Which Food and Product Labels to Trust

I always thought of myself as a conscientious shopper but now I know I was far too trusting of what labels claim. I would see a word like “natural” on something, throw it in the cart, claim my victory for thoughtful consumerism and call it a day.

But unfortunately, just like what ingredients go IN most of the products we use, the words and claims that go ON these food and product labels are equally unregulated. 

“Natural” means literally nothing beyond “this product exists!” Pure, green, non-toxic, eco-friendly, free-range – all subject to interpretation and zero regulation. To add to the confusion, even the word “organic” holds no weight. It’s got to carry the USDA Organic seal which signifies over 95% of the product ingredients meet their set standards. It’s the seal that matters – NOT the words!  

Here are some legitimate certification labels to keep an eye out for:

  • USDA Organic – USDA certified food products are “grown and processed in accordance to federal guidelines including soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.  Produce can be called organic if it’s certified to have grown on soil that had no prohibited substances applied for three years prior to harvest. Prohibited substances include most synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Organic meats are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like grazing), fed 100% organic feed, and not given antibiotics or hormones. Organically processed, multi-ingredient foods don’t contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and require that their ingredients meet organic certification standards. When packaged products indicate they are “made with organic ingredients,” they contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. Organic foods are also not grown or handled using GMOs”.
  • Safer Choice – EPA Safer Choice certification “reviews more than just product ingredients. They look at product performance, pH, packaging and more to ensure that products with the label are safer for you and your family and conduct annual audits to ensure the standards continue to be met. Before a product can carry the Safer Choice label, EPA reviews all chemical ingredients, regardless of their percentage in the product. Every ingredient must meet strict safety criteria for both human health and the environment, including carcinogenicity, reproductive/developmental toxicity, toxicity to aquatic life, and persistence in the environment.” 

  • Greenguard – GREENGUARD Certified products are “scientifically proven to meet some of the world’s most rigorous, third-party chemical emissions standards, helping to reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure, while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments.”

  • NSF – NSF certification is done by an independent organization that “tests, audits and certifies products and systems to comply with specific standards for safety, quality, sustainability or performance. Certifications provide the proof behind product claims like non-GMO and gluten-free, and assure bottled water and beverage quality.”

  • USDA Certified Biobased –  USDA certification which “assures a consumer that the product contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients (referred to as biobased content). Consumers can trust the label to mean what it says because manufacturer’s claims concerning the biobased content are third-party certified and strictly monitored by USDA. Biobased Products are derived from raw materials such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials. Biobased products generally provide an alternative to conventional petroleum derived products and include a diverse range of offerings such as lubricants, detergents, inks, fertilizers, and bioplastics.”

  • Green Seal –  Green Seal certification is a 30+ year old internationally recognized “process that ensures that a product or service meets rigorous performance, health, and environmental criteria. It allows manufacturers & providers to substantiate their environmental claims and helps purchasers identify products that are proven safer for human health and the environment.”

  • Epeat –  Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a global ecolabel for the IT sector created by the US EPA. EPEAT “helps purchasers, manufacturers, resellers, and others buy and sell environmentally preferable electronic products.  EPEAT-registered products must meet environmental performance criteria that address: materials selection, supply chain greenhouse gas emissions reduction, design for circularity and product longevity, energy conservation, end-of-life management and corporate performance.”

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified – Independent, third-party auditor whose seal indicates that a “product or ingredient was produced using methods that support the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Farmers are evaluated in all three areas before awarding or renewing certification. Standards include best practices for protecting forests, providing robust strategies for assessing and addressing child labor, forced labor, poor working conditions, low wages, gender inequality, and the violation of Indigenous land rights and improving sustainable livelihood opportunities through which their certification has proven to bring measurable financial benefits.”

  • Cradle to Cradle – Cradle to Cradle Certification is “a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy. To receive certification, products are assessed for environmental and social performance across five critical sustainability categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness. A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. The standard encourages continuous improvement over time by awarding certification on the basis of ascending levels of achievement and requiring certification renewal every two years.” 

Detox Your Christmas Decor

Detox Your Christmas Decor

*Disclosure: I only recommend products I use and love. All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, may allow me to earn a small commission.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. This year is going to be different in many ways with us missing out on seeing extended family and our annual traditions of going to the Nutcracker and get-togethers with friends so I really want to get my place looking merry and bright but there are a TON of chemicals lurking inside holiday decorations.

This year’s task – make my home feel ready for the holidays without the harm!

CGMe Christmas Lights
Oh what fun it is to…decorate with lead-free lights

Even after OVERLOAD, I had no idea the amount of toxins I was eagerly putting all over my house until I started prepping for babe’s first Christmas last year. From artificial trees to lights, garland and ornaments, there are flame retardants, lead, mercury, bromine and arsenic found in MAJORITY of Christmas decor. It was so overwhelming that I went really minimal last year. This year I was not about to be stuck in COVID isolation with a Charlie Brown tree and a festive-less home.

Other sites suggested decorating with pine cones and acorns. I LOVE pine cones and acorns – when I’m on a hike – but I need some pizazz around here for the babe and me and I think I speak for most of us when I say, while we don’t want the exposure to harmful chemmies, it’s going to take a bit more than stringing up some nuts and berries to get in the holiday spirit.

I decided to up my detoxed decor game, find the less toxic alternatives, and share them with you.

TREE:

If you want a live tree

I chose to go with a real tree. And yes, almost all real trees are sprayed with herbicide, pesticides and  dye. There are some organic tree farms but they are not near where I live. Check this somewhat dated list to see if there is one close to you. You can also hit up someone’s land and chop one down but I strongly suggest getting permission first (also pls check for nests before taking someone’s home) Because an artificial tree is out of the question for me (read why below) I called several growers in the area and found one that last sprayed herbicide and pesticides on their crop in July. Long enough for me that it felt like I wasn’t having a tree freshly coated in chemicals coming into my home.

Want to cut down a tree? Use this site to find a farm close to you!

MY FAVORITE STAND – Not specifically cleaner and greener related BUT I have to share the Krinner Christmas tree stand labeled the “world’s easiest to use” and I have to agree. I managed to position and lock in a 7 feet tree solo and in under a minute thanks to this beast of a stand. Made in Germany, holds 1-2.5 gallons of water and has a 3 year warranty, the $70-100 price tag is actually completely worth it given the time (and intense tree-placement-caused frustration) it has saved me.

If you prefer an artificial tree 

I have an artificial tree I used for the many years I was a cat mom. I definitely don’t want to throw it away (you may be able to recycle the base or some pieces but the actual branches are a blend of plastics and chems that make it virtually impossible to recycle in most places). Donating it is another possibility. Artificial trees (except literally ONE option below) are coated in flame retardants and are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which can contain phthalates and release lead dust into the air. Brominated flame retardants and PVC are both endocrine disruptors. I definitely don’t these in my home or around my babe who would inevitably be touching the tree (and then putting those hands into her mouth). Breathing in the living room is obviously just as unavoidable.

If you MUST go this route because of allergies, convenience, or budget – either buying one at a big box store or utilizing one you already have in storage – wear gloves or wash your hands after setting up the tree, try your best to keep kids away from it and, if possible, set up a HEPA filter in the same room.

VINTER 2020 Artificial plant, indoor/outdoor/christmas tree green, 82 ¾ "One safe alternative are IKEA trees! They are made with polyethylene and polypropylene (two MUCH safer plastics!) They come in 4 sizes – 83” ($99) can be viewed here. The 81” ($59) here. The 67” ($29) here. And 59” ($19) here or here for Amazon where it’s $65 but can be delivered for those of us a road trip away from the land of Swedish retail goodness.

Every other polyethylene tree on the market still has PVC and flame retardants but you can find better options than most artificial tree brands if you look hard. I have found these Balsam Hill trees, which are still made with the flame retardant antimony trioxide (which, while not brominated, is labeled a carcinogen) and they do contain some amount of PVC but they contain more PE than PVC by a longshot.

(Note: these trees are WAY less expensive on the Balsam Hill website instead of Amazon but ONLY the “Most Realistic” are PE and PVC blends)

I have not been able to find ONE artificial tree without some amount of PVC or flame retardant other than IKEA. Please share in the comments if you have and I will DELIGHTEDLY add them to this post!

LIGHTS:

Want Christmas lights that don’t contain lead? Want safer electronics in general? (It’s often the PVC insulation over the wiring in MANY electronics that cause the exposure since they can contain lead and phthalates) Your best bet is to look for ROHS compliance. Thanks to the European Union for creating this certification to protect their consumers, the amount of toxic chemicals in products with this label are incredibly minimal, if any at all.

I was so thankful to find the following ROHS certified lights affordable and right on Amazon. I used a 300-light strand on this year’s 7-foot tree and it’s perfect. These lights also feature 8 effect settings so it’s nice to add a twinkle or a flash. When we decide to have an impromptu isolation dance party, our tree can participate.

White lights  200 lights for $18.99, 300 lights for $21.99 and 400 lights for $25.99

Color lights  – 200 lights for $18, available in multi, blue, pink, and bright white

CANDLES:

The warm glow of candles is divine year round and they especially make a home feel more cozy around the holidays.  It’s no secret I am not a fan of synthetic fragrances so I buy unscented candles (soy or beeswax preferred because paraffin wax is like having your own tiny petroleum factory smoke stack inside your home) and then I add essential oil to the candle. I let the candle burn for a couple minutes then put a few drops of 1-3 individual oils or pre-made blends into the melted wax to make the house smell delicious. Best part is that I can change the scent each time I burn the candle.

I have also mulled spices in a large pot on the stove. Pop in some cloves and/or cinnamon sticks with fresh orange or lemon slices.

ORNAMENTS:

This is an an area where I am going to take some pressure off myself about being fully non-toxic and just do my best if my initial ornament crafting plan isn’t a success.

  • Our current first step this year is arriving this week. I bought plain solid wood ornaments and we are going to paint them with our IKEA and Kid Made Modern paints. I may add some Mod Podge to finish them off with a non-toxic shine. It’s not food safe, so it’s not suggested for anything that would go in a toddlers mouth, but vintage ornaments and soft plastics aren’t either so I am striking a balance.
  • If I do buy plastic ornaments after my potential crafting fail, I will be looking for those described as “shatterproof” or will look for polyethylene or polypropylene versions. I will reuse them until I die, trust me.
  • If you do have old, nostalgic ornaments you want to use, then put them up! I would suggest to not have kiddos and babes touch the old ornaments which had even less regulation than our current lackluster protections but I think we established earlier in this post – touch the tree, wash your hands.

IMG_8473UPDATE: Die-cut wood ornaments arrived and crafting was a hit. Babe helped, Christmas tunes filled the air and it was a VERY merry time creating these colorful additions for our tree. No plastic ornament purchases necessary!

DECORATIONS:

It’s really unfortunate that there aren’t too many alternatives to those bright plastic garlands, tinsel and bows. But in case you need some evidence of why it’s better to buy cleaner and greener options, here are some of the results from the study on holiday decorations done by HealthyStuff.org:

Why these chems matter –

Bromine, lead, mercury, antimony, chlorine and arsenic are devastating to the body, especially for children and women of child-bearing years. Their negatives include impacts on brain development, cognitive abilities and thyroid function and increased risk of preterm birth among many other things. Endocrine disruption impacts the neurological system, thyroid function and reproductive organs of men, women and children indiscriminately. If it’s “just a small amount here and there” you say, think about ALL of the combined exposures — all the lights, all the garlands, the tree (not to mention the flame retardants often doused on the drapes, the carpet, the couch – I’m REALLY fun at parties, I swear) Limiting what you can, when you can, will add up so when you can’t avoid it, you don’t need to be overly paranoid.

I have found a lot of natural wood decor options (like these untreated pine cones – which do NOT spark joy for me, but might for you). While I don’t want toxins in the home, I personally want something with some color and POP on the tree and around the house. What I did this year was buy the following and I think it’s jazzed the place up to look much more like it did in my pre-OVERLOAD days.

IMG_7148Wool garland to brighten up the tree. You can buy loose wool balls and create your own (more cost effective) or buy them pre-strung like I did!

There is also this incredibly affordable nontoxic PET plastic garland!

Felt Christmas Tree – I got my daughter one of these, which comes with 3 dozen ornaments, and she focuses on playing with it a lot more than she does our big, real tree.

Stickers – Look for paper (versus vinyl) stickers to add to decorations around the house. We got this cheap and cute little kit.

Tree TrimmingsLive trimmings and natural pine cones and/or lights mixed in – wherever you can buy a live tree they generally have scraps they will give you for free. These are great to place around the house.

Sure, Christmas is a lot different around here than before I learned about the toxins in everyday products and even more so now that there is a little one who likes to touch (and taste) everything. Hopefully, a few of these items might help make your decorating a little easier. May you have a stress-free, enjoyable holiday season filled with love and lots of (non-toxic) sparkle!

What is body burden and why should you care?

Many of us are aware of the multitude of contaminants in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat but I don’t think majority of people realize that a major way we are exposed to and intake toxins is through the products we bring into our homes and put on our bodies. They don’t just stay on the outside. As we spread or lather them on or spray them on ourselves and where we live, through our skin and lungs, they go IN our bodies as well.

These toxins you carry around are called your body burden.

Why does body burden matter? The individual toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis – vast majority with little to no regulation on their production or use – have been linked to an increase in cancers, reproductive and neurological disorders and female and male fertility (to name a few) and that’s not even taking into account the toxic soup our bodies become via the combination of exposures we have in a single day.

In OVERLOAD, I show some tools I use to minimize what I carry around with me. Follow Cleaner Greener Me on this site as well as our IG and FB accounts to see simple ways you can buy, eat and live with greater awareness that can affect your body burden.

By being mindful of what you are using and purchasing, you can make a lasting impact on your health and the health of the planet and future generations.

10 Ways To Minimize Your Overload

10 REAL Ways to Minimize Your OVERLOAD post

With so many routes of exposure, even simple changes in your everyday life can minimize your body burden. What’s important to remember – because ANY change can be hard – is that you can do this over time. You don’t have to dump out all of your cleaners and products right this minute. Use what you have and, as you run out, slowly replace them with new, less toxic versions. It’s about progress, not perfection when it comes to living a cleaner, greener life.  If you choose any of these actions 80% of the time, you will make a BIG dent in your exposure.

Here are my top 10 ways I keep my exposure to a lot of unnecessary chemicals as low as possible.

  1. Use less toxic personal care products.
  2. Use less toxic household cleaners.
  3. Buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen. An annual list of top pesticide-use offenders created by EWG since 2004.
    • 2020 Dirty Dozen
        • Strawberries
        • Spinach
        • Kale
        • Nectarines
        • Apples
        • Grapes
        • Peaches
        • Cherries
        • Pears
        • Tomatoes
        • Celery
        • Potatoes
    • 2020 Clean 15 – You don’t have to buy every food organic!  There’s also an annual list called the Clean 15 which are the conventional fruits and veggies with the lowest amounts of pesticide residue. That’s how I keep my food bills lower and can feel good about what I serve my babe.
        • Avocado
        • Sweet Corn
        • Pineapple
        • Onion
        • Papaya
        • Sweet Peas Frozen
        • Eggplant
        • Asparagus
        • Cauliflower
        • Cantaloupes
        • Broccoli
        • Mushrooms
        • Cabbage
        • Honeydew Melon
        • Kiwi
  4. Eliminate bottled water & minimize single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are bad for the environment in general. Hard stop (aka, enough reason to stop drinking the stuff now). While studies are ongoing to see what chemicals are getting in our water from the plastic bottles they sit in for who knows how long, in who knows what temperatures. And, if you need another reason, bottled water is also 3000 x more expensive than tap water.
    • Grab a reusable water bottle instead. Utilize FREE tap water because it’s what a lot of that bottled water you pay for actually is anyway!
  5. Avoid/replace nonstick cookware. Even if it says it is made without PFOS or PFAS, replacement chemicals are being treated as equally problematic by the EPA.
    • Use silicone baking molds, glass and ceramic dishes for baking and stainless or ceramic pots and pans.
  6. Minimizing/avoiding artificial fragrance. Thanks to trade secret rules at the FDA, though a company has to disclose what ingredients are in their products, if it is a proprietary “fragrance” then those specific ingredients don’t have to be listed. Dozens, if not hundreds, of chemicals can hide under the generic word “fragrance” in one product ingredient list.
    • Try a cleaner fragrance line like Michelle Pheiffer’s Henry Rose or search Sephora’s clean fragrance lines made without phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde.
    • Use essential oils instead!
  7. Avoid receipt paper/BPA lined cans. So they took the BPA out of sippy cups because consumers made a stink about that exposure route, but unknowingly 9 out of 10 thermal receipts we touch are coated in BPA that goes from our fingertips into our bloodstream.
    • Just say no to receipts or ask your big box store to switch over to BPA-free receipts. They exist – Trader Joe’s uses BPA-free receipt paper so why can’t everyone?
  8. Avoid styrofoam and putting hot food into plastic containers. Not only is styrofoam largely not recyclable, but when hot food is put into it and into plastic containers, it leaches into your food. Same goes for reheating – place it on a plate or in a glass container for the cleanest option.
  9. Exercise and/or sauna 2-3 times per week. Sweating out the toxins you are exposed to is a big help to moving them out of your body. I love a good sauna sweat sesh 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week.
  10. Eat phytonutrients and take supplements that enable your body’s natural detoxification abilities. Think about the colors of the foods you eat – try to get as much green, blue and purple in there to help your body’s chelation (conversion of metals and chems into an excretable form) with their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Ask your physician or health care advisor about supplements you can take to increase the efficiency of your body’s natural detoxification pathways.

Welcome

Soozie Surrounded by Chemicals

Before I filmed OVERLOAD: America’s Toxic Love Story I think I was like most consumers, believing that if something was on store shelves, it had been tested and regulated as safe for human and environmental health, that some government entity or the brands themselves were watching out for us. When I learned that the average American is exposed to hundreds of hormone-mimicking toxins in our daily lives through products we use and food we eat and that there is actually little – if any – protection for us, I felt angry.

I went down the Google rabbit hole and that’s when I, as a 33-year-old wanting to be a mama one day, learned the fact that sprung me into action and into the journey that led me to where I am today — babies in the United States are born with over 200 synthetic chemicals in their bodies. They are born contaminated with plastics, pesticides and flame retardants off-loaded from their mothers right into what we have always considered this pristine, fresh start of life. Shocked, and already facing potential fertility issues, I was compelled to see if I could impact my health and my exposure to everyday chemicals, so one day I could impact what my future child would be exposed to as well.

I learned it IS possible to hit a proverbial reset button by buying smarter, eating a cleaner diet and being my own advocate. Not only did I hugely impact my body burden and continued exposure to toxins, but I also went from virtually infertile with minimal eggs to pregnant during post production on the film. Does it piss me off that I have to be some sort of chemist when I go to the store, that I need to be on the defense when shopping for myself and my family? Absolutely. But knowing what I know now, what I continue to learn, and the amount of people who ask me daily what orgs I follow, what shopping apps I use, what I eat, what makeup I buy and how I clean my home, I realized that I needed to continue the conversation after my film was done.

OVERLOAD is something I want to inspire you, NOT something I want to have you taking notes while watching! In my opinion, there can only be so much information retained after seeing a documentary like mine. I created this site to be a toolkit and resource, a place to continue the conversation. It’s a space where I share the products I use, shortcuts I have figured out and a connection to the info and orgs that help me live a cleaner and greener life.

I will continue to build this site to share more information including tips, videos, and buying guides of my favorite products – products I actually use and love. It’s not that hard to avoid a lot of exposures once you know easy ways to do it and the right products to use. What started as a desire to see if I could carry less toxins in my body has become my way of life and I look forward to sharing it with you!