My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

30 Dec 2012

Banish Holiday Hangovers Naturally (Article)

While that last tequila shooter with the co-workers seemed like a good idea at the time, the next morning might prove otherwise. The holidays provide endless justifiable excuses for overindulgence, particularly for food and alcohol, and hangovers are just one of the side effects.

What we call a hangover - headaches, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound following excessive alcohol consumption - is the end result of dehydration and toxicity. If adequate measures are taken while alcohol is being consumed or before going to bed, hangover symptoms might be averted.

One of the best preventative measures is to drink at least one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. Alcohol's diuretic effect removes four times more fluid than is consumed. The dehydration causes the brain to shrink slightly, pulling on membranes connecting it to the skull and instigating the intense day-after headaches. Drink two to three large glasses of water before going to bed.

Along with lost fluids, alcohol depletes essential minerals and electrolytes, including potassium. Taken before bed, a sports drink serves double duty, providing both hydration and lost electrolytes. Eating potassium-rich foods also helps; try kidney beans, a baked potato, cantaloupe, bananas, dried fruit, or asparagus.

The breakdown of alcohol in the liver results in the generation of free radicals and toxic compounds, including acetaldehyde, a poisonous metabolic byproduct of alcohol metabolism responsible for many of the symptoms of a hangover. In the liver, glutathione, a protein with antioxidant activity, aids in the detoxification and removal of harmful toxins, including acetaldehyde.

Milk thistle, a medicinal plant, increases glutathione levels in the body, and more than 150 clinical studies have shown its ability as an antioxidant to protect and regenerate liver cells, even after alcohol abuse. Take 10 to 20 drops of milk thistle tincture with water either before or during alcohol consumption or before going to bed. Tinctures or capsules are available at your local natural products store.

You can also combat acetaldehyde with bifidus probiotics, a beneficial bacteria that help to re-colonize the intestinal tract. A teaspoon of Bifidus powder in a glass of water taken before bed will do the trick.


There are also patented commercial formulas available which are specifically designed to thwart post-celebration misery.

GTOX the Hangover Blocker is a detox shot that you drink before bed. GTOX attaches itself to alcohol molecules for faster removal from the liver, averting hangover symptoms altogether. The product's main ingredient, glucarate, a natural plant compound, helps the liver eliminate certain chemicals and hormones.

The ionizing footbath, a popular form of detoxification, may also help reduce hangover symptoms. While the science behind this form of hydrotherapy remains a little sketchy, its proponents swear by it. As your feet soak in the footbath, positively and negatively charged ions generated by a device placed in the water attach to toxic substances, including the breakdown products of alcohol, neutralizing and releasing them through the pores on the soles of the feet. As the detoxification process occurs, the water changes to a murky color. Drink plenty of water following a treatment to avoid further dehydration.

Magnetic therapy products, available as bracelets, shoe insoles, mattress pads and more, might also be worth a try. Stacey Grieve, a consultant at Nikken, a company that manufactures magnetic wellness products, says magnets can help mitigate the side effects of a hangover. "Magnets placed over the temples will help to decrease a hangover headache; and magnets worn over the low back or soles of the feet will help to decrease any discomfort caused from dancing the night away," she notes.

While coffee sounds like the perfect morning-after solution to a long night of decadence, caffeine also has a dehydrating effect and can exacerbate the severity of hangover symptoms. Instead, take a combination of naturally energizing and detoxifying nutrients, including a B-complex vitamin, spirulina or chlorella, or a fresh-pressed vegetable juice that includes dark leafy greens.


Whatever method you choose to alleviate your hangover symptoms this holiday season, always remember to be safe, and never drink and drive.

Published in the Chicago Tribune

12 Aug 2012

A Green Nursery for Baby

As Kermit the Frog admits, "It's not easy being green," but creating a healthy space for your infant is easier today than ever before.

Paint: Paint the walls of your nursery and furniture with VOC-free paint. Paints can produce significant off-gassing in your home. Most VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are released while the paint is drying (about three days if the temperature and humidity is moderate). Naturally-derived paints, like milk paints and whitewashes are eco-friendly and the safest option but they aren't very durable.

Linens: Crib sheets, mattress covers, basinette covers, and changing pad covers made from organic fibers are now available almost everywhere, including at Babies 'r' Us. Purchase un-dyed linens that aren't made with chemical dyes or other chemicals.

Mattress: A regular crib mattress will off-gas. An organic mattress costs at least $75 more than a conventional mattress (some brands are much more expensive), but an organic mattress cover is even more important than the mattress itself (and is less costly). Organic mattress covers are available at Babies 'r' Us and many on-line retailers.

Whichever type of mattress you opt for, air it out by an open window or fan for several weeks before it's used by baby. An organic mattress is typically made of rubber on the inside with organic wool as a fiber barrier, and is covered in organic cotton. 

Sling: Look for a baby sling made from organic cotton. Try it on for size (with baby in tow) before you buy, and give your baby at least a week to get used to it.

Feeding Supplies: Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used to harden plastic, is an endocrine disruptor that can affect hormones and the healthy development of fetuses, infants, and children of all ages. It's been linked to cancer, poor brain development, heart problems, asthma, and even obesity. Avoiding BPA may not be enough, though. Phthalates and other dangers also lurk in plastics. It's best to steer clear of plastic altogether, and instead, opt for stainless steel or glass bottles and sippy cups. Glass bottles are a hazard (we've broken several). At home, we use glass bottles, but outside the home, we use Born Free plastic bottles and replace them every couple of months. Never clean plastic bottles (or any containers that will hole liquid) in the dishwasher. The intense heat and steam degrades the plastic even faster, leaching even more dangerous ingredients into the contents. Stainless steel sippy cups are now sold at most retailers and are getting less expensive every year.
Toys, Teethers & Pacifiers: Look for BPA-free products. Teethers and stuffed animals made from organic materials are available at most stores nowadays.
Body Care Products: A wide range of safe and natural products are available for infants. Purchase petroleum- and paraben-free body wash, shampoo, and diaper cream. We use Seventh Generation body wash but alternate with a different natural brand every few days. You never know if a baby will develop a sensitivity or allergy to an ingredient (or combination of ingredients) - it can happen at any time and without warning.

Cleaning Products: Cleaning products are among the most toxic substances that can be found in the average home. Toxic chemicals used in cleaning agents have been implicated in the rising incidence of asthma, autism, childhood cancer, and leukemia. At our house, we've been using natural cleaning products since long before our kids were born. Our kitten came to us with severe allergies and we noticed right away that her symptoms were much worse on housecleaning days. 

Select products made with biodegradable and natural ingredients, or clean the nursery - make that your entire living space - and furniture with gentler products such as baking soda, vinegar, and liquid soap. Wash baby's clothes with a mild, natural and fragrance-free cleanser, and skip the chemical dryer sheets.

Diapers & Wipes: Diapers made with organic cotton are available at many retailers now.
Seventh Generation does a pretty good job by using only natural, unbleached materials. (While other bloggers have said they're babies don't ever get a rash with these diapers, I have not found that to be true.) Take it one step further and purchase compostable diapers. American manufacturers haven't quite caught up to Europe when it comes to making a "green" diaper.

One of the most eco-friendly brands is Delora. You can find them at some health food stores or order on-line. (We tried Delora several times but the brand was one of our least favourites.) Sadly, conventional diaper wipes are full of chemicals that are unsafe for the baby's skin. Wipes made with natural ingredients are widely available and only slightly more expensive. (Our kids would only allow Seventh Generation wipes to be used on them. The other natural brands were too cold or stung.)

First published on Naturally Savvy and Tribune Media in 2010 but updated and personalized in July 2013

12 May 2012

Cleaning Up From the Inside Out

Long before Dr. Ho's Digestive Detox kits appeared on late night infomercials, various methods of internal cleansing, from fasting to purgative herbs, had been practiced.

It's no secret that toxins are all around us. The Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Safety Database states that more than 10,500 ingredients, many of them chemical, are used in cosmetics alone.

The idea behind a "detox" is to rid the body's major organs and tissues of toxins that have accumulated over the years. Environmental pollutants, pesticides, and drugs are normally removed by the body's natural processes of neutralization and elimination via the liver, lungs, colon, kidneys, blood, skin, and lymphatic system. If the toxins are not purged, it is believed that they can lead to the development of chronic disease.

The reported effects of detoxification range from weight loss and amplified energy, to a reduction of persistent symptoms like constipation, headaches, skin problems, and even depression. Undergoing a detox can also reduce one's dependency on sugar and stimulants; in fact, it's the typical first step in a drug or alcohol rehab program.

Sweating has been the most effective form of detoxification since ancient times. European spas became world famous more than 2,000 years ago. The natural springs of these legendary spas-you may have heard of Evian, Vichy, and Epsom--were believed to cure everything from infertility to arthritis. In ancient Hungary and Turkey, elaborate buildings with massage and steam rooms were built over natural hot springs. During the Victorian era, the British were famous for 'taking the waters' of spa towns throughout Europe.

The latest detox trends evoke the past, once again employing hydrotherapy techniques.

The skin is the largest organ of elimination, removing 30 percent of the body's waste products through perspiration. Sweating in a sweat lodge, sauna, steam room, and even during exercise allows for detoxification through the skin's open pores.

Far-infrared saunas are just what the doctor ordered for those who hate to sweat. While a steam sauna heats the air and the body with moist, high temperatures, the far-infrared sauna produces dry heat from ceramic coils, keeping the air inside cooler and easier to bear. This is much safer and more tolerable than a conventional sauna for those with heart or circulatory problems. Far-infrared heat also penetrates the skin deeper than conventional saunas, prompting chemicals from fat cells to the skin's surface where they can be 'sweat out' of the body.

The health benefits of saunas for some chronic conditions are supported by clinical research. Weekly sessions are recommended to achieve the full benefits.

With more than 250,000 sweat glands in each foot, detoxification through the feet with Detox Foot Pads and the Ion Foot Cleanse have become worldwide fads. To use the Detox Foot Pads, an adhesive pad is placed on the bottom of the foot before going to bed. The pad covers various reflexology points and purportedly detoxifies the body during sleep. When it's removed six to eight hours later, it will be a different color, typically changing from white to black. Despite numerous testimonials, the Mayo Clinic maintains that no published studies have demonstrated that these products actually remove toxins from the body.

Colon hydrotherapy, or colonic irrigation, uses purified water to gently flush out fecal matter, gas, and other forms of waste from the colon. Documented history indicates that the technique has been used since before 1,500 B.C. to treat disease and fever and to remove bile. Home enema kits like the Colema Board are designed for self-administration and can be used for relief of occasional constipation and bowel cleansing. The board is used while lying on your back with your knees bent. You control the flow of water through the colon, and waste products pour right into the toilet.

Whether or not you elect to try any of these techniques, you can help your body detoxify naturally by regularly eating foods that support the body's elimination organs; these include beets, broccoli, brown rice, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, dandelion greens, garlic, oat bran, onions, and spinach. And drink at least six to 12 cups of filtered water daily to help the kidneys flush out toxins.

Previously published in The Courant

12 Apr 2012

Spring Cleaning

A client of mine began a mild detox recently. She called to ask if the detox should be discontinued when symptoms of an allergic reaction began to appear. Ten years ago her doctor prescribed a medication she was allergic to. Her current symptoms were identical. It turns out she wasn’t having an allergic reaction to the detoxifying substance. Instead, her cells and liver were releasing residues of the medication she took for only two days a decade ago!

Detoxification is the process of clearing toxins from the body. Many of these toxins come from external sources (diet, drugs or alcohol), but others are produced inside the body. The body detoxifies itself daily via a variety of organs and systems. The colon, liver, skin, lungs, lymphatic system, and the urinary system are the primary organs of detoxification. In a healthy body, toxins are neutralized, transformed or eliminated by these systems. The colon excretes most toxins, and ‘leftovers’ are transported to the liver where they are transformed into harmless substances and released to the kidneys for excretion in the urine. In an unhealthy body, however, toxins are not completely removed and store in tissues of the liver, nervous system and in fat cells.

There is much evidence indicating that degenerative diseases may arise from congestion and stagnation in these detoxifying organs. This stagnation can be cleared with regular detoxification techniques in addition to the body’s daily work. ’Regular’ can imply mild detoxification on an ongoing basis or a more aggressive cleanse of a specific organ.

Signs and symptoms that indicate it may be time to detoxify include bad breath, headaches, muscle aches, constipation or abnormal stool, frequent colds, sinus congestion, indigestion and skin rashes.

Sugar, sodium, excess fat, trans fat (in baked, packaged and fried foods) and alcohol stress liver functions, alter the blood’s pH and disrupt intestinal flora. Any of these alone can seriously suppress the immune system. It’s no wonder many of us are fighting colds right now.

Anything that supports elimination helps us to detoxify. Begin with the colon and follow with ingredients that stimulate liver functions. Remember, when one organ is stimulated to ’clean up’, all detox organs and systems respond. That means that although you’re working on the colon, toxins may exit through the skin (acne). Signs that the detox is working include acne, changes in the stool’s appearance, headaches and lethargy. These are good signs!

Spring is an ideal time to detoxify. Here are some spring cleaning suggestions:

The colon often ‘backs up’ when fiber intake is low or with consumption of ‘white’ starchy foods (which act like glue in the intestines). An imbalance of intestinal flora may lead to yeast infections, dry itchy skin, brain fog and intense sugar cravings. It is crucial that this 4-foot organ is emptied daily. Many of us carry a minimum of 10 lb of waste products in the large intestine. Try a ’transit time’ test with corn or beets to determine how efficiently your colon functions. Allow about three months to thoroughly cleanse the large bowel. The detox may safely be repeated every two years.

Gradually increase fiber intake to 25 g or more daily. Good sources of fiber include beans, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit and whole grains (such as brown rice, rye and buckwheat).
Fiber supplements made with rice bran, psyllium and/or flaxseeds gently cleanse the intestinal tract. Fiber products also contain herbs that ’exfoliate’ the colon wall removing layers of mucus and impacted stool. Additionally, most include ingredients that kill parasites. Take these supplements daily for three months. Be sure to drink at least two glasses of water with each dose to flush out the bowels.

Probiotics (opposite of antibiotics) protect the colon. Acidophilus is found in capsules and in plain organic yogurt.
If you find you’re suffering from a yeast infection or discharge, try a few drops of oregano oil taken in water daily (3 weeks max). Oil of oregano can quickly destroy bacteria, yeast and mold.
Colon hydrotherapy effectively and rapidly detoxifies the colon removing yeast, bacteria and impacted stool. It’s valuable to explore this time-honoured treatment particularly if you have a history of constipation or irritable bowel.

The liver plays a role in controlling cravings, digestion, and is a primary cleansing organ.
Begin each day with a glass of water with a squirt of fresh lemon or lime.

Sip on water with liquid chlorophyll throughout the day.

Dandelion root, artichoke leaf and indole-3-carbinol (provided by vegetables of the cruciferous family) support the liver and hormones.

For an aggressive liver cleanse, take a dropperful of milk thistle tincture just before bed for 21 days.

According to traditional Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ that creates emotional harmony. Expect detoxification symptoms to include frustration and anger.

Take extreme caution with harsh cleanses (many described on the internet can be harmful) and kits that claim to aggressively cleanse all elimination organs simultaneously. It’s better to work on one organ or system at a time as detoxification is quite taxing to the body. This way you become more aware of your body and habits, and if you happen to be sensitive to a particular ingredient you’re more likely isolate the culprit.

Please consult your naturopath, nutritionist or doctor before beginning a detoxification program.

2 Apr 2012

What's on today's menu?

Today was a great day! Olivia's day began with a smoothie made with coconut water and pineapple. For breakfast, a veggie omelet, then some steamed carrots (her favorite snack). Lunch was rice pasta topped with avocado and organic salmon, and after a snack of asparagus and broccoli, dinner will be a mini lamb burger with more green vegetables and some brown rice.

31 Mar 2012

An anti-inflammatory diet for kids: The basics

If you could go back in time, right back to the beginning of your life to build your immune system with the ingredients and defenses that would protect you throughout your lifetime, wouldn't you? Most of us are backtracking, trying to heal the damage that's been done from years of poor eating habits and inflammation, some of it caused by foods that we thought were healthy!

As a parent, you have an opportunity to get your kids off to a healthy start in life with an anti-inflammatory diet - a diet that provides the healthy building blocks needed by a developing body and mind.

The goals of the diet are:
  • to protect immunity by avoiding ingredients that cause inflammation and an allergic response
  • to protect the gut by minimizing exposure to gluten, sugar and additives known to damage the intestinal lining
  • to provide healthy intestinal flora  
  • to protect the developing brain by providing nutrients known to support learning and cognition, and by avoiding substances known to affect brain development, including gluten and artificial additives
If you are expecting or have a child under 6 months, now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with these basic guidelines. 

6 months to 1 year (besides breast milk and/or organic formula):
  • Gradual introduction of non-allergenic foods (mostly organic vegetables, fruit, and non-glutinous grains) on a rotational basis
  • Avoidance of sugar and all common allergens (including cow's products, nuts, tomatoes, wheat, etc.)
  • Strict avoidance of artificial colours, flavours, and any other artificial additives

Up to 2 years of age:

  • Continued limitation of sugar and avoidance of gluten and artificial additives
  • Introduction of goat's milk


  • Omega-3 fatty acids DHA, 1,000 mg daily
  • Vitamin D, 1,000 IU daily or more
  • Probiotics (e.g., Natogen by Genestra)

A word on allergies:
Ever since reading Doris Rapp's book, "Is This Your Child", and especially after having my own kids, I'm always watching out for signs of allergies. My kids were fed based on the anti-inflammatory diet guidelines above, and today they show absolutely no signs of allergies or sensitivities to any natural foods. Perhaps it's just luck, but then I see a toddler with dark red circles around her eyes sucking back a Yop and am grateful for my diligence and stick-to-it-iveness when it comes to diet.  

It's best to introduce one new food at a time, and always early in the day. An allergic reaction can sometimes take hours (even days) to manifest. Some reactions to watch out for include:

Physical reactions: 
  • red or black circles around or under the eyes
  • red cheeks 
  • nose rubbing
  • red and/or itchy ears 
  • eye wrinkes
  • mottled tongue
  • itchy anus

Behavioural reactions:
  • aggression
  • temper tantrums
  • lack of alertness 
  • slurring words

You will be surprised by the types of foods that cause reactions - even foods that are considered healthy. Both my kids got red cheeks when they ate tomatoes (even organic ones) and also when they were exposed to strawberries (yup, organic strawberries too). To monitor any changes, tomatoes and strawberries were introduced in very small amounts every couple of months. Olivia had reactions right up until age 2, Ben until 1.5. Today, the only reactions they experience occur from artificial ingredients, in particular, red 40, and little Ben can get a bout of eczema when he eats too many cookies or other foods with added sugar. 

We all want to make our kids happy and to give them foods and snacks we know they'll enjoy. Temptations abound and they sure taste good. Since we can only 'control' what they eat for the first two or three years of their lives, let's make them the healthiest. Thirty years from now when they're vital and healthy, they'll thank you for it! 

2 Mar 2012

Pink gluten-free first birthday party!

When Olivia's was born, the midwife remarked that she was 'deliciously pink,' and pink became her year 1 trademark; so for her first birthday, we decided to go with a pink theme. All the food, drinks, decor, and desserts were pink, and even the guests wore pink!

The menu was entirely gluten-free and made with all-natural ingredients - no artificial colors!

Mashed potatoes were 'dyed' pink by mixing in some beet juice. The salad had strawberries, red cabbage, and was tossed in a berry balsamic dressing. There was a shredded beet salad, pink salmon, and gluten-free pasta in a ricotta-tomato sauce.

Even the drinks were pink. We had sparkling water with pomegranate seeds, and strawberry/cranberry juice. 

The two-layer birthday cake was made from Cherrybrook Kitchen's gluten-free vanilla mix and vanilla icing. Strawberry juice was added to the icing to make it - what else? - pink!

All in all, it was a very fun day, and most of the fun was coming up with creative ideas for the menu. 

If you're looking for some great snack and dessert ideas for your upcoming party, check out the new book, "UNJUNK YOUR JUNK FOOD, Healthier Alternatives to Conventional Snacks." Available everywhere now!

26 Feb 2012

What's Getting Under Your Skin? The hazards of body care products

One of the purchases I most dread buying is body wash (which doubles as shampoo) for Olivia. The popular brands (you know the one's I'm talking about) pretend to be safe and emphasize their 'tear-free' formulas, but that isn't as important to me as the chemicals they contain. 

Unfortunately, because the chemical-free products (or those that include fewer chemicals) are typically much more expensive, my search for a well-priced, clean product starts well before we run out of the bottle we're using. Sounds like a pain, and you're probably wondering why I just don't buy a bunch when they're on sale, but with a young child, repeated exposure to the same ingredients - even natural one's - can lead to allergic reactions, so I buy a different product (or a couple of them to rotate) each time.

What you put on your body – and on your child’s skin and hair – is just as important as what is put into it. If you’re reading food labels, you’re probably reading the labels on skin care product too, but the ingredients are even more confusing than those on food labels!

Adults use about nine personal care products daily - shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products and cosmetics - that expose us to a whopping 126 chemicals every day. And our kids? Wipes, hair and body wash, diaper cream, baby powder, sunscreen, bug repellant… all sorts of chemical-containing products are designed for children, even the one’s labeled ‘natural’. Most people use such products without giving them a second thought because they are believed to be safe. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Synthetic skin care ingredients are Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBT), which means they build up in the body over time. We absorb them in faster than we process them out. Since human skin absorbs about 25 percent of what we put on it (think smoking cessation patches), be aware that questionable ingredients such as parabens and phthalates are absorbed through the skin, into the bloodstream, and then carried to every tissue and organ in the body.

Here’s a list of some of the main ingredients to avoid. Look for these on skin care, shampoo, and cosmetic labels:

Parabens (sometimes listed as Methyl Paraben, Propyl Paraben, Butyl Paraben and Ethyl Paraben). One of the most commonly used ingredients, parabens are added to inhibit microbial growth and to extend the shelf life of products; however, they are notorious for causing skin rashes and allergic reactions. Worse, studies show they are weakly estrogenic and can mess up your hormones (that means tinkering with your menstrual cycle and efforts to become pregnant, and much more).

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate. This inexpensive foaming agent is very commonly used in shampoos and toothpaste. When applied to the skin, it dissolves natural body oils and leaves the area dry. Often derived from petroleum, SLS is frequently disguised in pseudo-natural cosmetics with the phrase "comes from coconuts." (This is why it takes me so long to shop!). It may cause eye irritation, scalp scurf similar to dandruff, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. Studies are showing numerous long term effects from the use of SLS, including damage to the eyes if it isn’t properly rinsed away.

Diethanolamine (DEA), Triethanolamine (TEA)
. These are often used in cosmetics as emulsifiers and/or foaming agents. They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation and dryness of hair and skin. DEA and TEA are "amines" (ammonia compounds) and can form cancer-causing nitrosamines when they come in contact with nitrates (the same thing happens when you eat bacon).  

Diazolidinyl Urea & Imidazolidinyl Urea are widely used preservatives. The American Academy of Dermatology has found them to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis. Two trade names for these chemicals are Germall II and Germall 115. Neither of the Germall chemicals contains a good antifungal agent, so they must be combined with other preservatives. Both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic (and of course, which is the ingredient used to embalm dead bodies).

Petrolatum. Also known as petroleum jelly, this mineral oil derivative is used for its emollient properties in cosmetics. It has no nutritional benefit for the skin and can actually interfere with the body's own natural moisturizing mechanism, promoting dryness and chapping. Why do manufacturers use petrolatum? Because it’s cheap.

Propylene Glycol. In food, this ingredient is usually a vegetable glycerin mixed with grain alcohol, both of which are natural, but in skin care products, often a synthetic petrochemical mix is used as a humectant. It has been known to cause allergic reactions, hives and eczema. It's sometimes labeled as PEG.

Artificial Colors. You don’t want these in your food, and you don’t want them in your skin care products either. Whether on or under your skin, many synthetic colors can cause allergic reactions and some are carcinogenic. If any product contains them, don't use it.

Synthetic Fragrances. The synthetic fragrances used in cosmetics can contain as many as 200 chemical ingredients! There is no way to know what they are, since on the label it will simply read "fragrance." Some problems caused by these chemicals include headaches, dizziness, rash, hyperpigmentation, violent coughing, vomiting, skin irritation—the list goes on. Advice: Don't buy a cosmetic that has the word "fragrance" on the ingredients label.

As always, read labels on ALL products carefully, and let me know which great products you've come across. I'd love to try them too. 

14 Feb 2012

Unjunk Your Oscars Party

Kale Chips with Turmeric & Nutritional Yeast
This article was previously posted on Yahoo Shine! in 2012.

Hollywood is poised to honor its finest in film in the biggest celebration of the year, the Annual Academy Awards. Why not celebrate the Oscars by hosting your own party? While elegance is a priority, you can serve up healthy hors d'oeuvres and drinks that are both decadent and good for you.
Dark chocolate is a winner at any party. Pick up several dark chocolate bars with 70 percent or more cocoa, break them into pieces, and serve on doilies. Doilies always look glamorous and can be purchased at your local dollar store. For added flare (and nutrients), include some bars with dried nuts or lemon zest.
Movies and popcorn go hand in hand. Make-ahead caramel popcorn that's fit for the stars is easy to prepare. In a saucepan, melt coconut oil and stir in Sucanat (unrefined sugar) or some brown sugar. Mix well and drizzle over freshly popped corn. The syrup will caramelize on the popcorn as it cools. Another option: Toss warm popcorn with some extra-virgin olive oil and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or nutritional yeast. The B vitamins will help you cope with the nail-biting anticipation). For an international flare, dust popcorn with a blend of cayenne pepper, turmeric and crushed coriander.

Serve whole-grain bagel chips, plain tortilla chips, and a crudité platter with a decadent dip made by mixing Greek yogurt with caramelized onions or shallots and fresh herbs. You can also make simple hummus, or if you're short on time, buy prepared dips such as Simply Organic Ranch Dip, organic salsa, and guacamole. My go-to dip: avocado mashed with prepared salsa. It's always a winner, looks complicated but couldn't be easier to prep!
All-natural ice cream or coconut ice cream served in a martini glass and topped with fresh fruit is not only fit for the stars but is so stunning that it will likely win Best Picture. A perfect topper is a miniature gingersnap cookie, such as Pamela's Ginger Mini Snapz, or for something more fun, Surf Sweets Gummy Bears.
Bake chocolate cupcakes designed to look like tuxedos made with an all-natural chocolate cake mix and homemade buttercream icing (or if you're short on time, Cherrybrook Kitchen's Vanilla Frosting).
Add glam to your party with your own designer cocktails. Start with a tablespoon of pomegranate seeds in champagne glasses topped with sparkling water and juice (try lychee or pineapple juice, or pear nectar) and fresh mint leaves. You'll feel like a movie star drinking Santa Cruz Lemon Lime Sparkling Beverage or Izze Esque Sparkling Lime Juice.
Turn black picture frames or shadow boxes into stylish serving trays. Display black-and-white photos of your favorite stars, this year's Oscar nominees, or stills from nominated or classic movies. 

A few more Oscar-worthy snack suggestions:
-Mixed olives
-Kale chips (click here for a great recipe)
-Black licorice (try Panda All Natural Soft Licorice)
-Snyder's of Hanover Mini Pretzels
-Calbee Snack Salad Snapea Crisps (one of my favourite snacks)

10 Feb 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Lisa Tsakos, Co-Author of Unjunk Your Junk Food

Many thanks to super-blogger Raychelle Muhammad for interviewing me about Unjunk Your Junk Food.

Raychelle Writes, Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Please tell us about your background and profession. 
After years of struggling with my weight, I discovered the principles of natural nutrition and my life changed overnight. Within a year I lost weight (close to 50 pounds) and returned to school to study holistic nutrition – it was the only eating style I resonated with and could stick to. Since graduating in 1997, I’ve taught nutrition at many different schools and have been in private practice throughout. 

What is Nu-Vitality Health and Wellness? 
Nu-Vitality provides seminars, weight management programs and healthy eating programs to corporations and non-profit organizations. We educate employees about adapting healthier eating habits (for example, eating on the run, managing stress with diet, and coping with stress). The Programs have been presented to over 100 companies across the country.  

What is NaturallySavvy.com? What is your role as a contributor to this site? 
Naturally Savvy is a tremendous web resource for organic, natural, and green living, covering all aspects of one’s lifestyle including nutrition, beauty and personal care, pregnancy and parenting, pet care, fitness, and reducing your carbon footprint (recycling, upcycling, composting, etc.). The website also features product reviews of naturally-made foods and products and offers visitors to the site the opportunity to sample products via our Savvy Sampler Program. Several years ago I partnered with the website’s co-founders, Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer as their Chief Nutrition Expert.

Describe your journey as an author. What led you to co-write Unjunk Your Junk Food? 
Andrea, Randy, and I wanted to write a book that reflected www.NaturallySavvy.com. Comparing junk food and explaining food additives was Andrea’s idea, and as we worked on our book proposal, the format just started to fall into place. Randy was the `product expert`, determining which products – both the conventional and their naturally-made equivalents – to compare. As the nutrition expert on the book, my task was to scrutinize and define each ingredient and to explain how we came up with our `Savvy Picks`. It was very much a team effort. 

How did you go about getting it published? 
I’ve written text books and have self-published a cookbook, but going through a major publisher was a completely different experience. Andrea and I spent an entire summer writing a book proposal. We hired a literary agent to help shop the book around to various publishers and we were thrilled to be signed by Gallery Books, Simon & Schuster, New York. Once signed, we assembled a solid team of researchers, fact checkers, editors, photographers and graphic designers to help us put the book together. It was a two year project that involved an enormous amount of time, research, and money, but we`re extremely pleased with the outcome. 

What can readers expect to learn from Unjunk Your Junk Food? Where can they buy it? 
Unjunk Your Junk Food is a resource that teaches about the dangers of artificial additives. We like to say that we’re starting an ‘edible (r)evolution’ because our objective is to draw attention to the ingredients list on a food package. The Nutrition Facts panel – the calories, fat, etc., provides important information, of course, but it doesn’t matter if a food is low in fat or calories if it’s full of unhealthy and potentially dangerous ingredients, such as trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors, and preservatives. The book includes a ‘Worst Ingredients’ pull-out list that charts the ‘red flag’ and ‘yellow flag’ ingredients to watch out for when you’re shopping for groceries. It’s also full of useful suggestions – or ‘Savvy Tips’ - for improving diet, health, and energy (for example, “Treats are best eaten early in the day so that you have all day to work off the extra calories. Treats eaten at night are just a recipe for weight gain.”), as well as food trivia and a detailed Glossary that can be used to evaluate the quality of all of the foods in your cupboards. Unjunk Your Junk Food is available from all the major book sellers including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Target, Walmart, and at Indigo in Canada. 

How have you promoted your book? What strategies have been the most effective? 
We sought advice about promoting a book prior to its release and what we heard again and again was that it’s the author who ultimately creates sales, but our publisher is certainly doing its part.  We planned our marketing approach and set aside funds to promote the book well before it came out. We’re promoting Unjunk Your Junk Food a number of ways:  

·Social media has been very effective primarily because Naturally Savvy already had a strong following;

·We hired a public relations company to arrange media appearances across the U.S. and Canada as well as radio and magazine interviews. While on tour, we visit area bookstores to meet the staff and sign books;

·We are three authors with our own professional connections. We made sure to reach out to our industry contacts (and of course, our personal contacts).

It`s still too early to tell which approach has been the most effective.  

What advice would you give to first-time non-fiction authors? 
·Be passionate about your ideas: Writing a book is an enormous undertaking, and the amount of time you’ll devote to the project is far greater than you expect, at least it was for us. If you have other commitments, especially a family, make sure you have their full support - you’ll need it!

·Be firm about your concept: Each publisher we met with liked our general concept but had their own ideas of what the book should look like. Had we gone with another publisher we would have produced a very different book. We were fortunate to find a publisher who loved our idea as much as we did.  

·Hire a literary agent to shop your book around to publishers. An agent can open doors that you may not be able to open yourself.   

What is your definition of success as a writer and entrepreneur?
Obviously we’d love for the book to make its way onto a ‘best sellers’ list, but it’s the reactions we get from readers who are excited about what they’re learning from Unjunk Your Junk Food that is the most satisfying. Having been in business for myself since 1997, the opportunity to be part of a new and exciting project, enhancing my knowledge (about nutrition, publishing, the editing process – all of it), and the doors that are already opening as a result of writing Unjunk – whether the book translates into dollars or not doesn’t even matter.     

What is next for you in 2012? 
My second baby is due in April, and a follow-up book to Unjunk Your Junk Food is already in the works.

9 Feb 2012

Third trimester and feeling It

By feeling 'it' I mean feeling 'biggest'.

First trimester: big; Second trimester: bigger; Third trimester: biggest. To boot, my appetite suddenly doubled and sure enough, I'm eating for two. If you've read any of my earlier blogs (Aug/Sept) you know that I had the best intentions to exercise daily and stay on top of flabby arms, back fat, and jiggly thighs.

That didn't work out as well as I expected. I still get to the gym most days, but while I was able to do up to an hour of cardio when pregnant with my first child, cardiovascular activities are a huge challenge and knocks me out for the rest of the day. Not advantageous when you're chasing a toddler around. My workouts changed with each trimester:

1st trimester: I (reluctantly) spent a lot of time on the elliptical machine and incorporated yoga and pilates a couple of times a week.

Second trimester: After giving up on cardio, yoga and pilates five times a week was extremely beneficial (in fact, so much so, that I didn't experience much back pain like I did during my first pregnancy).

Third trimester: Walking on a treadmill at the bottom-end of my target heart rate and weights (in the same workout session) several times a week feels good. I continued to attend yoga classes until I couldn't anymore. My gym doesn't offer prenatal yoga, and most of the positions involved lying on my ever-expanding belly and extreme twisting or balancing. I ended up spending way too much time in child's pose, and eventually the baby (nicknamed "Thomas" by Olivia) made it clear that he didn't like yoga so I turned to resistance training instead.

To be fair, my thighs aren't rubbing together this time (though they're far from 'toned'); there's very little back fat and cellulite, but the sausage arms are back. (Don't believe me? Check out my tv spot on http://better.tv/view/C465532P234234V1589199 to see what I mean. And while you're watching, play "count the chins.") Definitely wearing long sleeves from here-on-in.

Another ten weeks to go and I'll keep at it. After all, this baby will be born just in time for bathing suit season...

3 Feb 2012

Not Just About Junk Food


What people are saying about Unjunk Your Junk Food!

"Unjunk Your Junk Food looks great - interesting, informative, easy to read, and best of all, fun! I know many people will use your book as their go-to guide when shopping for groceries. You've certainly made me more aware about the food that my children and I eat and the effects it has on our body and mind." -Maria Shriver 

 "Unjunk Your Junk Food is a very attractive and informative book. For anyone embarking on the often daunting path of trying to clean up their diets, this book is a really fine place to start." -Alan and Suzanne Arkin

"It is time to Unjunk Your Junk Food! This handy — and don’t-be-fooled-by-its-small-size masterpiece — of healthy alternatives to conventional snacks is packed with need to know “do’s” and “don’t’s”. If you like to nosh -- and who doesn’t -- it’s a must read!" -Bryce Wylde 

As a nutritionist who had my own battle with weight for many years (until I discovered the oh-so-logical principles of a natural, whole foods diet) junk food was not very welcome in my home and it was especially unwelcome in my body, so when my colleagues at www.naturallysavvy.com first mentioned the idea to write a book about junk food, I was resistant. Sure, I enjoyed the occasional plain tortilla chip with salsa, some dark chocolate or home baked cookies, but bagged, processed, over-salted snacks... no thanks, no chance. The idea of being involved in a project that sounded like it was going to promote junk food eating didn’t sit right with me.

Two things changed my mind.
1.    I was pregnant with my first child. As most nutritionists (and logic) will tell you, one’s emotional connection to food plays a powerful and life-long role in food choices. I could write a whole other book relaying the accounts of adults with horrible eating habits that are a direct result of their restrictive parents. It was just a matter of time before my child would be exposed to MSG-laden chips, bowls of artificially-coloured candy, and sugar, sugar, and more sugar, and knowing I wasn’t far off from being a food-Nazi parent myself, this concerned me.

2.    Like most people concerned about the foods they eat, I avoided packaged foods listing lengthy, unrecognizable ingredients. The thing is, it was easy enough to avoid the chemical-sounding ingredients, but even I – a nutritionist with fifteen years experience – couldn’t explain what many of them actually were.
When we turned our manuscript in to the publisher, Unjunk Your Junk Food wasn’t really about junk food after all, but a reference guide to artificial additives (and nowhere will you find more additives than in junk food) as well as an opportunity to share an assortment of healthy eating and living tips and even some food trivia.

Here is a small sampling of some of the tidbits scattered throughout the book for your amusement and edification:

·         Carbohydrates should always be paired with protein, so top plain crackers with some cheese, tuna, or peanut butter. (pg. 153)

·         Slim-Fast Peanut Butter Crunch Time Snack Bar: Notice that the first two ingredients in the Slim-Fast diet bar are sugar? How is this a diet bar? (pg. 144)

·         Some 50% of women claim to prefer chocolate to sex. (pg. 103)

·         Treats are best eaten early in the day so that you have all day to work off the extra calories. Treats eaten at night are just a recipe for weight gain. (pg. 119)

·         Ninety percent of tooth decay occurs within ten minutes of eating sugary or acidic foods. Drink water while or immediately after you eat candy to neutralize the acids. (pg. 173)

·         The technical term for brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It results when something cold touches the roof of the mouth. (pg. 47)

·         With more electrolytes than leading sports drinks and 15 times the potassium, coconut water keeps your body hydrated and prevents cramping. (pg. 207)

·         If you love to bake chocolate chip cookies, use baking powder rather than baking soda. Baking soda is much more alkaline and increases the pH of cocoa significantly decreasing chocolate's antioxidant activities. (pg. 77)

·         When you’re buying probiotics, the minimum dose you should take is 1 billion colony forming units, or cfu. For therapeutic use, look for a product with 10 billion cfu. (pg. 63)

·         One ounce of dark chocolate contains about 20 milligrams of caffeine. One ounce of milk chocolate has about 6 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, an average chocolate bar contains about 30 milligrams of caffeine and a cup of coffee has 80 to 155 milligrams. (pg. 95)

·         Why is chocolate poisonous to dogs? Chocolate contains theobromine and caffeine, members of a class of compounds called methylxanthines. In animals, theobromine can induce cardiac arrhythmias and seizures. The toxic dose for pets is 100 to 200 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds). (pg. 107)

At the heart of Unjunk Your Junk Food is a comparison of unhealthy junk food products versus similar or identical tasting junk food made with ‘clean’ ingredients, along with explanations of what the ingredients are and how they impact human health.

Now a more enlightened parent, I’m food-dictator no more (well, maybe just a little). My two year old is extremely grateful. 

The Unjunk Your Junk Food Team: Lisa, Randy & Andrea