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Yes, You Should Eat the WHOLE Avocado – Even the Pit

There aren’t many people out there who don’t like avocados. They’re creamy, delicious, brilliantly versatile, and undeniably one of the greatest superfoods available on supermarket shelves. Most people are aware of the wide-ranging health benefits that avocado flesh provides, but few know that the seed they throw away each time they eat an avocado can provide an impressive array of health-promoting properties. While the flesh of an avocado is packed with nutrients and healthy fats, you may be surprised to learn that over 70 percent of the total antioxidant concentration in avocados is contained in the seed. Here are five compelling reasons to stop you from throwing that next avocado seed away.

Reduce inflammation: The same powerful concoction of antioxidants in avocado seeds is responsible for their potent inflammation-fighting properties. Avocado seeds contain high concentrations of catechins and procyanidins, antioxidants that reduce inflammation associated with pain, swelling, stiffness, and impaired joint function. This heroic pair of antioxidants also promotes heart health and proper blood circulation.

Fight cancer: A 2013 study from the University of Antioquia demonstrated that extracts from avocado seeds had a pro-apoptotic influence on leukemia cells, meaning that the extract caused leukemia cells to die and left the normal cells healthy and stable. For this reason, avocado seeds could be an important way to fight or reduce your cancer risk.

Improve digestion: Avocado seeds have long been used in their native homeland of Mexico and Central America to treat a range of digestive issues, including dysentery and gastric ulcers. Today, avocado seeds can be used to promote healthy digestive function, with their potent concentrations of antioxidants and fiber helping to support your gastrointestinal tract by promoting the growth and maintenance of healthy gut bacteria.

Encourage weight loss: The same fiber found in avocado seeds that helps support healthy digestion can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Their high fiber content provides feelings of fullness and satiation, meaning you don’t get the same urge to eat as often. They can also help control your blood sugar levels, with stable blood sugar meaning you’re less likely to give in to food cravings throughout the day.

Support your skin: The powerful cocktail of antioxidants contained in avocado seeds can be just what your skin needs to become supple and clear. These antioxidants can help to rebuild collagen, promote the repair of cells damaged by free radical activity and generally just make your skin look and feel healthy.

How to eat avocado seeds 

Now that you’ve learned about the many benefits that avocado seeds can provide for your health, you’re probably wondering how the heck to eat them. They’re hard, heavy, and seemingly close to indestructible. 

The first step is to remove the seed from the surrounding flesh by cutting the avocado in half with a large sharp knife then whacking the knife down hard on the seed to stick it onto the blade. Use the edge of a cutting board to dislodge the seed from the knife blade, then cut it into quarters with a sharp knife, being careful of your fingers. The seed is actually surprisingly easy to cut with a suitably sharp knife.

Now throw the quarters into a powerful blender and process until you make a fine powder. Divide the resulting powder into two piles— one pile is enough for a single serving, so put the other pile in a storage container in the fridge. Now you can throw the powder into a smoothie mix, but be sure the other ingredients are relatively strong, as the seed powder can be quite bitter due to its tannins.

Nevertheless, don’t forget that the avocado seed is highly valuable and should not be forgotten! 

 

Susan Patterson, Certified Health Coach, and Master Gardener

 

 

 

Keep Your Vagina Healthy and Prevent Leaks by Eating These Foods

Your vagina is a complex and finely tuned environment that has several factors that need to be kept in balance. Your vagina is pretty good at protecting and cleaning itself. Proper vaginal care, such as good hygiene, safe sex, and regular gynecological visits, all play a role in keeping your pH in check. But what about food? What you put in your mouth has an effect down south, and what you eat could make or break the health of your vagina.

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Improve Your Gut Health and Reduce Toxins With Lemon Water and Zest

You’ve probably heard of drinking lemon water for any number of ailments, and though there is limited scientific research to back up many of its purported benefits, there is still plenty of proof that should inspire you to include lemon water in your morning routine. Additionally eating lemons and enjoy lemon zest throughout the day can help boost your health. Unlike many other health fads and fleeting trends, this wellness aid is more than just smoke and mirrors. Read on for our favorite reasons to drink a glass of warm (or cool) lemon water as soon as you step out of bed and enjoy the zest all day long!

Can help keep you hydrated

It is well known that the majority of the population is severely dehydrated. In fact, 75% of Americans fall short of the recommended minimum daily water consumption, which is 10 cups per day. That means that three out of every four people are living in a chronic state of dehydration and forcing their bodies to work overtime to compensate for lack of water. 

Often, the reason that so many people cite for their uninspiring water intake is a dislike for the way water “tastes.” Fortunately, getting into the habit of drinking water with lemon first thing in the morning will give you a great, hydrated start to your day. Even if you don’t like the taste of water, a little squeeze of fresh lemon juice can make it infinitely better. 

Supports healthy digestion

Lemon water encourages the liver to produce bile, which is required for proper digestion, and it can help flush out toxins from the body and prevent buildup. Getting your digestive system on the right track early in the morning is critical for proper bowel function throughout the day. Don’t forget to add some lemon zest in with your daily meals as well to further help your body digest the food you eat all day long!

Boosts your immune system

Millions of people around the country are bracing themselves for the upcoming cold and flu season. As Halloween decorations start to emerge, so do the nasty bugs hanging out on bathroom door handles and public transportation, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike a vulnerable immune system. Now is the time to load up on fresh, whole foods, and do whatever you can to boost your body’s natural germ-fighting capabilities. 

This preparation includes drinking a daily glass of lemon water, as this tart fruit has loads of natural vitamin C that helps your cells produce infection-fighting antibodies.

Can aid in weight loss

This study found that the polyphenols in lemons can reduce and suppress body fat accumulation, while the pectin fiber in lemons can help curb appetite and reduce hunger. These abilities combined could help you in your wellness journey. Remember, weight loss does not happen overnight, and there is no magic drink that will (on its own) make you thinner. Lemon water and lemon zest should be enjoyed in conjunction with a healthy whole foods diet, daily exercise, and reduction in sugar consumption. 

Helps freshen breath

There’s nothing like waking up to nasty morning breath. Unfortunately, no matter how well you brush your teeth, you may be subject to halitosis in the morning. Drink a glass of lemon water to help eliminate that foul odor and encourage saliva production.

How to enjoy lemon water:

All you need is two ingredients…filtered water, and a lemon. It’s that easy. Simply squeeze one half or a whole lemon (depending on how much flavor you want) into a tall glass. Fill the remaining way with filtered water and sip away. The water can be cool in the summertime for a refreshment from the heat or hot in the winter for a warming beverage. Add a squeeze of honey, if desired, for a hint of sweetness to combat the sour lemon. Drink through a straw to help protect your teeth’ enamel from the lemon acid, and always swish your mouth with a sip of plain water after drinking to eliminate residue on your teeth. 

Add any of the following ingredients for an extra health boost:

  • A few sprigs of mint
  • Slice of fresh ginger
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of turmeric

Another great way to get your lemon fix is to add fresh lemon juice and zest to an ice cube tray and freeze. These handy lemon cubes will shorten your morning routine even more and ensure you never miss a day. 

-Susan Patterson, Certified Health Coach, and Master Gardener

This “CLEAN” Compost Trick Will Make Your Veggies Grow Huge

It’s spring, and for many gardeners around the country, it is time to prepare garden beds and start planting. One of the best things you can do for your plants is to supercharge your soil with rich, nutrient-dense compost. Don’t have time for composting? Don’t fret; there is one really neat compost trick that takes little time and effort but pays off big – building up the soil and making nutrients available to hungry plants and beneficial critters deep inside the soil.

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NEVER Cook with These Dangerous Oils

There’s a lot of rumor, speculation, and misinformation surrounding the topic of cooking oils. We rely on them every single day to lubricate our frying pan, bolster our marinades, baste our roasts and dress our salads. And yet, the majority of us know next to nothing about them. Typically, if you happen to strike up a conversation about cooking oils with someone, it’ll conclude with them swearing by one particular oil, which they use in almost all their dishes. Ask them why they swear by this oil, however, and they’ll likely feed you a series of rumors and second-hand information which justifies why that particular oil is better than the rest.

Ask them about important aspects of that oil, such as smoke point, oxidation, and rancidification, and they’ll probably look profoundly confused or quickly change topics. Go easy on them — it’s not really their fault. Choosing the right cooking oil or fat for a given task is a very difficult process, and requires an in-depth look at a range of different attributes of that oil. And because oils are such an important part of our everyday lives, I’d like to guide you through everything you need to know, so you can confuse even more of your friends with your know-how and, more importantly, safeguard your health.

The two types of cooking oil

Any given oil can fall within one of two groups of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Knowing the type of fat your cooking oil is can help in the process of deciding whether it’s actually good for your health and if it’s the right oil for a given form of food preparation.

Saturated fats are the simplest, most dependable of the two fat groups. They have simple bond structures, and for this reason, are less likely to undergo a chemical reaction when heat is applied. This makes them the more stable of the two fats, and they’re therefore often a better choice for medium to high-heat cooking. One easy way to tell whether an oil has a high saturated fat content is if it turns solid at room temperature.

Here’s a list of common, primarily saturated fat-based oils you’re likely to see on the supermarket of health food shelves:

  • Butter (technically not cooking oil, but many people use butter for cooking purposes)
  • Chicken fat
  • Coconut oil
  • Ghee (clarified butter)
  • Lard (pork fat)
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Tallow (beef fat)

You’ll notice that, with the exception of coconut oil and palm kernel oil, the majority of saturated fats are from animal sources.

Unsaturated fats are, unfortunately, a little bit more complex than their simpler, more carefree saturated counterparts. Unsaturated fats can be further broken down into three sub-groups: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans unsaturated. Popular or common unsaturated fats include the following:

  • Avocado oil
  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hemp oil
  • Olive oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Various nut oils (walnut, almond, etc.)

Before I go any further, let me do you a huge favor and tell you to throw out any canola, corn, soybean, or sunflower oils you might have sitting around. Despite what many outdated health advisors and websites would have you believe, these oils are bad for your health! The reasoning behind these advisories and websites condemning other oils is their high saturated fat content, however as you probably know by now, saturated fats are actually very beneficial to our health. Even the government and mainstream media are starting to grudgingly concede that they may have gotten it wrong all these years.

Now that you’ve vanquished your health-degrading canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower oils, let’s continue. The three unsaturated fat groupings are based on their molecular structure — monounsaturated fats have only one double bond, polyunsaturated have multiple double bonds, and trans unsaturated fats have multiple bonds which have been chemically and artificially altered through the process of hydrogenation.

This may all sound like technical mumbo jumbo to you, but it’s important that you learn the differences. Why is it important? Well, for starters, monounsaturated fats are much more stable than polyunsaturated fats due to their simpler bond structure, meaning they’re generally better suited to high heat cooking. Next, trans unsaturated fats are just plain nasty, being the diabolical creation of the fast-food industry, and always found in foods containing partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Avoid these foods at all cost, if you value your health!

The smoke point of cooking oil

After the complexities of the previous section, you’ll be pleased to know that the concept of a smoke point is an easy one to wrap your head around. Simply put, the smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it starts to produce smoke when heated. I told you it was simple!

But, while this is a simple concept, the 99 percent of people who use cooking oils likely have no idea what the smoke point of their oil is. They’d do well to find out, as an oil which has reached it’s smoke point can rapidly become very damaging to your health.

When you’re cooking with an oil or fat and it reaches its smoke point, it begins to break down and transforms into acrolein. Acrolein is one of the detrimental chemicals found in cigarette smoke and is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing compound). Therefore, knowing the smoke point of your cooking oil and staying below it can prevent you from breathing in carcinogenic fumes — probably something you want to look into.

The following graph provides a convenient list of common oils in relation to their smoke point. You might want to consider printing it off and sticking it to your kitchen wall — a little unsightly, but it could be instrumental in reducing your risk of cancer.

 

7.-Smoke-Point-of-Cooking-Oils
(Photo courtesy: Paleo Hacks)

The (U) next to some oils and the (R) next to others signifies unrefined and refined, respectively. As you can see, the process of refining an oil makes it more stable and therefore more resistant to heat, however, it also generally removes a lot of the vitamins and nutrients found in the unrefined versions of these oils and fats.

After seeing this graph for the first time, I confess that I was somewhat dismayed to see my good friend butter at the bottom end of the spectrum. With a smoke point of only 150 degrees Celsius, it certainly isn’t fit for some of the high-heat cooking I usually use it for. But it’s revelations like these that make it all the more important to learn about the oils and fats we’re cooking with.

Cooking oil oxidation

Alright, so now you’re familiar with the smoke point of your favorite cooking oils. Excellent. Arguably even more important than the smoke point, however, is the oxidative stability of your oils or fats. Oxidative stability is determined by an oil’s resistance to oxidation, the process of which causes the fat molecule of your oil to lose a hydrogen atom and transform into a diabolical free radical.

Free radicals, in case you’re not familiar with them already, are one of the great enemies of the human body. They attack our bodies at the cellular level, speeding up the process of aging and dramatically increasing our risk of developing a range of different diseases, cancer included.

For this reason, choosing an oil that has solid oxidative stability, or is resistant to oxidation, is definitely a good thing. One thing to be aware of is that just because a certain oil or fat has a high smoke point, doesn’t mean it has a high oxidative resistance. In most cases, it’s exactly the opposite, so there’s a bit of a trade-off, unfortunately.

How to get the most out of your cooking oil

After reading through the above, you’re probably a little bit frustrated to learn how many variables there are governing the quality and use of oil. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut winner, as an oil that has a high smoke point may be prone to oxidation and therefore become rancid easily. Likewise, an oil that is packed with nutrients and is resistant to oxidation may have a very low smoke point, and therefore only be useful for low heat cooking.

For this reason, it’s good to have a range of oils available, so that you have one for every possible culinary occasion. Also, to help you along, I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to get the most out of your oil and ensure you enjoy all of its health benefits and none of its potentially damaging effects:

  • Antioxidants: unless you’re only doing high-heat cooking (such as stir-frying and grilling), choose oils that are high in antioxidants. These compounds, found in oils such as avocado, olive, and coconut, work against the oxidative damage of free radicals and prevent things like heat, air, and light exposure from making your oil go rancid.
  • Light: ultraviolet wavelengths from the sun increase the oxidation rate of your oil. For this reason, only buy oils that come in dark or opaque bottles, and store them in a dark place to reduce their rate of rancidification (yup, that’s a word!). This rule doesn’t always apply, particularly in the case of coconut oil which is highly resistant to oxidation and doesn’t really go rancid too easily.

  • Re-use: don’t store and reuse your oil — every time you do, its smoke point lowers significantly.
  • Temperature: be aware of your oil’s smoke point, and stay below it! Your food will taste better, and you won’t be breathing in carcinogenic compounds in the process.

It’s a lot to take in, but do your research, and your health will thank you for it.

-The Backyard Vitality Team

 

How to Get Your Chickens to Lay More Eggs (#3 may surprise you)

So, you have decided to get a few backyard hens. I congratulate you on this The chicken movement is on fire, even in urban areas, as more and more people realize the benefits of having fresh farm eggs at their fingertips. Well, as long as your girls are laying, that is. Contrary to what you might think, there are a few key things to consider to ensure your chickens produce healthy and nutritious eggs consistently. Let’s take a look at how you can be sure you are always in eggs!

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The Fractured Case Against Eggs

Eggs for breakfast? Not anymore, according to a newly released study. A group of researchers has eggs back in the spotlight for seemingly negative health impacts. This time, they are blamed for an increased risk of developing diabetes. But… are there other factors that need to be considered? You bet there are.  Also, eggs have recently been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes. Why the conflict? Let’s unpack and find the truth about this popular breakfast food.

The most recent study criminalizing eggs is out of Australia. Australian researchers studied Chinese adults and found a positive link between higher egg consumption and high blood sugar levels. This new research suggests that consuming just one egg per day increases the risk of developing diabetes by 60%.

According to study author Dr. Ming Li from the University of South Australia,

“Diet is a known and modifiable factor that contributes to the onset of type 2 diabetes, so understanding the range of dietary factors that might impact the growing prevalence of the disease is important.”

Yes, Dr. Li is entirely correct. What we eat and our lifestyle has a tremendous impact on our risk of developing diabetes – but what is interesting is that the study subjects had changed from eating a traditional diet to a more processed diet including meat, snacks, and eggs.  If this is the case, how can the egg be singled out as the villain here? Furthermore, if eggs have always been a part of a traditional Chinese diet – why not look at the things that aren’t in the conventional diet and conduct research on these?

Previous research makes a clear correlation between a heavily processed diet and an increased risk of numerous conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Researchers in Finland just last year found that eating one egg per day lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes. In 2015, it was found that egg consumption lowered blood glucose levels and reduced the risk of diabetes. 

According to the American Diabetes Association, people who have diabetes should be eating eggs. The reason? Eggs contain just half a gram of carbohydrates, which is believed to have little impact on blood sugar.

What we know to be true  about eggs

Before you jump on the anti-egg bandwagon, it is important to remember many great things about eggs. Including the right type of eggs in your diet has been found to promote health and wellbeing in many ways. 

Eggs are good for your heart. Eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease and have a positive impact on cardiovascular function. Eggs from pasture-raised hens contain double the amount of health-promoting Omega-3 as eggs taken from hens raised in battery cages. Not only do Omega-3 fatty acids lower blood triglycerides, but they also help regulate cholesterol. This is excellent news, as having higher blood triglycerides is directly linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Eggs reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the likelihood of different diseases, including stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. The conditions include elevated blood sugar, increased body fat (especially around the waist), and abnormal cholesterol levels. One 2016 study of individuals over 40 included a 3-year review of their egg consumption. It was found that eating more eggs may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome in adults over 40. Also, eggs had a positive impact on blood glucose and triglycerides, especially in men.

Eggs may reduce the risk of fo chronic illness. Eggs also contain naturally occurring carotenoids.  People who consume a diet high in carotenoids live longer and experience lower mortality from chronic illness. The particular carotenoids in eggs (that give the yolk it’s beautiful yellow color) help the body absorb additional carotenoids from raw veggies when the two are eaten together.  

Eggs are great for your eyes and skin. Carotenoids in eggs are not only paramount to overall good health and prevention of disease, but they also promote eye health. Eggs contain two “oxygenated” carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Both act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, filtering out dangerous blue spectrums of light and reducing the risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma.

In the same way that lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes by filtering out dangerous wavelengths, they also protect the skin, thus slowing down the oxidative damage that light can cause – especially UV rays. Eggs contain a hefty supply of five of the eight best nutrients to help reduce the risk of and fight skin cancer.

Eggs can help you stay trim. You might be familiar with eating eggs while trying to drop weight because of their high protein content. But did you know that they also contain another ingredient that makes them a valuable weight-loss food? As mentioned above, Lutein is well known for its ability to keep eyes and skin healthy; it is also a fantastic weight-loss tool. Studies show that it can positively impact physical activity levels. Eggs are a healthy addition to any weight loss program as they keep you full and reduce the number of calories you may eat for a whole 36 hours after you eat them!

Eggs are good for the brain and liver. Our bodies produce a minimal amount of the macronutrient choline. For the most part, we need to get this macronutrient from the food we eat. Eggs are a great choice as they are choline-rich. Eating eggs promotes healthy liver function and brain development. Choline has successfully treated persons with neurological conditions such as depression and can improve memory and cognitive function.  Persons diagnosed with fatty liver disease often have a choline deficiency, which is also linked to some forms of cancer.

Why you should keep backyard chickens

Not only are backyard chickens a great source of entertainment, but they are also a great source of healthy eggs.  Backyard chickens eat a regular and nutrient-rich diet and are often given room to move about – this means greater nutritional benefits. 

The conditions in which hens are raised impact the quality of eggs tremendously. Sadly, hens in cages can’t stand up, groom themselves or flap their wings. Their living conditions are deplorable, and their health suffers.

Eggs from pastured hens are the only kind you should eat. When compared to eggs from caged hens, they have:

  • ⅓ less  cholesterol
  • ⅔ more vitamin A
  • ¼ less saturated fat
  • 2 times more omega-3
  • 3 times more vitamin E
  • 7 times more beta carotene

Eggs from pastured hens superior in nutrition, but they are also 98 percent less likely to carry salmonella. That is a peace of mind we can all use.

Backyard chickens are a sustainable addition to any backyard garden. They provide natural pest control and are happy to devour your plant-based kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash.

I don’t know about you but, I am not giving up on backyard chickens or eating eggs anytime soon!

Susan Patterson

 

 

 

 

 

Low on Money? 7 Ways to Make More Green with Green

When you think of side hustles, ways to make a little extra money, you may conjure up images of things like selling clothes you don’t wear, walking dogs, babysitting, or even baking and selling cookies. But, have you ever considered taking your love of plants, gardening, and homesteading (even urban homesteading) and using it to turn a quick profit?

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They Told You That it Was Impossible: 5 Ways You CAN be Self Sufficient in the City

Do you live in the city – perhaps a dense urban area surrounded by tall buildings, cars and people…lots of people? Have you tossed your dream of self-sufficiency out the window because of your geographic location? If so, I have great news for you. It is possible to be self-sufficient in the city; seriously, there are several steps that you can take to become more self-reliant – even if you live in the the heart of a concrete jungle.

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Are You Still Using Pesticides? Why You Will Regret It (and what really works)

Yes, I get it; pests can be a problem. In just a few hours, pests gone wild can destroy your beautiful cabbage crop, annihilate your cucumbers, and leave your lettuce looking like it went through a war. All of this is heartbreaking, and I have had it happen to me more than once. There is a solution to this problem, and it is not to pour a vat of toxic chemicals into your garden either. Once I got the formula down – the best method to repel nasty pests – my garden has never been so beautiful. If I can do it, so can you.

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#1 WORST Sunscreen (avoid at all costs)

With warmer weather here, people all over are gearing up for poolside gatherings, beach vacations, and some good ol’ fashioned sun-soaking. The sun just seems to make us feel good, and rightly so. The sun is necessary for all human life. Without the warming rays of this massive star, life on this planet would cease to exist. Every type of living creature, including mankind, needs sunlight in order to live. Humans have been exposed to the sun since the beginning of time.

Is sun exposure good or bad? 

However, for more than 30 years, doctors, beauty experts, health officials, and skincare product manufacturers have sent out strong warnings regarding the dangers of the sun. We have been told to avoid any sun exposure without sunscreen because the rays will damage our skin and cause skin cancer.

Much of this hype has been due to the fact that skin cancer is on the rise. In 2002, over 50 percent of the 1.2 million cases of cancer in the United States were skin cancers, and 10,000 of these cases were fatal. These statistics have injected a rampant fear of the sun into many unassuming people, who have decided to stay clear of the burning ball of light at all costs. This, however, has caused problems of its own.

Does the sun cause cancer? 

To say that the sun causes cancer is not entirely correct. It is actually a great oversimplification of the truth. Well-researched and documented studies show that vitamin D optimization may actually prevent up to 16 different types of cancer.

Because of our fear of the sun, we have become a nation deficient in vitamin D. This deficiency in itself has led to a surge in a number of debilitating conditions such as depression, obesity, hypertension, and cancer. In addition, 60 percent of people with diabetes are vitamin D deficient, and studies show very low levels of vitamin D in children, women, and the elderly.

It appears, to at least some extent, that the dangers of the sun have been overemphasized while the benefits have been minimized. Dr. William Grant conducted a study that revealed that 30 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented each year if vitamin D levels were higher. That’s right: the very thing that so many hide from may not cause cancer, but rather protect from it.

Furthermore, vitamin D is also essential for a number of healthy bodily functions, such as muscle strength, cardiovascular health, strong teeth, optimal blood pressure, and a healthy immune system — to name just a few.

Does sun exposure cause melanoma? 

Melanoma has been on the rise, along with sunscreen use.

Good rays, bad rays

In order to completely understand the risk that the sun poses to our health, we must better comprehend the sun itself. The sun gives us two main types of wavelengths — UVA and UVB. While both can cause tanning and burning, UVB rays are necessary for the skin to make vitamin D, while UVA rays penetrate the skin deeply and can cause severe free radical damage including wrinkles. They also destroy vitamin D.

It only takes a little sun to make vitamin D

To encourage your body to produce vitamin D, you don’t need to spend countless hours in the hot sun and you most definitely don’t want to burn. Here are a few general guidelines to follow to help you get the most from the sun’s helpful rays while staying safe from those that can cause damage.

  • If you are just getting out in the sun for the first time in the season and have white skin, limit yourself to about 15 minutes between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • If you burn frequently, limit your time to a few minutes each day until your skin begins to slightly darken.
  • Once you have a nice tan, you can increase the time you spend in the sun.
  • Use a moisturizing non-SPF lotion to help keep your skin soft. If you use an SPF lotion it will block out the beneficial UVB rays. Organic coconut oil is a great option.
  • After your initial exposure, spend the rest of the day in the shade or covered up.
  • If you have to be in the sun for an extended period of time, use an SPF 15 non-toxic sunscreen.

Is sunscreen bad for you? 

When you slather on sunscreen that does not offer natural UVA protection, you are doing nothing short of wasting your money. Sunscreen that blocks UVB rays and does not protect from UVA rays and will work against you by limiting vitamin D production and damaging skin.

There are two main types of sunscreens — chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens prevent sunburn when they absorb UVA rays, but can increase the risk of cancer. Physical sunscreens contain inert minerals that reflect ultraviolet rays away from the skin. They are considered safe and effective.

Most of what you find in the store are chemical sunscreens, which may contain from three to six of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octinoxate, and octocrylene.

Almost all products contain avobenzone – the agent for filtering out skin-damaging UVA rays. There is some concern, however, that this substance may break down when exposed to the sun. Other chemicals, such as octocrylene, are often added as stabilizers.

Dangers of using sunscreen

Sunscreen contains several chemicals that get stored in the body.
Sunscreen contains several chemicals that get stored in the body.

Studies done on a number of the chemicals found in commercial sunscreen indicate that they may disrupt hormones. Animal research also suggests that oxybenzone (found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreen) and octinoxate are toxic to reproductive systems and can interfere with development. While more testing is yet to be done, many are concerned that the high level of toxicity found in these active ingredients may undermine any benefit that this type of sunscreen offers. Like personal care products, sunscreens penetrate the skin and deserve special attention. Studies done at the University of Zurich found sunscreen chemicals in 85 percent of milk samples. Four of the chemicals that were found are commonly used in American sunscreens.

Avoid sunscreens with retinol

Sunscreens that contain vitamin A, or retinol, may actually speed the development of skin tumors and lesions when sunlight is present, according to a 2009 study done by the National Toxicology Program. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a study in 2011 that concluded the same thing. Since this time, consumer advocates have been urging the FDA to restrict the use of vitamin A in topical products.

Avoid spray-on sunscreens

Vitamin A and toxic chemicals are not the only things you have to worry about in sunscreen. In July of 2012, a very scary incident occurred for one man who applied aerosol sunscreen and immediately walked over to his barbecue. Upon lighting the grill, he sustained second-degree burns, because the sunscreen had not had time to set into his skin, and the propellant chemicals didn’t have adequate time to evaporate. According to news reports, the spray also left a vapor trail that added insult to injury. He caught on fire immediately after lighting the grill.

Banana Boat, the makers of the aerosol sunscreen in question, voluntarily recalled their product after hearing of the incident. The company cited a problem with the spray valve as being the reason for the accident.

“The spray valve opening on the affected products dispenses more than is typical in the industry for continuous sun care sprays. As a result, the product is taking longer to dry on the skin than is typical with other continuous sprays. If a consumer comes into contact with a flame or spark prior to complete drying of the product on the skin, there is a potential for the product to ignite.”

Mothers of young kids, and many other people of all ages, love the ease of application that aerosol offers, as well as the fact that spray sunscreen makes it easy to cover all of the hard-to-reach spots.

Dangers of aerosol sunscreens

Spray-on sunscreen contains chemicals that get into your lungs.
Spray-on sunscreen contains chemicals that get into your lungs.

Besides the fact that aerosols are highly flammable, there are more concerns with this type of sun protection. First, the Food and Drug Administration has mounting concerns that aerosol sunscreens can be inhaled during application. Both the propellant chemicals and the nanoparticles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (found safe in other forms) worry scientists, who say that these particles are easily ingested.

Although the particles can’t be absorbed through the skin, they can accumulate in different organs in the body once they are ingested. Because they are so small, they can move freely throughout the body, causing problems at the sub-cellular level. What is worse is that the body can’t get rid of them.

Each time the sunscreen nozzle is pressed, these particles are transported some 20 feet in all directions, landing on everything in sight. Everyone in the danger zone gets to breathe in the dangerous particles, even if they don’t want to. Use caution with loose powder sunscreens as well for the same reason; they contain particles that could end up in the lungs and cause damage.

There are presently no recommendations or guidelines set by the U.S. government regarding the size and characteristics of nanoparticles to protect from the sun and be safe to users at the same time. As with other personal care products, this is a “caveat emptor” circumstance where consumers must do their own research with regard to safety.

How to stay safe in the sun

Playing it safely requires forethought. Obviously, the sun is a very important part of health, one that should not be ignored. However, there are rules:

  • Playing or laying all day in the hot sun without any protection and getting burned to a crisp must be avoided at all costs.
  • Be especially careful with young children; avoid sunburn as much as possible.
  • Try to stay in the shade between the hours of 12 and 3 p.m. — this is when the sun’s rays are the hottest and can cause the most damage.
  • Wear lightweight, white clothing if possible, and a hat if you have to be in the sun for long periods of time.
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Never tan through a window — you will get all UVA rays and none of the beneficial UVB rays.

Check the label on your favorite sunscreen 

The Environmental Working Group urges us not to use sunscreen as a tool to prolong time spent in the sun, and to check our skin often for irregular moles or other suspicious spots. Being choosy about the type of sunscreen that you use for yourself and your family is critical. The best is one made from natural ingredients that protect you from damaging rays, don’t break down on the skin, and allow at least some penetration of UVB rays for the production of vitamin D.Visit The Environmental Working Group for a list of safe sunscreens which contain non-toxic ingredients and offer protection from damaging UVA rays without compromising UVB exposure.

Remember: Enjoy the sun, respect the sun and know what is in your sunscreen. For natural sun protection, try coconut oil. Coconut oil has been shown to have between 7-10 SPF and is a great moisturizer for the skin.
-Susan Patterson, Certified Health Coach, and Master Gardener