5 Questions to Ask Your Essential Oil Company (Or, How to Find a Reputable Source for Essential Oils)

5 Questions You Need to Ask your Essential Oil  Company #essentialoils #youngliving #ylessentialoilsTo say that there is a lot of confusion out there about essential oils is sort of like saying that Niagara Falls is kinda big. In other words, it’s a gross understatement. No matter your query or how it’s worded, any internet search about essential oils is bound to bring up conflicting information, making it extremely difficult for a novice to sort through it all and find the kernels of truth hidden in all the hyperbole.

One of the most difficult questions to settle is the most basic: how do I know if the essential oils I’m using are quality oils? One fact that is uncontested in the aromatherapy world is that essential oils are notorious for being adulterated, and even experts admit it can be difficult for them to determine for certain if oils have indeed been adulterated. If even the experts have trouble, where does that leave the rest of us?!

I have been researching this question (and many others regarding aromatherapy) for the past couple years; and although I haven’t come up with any “foolproof” way to determine the quality of an essential oil, my research has taught me what I should look for in an essential oil company, and what kinds of questions I should ask when considering a purchase.  My growing knowledge of essential oils and essential oil quality has only confirmed for me that I made the right choice in my source of essential oils, and I hope to help others achieve the same confidence! So many people are curious about the oils and interested in using them, but overwhelmed by the options and the questions that abound.

Companies throw around terms like “therapeutic grade”, “natural”, and “organic” to the extent that those terms have become almost meaningless, so it’s difficult to sort through the marketing hype and find out what’s really going into the bottles they sell. Any company trying to sell you some of their oils is going to insist that theirs is the real deal, and unadulterated, but clearly they’re not all telling the truth. If you’re searching for a reliable source of pure essential oils, I have a list of 5 questions you need to ask any company that you are researching to determine if they really are selling the real deal or not. 

5 Questions You Need to Ask your Essential Oil  Company #essentialoils #youngliving #ylessentialoils1. Do the oils come from indigenous plants?

Plants are living things, and the essential oils that come from them prove that by their widely varying makeup. A lavender plant grown in France will produce a very different oil from a plant grown in, say, Canada. The reason is because the compounds in the essential oil are developed specifically for the protection, nourishment, and propagation of the plant they come from; and the needs of the plant will vary depending on a lot of factors including soil, climate, and pests. Aromatherapy has developed around the concept that certain plants have certain therapeutic properties… but those properties aren’t guaranteed to exist in a plant that has been grown outside its natural habitat. One oft-recommended essential oil company sources many of its oils from India, which is fine if you’re in the market for jasmine oil (actually an absolute), but not so fine if you’re looking for eucalyptus, which is native to Australia.

2. Do you own any of the farms or distilleries?

The majority of essential companies out there are merely distributors and not producers. This is an important distinction, because the further removed the distributor is from the process, the more opportunity there is for the oil to be adulterated. And the less a company has control over the essential oil production, the less they even know about the possibility of the oil being adulterated. Their sources may swear to the integrity of their oils, but how can a distributor know that for sure unless they are involved in the daily production process? I am much more comfortable purchasing from a company that has their hands in the process from beginning to end; and I’m extremely confident in a company that controls the process from beginning to end. 

3. What kind of tests do you run on the oils?

Most companies will boast that they run a GC/MS (Gas Chromotography Mass Spectrometry) test on the oils, and that’s a good start. Much has been made of the GC/MS test in online circles in recent years, but honestly, that particular test doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about the oil. It can tell you if there are any chemical solvents added to the essential oil, and it can tell you if the oil has the generally expected number of various chemical compounds that it should… but it can’t tell you if each of those compounds are natural or manufactured, and it can’t tell you if they all came from the same plant or were pulled from a variety of different plants.

An essential oil can pass the GC/MS test and be declared 100% natural when that might not, in fact, be the case. It’s entirely possible (and actually happens all the time according to chemists and aromatherapists in the know) for an essential oil to be labeled as “lavender”, for example, when it’s really compounded from several different other (cheaper) plants. The problem is that when the oil is pieced together like this, it doesn’t work as it should for therapeutic purposes, because – as I mentioned at the beginning – plants are living things. Genuine plant oils cannot simply be manufactured from this and that; an effective essential oil is the oil in its entirety.

4. What quality control measures do you have in place?

This question ties in directly to the last 2 questions. Because most companies are merely distributing an end product, and not actually producing said product, the only quality control measure they can take is on the back end. Their control over the seeds, cultivation, harvest, and distillation is minimal at best because they have no actual say over the production process. Their only option is to accept or refuse the final product based on their own observations and/or tests. And typically, the only test they run is the GC/MS test, which as I have shown is limited in its scope.

Having said that, there are a few companies that either own the farms and distilleries producing the oils, or they have an ownership investment of some kind (almost like share-cropping) in the farms and/or distilleries. Those companies are the ones that can actually control the production process to one extent or another, and those companies should have some quality control measures in place. Such quality control measures should include things like the choice of seeds used for planting (Heirloom? GMO?), quality of soil, pest prevention measures, harvesting procedures, distillation standards, etc. The more a company can tell you about the measures they take, the more confident you can be in their final product. 

5. Are the plants grown organically?

This is a no-brainer, really. You don’t want chemical pesticides ending up in your bottle of therapeutic essential oil! Organic labeling gets complicated, though, with the vast majority of oils being sourced internationally with different countries regulating “organic” in very different ways. So it’s better to ask some pointed questions about how exactly the plants are protected from insects and disease. The best oil companies use organic and natural planting methods that do not leave any kind of chemical residue on the plants that could make its way into the essential oil. 

As I mentioned in the beginning, the more I learn, the more confident I am in my own personal choice of essential oil brand. I’m sure there are other reputable and reliable brands out there, but to date I have not found any that answer these questions more satisfactorily.

If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils, how they are made, how they are adulterated, and how you can use them medicinally, I highly recommend the book “The Healing Intelligence of Essential Oils” by Kurt Schnaubelt.  (That’s an affiliate link there; you’ve been warned!)

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5 Home Remedies for Pink Eye

5 remedies for pink eye #conjunctivitis #essentialoils #youngliving #homeremedies Pink eye (or Conjunctivitis) is one of those annoying little illnesses that is more inconvenience than anything, especially since anyone who sees anybody (or hears of anybody) who has pink eye seems to think that the Black Plague of Death is nigh at hand and reacts with horror. Henceforth and therefore, one is required to sequester themselves away from all society until doomsday has passed and the eye is no longer shedding icky goopy stuff…. which can take up to a week. Like I said, an inconvenience.

It’s not life-threatening. It’s not dangerous. It’s just annoying. Totally no fun at all.

Recently, both of The Boys got to experience the bacterial version of Pink Eye (as opposed to the viral kind, which usually accompanies a cold, and has happened around here once or twice, or the allergy kind which we haven’t had to deal with yet), so I got to experience the fun of treating it. Yay me! What I discovered was that home remedies are more than adequate to stop Pink Eye in its tracks… if you apply them repeatedly and frequently until the symptoms stop. 

Tiger Cub was the first to get it, and unfortunately, I was not as faithful to his treatments as I should have been, so his case kind of dragged on for a few days. When my Certain Little Someone got it (wasn’t it so nice of the brothers to share?), I determined to try every home remedy readily available to me, and apply them repeatedly through the course of the day. His case was knocked out in two days! Who needs antibiotics? 

1. Lavender Compress

The first thing I did with both boys was a lavender compress, which is very easy to do and requires only a bowl, lavender essential oil*, a washrag, and some warm/hot water. Place a drop of lavender oil in the bowl, and fill it with hot water. Put the washrag into the water until it’s thoroughly wet, then wring it out. Place it over the eyes (keep them closed) for as long as the kid can stand it. For my Tiger Cub, that was about 30 seconds. My Certain Little Someone made it to a few minutes. Ideally, it should be at least 5 minutes, but that wasn’t happening around here.

I tried to apply the lavender compress at 3 different times throughout the course of the day, but especially at night, to facilitate healing during sleep.

2. Eucalyptus Radiata Essential Oil

Eucalyptus* is another essential oil that’s very good for conjunctivitis and is  safe for children. Dilute 1-2 drops of the oil in a teaspoon or so of carrier oil, then apply in the following manner:

  • Dab just a bit of the oil on your finger – just enough to moisten it – and carefully run your finger across the brow. Repeat with the other brow. Be sure there’s not enough oil on your finger to drip onto the eyelid, because… ouch! If you do happen to mistakenly get the oil too close to the eye, use some carrier oil (olive, coconut, etc.) to remove it, don’t try to rinse with water as that will make it worse.
  • Dab just a bit onto the temples, rubbing in a circular motion.
  • Massage a bit of the oil onto the pads underneath the 2nd and 3rd toes of each foot.

You can also diffuse Eucalyptus Radiata. Once again, I applied the oil approximately 3 times a day.

3. Honey Wash

Add a teaspoon or so of raw honey to about a cup of warm water. Stir until it dissolves. Making sure it’s not too hot, apply it to the eye in any of the following ways:

  • Use an eye dropper to drop it into the corner of the eye.
  • Use a small medicine cup and pour it over the eye, beginning at the inner corner. To facilitate this process, have your child lean over the sink with their head to the side and tilted slightly up.
  • Dip a cotton ball in the honey wash (use a clean cotton ball for each eye) and firmly swipe it across the eye, once again beginning at the inner corner.

No matter which method you use, you’ll have to follow up with wiping the eye clean and dry. I applied the honey wash rather frequently through the course of the day, maybe as much as 5 times.

4. Tea Wash

For this remedy, many people recommend chamomile tea, but I didn’t have any, so I used black tea. Based on what I’ve read, you can use pretty much any kind of tea, but if you have chamomile, that might edge out as the best. 

For the tea wash, all you have to do is make a strong cup of tea (I used 2 tea bags) and cool it to a safe temperature before applying. Some people stick the tea bags right on the eyes, but I knew my guys wouldn’t go for that, so I opted for the cotton ball method described above. Works just as well, apparently!

The tea wash I also applied pretty frequently – I alternated this and the honey wash throughout the day.

5. Breastmilk

Now this wasn’t an option for me, but everybody and their brother will tell you that breastmilk knocks out pink eye like nothing else. If you have access to it, go for it! Apply it in much the same manner as you would eye drops.

*I have researched oils and various companies, and continue to research them, but to date, I am most satisfied with the quality of oils offered by Young Living. I’ve been a wholesale member for a year and a half, and haven’t regretted it for a second. You can be a wholesale member, too, all you have to do is order their kit of the best oils for everyday uses, which includes a diffuser, for $150. (Sounds like a lot of money, but that’s 10 5mL bottles of oils right there, and they last a long time.) It’s the best way to get started on the exciting journey of the aromatherapy lifestyle.

Of course, it goes without saying that I’m not a doctor; I can’t diagnose illness, and I can’t prescribe medication. I’m just telling you what worked for us and if you decide to try it, you do so at your own risk. 

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5 Steps to a Healthier You {and Me!}

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Authentic Simplicity!5 steps to a healthier you #gethealthy #health #fitnessOK, folks, there’s nothing earth-shattering or groundbreaking here. Just some simple (do I really need to say that still?!) basic truths that we all need to be reminded of occasionally.

This gentle reminder is intended largely for myself, because I have totally let these healthy habits slide in recent years, and it’s time to reclaim them. I have some minor little health issues that keep niggling at me, and I can’t help but feel that if I just took better care of myself, they would disappear.

So here goes: my 5-step plan to improving my health! These basic steps are applicable to anybody, no matter the circumstances, so this post serves as a reminder for you, too.

Here’s to good health!

5 Steps to Improving Your Health

1. Reduce Caffeine Intake

At this point in time, I’m not ready to say definitively that coffee must be completely eradicated from my diet. However, I’ll readily admit I have allowed myself to indulge in it far too much in the past year or so, and it’s time to cut way back! It used to be that I drank only one cup a day, maybe two. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with various coffee substitutes like Teeccino  and Pero, and they’ve actually been a lot more satisfying than I had anticipated. I’ve also started drinking more tea, especially chai, which delivers a nice bold flavor that I love, and helps me forget that it’s not coffee. I still do drink coffee in the morning, but I’ve successfully eliminated caffeinated beverages in the evening, and my overall coffee consumption is back to no more than two a day.

2. Drink More Water {And Then Some}

I have always, always been bad at this: I can remember even as a child my mother telling me to drink more water. I’m pretty sure that, as a result, I’m walking around with a permanent case of dehydration, and I’ve got to get better at increasing my water intake! I’ve already started this one (so maybe it should have been step one?) by drinking a glass before going to work, drinking two glasses at work, and then drinking at least 2 more glasses in the evening. That’s probably 60-75% of what I should be drinking, so I’m getting there!

3. Exercise

Ugh. I hate exercising, frankly. I just don’t find it fun – I’m totally not one of those perky kind of fitness people. (Sorry if I totally wrecked all your illusions about me there.) I do enjoy Pilates, and when I have exercised regularly in the past, that’s been my chosen poison (albeit a relatively pleasant one). However, recently, I finally took the plunge and bought Teresa Tapp’s  book “Fit and Fabulous in 15 Minutes a Day”, which details her basic “T-Tapp” workout. I’m currently on Day 4 of the 2-week “bootcamp” kickstart, and am anxious to see how it goes. If it works as well as everyone says it does, it seems like it’s pretty much the perfect exercise routine! I’m also interested in purchasing a small trampoline for exercise purposes – it seems like a fun and energetic way to stay fit and healthy, yes?!

4. Avoid Sugar

I go back and forth on this one; sometimes I’m good at this, and sometimes I’m not. Back before I had kids, I used to be perfectly happy going a whole day without anything sweet; but I find that harder and harder to do as I get older. Generally, my rule nowadays is one sweet a day. When I stick to that, I feel so much better! I’m hoping that I can get to a place where I am once again allowing days to pass before I realize I haven’t had any sugar… that would be marvelous!

5. Sleep!

This is another one I’ve already started working on. Over the holidays, my DH and I developed a really bad habit of staying up until almost midnight, and I feel like it’s really taken a toll on me. Now I’m trying to go to bed between 10 and 10:30, with a wake-up time of around 7:00, which gives me 8+ hours of sleep. I feel so much better when I manage to do this, so hopefully that feeling will motivate me to continue!

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5 Reasons Why I Use Essential Oils

5 Reasons to Use Essential Oils

When I first signed up as a distributor with Young Living Essential Oils, I wrote a lengthy post about that decision. (You can read that post here, and you can sign up as a distributor yourself here, because once you’re done reading this post, you’ll probably want to. *wink*) I detailed then the mental and physical journey that led me to essential oils, but I didn’t specifically address the reasons why I chose essential oils as the primary healing modality, if you will, in my  home.

Now that I have over a year invested in learning about and using the oils, I figured it was past time to put into words the reasons why I chose to go with essential oils. Naturally, I believe these reasons are good reasons for you also to choose essential oils, but please keep in mind this is only a post about my experience and it is not to be construed as medical advice because I am not a doctor. If you  have any concerns or questions, please do speak with your medical practitioner before experimenting with the oils.

1. Essential Oils are Safe

Did you realize you have probably been ingesting essential oils and rubbing them onto your body already without even knowing it? That’s because many of them (here’s an itemized list) are categorized as “GRAS” (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA and approved as such to be used as food additives. Companies add GRAS essential oils to food and toiletry items for flavor and fragrance purposes all the time.

And if you don’t trust the FDA (Ahem. I don’t blame you.), here’s an interesting analysis by Dr. Robert Tisserand, an expert on essential oils, about the safety and various concerns regarding the use of oils. I encourage you to read through for yourself, but my conclusion after reading it myself was that he was hard pressed to find any hard evidence of any sort of serious negative side effects or reactions from the usage of oils. A quote from this article: “As used in aromatherapy today, essential oils have not caused a single death.” The same cannot be said for modern chemical medicine!

Certainly, we need to respect the power of essential oils and use them wisely and with a heavy dose of common sense. First of all, we need to make sure the oils we use are of the highest quality to avoid the adulteration and chemical exposure referred to in the above referenced article by Tisserand. Secondly, it is a good idea to dilute essential oils for both topical and internal use.  And it goes without saying that caution should be exercised when using oils on children (although I have read that studies done on children reveal no negative effects when they are used properly). With all that in mind, I think one can say that aromatherapy is just as safe as any other readily available therapy, if not safer. 

2. Essential Oils are Effective

I have experienced the effectiveness of essential oils personally and in my own family, and I have heard the testimonies of many others’ positive experiences. Browse through Oil Testimonials and see how many people have benefited from the life-blood of a plant that is called its “essential oil”.

3. Essential Oils Very Rarely Have Side Effects

The most common side effect of an oil is that it can cause a minor reaction in sensitive skin, like a tingling, stinging sensation or even a slight rash. The best way to avoid this reaction is to dilute the oil with a carrier oil.

Some people respond strongly to some oils think they are having an allergic reaction. However, it is more likely that any reaction to an oil is actually part of the detox process, which can be a good thing. (Even so, it’s a good idea to stop using any oil when you experience detox symptoms and allow your body time to recover before using it again.) There’s some debate about whether or not oils can be allergenic at all, but here’s a good rule of thumb: if reactions strengthen with each use of the oil, it’s probably an allergic reaction. If the reactions reduce in intensity, it’s probably detox.

One thing worth mentioning here, although it’s not the purpose of this post, is that some medical conditions do not tolerate certain oils. Epilepsy comes to mind, since I recently had a friend with this concern. If you have a chronic medical illness or condition, do your research and make sure the oils you want to use will not aggravate your condition.

4. Essential Oils Have a Long History

The aforementioned Dr. Robert Tisserand gives a brief history of essential oil usage here, but suffice it to say that ancient cultures (Rome, Egyptian) regularly used essential oils medicinally. And, of course, the Bible is filled with mentions of oils (distilled and infused) used for many purposes, including physical and emotional health.

I don’t know about you, but I have a lot more trust in something that has stood the test of time! Modern medicine miracles exist and are not to be discounted, but give me a time-tested remedy any day over!

5. Essential Oils are Easy to Use

You know how I like things to be simple! I find aromatherapy to be the most accessible of all modern alternative remedies: Chiropractic care is expensive and time-consuming (although very beneficial!); acupuncture is also expensive and exclusive in that it’s not really something you can do at home; homeopathy is just downright confusing; and I confess that I find herbal medicine to be much the same.

Essential oils are easy to use at home – simply diffusing them into the air is an effective way to use them, as is rubbing the diluted oil into the skin. Although there is much to learn about the science of aromatherapy, at its very basic level, it can be used at home by even the most inexperienced person. (Provided, of course, that inexperienced person is willing to learn the basics of safety and usage!)

They are also neither expensive nor exclusive like the other therapies I mentioned. The average wholesale price of a bottle of essential oil from Young Living is around $20 and contains several hundred drops. (Ask me how you can get the wholesale price for yourself!) When you consider that you use only one or two drops at a time, that price is actually minimal in comparison to most other alternative meds out there. (Hey, it’s even cheaper than most run of the mill OTC meds!)

 

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Why I Use Young Living Essential Oils

Young Living Essential Oils #yleo #essential oils If you are interested in using essential oils as an alternative to chemical-based medications, then you’ve probably come across at least a few different brands, all of them claiming to be the best for one reason or another. The information out there is often conflicting, always biased, and extremely difficult to sort through.

I can’t tell you definitively which brand of essential oils (EO’s) is the best, but I can tell you why I chose to use Young Living oils almost exclusively. I’m not writing this post to bash any other essential oil companies out there – I have no reason to do that – but simply to explain what benefits led me to choose YL over other brands in the event that my decision-making process is helpful to someone else out there researching the available options.

Why I Use Young Living Essential Oils

  • History – Young Living has over 20 years built into the industry, giving them plenty of time to learn about and invest into the oils they sell, as well as plenty of time to develop a reputation. Many of the brands out there have popped up seemingly overnight (certainly that is not true of all of them, and surely there are companies even older than YL, but I am not speaking of those on this point), and are relative unknowns as far as I am concerned. It is awfully easy for those start-ups to be here today and gone tomorrow. Young Living is not a start-up or an unknown entity, and that’s enough to edge it out over others that were recommended to me.
  • Reputation – Twenty years has given Young Living plenty of time to develop a reputation, and aside from those who are skeptical of any alternative medicine, that reputation is a very good one. The vast majority of people who have used Young Living oils have been very pleased with them and found them to be of high quality. I can count on one hand the number of negative reviews I’ve read in terms of the performance of Young Living’s oils. 
  • Quality – The quality of the oils is what is behind their strong reputation. Much has been made online of Gas Chromatography /Mass Spectrometry testing, but in reality that test only tells the beginning of the story when it comes to essential oils. Young Living performs a total of 7 tests on every batch of oil that passes through their facilities and onto their customers, and if the oils don’t pass the tests, they don’t sell them. Even so, that’s not enough to establish the quality of the oils, because once again, each of those tests tells only part of the story. The chemical makeup of an essential oils depends on so many factors, all of which are highly variable, so YL makes sure that optimum conditions exists in all those factors. Starting with the seed of the plant, and continuing with its cultivation and harvest, YL monitors every step of the way to ensure that the highest quality oil is the end result. If you don’t believe me, read this summary from a chemist that explains in detail all the efforts YL takes to ensure a quality product.
  • Training and Support – If I ordered a random oil from a random company online, chances are I’m left to sink or swim when it comes to using that oil. Sure, a quick google search will tell me the basics about any particular oil. Or I could read tomes and tomes of textbooks about oils, their chemistry, their usage, etc, and I probably will (I’ve already read a few!). But what has helped me more than anything has been the support of my sponsor and the rest of the folks on her team. Any time I have a question, I know where to go, and someone on the team always has an answer for me! Young Living’s company structure was intended to create that network of support so that no one is left in the dark on how to use their oils. As my own team grows, my desire is to create that same environment of training and support that has been so beneficial to me.
  • Thieves’ Oil! – This proprietary blend is produced only by Young Living, and although others have similar products, this is the one I kept hearing about over and over and over again. I haven’t been disappointed with this powerful oil, and I always make sure to have some on hand. I clean and disinfect with it, and I use it whenever someone in my family gets sick! I have seen it first hand cut colds and the like short when they’ve already started, and I’ve also seen it prevent various sicknesses from passing through the family from one person to the next. Good stuff, I tell you.

Reasons Why YOU Might Like Young Living Oils

Some more for you to consider as you make your decision:

  • Young Living has grown 75% in the past year! That’s some pretty incredibly amazing word-of-mouth sales going on there!
  • Young Living’s wholesale price (available to distributors) is comparable to a lot of the companies I’ve seen online, plus you have the option to enroll in their Essential Rewards autoship program, which allows you to earn bonus points you can use towards free oils! I’ve received 4 or 5 free bottles of oil in the past 6-8 months. When other companies imply that they are cheaper than YL, that’s probably because they’re comparing against the full retail price.
  • Young Living makes it easy for you to get the wholesale price – all you have to do is purchase a starter kit (from $40-150) and then make another $50 purchase within the year. No other commitment, but all the benefits of having a wholesale account.
  • Of the major brands, Young Living is the only one I know of that owns and operates their own farms and produces their own oils. Not all of their oils are produced in this way, but quite a few of them are. Some of those farms are based in the US, and some of those farms are based in other countries where the plants are indigenous to that area.

If you think you’d like to give Young Living oils a try, I’d be happy to have you join my team! Visit my Young Living website for more information. 

Please note that I am not a doctor and I am not dispensing medical advice. I’m simply sharing what I use for my own family. 

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Brush Teeth with An All Natural, Affordable Toothpaste

This is not a sponsored post. Tom’s of Maine gave me some product to try, but all opinions are my own. This post does contain affiliate and referral links. Thank you for supporting Authentic Simplicity!

Although you know that healthy teeth have more to do with diet than oral hygiene, you still want to keep them clean, yes? (Ain’t nobody wants to catch wind of stinky breath, ya know?) And cleaning said teeth with toothpastes laden with nasty chemicals seems counter-productive, yes?

But natural toothpaste is so expensive, yes? 

No. 

Thankfully, affordable yet natural (even fluoride-free!) toothpaste is available at just about every grocery store, as well as the ubiquitous Walmart and Target. I’m talking about Tom’s of Maine, whose line of kids’ toothpastes I was recently able to try.

What I Like About Tom’s of Maine

  • Availability: You can find their products in just about any store, or online at Amazon.com or Vitacost.com. Some other highly recommended natural toothpastes are a little more obscure and harder to come by, so it’s nice to know there’s an option close at hand.
  • Affordability: The Silly Strawberry Kids’ Toothpaste which I tried is currently $2.61 at Vitacost (normally $5.17). A pack of 3 is currently $7.83 at Amazon.com. If you want to pick it up at Walmart, you’ll find the price to be somewhere around $3.00.
  • Skin Deep Rating: EWG’s Skin Deep Database rates products based on their safety and environmental impact. Tom’s of Maine’s kids’ toothpastes get a rating of “2″, which is an excellent rating.
  • Natural Flavors: One thing that I despise about most kids’ toothpastes is the artificial flavors they all contain. My kids love that fake flavor, but I cannot abide it! My Certain Little Someone is very particular about the flavor of his toothpaste, and has turned his nose up at other natural brands. At first, he didn’t take to the Silly Strawberry flavor (which comes from actual strawberry juice!) but it wasn’t long before he adjusted, and then he loved it as much as any of the other fake ones. Now the Wicked Cool Mint flavor, which comes from actual mint leaves, is definitely not his favorite, but that’s no surprise since he doesn’t even like peppermint candy canes!
  • Transparency: I love how Toms of Maine is very transparent in detailing the ingredients in their products so you always know what you’re getting. Their Ingredients List details what ingredients they use in their products and from what those ingredients are derived (a very important detail!).
  • Fluoride-Free: Fluoride-free toothpaste is hard to come by for children past the toddler stage, so I love that Toms of Maine makes fluoride-free versions of all their children’s toothpastes.
  • What’s Missing: Tom’s of Maine uses no artificial flavors, preservatives, fragrances, or colors.

What I Don’t Like

Honestly, there’s not a lot I don’t like about Tom’s of Maine, although some of their ingredients (sodium lauryl sulfate) are not *quite* as natural and unprocessed as I would prefer. However, the alternatives are a lot pricier and extremely difficult to find, which makes Toms of Maine an excellent choice.

 

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How to Bake With Stevia {Without Affecting Flavor}

How to Bake with Stevia Extract Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about how to convert sugar measurements to stevia for cooking and baking. All of the information in that post is true and accurate, but since then I’ve fine-tuned my routine a bit and developed a method for baking with stevia that doesn’t affect the texture or flavor of the final product. I’ve baked all kinds of things this way, and it seems to work across the board with all different kinds of recipes, so for the most part, this is how I bake with stevia.

1. Use Half the Amount of Sugar

The first step is to reduce the amount of sugar called for in the recipe by at least half. Now, for most conventional recipes, I already reduce the amount of sugar by as much as half anyway. So for the purposes of baking with stevia, I reduce the amount of sugar I would personally use by half.

For example: 

  • A recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar. I think that sounds like a little bit too much sugar going on for that particular recipe, so I would probably only use 3/4 cup at most.
  • Since I’m going to also be adding stevia, I can reduce that 3/4 cup even more, and use 1/2 cup or less of sugar.
  • Most recipes can handle this without drastically affecting the final texture, but there are some recipes that for whatever reason will not work well with the reduced sugar. In those cases, I usually just forego that particular recipe!

If you’re starting with a recipe that’s already inherently fairly healthy and/or has been healthified, you can just reduce the sugar by half and move on to the next step.

2. Replace the Remaining Half of Sugar with Stevia

Now you can follow the conversion chart to replace the remaining amount of sugar the recipe requires.

For example:

  • The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar. You’ll put 1/4 cup of sugar in your batter.
  • You’ll add 1/4 t. of stevia to replace the remaining 1/4 cup of sweetener.

3. Proceed As Directed

Just finish up the recipe the way it’s written. You shouldn’t need to make any other adjustments unless you want to.

And that’s it! You’ve just significantly reduced the sugar in your baked goods without sacrificing taste or texture! It’s even better if you use a “healthier” sugar like coconut sugar or sucanat.

Stevia Plant

the stevia plant before processing into extract or powder

Where to Buy Stevia (Plus Also What Kind to Use)

I like to use liquid stevia (you can find either glycerin- or alcohol-based varieties), which is essentially an extract of stevia (like peppermint or vanilla extract). The powdered stevia goes through more processing and often has a bitter after-taste, so I stay away from it. (Plus, a lot of powdered stevia contains additional sugars which totally ruins the point.)

I usually get my stevia from one of the following sources: 

  • Trader Joe’s (oh how I love Trader Joe’s!)- I *think* it costs around $7, but I’m not positive. I’ve had the same bottle for probably 6 months now, so I can’t remember exactly how much I paid. I do remember thinking it was an excellent price.
  • MOM’s – Mom’s Organic Market is a local chain and their stevia is actually a private label so I’m not sure the original manufacturer. I do know that their stevia tastes a lot better than other brands I’ve tried (NuNaturals, for example, which I like, but the stuff at Mom’s is better), so I’m thinking it’s probably from a more expensive brand that I haven’t tried yet, ha! The good news is that it is also priced very well (once again, not remembering the price, but remembering the impression that it was a great deal).
  • No access to either one of those stores? No worries! If your local health food store doesn’t carry reasonably priced stevia (and most of them don’t), you can order it online from Vitacost or Amazon (those are affiliate links right there). I ordered mine from both places before I was able to start purchasing it locally.

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Vegan By Day, Omnivore By Night: Mark Bittman’s VB6

This post contains affiliate links.

Recently, as I was browsing through the cookbooks available on my local library’s eBook rental service, I stumbled across Mark Bittman’s latest book, called “VB6″. I’ve always loved Bittman’s simple approach to cooking , and I own a few of his cookbooks, so the title and the author caught my eye. I got in line to borrow it, and eagerly read through it as soon as it was downloaded.

I was intrigued, to say the least. Very intrigued! The whole idea behind VB6 is this: what successful and healthy diets all have in common is the fact that they are all plant-based. Whether or not they also include animal products (and sugars and starches) doesn’t seem to matter, as long as plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables) make up the majority of the diet. However, not many of us either want or need a full-time diet of nothing but fruits and vegetables.

That’s where VB6 comes in. The idea is that you eat like a vegan during the day, but come dinnertime, you can eat whatever you want. There’s structure balanced with flexibility, and between the two you end up eating well without sacrificing the foods you love.

I actually had no intention of following the plan Bittman lays forth in his book, until it started to make sense to me. I personally have a hard time eating the quantity of fruits and vegetables I should, and I’ve felt for a long time that that simple fact has kept me from achieving my optimum weight and experiencing my best health. Following the VB6 concept, even in a moderated way, would help me achieve both without actually “going on a diet” or drastically changing my eating habits.

What VB6 Is

  • It is a structured way of eating. The basic idea is this: Eat only fruits, vegetables, and whole grains throughout the day. Then allow yourself to eat whatever you want for dinner (whether that means meat, or pasta, or your favorite dessert).
  • It is a way to give your body the nutrient-rich foods it really needs, namely fruits and vegetables. I suppose this appeals to me because I’ve always struggled with getting enough fruits and veggies. On a good day, I have 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables, and I know that’s not really good enough. A large portion of the vitamins and antioxidants your body needs are found in fresh produce, so it’s really important to eat more of those than anything else. When eating with the VB6 plan on mind, I can’t help but get in more than adequate servings of the food my body really needs.
  • It is a common sense and simple approach. It reminds me a lot of Michael Pollan’s simplified approach to eating: Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.  Food is a necessity that should be enjoyed, not a science requiring a degree, nor a battle to be waged. Trying to “eat properly” should be a simple matter.

What VB6 Isn’t

  • It isn’t a diet.  I don’t do diets. It’s a way of eating… in short, a lifestyle. Mark Bittman has been sticking to this way of eating for 6 years so far!
  • It isn’t restrictive. Yeah, I know, a “vegan” diet is nothing if not restrictive. But the whole point is that every day, you have an opportunity to enjoy whatever foods you want, even if they’re not vegan (or vegetarian, or paleo, or grain-free, or low-carb, or low-fat, or…)
  • It isn’t a fad. I kind of get sick of the fad diets that circulate… and sometimes re-circulate. Most of them hinge on some “revolutionary” concept or idea that will change your life and your health, and help you lose all kinds of weight. Meh. Not interested. VB6, while I suppose it definitely could become a fad, isn’t based on any new idea, and it doesn’t eliminate entire food groups (carbs, fat, grains, meat, etc.). It doesn’t have its own terminology, and you don’t need a new cookbook with special ingredients made just for it. No, it’s just a simple way to eat what you always knew you should (fruits and vegetables) without restricting all the foods you think you shouldn’t. It’s just a structured way to go about doing what you’ve always intended to do.
  • It isn’t rigid. Some meal plans and diets are so rigid, you have to follow a strict menu. Or, like Weight Watchers, you have to calculate how much of certain foods you’re allowed to have, and how much elbow room you have to fit in the foods you really want to eat. Although Bittman explains the science behind such things as calories, fat, carbs, and the glycemic index, he is very adamant that there is no need to calculate those things as you go through your day, eating. If you stick to the basic idea, all those things will take care of themselves.  Furthermore, there’s room for flexibility: if you want eggs and bacon for breakfast one day, then by all means have eggs and bacon! Just make your dinner vegan… or just figure one day isn’t going to ruin everything.

What I Like About VB6

  • I like that it is straightforward and simple.
  • I like that it doesn’t eliminate entire food groups.
  • I like that it’s not actually vegan. Because I don’t do vegan.
  • I like that it’s a simple shift in perspective that allows you to both eat what you should… and allow yourself to occasionally eat what you “shouldn’t”.
  • I like that it is very flexible and can be adapted to each individual’s desires, needs, and philosophies.
  • I like that it is a friendly way to force me to eat more fruits and veggies, because that’s what I need more of in my diet.
  • I like that Mark Bittman for the most part isn’t tied to the conventional view of dieting (either low-carb or low-fat, or counting calories, etc.).
  • I like that counting calories is not involved, because I personally think that’s a pointless activity.

What I Don’t Like About VB6

  • I don’t like the idea of being strictly vegan during the day. Vegetarian perhaps, but not vegan. (More on that in a minute.)
  • Although Mark Bittman debunked a lot of common dieting myths in the book, and although he admitted that saturated fats don’t appear to be as evil as they’ve been portrayed for the last few decades, he still insists on keeping saturated fats to a minimum and encourages the use of vegetable oils. While vegetable oils might seem to have a healthier profile, the truth is that they’re very unstable and extremely difficult to keep from going rancid. That means the bottles in the store are by and large already rancid… which means that they are full of free radicals… which cause cancer and a whole host of other illnesses. I appreciate his whole-hearted recommendation of extra virgin olive oil as the best oil to use, but I wish he hadn’t recommended against coconut oil, which is just as healthy of an oil, if not healthier. I also will continue to enjoy butter, whole milk, bacon grease, and other products high in saturated fat simply because I don’t believe the saturated fat alone makes them unhealthy.

My Version of VB6

I’m not quite up to going vegan, even part-time! However, I’ve known for quite some time that eating lots and lots of veggies and fruits is really the best way for me to improve my health and my weight and unfortunately, I’ve had trouble really motivating myself to eat produce to the extent that I should. I think this concept could be the kick in the pants I need to help me get in all my fruits and veggies on a regular basis, without sacrificing other dietary pleasures.

So I decided to compromise by going vegetarian – rather than vegan – during the day.  In the book, Mark Bittman explains that he has three basic categories for food: Unlimited, Flexible, and Treat foods. The unlimited foods can be eaten at any time whenever they are desired and include most fruits and vegetables. The Flexible group contains foods like whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables that are more calorie-dense or high in sugar. Those can be enjoyed every day, just in smaller quantities than the Unlimited foods. Then there are the Treats, which are only enjoyed at dinner time. In his plan, dairy products and eggs are considered treats, but I moved them up to the “Flexible” group, so that I can have cultured dairy (kefir and yogurt for now, but I want to try my hand at cultured butter, too) and eggs for breakfast or lunch if I want. Personally, I believe that grass-fed dairy and pastured eggs have great health benefits and I don’t want to reduce them from my diet that significantly.

I’m also not exactly sure what to put in my coffee. I have never found anything that quite gives coffee the creaminess I love like cream or whole milk does. So either I’m just going to be stubborn and continue drinking cream in my coffee, or I will experiment with dairy-free alternatives. We’ll see!

So here’s my personal VB6 plan, (which I guess I should actually call “VB5″ because sometimes we eat dinner at 5):

  • Vegetarian foods only until 5pm. This means I will enjoy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cultured dairy, and eggs only. No meat or meat products during the day.
  • Also no sugar until 5pm. Healthier sweeteners like maple syrup and honey can be enjoyed in very small amounts, but otherwise, I will stick to stevia or no sweetener at all.
  • From 5-8 I give myself permission to eat whatever I want. This usually means a “normal” dinner and some kind of sweet treat for the day, usually homemade.
  • After 8, if I’m hungry, I will enjoy a high-protein snack because when I eat sugar or carbs late at night, it shows up on the scale the next morning!

And that’s it! Simple, and yet kind of profound in a way, as well. If it turns out that my plan isn’t as effective as truly going vegan… then I might reconsider. Might. Depends on how desperately I want to lose those last few pounds of baby weight.

What do you think? Would you be willing to go vegan (or vegetarian) during the day?

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5 Summer Uses for Lavender Oil

Summer is a wonderful time of year… but personally, I kind of dread it because it comes with some unfortunate baggage. You know, stuff like bugs (Ticks! Mosquites! Spiders! Yuck!), poison ivy, heat, heatstroke, heat headaches, sunburns… yeah, all that stuff I don’t really like.

This year, though, I’m armed and ready to actually enjoy all our summer adventures (we’ve had some really fun ones thus far)! Bugs begone! Sun, you will not burn me, nor will you give me a headache. And if you do, I know what to do! 

The difference between this summer and all the summers before? Lavender essential oil. I made sure to have a full bottle on hand before summer began, and I’ve already put it to use on multiple occasions. Good thing each bottle has more than 100 drops of oil in it!

You can purchase a bottle of Young Living Lavender Oil here for just over $30 (it lasts a long time and is good for just about any malady). If you’re a YL distributor, the price drops to $23.50; click here to learn more about being a distributor. And if you just want more information about Young Living’s lavender oil, then this is the link you want. And clearly, with the exception of the last link, those are affiliate links. I’m sure you figured that out already but I have to tell ya just in case.

5 Summer Uses for Lavender Oil

1. Bug Spray

Lavender is apparently one of those fragrances that bugs just don’t like, so you can use it in bug sprays or diffuse it during outdoor gatherings.  The picture above is actually a bug spray that I made using different essential oils besides lavender… but if you don’t have the Purification and Thieves oil (or you don’t like their scent) required for that recipe, you can try this Lavender/Citrus Bug Spray from Surviving the Stores or this even simpler bug spray made with only lavender oil and water (it can be used to freshen sheets OR keep the bugs away – I love a multi-tasker!).

Don’t want to bother with mixing up sprays and potions? No problemo! Just dab some lavender oil (neat or diluted) right on your wrists, neck, ankles and any other place you want to keep the bugs away. That’s all there is to it!

2. Insect Bites

And if the bugs break through your lavender-scented barrier? Guess what? It works to relieve the itching and heal the bite, too. Cool, huh? Lavender is the oil of choice for the majority of bug bites, including those form mosquitoes, gnats, chiggers, ants, and even spiders! For tick bites, you’ll want something stronger, but lavender will do the trick for most any other bug bite.

Since lavender is gentle on the skin, you don’t even need to dilute it (but you can if you want it to stretch further). Just put a dab on the bite as needed.

3. Sunscreen

I haven’t made my own sunscreen yet, but once I’ve finished up with the bottle of natural sunscreen I recently purchased, I’m definitely going to be trying my friend Mary’s super-simple recipe for homemade sunscreen. If you click on that link, you’ll find she has several different options, but the most basic one is just a mixture of lavender essential oil and coconut oil. (Yes, coconut oil. Don’t confuse plain old coconut oil with the coconut-scented tanning lotions of the past.)

4. Sunburn Relief

My DH never used to be burned by the sun, but I think I’ve rubbed off on him. Or maybe he’s just getting older. Or maybe he doesn’t have the chance to develop a base tan like he used to. Whatever the case, earlier this summer after an afternoon at the pool with The Boys, he had a terrible (and I mean terrible) sunburn. I felt so bad for him! Thankfully, though, I had my full bottle of lavender oil ready to be put to use.

Once or twice a day, I would massage some lavender oil into his shoulders where the worst of the burn was. Then I’d follow it up with some coconut oil. I’m not sure how quickly it would have healed without using those oils, but the heat from the burn cooled down within a day or so, and then the redness was gone in a few more days, after which it started peeling.

Clarinda shares how lavender helped heal her sunburn as well.

5. Headaches

The sun always gives me a headache. Probably it’s because I’m chronically dehydrated or something of the sort, but in any case, I don’t stay out in it too long if I can help it. But when I do get a headache, I turn to lavender oil. (Peppermint is apparently good for this, too.) All I do is put a drop or two on a cotton ball and take a deep breath of it every few minutes until the headache is gone. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for the headache to disappear completely and then I’m good to go.

**Lavender Essential Oil photos courtesy of Young Living Essential Oils.

**I’m not a doctor, and I’m not trained to give medical advice. Follow these suggestions at your own risk, or ask your doctor for his/her opinion.

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All Natural Homemade Bug Spray

This post contains affiliate links. I don’t like bugs. I don’t like them in my house, and I most certainly do not like them on my person.

However, bugs like me. They like me very much. They seem to consider me a veritable feast free for the taking, and I find that rather presumptuous of them.

Henceforth and therefore, I do what I can to keep them as far away from me as possible. In the past, this has meant, spraying myself all over with foul-smelling chemical-laced sprays that accomplished absolutely nothing. I was still a bug feast. Then I tried natural-ish (or at least DEET-free) bug sprays that still smelled pretty foul, and the same result. The bugs still bit me!

I figure, since the chemical sprays accomplished absolutely nothing, what harm could an all natural, homemade bug spray made out of essential oils do? The worst thing that could happen is that bugs would feast on me yet again, right?

And you know what? NO BUGS! I made myself a bottle of this bug spray recipe from Surviving the Stores, and have used it 3 times this summer. NO BUGS! Not even one!

And three times isn’t a lengthy track record by any means, but for me, it’s huge. (Remember; bugs love me!) Also, consider the 3 occasions I have used it thus far:

  1. At a lavender farm, where we picnicked and walked around lavender gardens and generally spent a great deal of time right up in a bug’s natural habitat.
  2. On an evening walk around the neighborhood, which is where I would typically have the biggest problem.
  3. On a walk through a local botanical garden, which is all outdoors and provides a beautiful habitat for all sorts of creatures… including bugs that bite!

I don’t think a bug even landed on me, and I haven’t been bitten even once this summer (which is quite the feat for me, I promise you!). I’m totally sold on this essential-oil-based bug spray and am excited to share it with you.

Note: To preserve the maximum effectiveness of the oils you’ll be using in this spray, I recommend you get a bottle such as this one intended for use with essential oils


Thieves and Purification are two Young Living oil blends that I always have on hand:

  • Thieves oil is a blend of clove, cinnamon, rosemary, lemon, and eucalyptus oils and is famous for its ability to assist your immune system to both prevent and heal illnesses of any kind. Many people use it as an antiseptic type of spray as well, so not only does it protect you from insect bugs, it protects you from germy bugs!
  • Purification oil is a blend of citronella, lemongrass, lavandin, melaleuca, and myrtle. Purification is a great bug deterrent, but it can also be used to heal and soothe bug bites of any kind.

If you don’t have these oils on hand, you can purchase them here. You’ll notice right away, I’m sure, that the total combined cost is close to $70! “Seventy bucks for bug spray?! What?!” I hear you say. I know, I know, but consider this:

  • Each 15 ml bottle contains at least 320 drops of the oil, and you are only using 5 drops of each in this recipe. That means you could make more than 60 bottles of bug spray with these 2 bottles of oil! (Try buying 60 bottles of bug spray for $70.)
  • But of course you don’t need nearly that many bottles of bug spray unless you live on a campground, so it’s a good thing those oils have a lot of other uses. I dilute Thieves oil and put it on our feet whenever anybody in the house comes down with some kind of illness. I also make a spray out of Thieves oil, and use it like a disinfectant during the flu season, spraying it on door knobs and light switches and other often-touched surfaces. When Thieves oil is diffused, it disinfects the air in your home and helps prevent illness. Purification is good for keeping insects out of your home, too! I put some on cotton balls and set them in the corners of windows where the ants like to come in. I also recently used Purification to help heal a bout of poison ivy I had. You will soon find these essential oils to truly be essential!
  • Also consider becoming a distributor of Young Living oils, rather than simply a customer. After your initial starter kit purchase, the only obligation you have is to purchase $50 worth of oils within the next 12 months. That’s all it takes to maintain your distributor status! Or, if you choose, as a distributor, you can enroll in essential rewards (an auto-ship program) and get discounted shipping plus earn rewards and bonuses and maybe even get some free oils! Click here to enroll as a distributor. (Psst! The Everyday Oils starter kit comes with both Thieves and Purification plus 7 other awesome oils!)

Here’s to a happy, bug-free summer!

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