As green-living advocates, we often get stuck on the risk-reduction aspects of a healthier lifestyle. We want to avoid hormonal imbalance, so we stop using products with parabens and phthalates. We cut out carcinogenic ingredients and neurotoxic chemicals to keep our families safe from disease. We protect our environment by avoiding products that pollute our soil and waterways.
However, a truly healthy, green lifestyle is more than avoidance. It also promotes hormonal balance, boosts our immunity and antioxidant defense, and protects our bodies and environment with better nutrients. To live our best lives — and save the planet — we must go beyond choosing “paraben-free” cosmetics and organic produce.
A holistic lifestyle design encompasses all aspects of your life, from the food you consume to the products you use to clean your home and body. Here’s what to consider when developing your green-living plan.
Growing Your Own Food
It’s important to keep the pressure on agricultural companies to cease their use of glyphosate and other synthetic pesticides. Not only does the United States continue to use glyphosate while many other countries are banning its use, but we’re also using it at increasingly higher levels. Two-thirds of all Roundup used in the country has been since 2006, despite the product being debuted in 1974.
Moreover, we must raise awareness about many food manufacturers’ reliance on preservatives such as soy lecithin and packaging made of PFAS and BPA.
Soy lecithin may mimic estrogen, raising the risk of hormonal imbalance and reproductive issues. High levels of salt and nitrates, often used to extend shelf life, may contribute to thyroid disorders and cardiovascular disease. Many processed food products also contain dyes, which are essentially petroleum byproducts with considerable carcinogenic effects.
In short, there are many reasons to be wary of the food you buy at the grocery store. It’s difficult to control — or sometimes, even know — what exactly is in your food.
Growing your own produce can help, even though it likely won’t replace your entire grocery order. You’ll often find that homegrown fruits and vegetables taste fresher and pack more nutrients than store-bought ones. That’s because they are (a) not artificially ripened and (b) free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Of course, that means you shouldn’t use Roundup, Miracle-Gro, etc. in your home garden. Thankfully, it’s relatively easy to nourish your plants organically:
- Start a compost heap. It’s the perfect way to get rid of your kitchen scraps, and the resulting organic matter is a nutrient-rich substance that naturally fertilizes plants and prevents your soil from becoming hydrophobic or moldy. You can also purchase manure from your local feed store.
- Use coffee grounds, fish emulsions, and blood meal to enrich the soil. (Just be sure that these are sustainably sourced whenever possible.)
- To keep weeds at bay, focus on soil amendments that allow your desired plants to thrive. This will naturally decrease the likelihood of weeds. Insects and fungus can be deterred with neem oil and a mild vinegar solution.
Plus, home gardening can be a highly restorative and relaxing activity — or a way to get some exercise and fresh air! Either way, it nurtures your holistic lifestyle design.
Boosting Your Gut Health
Any chemical meant to kill microbes on or in your food can also harm the microbes that help you stay healthy. Our guts (should) contain a thriving microbiome of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics. These organisms help break down your food (especially tough-to-digest fiber) and support your immune defense. That’s why antibiotic-laced food, such as meat from treated livestock, can seriously disrupt your gut health.
Pesticides have a similar effect. For example, glyphosate destroys microorganisms. When we consume it via our produce, we reduce our microbiome’s population of beneficial bacteria. Their absence allows harmful bacteria (e.g. E.coli, Staphylococcus, Clostridium) to over-multiply, leading to gastrointestinal issues and an impaired immune response. In fact, glyphosate has been identified as a major risk factor for poor gut health, which likely contributes to its evident role in non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Hyperprocessed foods tend to feature high-fructose corn syrup, which directly fuels your gut’s harmful bacteria. Artificial sweeteners are another key risk factor, causing your gut’s population of Bacteroides spp and Clostridiales to increase. Species such as Desulfovibrio and Bilophila have been linked to inflammatory and autoimmune issues, including Parkinson’s. Common preservatives, including trehalose and polysorbate, promote the growth of Clostridium and Bacteroidetes, respectively.
However, avoiding antibiotics is only part of the solution. To truly restore your gut’s healthy balance and minimize healthy bacteria, you must nourish your friendly population of probiotics. And the best way to do that? Eat them!
Probiotic-rich foods include many delicious options, such as:
- Aged cheese
- Any pickled vegetables
- Sourdough bread
You’ll also naturally consume beneficial bacteria over time. To help their population grow, eat pre-biotics. These high-fiber foods are your microbiota’s preferred diet. Great prebiotic options include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Dandelion greens
A healthy gut supports strong immunity, aids digestion, and reduces inflammation. To enjoy good gut balance, let those beneficial bacteria flourish!
Nourishing Your Skin and Hair the Natural Way
Cosmetics are among the world’s top polluters, of both your body and the environment. From parabens to octinoxate to toluene, these products contain multiple ingredients of concern. A full list of risks is beyond the scope of this article. It suffices to say that many of your body washes, shampoos, hairsprays, and fragrances do more harm than good.
And let’s face it: we’re probably doing too much to our skin and hair. Excessive face-washing, harsh toners and scrubs, and acne treatments strip our skin of its natural oils — which are there for a reason! Healthy skin naturally moisturizes itself and wards off pollutants.
Similarly, hair follicles and sheaths need to remain intact to keep your strands strong and shiny. The rich lather of shampoo may feel good, but it can also shred the protective sheath, causing brittleness and breakage. Many styling products coat the strands and suffocate the follicles, which can lead to further breakage and hair loss. Worse, they often contain phthalates, which disrupt hormonal balance, as well as possible carcinogens DEA and octinoxate.
Don’t worry: you don’t have to sacrifice looking good in order to be healthy. In fact, a holistic approach to beauty often yields better results! Here are some ways you can bathe and groom, the green way:
- Use herbal, sulfate-free shampoos that gently remove dirt and excessive oil. Look for ingredients such as jojoba and coconut oil as natural moisturizers.
- Wash your face and body with gentle, non-foaming products such as goat milk soap or cleansers made with vegetable oils. Avoid “blemish prevention” products, scrubs made with microplastics, and anything that contains alcohol.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin E (such as avocados, peanuts, seafood, bell peppers, almonds, Brazil nuts, mango, and kiwi) and biotin (such as eggs, milk, bananas, walnuts, pork, liver, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes). Sunflower seeds and salmon are excellent sources of both!
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! The best way to make your skin look plump and healthy is to nourish it from the inside out.
If you need a spa treatment, you can make your own facials and hair masks from ingredients such as honey, egg whites, olive oil, and even beer!
Green living is not just a matter of avoiding toxins or cutting out foods or products from your life. That misconception is what keeps many people from making a lifestyle shift. A better approach is to design a lifestyle that holistically supports your health and the environment. That’s much easier to sustain, and it feels better as well!
This article was inspired by an interview with Suzi Reader, a holistic lifestyle consultant and wellness coach.