The number of brands boasting “natural” products has exploded in recent years. In all honesty, the term “all natural” doesn’t mean much, since it’s not regulated and literally any marketing department can slap that phrase on a label, regardless of what’s actually in the ingredient list. Even the term “organic” has been watered down and is just unregulated as the “all natural” moniker. There are plenty of brands who call their products “organic” but their ingredient lists don’t measure up – you know this if you’ve been keeping up with our #sneakyingredients posts on Instagram. Now of course, to be USDA Certified organic and use their green and white seal, you’ve got to shell out some major $$$ and have your sourcing and manufacturing processes certified. But that’s the only truly regulated element of the “all natural” and “organic” product world – and you’ve got to have access to some serious cash to use that seal.
So when I hear people talk about going “all natural,” I like to ask what they think that means. I will always preach: read your ingredient lists! Don’t just trust the advertising, because it can be very misleading.
When I talk about going “all natural,” I’m talking about the following:
- Using personal care products with the Environmental Working Group’s safest-rated ingredients and very few (ideally, zero) moderate or high-risk ingredients. The EWG’s database helps you choose ingredients safe for both your body and the environment. Going all-natural in my mind means that we are considering the long-term health of ourselves AND the long-term health of our planet.
- Eating organic, whole, and fresh foods as much as possible. That also includes:
- minimizing your consumption of processed foods
- minimizing your consumption of leftovers over 24 hours old
- eating as much locally grown, in-season food as possible
- Using cleaning and lawn & garden care products with the Environmental Working Group’s safest-rated ingredients and very few (ideally, zero) moderate or high-risk ingredients. Not only do we come into direct contact with cleaning materials on our surfaces and in our air, but what wash down our drains finds its way into our waterways, and some chemicals simply are not possible to remove completely. And of course, what put on our lawns and gardens ends up in both our waterways and in our farmlands. What we use in and around our homes plays a big role in the health of our planet and in what our planet produces for us to eat. We are all interconnected! While I’m great at the lawn & garden aspect of this, I’ll admit that I’m not as good about my cleaning products yet.
Before I get into the benefits of living life with these tenets in mind, let me acknowledge something: to live in this manner requires an incredible amount of privilege. Unfortunately, truly natural personal care and cleaning products are more expensive, and often found in specialty stores. Organic, whole, and fresh foods are equally pricey, and many of them are not covered by social welfare programs. Asking people to use environmentally-safe lawn & garden products assumes that they are responsible for the maintenance of their outdoor spaces, which doesn’t usually doesn’t apply to renters, which make up 41.1% of the American population.
“Food deserts” are geographic regions where access to affordable, healthy food is limited or nonexistent because of a lack of grocery stores. Currently, over 7% of Americans live in a food desert, and almost half of them live in poverty. These numbers might be even higher since small corner grocery stores, which sell primarily pre-packaged food, are categorized the same as Safeway, Kroger, and Whole Foods.
Compounding the issue is that people living in low-income areas are 2.5X more exposed to fast food when compared to their high-income counterparts. Being able to go truly all natural requires economic, social, and geographic capital and might not be accessible to many people. In no way am I judging that. I just hope to encourage those of us that are able make these lifestyle changes to make small changes in their life over time. Even if you have all the money in the world, changing your routines requires gradual, focused effort.
Phew, now I feel better. Now let’s get into the benefits of going truly all natural with your lifestyle:
- Reduce your exposure to toxins and give your liver & immune system a boost. The average woman is exposed to 168 different toxins on a daily basis, in everything from your personal care products, laundry detergent, air fresheners, furniture, and our environment. This means that your immune system is constantly working on identifying and fighting these foreign toxins, and your liver is constantly removing them from your body. If we can reduce our exposure to as many toxins as possible, we would be helping out both our immune systems and our livers rest and regenerate for optimal health. Especially if you are someone who needs to take prescription drugs for health conditions, if we can give these vital functions a rest, our bodies would be better off.
- Improve the health of your skin, hair, and more. Using truly all natural personal care products means that their ingredient lists are heavy on nourishing active ingredients rather than inactive fillers. Plus, truly natural products favor botanical ingredients that are powerful yet gentle. Your hair and skin will thank you! And if you’re using natural toothpaste, feminine products, and the like, many other parts of your body will be happier for it, too.
- Support local farmers & your local economy. With the boom of conventional factory farming in recent decades, local farmers need your support now more than ever, and it gives your local economy a boost. Plus, buying local food means that much less fossil fuel is used to get the food from the farm to the consumer, and it’s much fresher and therefore more nutritious.
- Eat in harmony with the seasons. Buying local in-season produce means that you’re eating in alignment with the current season, which is a key tenet of Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science and system of wellness. If you’ve ever looked at a list of foods associated with each of the seasons, you’ll notice that much of the recommendations directly correspond to what grows at that time of year. That’s no accident! Nature grows certain foods in certain climates to properly nourish your body given the climate and weather conditions.
- Improve your digestion. Minimizing your consumption of processed foods and old leftovers while focusing on fresh, local, organic foods is going to make for a happier gut. In Ayurvedic terms, processed foods and leftovers are low in prana, or life force, and are likely to produce ama, or a buildup of toxins, in your gut. Meanwhile, local, fresh, organic foods are rich in prana, or life force, and are not ama-producing. Maximizing your consumption of prana-rich foods is key to balancing your digestive health, including the gut microbiome. And in the world of Ayurveda, good digestion is absolutely key for overall health and wellness.
- Reduce your risk of developing chronic health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Minimizing your consumption of processed foods and old leftovers while focusing on fresh, local, organic foods is an obvious, logical way to stay healthy and lower your risk of developing a wide variety of chronic health conditions. While genetics play a large factor in the development of some conditions, new research has shown that it is possible to prevent the expression of these less-than-ideal genes through a healthy lifestyle, including minimizing your exposure to toxins, healthy diet, exercise, and stress management.
- Reduce the load of toxins in our air, land, and waterways. The number of reasons we should care about our environment is endless, but let’s start with a few shocking statistics. People who live in high-density air pollution areas have a 20% higher risk of dying from lung cancer than people living in less polluted areas. Every year ~1 trillion gallons of untreated sewage and industrial waste is dumped in American waters. More than 100 pesticides in any medium – air, water or soil – can cause birth defects, gene mutations, and cancer. There are more than 73 kinds of pesticides in groundwater. When we reduce the toxic load on our environment, we reduce the toxic load on our own bodies!
Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment below.
Until next time,