthalates, fragrances, anything ending in -eth–but it can be hard to know what I’m looking at when I’m looking at an ingredient list.

That’s why I’m so excited about the new Sunscreen Buyer’s Guide App from the Environmental Working Group.  It’s my favorite price (free!) and I can use it when I’m actually in the store looking at my options.  This is perfect for travel when I need to buy sun protection on-site and I’m unfamiliar with what’s available.  I also love that the App rates not only the UVA and UVB protection in the products but the UVA/UVB balance and the stability of the sunscreen, ensuring that what you purchase lives up to your expectations.

Also, when you find a product that meets your criteria, you can purchase it through Amazon.com by pressing a button on the App and it will help support EWG.  It’s a nice way to give and get something in return!