Thursday, May 29, 2014

Preventing Cancer and Trying to Look Good While Doing It

One of the first things I did after receiving the initial breast cancer diagnosis was try to rid our house of toxins.  Given the known connections between toxic chemicals and various types of cancer and the fact that the skin is the body's largest organ, it seemed like an important place to make some changes.  Frankly, the control freak in me needed something tangible to do while we waited to begin my treatment, and throwing myself into finding better health and beauty options was empowering - if overwhelming, as it gave me something positive on which to focus my energy.  For the sake of this post, I'll focus on beauty products and share a separate list of household cleaning solutions in a Part 2.

As I inventoried our household and personal care products, I was astounded at how many little bottles of "miracle cures" I'd collected over time.  Confession:  Call me gullible or vain - or both - but I've always been a sucker for the latest claims to minimize pores, prevent wrinkles and make my skin sparkle, shine or whatever else the beauty industry tells me it should be doing.  And apparently I'm not alone; the average woman has something like 60 beauty products in her stash. 

Hair & Beauty Memes

But how many women are able to go completely free of makeup or beauty products, even after a cancer diagnosis?  While I'm a little jealous of those who can pull it off (you're gorgeous!), I just wasn't in a position to go cold turkey, so I dove into the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) "Skin Deep Database."  You can search by product and ingredient to get a score (the lower, the better), and I quickly learned that there are a number of automatic red flag ingredients, many of which are present in most mainstream cosmetics and hair care products.   

The more I inventoried my products and researched their ingredients, the more concerned I became.  In fact, even some of the ones that advertised themselves as pure, safe and natural were less so than I believed.  It seems the U.S. standards of oversight on cosmetics are nowhere near as stringent Europe's, so it's often best to look for products not banned in the E.U.

Visit the EWG's "Quick Tips for Safer Cosmetics" for a great primer on what to avoid and buy instead, including a detailed description of the ingredients' dangers.  In the meantime, here are some of the scariest ingredients found in most commercial cosmetic and beauty products:
  • Vitamin A compounds (retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, retinol)
  • Aluminum
  • Paba
  • Parabens
  • PEG/ceteareth/polyethylene
  • Triclosan & Triclocarban
  • Fragrance
  • Oxybenzone
  • Nanoparticles
  • Synthetic colors are listed as D&C or FD&C
  • Petroleum
  • Phthalates
  • Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone
  • Lead
  • Formaldehyde and formaldehyde releasers – Bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, Diazolidinyl urea, Imidzaolidinyl urea and Quaternium-15  
  • Methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone and benzisothiazolinone
  • Resorcinol  
  • Boric acid and Sodium borate 

Sadly, just about every cosmetic, lotion, hair care, bath and body product I owned contained some combination of these ingredients.   In case you're feeling a little panicky yourself, I thought I'd share some of the safer alternatives I've found.   One caution is that just because one product in a brand's line is safe doesn't mean they all are, so I always check all of the ingredients, most of which are available online, and for department store brands that don't list them, I ask salesperson to show me the book of ingredients by product. 
I can't get over how serene this lady looks with bananas and kiwi all over her face.  She must be on to something, right?
In general, products that meet my criteria score between a 0 and 2 on the EWG safety rankings, don't include anything on the list above and are readily available in stores or online.  Some of my favorite brands include:  Origins (available online and at department stores such as Macy's), Real Purity (online), Burt's Bees (online, Target and health food stores), Aubrey Organics (online and health food stores) and The Honest Company (online; shampoo available at Costco). 

Shampoo, Bath and Body Wash - Plain ol' castille soap by Dr. Bronner is great, though in the winter months, it was a little drying for us.  We love The Honest Company's shampoo/body wash combo and use it for the whole family. 

Conditioner - The Honest Company's conditioner is fantastic.  It's moisturizing without being too heavy.

Foundation - Real Purity has a great non-nanosized powder.  I also like their liquid foundation, though I've noticed it does "melt" off my face a little when exercising (i.e. sweating).  At some point, I may need to research something that actually stays on my face, but for now at least I know when I'm working hard enough, right?

Lipstick - I love Real Purity's lipsticks.  They go on smooth and offer a good color selection.  I also like Burt's Bees and Origins lip gloss. 

Blush and Eye Shadow - Origins and Real Purity.

Mascara - This one is tough.  I'm a smudger, a crier and a water lover, so I've always needed waterproof mascara.  Origins and Real Purity both have decent mascara products, though they're a little clumpier on application, smudge if I rub my eyes during the day (which I do, often) and make me look like a raccoon if I wear it while in the water.  I know, I'm not really selling them, right? But at least they're non-toxic.  I noted that Bare Minerals has a waterproof mascara that meets my requirements, so I plan to try that next.

Antiperspirant/Deodorant - This one was terrifying for me.  I'd been aware for years that the aluminum in antiperspirants is tied to breast cancer and that the very act of preventing the body from shedding toxins through the skin (which is what an antiperspirant does by definition) is harmful, but I was too afraid of body odor to give it up.  Clearly, the big C changed all that and while I was still scared out of my mind that I'd be "smelly girl," I immediately took the plunge.  

UPDATE:  New recipe here.

I actually was pleasantly surprised!  It took a little trial and error, but here's the system I've worked out that has kept me dry and smelling fresh:

Tom's of Maine deodorant as a base, with a slathering of Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant over it.  I found that either one alone didn't do the trick, though, so for me, the one-two punch is important.

Have I mentioned how all-purpose coconut oil is? It's like the duck tape of beauty products.

                  Homemade Coconut Oil Deodorant
                  1/4 cup baking soda
                  1/4 cup corn starch
                  8 tbs melted coconut oil

Mix ingredients together and pour into small container or emptied antiperspirant container and let set in refrigerator.  Note that coconut oil melts at warm temperatures, so in the winter, you just scoop some with your fingernail and it will melt on contact with your skin.  In the warmer months, it'll already be soft or liquid. 

Lotions - Once again, The Honest Company and Real Purity score high on the lotions.  Both have face and body lotions that are non-greasy and Real Purity's "velvet glove" product is good for more intensive moisturizing.  I'm currently using Honest face and body lotion as well as a homemade night and body cream concoction of coconut oil and jojoba oil that I mix in my Kitchenaid.  It goes on a little greasy at first, so it's better for night than day, but surprisingly it's never made me break out, even with my naturally oily skin.

Shaving Cream -  I've had great success just sing conditioner or one of the thicker natural oils (vitamin E, olive or grapeseed) instead of shaving cream.  If you're using oil, you may want to add a few drops of essential oil as fragrance to avoid smelling a little salad dressing.

Hair Spray - I had to do some experimenting here, as I needed a product that would hold.  I really like Aubrey Organics, as it lasts all day, even when I've curled or styled my hair.

Nail Polish - I still try to avoid wearing it all the time, but with the summer sandal months upon us, I can't imagine going without a pedi.  Zoya is my favorite polish, as it's "four free" (no Formaldehyde, Toluene, DPB or Camphor), long lasting and made in Cleveland.  OPI, Wet and Wild, Sally Hansen and Essie are all "three free" (Formaldehyde, Toluene, DPB).  There are a number of brands now introducing "five free" that I want to check out, but for now I like that I can choose from among my existing stash.

Toothpaste I've made the switch to floride-free toothpaste, and like Tom's of Maine.  There are several brands on the market, but many are sweetened with stevia, which I can't tolerate, though if you like it, Honest and Kiss My Face are good options, including their baby/kids toothpastes.

Baby Care - We were late to the game on this, but Honest has great best diaper rash and ointment that's all naturalAs I mentioned above, we use Castille soap or Honest Company Shampoo/Body Wash on Charlie. We also found coconut oil worked great on his cradle cap and overall dry skin, particularly when he was at his tiniest and flakiest.  

Sunblock - The EWG just came out with their 2014 Guide to Sunscreen, and I've been working to find a product ranked as a 1 that doesn't cause us to burn or Charlie to break out in a rash (the kid has some seriously sensitive skin).  So far, Seventh Generation Baby has worked well.  We also just bought Aubrey Organics, Honest Company and Babo Botanicals, so we'll see how they work. Other brands that seem to work well for others but didn't for us are Badger (we all got sunburned, but it might have been because some of the natural sunblocks are meant to go on thick and serve as a physical barrier and we didn't use it that way) and Babyganics (Charlie's skin reacted to it).

So there you have it, the product of my obsessive compulsive research and plenty of trial and error.  I hope this list has been helpful.  I know many of you have done your own research and product testing and would love to hear about your favorites, so please share them in the comments!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Kicking Cancer, One Bite at a Time

I've noticed a trend.  As I continue to share my story with people, the one thing that trips people up most seems to be how the heck I manage to follow the nutrition plan outlined by my cancer docs.  I can tell from the pained look on their face that they can't imagine what I could possibly be eating given the restrictions.  Clearly they assume all I can eat are twigs and berries.

Frankly, I can't blame them.  When you say, "I now follow an all-organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, caffeine-free, alcohol-free, low glycemic, minimally processed diet, with whole grains, good fats and lots of superfoods," the brain tends to freeze up a bit.  But still, a number of people have expressed genuine interest in what I am actually consuming, so I thought I'd share some of the details, along with a few favorite links and recipes.

The truth of the matter is that I am eating WELL.  Like, very well.  I am by no means hungry all the time, and I'm eating yummy things with tons of flavor as well as nutrients.

For those looking for more detail, the staff at Angeles has granted permission to share my nutrition plan.  Please note that this was developed specifically for me as a patient, but the overall guidelines can apply to anyone looking to prevent cancer.  You can access more details my overall cancer-fighting nutrition plan here and here).


As with everything in this journey, I'm focusing on the positives, so let me first break down the new nutritional lifestyle by what I can have.

All organic = This one's easy.  We now buy everything organic and non-genetically modified (GMO). There is plenty of research showing the damage pesticides and GMO foods are doing to our bodies, and there's no way I'm putting more toxins or warped DNA into my body if I can avoid it.  For those who want more information on why non-GMO and which products are safe, visit the Non-GMO Project.  They even have an iPhone app you can reference while shopping.

Still, a lot of people cringe at the expense of all of this.  Yes, it's an investment, but there are a number of ways to make an all organic diet more reasonable.  For one, we've joined a CSA for the summer and plan to plant an organic garden.  I stock up on sales at our local grocery/health food stores.  The upside of buying fewer processed foods is we're saving money by not purchasing the junk, and I've been making a number of the expensive staples such as almond milk and almond butter from scratch, thereby saving some green.  We also have the benefit of seeing the long view, i.e. a few more dollars spent on food now will save us THOUSANDS in heath care costs down the road.

Dairy-free = Instead of cow's milk, I've been making my own almond milk and using coconut oil in place of butter (it's amazing on toast!  We use it to cook with, bake with and slather it on as moisturizer, but that's another post for another day).  I'm also allowed to have good quality sheep and goat cheese periodically, but because my cancer was hormone-driven, those are mostly "treats."

I should note that the protocol does not call for me to be vegan.  I eat organic eggs, poultry and wild-caught fish, though I still look to get in plenty of good plant protein through legumes, quinoa and Sunwarrior Blend protein powder.

Gluten-free = There are now a number of gluten-free products on the market, but I've learned to watch out for the ingredients.  Many aren't organic or are made from starchy flours (that quickly become sugar), so I've focused on the Tinkyada Pasta Joy line of pastas and have been making my own zucchini and sweet potato spiral noodles (see recipe below). Brown rice and quinoa (which also offers protein) are go-to side dishes as well.

When it comes to bread, the same issues apply with ingredients, so I mostly forgo it or use Ezekiel sprouted grain bread.  After researching sprouted grains and talking to my doctors, we've determined it's better for me to eat organic sprouted grain, which has less inflammatory impact on the digestive tract than regular wheat/gluten, than to have the traditional gluten-free breads.

Low glycemic = My diet is limited to two servings of fruit a day and no processed sugar, with very little even of the "safter substitutes" (honey, xylitol and coconut sugar are what I use sparingly now; stevia is considered natural, but it tastes so artificial to me I can't stand it).  

I know, many of you are thinking, how can you live without sugar?!  It's delicious and it's in just about everything. It's a funny thing how the choice to skip that candy bar is suddenly easier to make now that I see CANCER when I look at it vs. just another inch on my hips, but the truth is, once I got rid of the sugar, I didn't crave it the same way.  I'll always have a sweet tooth, but I've found ways to satisfy it that are more moderate and much healthier.  

For instance, I'll have banana peanut butter "ice cream" or a chunk of homemade dark chocolate bark, and it only takes a little to satisfy the urge.   If I'm looking for a real splurge, Mitchell's Homemade will always be my first choice.  Not only do they make everything from milk free of antibiotics or hormones, using local ingredients whenever possible, but they have NAILED the vegan ice cream thing (seriously, Mike Mitchell, you are my hero).  

But Where's the Wine???  I know!  I'm allowed to have all of the things I avoid as treats occasionally, but I've been mostly staying away from the booze - even wine - and coffee.  Instead I have tea or organic decaf in the mornings and have tricked myself that Kombucha (a fermented tea) is an alcohol "substitute."  (It's totally not, by the way, but when consumed from the right receptacle, I can sometimes fool myself a little).

Yummy Things I've Been Eating
This journey has been made easier through the help of family and friends who've shared great recipes, blogs and cook books.  You'll find several of my favorites below. You can also follow my "Clean Eating" board on Pinterest, where most of these are pinned (I'm KellyAmen1 if you want to follow any of my other boards).

I highly recommend the following books/blogs:

Did you know cashews can mimic the creamy goodness of dairy?  Or that nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor? Well, I sure didn't.  Hooray for the creative vegan chefs of the world who figured this one out!  Cashew cream is a great base for traditional dairy-based pasta sauces or sour cream. 

Paleo Chicken Masala with Saffron Cauliflower Rice
 Paleo Chicken Tikka Masala - Against All Grain
Fettuccine Alfredo (add sun-dried tomatoes, extra garlic and cumin to give it more flavor)

Cauli-power Fettuccine “Alfredo” (Vegan)  

Almond Milk
 Delicious Homemade Almond Milk: 1 cup raw almonds, soaked in water, 3.5 cups filtered water, pinch of fine grain sea salt to enhance the flavor. Soak nuts overnight, blend with water, strain through nut bag or paint strainer bag
Almond Butter (also works with peanuts and cashews)

Homemade almond butter

Nacho Cheese Kale Chips (bake at 200 degrees for 2 hours)
These are exactly as yummiferous as the $7/ounce version you can get at Whole Foods.  A little more effort, but big on the savings.  The bonus is that the extra cashew nacho sauce can moonlight as fake mac'n'cheese.  Slurp!
 Nacho "Cheese" Kale Chips & Sauce
Peanut Pad Thai with Zucchini Noodles
We invested $35 in a vegetable spirulizer and both are in love (Dave recently discovered how fun it is to use and now it's a battle over who gets to make the noodles).  You can make gorgeous ribbons of zucchini, squash, carrot or sweet potato that can be eaten raw on salads, steamed as noodles or, in the case of the sweet potato, seasoned and baked as fries.
Rad Rainbow Raw Pad Thai - zucchini noodles with peanut sauce and vegetables
Burrito Bowl
An all-purpose, use what you have in the fridge quickie of a meal.

1 cup cooked quinoa and/or brown or black rice
1/2 cup diced leek
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can or jar diced tomatoes, or 2 fresh tomatoes chopped
diced veggies to taste (mushrooms, zucchini, peppers, etc.)
2 cups fresh spinach  
2 tbs olive oil
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tbs cumin
2 tbs (plus more) chili powder
dash garlic powder
dash onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Toppings:  Guacamole and hot sauce, of course.  Cheese is optional, dairy or vegan

Saute leeks in olive oil, about 3-5 mins., adding garlic for 1 minute.  Add veggies (except spinach) and saute until tender.  Add spices, black beans and tomatoes.  Saute until cooked.  Add spinach until just barely wilted (unless you want it cooked all the way).  Serve over quinoa/rice mixture and garnish with cheese, guacamole and hot sauce to taste.

Roasted Nuts
This couldn't be simpler, but the result is so much better than store-bought mixes.

1 cup raw organic almonds
1 cup raw organic cashews
1 cup raw organic macadamia nuts 
*use whatever combination of nuts and measurements that appeals to you; you can't screw it up! 

For a plain salted nuts, spray with organic coconut oil and dust with Himalayan sea salt.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway.

For spicy nuts, combine nutritional yeast, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and a pinch of cayenne and sprinkle over the sprayed, salted nuts before baking.  (Sorry, I just eyeball the spices, but you can adjust until you get the flavor you want).  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway.

Homemade "Larabars" 
These have become a serious freezer staple.  I use half the dates than the recipes calls for and have modified it in a number of ways by adding nut butter, cocoa nibs and even vegan chocolate chips.  You can have fun with these.
chocolate chip Cookie dough larabar recipe 0448 thumb   Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Larabars

Dark Chocolate Bark
I pour the mixture over almonds and sprinkle with coarse sea salt before freezing it.  You can experiment with whatever add-ins you have on hand. Dried fruit, nut butters, caramel, etc. work well.

3 Ingredient Raw Chocolate bar - 2 tablespoons coconut oil, softened, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder + 1/2 teaspoon honey. In a small bowl, combine all three ingredients and mix until well combined. Taste the mixture, and adjust sweetness, to taste. *It’s important that the coconut oil is not melted, or the coconut oil and cocoa powder will separate while setting. For a smooth texture, solid or softened coconut oil is best.

Peanut Butter Banana "Ice Cream" (serves 2)
1/4 -1/2 cup almond milk (more or less depending on how thick you want it)
1 frozen banana
2 - 3 tbs peanut or almond butter
2 tbs organic dark cocoa powder
Optional: dash of vanilla

Put ingredients in this order in Vitamix or high-speed blender, tamp as necessary and watch the creamy, delicious magic happen.


I could do an entire separate post on the glories of juices and smoothies with recipes, but in the meantime, I can tell you that between the Vitamix and juicer, my skin has never looked better (OK, I'm sure the 17 different supplements and crap-free diet are helping, too, but trust me, it's all goodness in the juicing camp).  Believe it or not, Charlie even loves the juice, particularly carrot and beet.  Yes, beet!

Kelly's Favorite Morning Smoothie
1/2 cup coconut water or almond milk
1/2 frozen banana
1/4 cup frozen blueberries
handful frozen cherries
2 tbs gluten-free oats
1 tbs peanut or almond butter
dash cinnamon

Add ingredients to Vitamix or blender, chopping first on low speed then increasing to high until smooth.

As for juicing, the best part about juicing is that you can pretty much toss in whatever you have.  Just make sure to include something sweet to balance the greenness, in which case you are hard core (and you rock!).  Below are a few of my favorites.

 Cancer-Free Goddess Juice
1 cucumber
1 broccoli stalk
1 green apple
5-7 leaves of kale
1/2 lemon
Optional:  tiny sliver of ginger - a little goes a long way

Beet and Carrot Juice
5-6 large carrots
1 beet

Here's a basic recipe breakdown from Kris Carr of Crazy, Sexy, Cancer fame that will empower you to experiment.

Crazy Sexy Green Juice formula

Please let me know if this information is helpful or if you'd like me to share more go-to recipes.  Happy clean eating!