Healthy Planet

Do Cranberries Really Work for UTIs? What the Science Says

Cranberries for UTI
Perhaps one of the most widely held, popular beliefs is that cranberry juice can help prevent recurrent UTIs or get rid of them.  A UTI itself can severely impact multiple parts of the urinary system – the bladder, kidney, and urethra. While UTIs are possible in men, women are more than 30 times more likely to experience them, with 55-60% of women having experienced one in their lifetime. They also account for close to 25% of all bacterial infections seen in women clinically.  Women’s urethras are more susceptible to bacteria entering the urinary tract, compared to men's. – if you experience pelvic pain, groin pain, urgent or frequent urination, or burning when you urinate, you should consult a healthcare professional for diagnosis of a possible UTI.  Given the prominence of antibiotic resistance to Escherichia coli, implementing alternate strategies to reduce this exposure to antibiotics is essential to protecting yourself from antibiotic overuse.  The majority of UTIs are caused by this bacterium, and this bacterium is becoming increasingly resistant to commonly prescribed UTI antibiotics like Bactrim and Cipro.  Aside from conventional wisdom towards prevention (increasing hydration with water throughout the day and gentle cleaning), cranberries often have the potential to alleviate symptoms or help prevent recurrence – but they must be in the form of an extract, not just the juice. Most store-shelf cranberry juices are also loaded with added sugars and won’t offer any sort of health benefit.  Recurring UTIs, while less common, are still a huge problem for a number of women and are often caused by the same pathogen. Do cranberries really work for UTIs? We’ll take a closer look at what the science says.  Cranberry Extract for Uncomplicated UTIs - What the Science Says Cranberry extracts contain a compound known as ‘proanthocyanin or “tannin.” This reduces the adherence of E. coli within the urinary tract and the colonization of the bacteria.  Studies show that extracts can help to prevent recurrent UTIs, but that cranberry juice is of little benefit. This is mainly due to the fact that there are not enough of the A-type proanthocyanins present in grocery store cranberry juice for it to be effective enough to stop bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder or urinary tract.  One scientific review from 2013 found that cranberry extracts were found to be protective against recurrent UTIs, in a PAC (proanthocyanin) dose-dependent manner.  You’ll typically want to look for 240 mg - 500 mg of cranberry extract per capsule, which contains ~15% PACs; 36 mg of PAC minimum in each capsule. Most brands won’t explicitly list the PAC content, so keep an eye out for the total mg of cranberry used per capsule.  Taking a supplement like D-Mannose in conjunction with cranberry extract can help ensure faster elimination of bacteria, and shows greater efficacy at preventing bacteria from adhering.  Given that cranberry extracts and unpasteurized cranberry juice products (with no added sugar) have no reported side effects and are of no harm, they offer a solution that is worth trying for any woman experiencing recurring UTIs.

Marshmallow Root – A Potent Digestive Aid for Better Gut Health

Marshmallow Root
A cursory Google search will prompt plenty of results associating marshmallow root with better digestive health, and “healing” the integrity of the gut for better health. But how exactly does it do this, and does it really work? First, let us touch on what marshmallow root is – before we approach it as a potent digestive aid for better gut health.  Marshmallow root is “Althaea Officinalis,” a perennial herb that is most commonly native to Europe, West Africa, and West Asia.  As an ancient ‘folk remedy,’ with widespread use across Middle Eastern countries, it has been consumed for thousands of years for relief of digestive and respiratory ailments.  Most commonly, it is consumed in capsule, powdered, or tea form – occasionally, you will see alcohol or glycerin-based tinctures. Marshmallow root is also typically added to many ‘natural’ cosmetics and personal care items.  How Marshmallow Root Protects the Lining of the Gut and can Help Restore Optimal Digestive Health In one study from 2011, an extract of marshmallow root was shown to help protect against gastric ulcers, platelet aggregation (clotting), and digestive inflammation. The extract also raised HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) while having no adverse impact on the liver or other health markers.  When ingested, marshmallow root tends to bulk up, and form a gel-like consistency. This extract can help coat the stomach lining.  Both marshmallow root and marshmallow tea – and by extension, supplements that are sold as “marshmallow extract” act as “mucilage.” This means that it sort of swells up when it comes into contact with water, and functions as a kind of fiber.  Naturally, marshmallow root will contain various bioactive compounds, all of which seem to contribute toward beneficiary effects on digestive health: flavonoids, polyphenols, polysaccharides, and phenolic acids.  Various studies proclaim an immediate effect by protecting “inflamed mucosa” or intestinal membrane. This is also seen in the respiratory tract.  Marshmallow Root Dosage and Safety Profile Marshmallow root seems to have a high safety profile, and no negative side effects have been reported in people taking the supplement for colds, flu, cough, sore throat, respiratory issues, digestive issues, or IBD. Generally, the only concern is for those who may have diabetes, as it has been demonstrated to lower blood sugar levels. Otherwise, marshmallow root does not appear to impact any other health markers negatively.  Marshmallow root comes in powders, capsules, tinctures, and tea forms. If you are taking marshmallow root specifically for digestive distress/disorders, your best option is to go for a capsule, alcohol-based tincture, or raw powder/tea. With tinctures, you’ll get the most concentrated dose, and with capsules, you’ll have the most possible control over the among you’re taking compared to teas or powders.  Always stick to the recommended dosage as outlined on the product/bottle itself. The concentration may differ between brands, but the guideline for those with Crohn’s / UC or IBD is around ~6g daily, split into 2-3 daily doses.  If you’re using a powdered form or raw tea, you’ll want to ensure you consume enough water as it can form a more gelatinous substance. As always, you should consult with a healthcare professional prior to use if you have any sort of pre-existing medical condition. We’d also advise taking it a couple of hours before or after other medications.

Gluten-Free Vegan Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Gluten-Free Vegan Pumpkin Pie Recipe
This gluten-free vegan pumpkin pie recipe is super simple, and only requires a small handful of ingredients, including those required for the crust. The recipe calls for canned pumpkin puree, BBN's coconut cream and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Flour. If you aren't alleric to tree nuts and want a nuttier flavor, we also recommend using the Benefits by Nature Extra-Fine Almond Flour as another GF alternative.  You can also add Agar powder to the recipe to help with the final texture of the filling.  The Bob’s Red Mill flour isn’t as chalky or mealy tasting as many other gluten-free baking mixes and is primarily made from sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, and xanthan gum.  Utilizing canned pumpkin puree makes this recipe a lot more straightforward than if you were preparing it from scratch with a whole pumpkin – the end result will also taste just as good! The canned coconut cream from Benefits by Nature is the secret weapon to silky smooth pie filling, providing a distinct richness and consistency, without overpowering coconut-flavor. Coconut cream is ideal, but you can also use a full-fat coconut milk instead. This is the perfect pumpkin pie recipe for Thanksgiving and fall, with a flaky crust and creamy filling that only requires a total baking time of around ~1 hour.  Vegan & GF Pumpkin Pie Serving: 10 Slices Storage: Will keep for ~4-5 days in the refrigerator Ingredients: Pumpkin Filling 1/4 tsp sea salt 1 tbsp melted coconut oil  2 ½ tbsp cornstarch  1 ¾ tsp ‘spice mix:’ nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut cream 1/4 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup maple syrup 2 ¾ cups canned pumpkin puree 1 tsp agar powder* (optional – will function similarly to a sort of vegan gelatin made from seaweed, and can help with the final texture of the filling).  Crust 6 tbsp cold water 1/4 tsp sea salt 6 tbsp cold vegan butter or margarine flax egg (1 tbs ground flaxseeds + 3 tbs water — set aside in separate bowl to thicken)  1 ¼ cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour  Baking Instructions: Prepare the crust first. Make the flax egg. Combine flax and water together in a small, separate bowl. Stir them, and set aside for 10 minutes, until it begins to thicken.  Add the Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour and salt to a large enough mixing bowl, and whisk them to properly combine. Add thicken flax eff mixture. Stir until the dough begins to come together.  Slice or drop in the cold vegan butter (or margarine) and work it in gently with a fork – you don’t need to be aggressive here.  Next, slowly add the ice-cold water (not all at once), while using a wooden spoon or utensil to stir. Add as much as you need to help it form together.  Once you get a crumbly texture with the mixture (not flat), transfer it over to a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper. Work the dough gently with your hands to form a 1/2-inch-thick Wrap it up firmly, and refrigerate it for a maximum of 2 days, or a minimum of ~1 hour. Once the dough has been chilled in the fridge, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. We now need to prepare the pie filling. Add all of the pie mix ingredients to a blending or in a bowl for a hand blender, and blend until it is fully smooth. You can always taste and adjust if needed. Set this aside for now.  Roll out the crust. Unwrap the disc and place it between two layers of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, gently roll it to the shape of the pie pan you’ll be using (~9-inch). Transfer the crust by removing the first sheet of parchment paper and lay the pie dish over the top of the dough and use the bottom of the wax paper to flip it over quickly and invert it.  Once you’ve done this, you can slowly and gently use your hands to form it to the inner edges of the pie dish. Work it up along the sides and edges of the dish.  Pour the filling that has been blending into the pie dish and bake in the oven for ~1 hour. You can keep an eye on things, as it may take 5 or 10 minutes longer.  The crust should be a very light golden brown and appear flaky – while the pie filling should have some cracks in the top but appear with a bit of a jiggle. Remove it from the oven and let it cool for an hour before transferring it to the fridge. In the fridge, let it sit for 4-5 hours, or ideally overnight.  Slice and serve!

What are Collagen Peptides and are they the same as Gelatin?

Collagen
What is Collagen? Collagen and collagen peptides are often used interchangeably but may not necessarily mean the same thing. Liquid collagen, on the other hand, is often in the processed form of collagen peptides – just in a liquid format. Read on as we explore the differences between the various Types (I, II, III) of collagen, the different forms (liquid collagen, collagen peptides, and gelatin), and what they actually offer consumers in terms of health benefits.  First, what exactly is collagen?  ‘Collagen’ in the broadest sense of the term, is the long-chain amino acids that are found in our tissues, skin, joints, and bones. They are the most abundant protein in the body.  At the same time, they cannot be obtained directly through diet unless supplemented. Instead, our body naturally produces collagen out of pre-cursors: these are things like vitamin C and amino acids, which can increase collagen production in the body. However, as we age, the production naturally declines and this is why we see the ‘results’ of aging both internally and physically. These include fine lines, wrinkles, joint pain and inflammation, and arthritis.  In traditional, unhydrolyzed full-length form, collagen is not effective as a supplement, as the long chain is difficult to break down by the stomach during digestion. This needs to be further broken down and processed, so we can utilize it optimally in the forms of supplements – this is where we hear the terms “collagen peptides” and “hydrolyzed collagen” from, as these are processed forms of collagen that are easily absorbed and utilized by the body.  What about ‘Gelatin’ – Is it the Same as Collagen Peptides? What about gelatin? Gelatin is a form of collagen that has undergone ‘partial hydrolysis,’ which gives it that ‘gel-like consistency. These partially hydrolyzed chains in gelatin cause the gelling due to the water content – this is why it is often used as a thickening agent for soups and other recipes.  ‘Bone Broth’ is similar to ‘gelatin’ in this sense and is essentially the same thing. Bone broth, like gelatin, is made by slowly cooking bones and connective tissue in water – and the gelatin dissolves into the bone broth. The actual ‘benefits’ of bone broth, which are compared to that of collagen, are actually from the gelatin content of the bone broth. Bone broth does not have the same beneficial properties that collagen peptides do.  Liquid Collagen and Collagen Peptides: How to Choose the Best Option So, clearly, collagen peptides are what we want to be supplementing with. But what exactly are ‘peptides’ and how is this collagen produced?  Collagen peptides, also known as “hydrolyzed collagen” or “collagen hydrolysate” is a form of collagen that has simply been broken down first so it is useable by our bodies. The process of hydrolysis (where water molecules disrupt the bonds in an enzymatic process) breaks down the collagen into smaller chains of protein – these are what we know as “collagen peptides.” Almost all commercially available collagen will thus be hydrolyzed to be processed and for consumers to be able to dissolve it in water. At the same time, any “liquid collagen” you purchased is already hydrolyzed by nature of it being dissolved in water in a pre-manufactured product. The questions are then – are collagen peptides actually useful and do they have health benefits?  The literature and studies clearly tell us that yes, collagen peptides, when supplemented, do offer and confer numerous health benefits when used for a prolonged period of time.  Collagen supplementation is noted to help improve skin elasticity, and hydration of the skin, reduce wrinkles and fine lines, help with joint pain and inflammation from arthritis, improve bone loss in those with osteoporosis, and improve the health of nails, hair, and teeth.

Creatine: A Guide to the Popular Pre-Workout Supplement

Creatine Supplement
What Is Creatine? Creatine itself is naturally formed (made) in the kidneys and liver from bodily processes involving amino acids – glycine, arginine, and methionine.  Creatine is primarily consumed through the meat (red meat, poultry, fish) or individually as a dietary supplement.  It helps fuel high endurance or intensity exercise or workouts.  When ATP is used up (during these activities), it is converted into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). Creatine helps increase the overall amount of cellular phosphocreatine (this is what creatine exists in cells as) and this, in turn, helps speed up the process of recycling ADP back into ATP.  Creatine transfers a high-energy phosphate from creatine phosphate to ADP to essentially regenerate ATP. This means more energy and strength for workouts. Creatine not only appears to benefit strength during intense exercise or resistance training (helping to contribute to increased lean mass gain) but also appears to be of benefit for mental fatigue and cognitive function.  This may be especially true for those who are vegan or vegetarian and intake less through dietary means, given that these prerequisite amino acids are found in high concentrations in meat and seafood.  Creatine is one of the most clinically studied, safe, and peer-reviewed supplements available. There are well over five-hundred publications (according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine) regarding the various aspects of creatine supplementation, including its efficacy, safety, and tolerance of it.  Many people consider creatine to be a “natural anabolic,” which might be a tad confusing for some people, as creatine doesn’t have anything to do with anabolic steroids directly. Even Allmax Nutrition themselves proclaim creatine to be the most trusted natural anabolic.  What exactly does this all mean? Let us touch on anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are essentially a ‘synthetic’ version of androgenic hormones – most commonly testosterone, and are sometimes used with resistance training for the sole purpose of enhancing the speed of muscle mass gain and strength gain.  This increase comes from testosterone entering the muscle cells, binding with the “intracellular androgen receptor,” and increasing the expression of particular genes. This leads to increased ATP (adenosine triphosphate production).  Creatine, as a supplement, can increase the capacity of ATP as well as energy produced during resistance or strength training, and as such is often compared to synthetic hormones as a ‘natural anabolic.’  Therefore, we can say that creatine functions physiologically in a similar way to steroids (and can help performance in the same way), they are not the same in the way they do this, nor are they categorized in the same way because of this.  Anabolic steroids have a different chemical structure than creatine and are blatantly considered prescription drugs as regulated by the FDA.  So, while many companies or bodybuilders may refer to creatine as a “natural anabolic” – they might not be exactly correct, but they also aren’t explicitly lying.  Creatine and Hair Loss  A quick cursory search around the internet for creatine will probably garner hundreds of results of men worried about creatine causing baldness, hair loss, or accelerating male pattern baldness.  Is any of this true? Is there any validity to these second-hand stories? Creatine itself absolutely does not directly lead to hair loss. The science is clear on that, so we should establish that immediately.  Most men aren’t going to want to make the choice between being ripped and having a nice head of hair.  The primary connection between creatine, hair loss, and concern online – all really just comes down to a single fairly small study of Rugby players who were found to have increased conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone).  This potentially shows that creatine may cause an elevation in a hormone (DHT) that can speed up the process of hair loss, but only in men predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness genetically.  The study does not explicitly link the two. In addition, the people in the study were taking quite a large serving size of 25g per day, compared to the recommended 5g. The size of the study is quite small as well, profiling only 20 volunteers.  What is the connection of DHT to balding? In men, DHT can bind to potentially susceptible androgen receptors in hair follicles and cause them to ‘shrink.’  Any anecdotal stories of men online may be men taking larger amounts of creatine long-term, who are at the same time genetically predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness.  Usually, these men also claim to recover any signs of thinning hair after stopping the creatine supplem ...

Goji Berries: A True Superfruit and Anti-Oxidant Powerhouse

Goji Berries
We all know some of the most nutritious, antioxidant-packed (super)foods are berries – from blueberries to mulberries – and everything in between. How does the goji berry or “wolfberry fruit” stack up against its humble competitors? Is Goji a true superfruit and anti-oxidant powerhouse as purported? Goji has been an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, and a popular superfood for fighting free radical damage, aging, and markers of disease. Typically, goji berries are eaten raw and dried, but can also be used in a powdered form for smoothies, bowls, and shakes. Nutritional Content of Goji Berries Before even getting into the polyphenol and antioxidant content of goji berries, the nutritional content alone is quite impressive. ¼ cup provides (depending on dried or powder form, and how they’ve been processed) approximately: 70 Calories 12g of Sugar 9g of Protein 6g of Fiber 150% DV Vitamin A 84% DV Copper 75% DV Selenium 27% DV Vitamin C 21% DV Potassium 15% DV Zinc 42% DV Iron Goji berries are also extremely rich in “phenolic acids,” “polysaccharides,” and “flavonoids” – biologically active compounds with beneficial health properties. These compounds are responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to goji berries. Various studies and literature denote the many health-promoting properties of goji berries, such as those documented and compiled here. Vision Support, Macular Degeneration, and Eye Health Goji contains many ‘carotenoids’ – the natural pigments that give fruits bright orange and red colors, such as carrots (and goji berries). This is why you have probably heard the old adage that carrots are great for vision health. They are extremely high in Vitamin A, and this is due to the beta-carotene content. In particular, goji is high in the carotenoid “zeaxanthin” which is sometimes sold as an individual natural supplement for vision support. Research shows this compound protects the retina and improves retinal function. Further, human and animal studies looking at goji berry extract (not just zeaxanthin) found that goji was protective and restorative in the early stages of retina and macular degeneration. Cardiovascular Protection, Lipid and Cholesterol-Lowering Support Studies demonstrate goji berry extract as having a notable reduction in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared to non-goji berry treated animals with elevated blood pressure and hyperlipidemia. Meanwhile, “good” cholesterol levels, HDL, were unaffected or increased with the dosage of goji berry extract. Aside from the high antioxidant levels of goji, they have also demonstrated the ability to lower blood lipid levels effectively in diabetic animal studies. Abnormal fat oxidization and accumulation in the blood vessels were inhibited in animals fed a high-fat diet after administration of goji extract. Goji appears to also be beneficial for diabetes from other studies, which point to its ability to lower blood glucose levels significantly and impact the rate of glucose uptake. Anticancer Benefits and Neuroprotective Benefits Not only are goji berries beneficial for heart health, cholesterol levels, and lipids – but they also have potent benefits in the fight against neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s and even in protecting against cancer cell growth. Goji has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for many decades specifically to prevent the progression and early onset of cancer – the whole goji berry seems to have a better preventative effect than just extracts of specific compounds alone (those most commonly sold as supplements). The polysaccharides which are present in goji (polysaccharides are also extremely beneficial parts of what make medicinal mushrooms great) have the ability to inhibit and prevent tumor growth without negative side effects. Neurological brain health is an extremely important area of study, and the benefit of goji has been shown to reduce glutamate excitotoxicity, which is implicated in neurogenerative diseases. Treatment with goji showed a reduction in neurological deficits in stroke models and improved cognitive performance. Goji – Should I Be Adding Them to My Smoothies or Bowls? Similar to many other potent superfruits, goji berry offers a natural, whole-food antioxidant powerhouse that does not require supplementation or medication to confer benefits against cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, cancer, neurological disorders, and vision degeneration. Best of all, goji is easy to incorporate into daily diets in a wide variety of dried forms, powders, and extracts for any need – all available at Healthy Planet Canada.

Eating Gluten-Free at Restaurants

Gluten Free
Most people have a tendency to automatically assume certain food items are gluten-free and thus ‘safe’ for those with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Chicken salad is gluten-free, right? Fries should be safe, shouldn’t they? Where could the gluten be lurking in chicken or a salad? Should you be genuinely concerned about eating out at restaurants? As always, those with severe gluten intolerance, allergies, or Celiac Disease should consult or contact the restaurant prior to dining to ensure they can enjoy their meal with peace of mind, as no one can confirm the absolute safety of environments where other gluten-containing food is being prepared. Those looking to avoid gluten – whether due to allergies or personal health reasons, are entitled to enjoy a meal at a restaurant without having to worry about problematic ingredients in their food making them sick.  Tips & Tricks for Enjoying a Gluten-Free Meal As we mentioned previously, never automatically assume a food or dish prepared in a restaurant is gluten-free. While it may seem ‘obvious’ that things which are not made from wheat or barley are ‘safe’ – this just is not the case.  Restaurants often prepare gluten-containing foods in the same kitchen, using the same utensils. This is in addition to ‘hidden’ ingredients that could be derived from wheat or barley and thus trigger a reaction. Ensure Proper Communication with Staff About Your Dietary Needs This extends far beyond just going gluten-free. If you have any sort of allergies, food preferences, or dietary requirements (such as a strict vegetarian or vegan diet), it is essential you let staff know prior to ordering. As such, they can either advise you on what to avoid (or if it is possible to accommodate you) or ensure the food is prepared isolated from potential problem ingredients. This tip applies to any restaurant you would be dining at. If the server has difficulty understanding your concerns, it is best to ask to speak to a manager, kitchen staff, or a supervisor to adequately address your concerns.  You should never feel guilty or critical for doing this, as it is the staff’s job to accommodate their customers and ensure their safety. Not yours. You should never feel like a burden for advocating for your health or dietary needs. Look for Potential ‘Problem’ Ingredients; Stick to ‘Simple’ Foods Never trust that all the ingredients in a dish are listed on the menu. If you are still unsure of what to order based on menu descriptions (which often will not accurately list all the ingredients), stick to food that is simple and straightforward. Gluten, from wheat or barley-related products, may be hidden in things labeled as “house dressing,” “sauce,” or “marinade.”  Look for dishes with a designated ‘gluten-free’ icon next to them, always ask the waiter or staff prior to ordering, and stick to things that are a ‘safe bet.’ This means things like fries or a fruit salad – are incredibly unlikely to have any sort of gluten due to the preparation process. It is also extremely unlikely that these dishes would have come into contact with wheat or barley and been ‘cross-contaminated.’  “Cross-contamination” is also a huge concern for people with severe allergies – not just to gluten, but to other problematic allergens like shellfish. What Does “Cross Contamination” Mean, and Should I Be Worried? Cross-contamination is not a gluten-specific term. The Department of Health actually qualifies cross-contamination as “the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object, place or [location] to another.” This usually applies to things like raw meat contaminating, say, a salad – which may result in food poisoning due to improper handling techniques. This terminology, however, also extends to gluten and other allergens. Cross-contamination is a risk factor for anyone with a gluten allergy, or intolerance,  especially those with Celiac Disease. While you should have a healthy level of concern over cross-contamination, especially when your safety depends on it, many times it is difficult to know fully how food is prepared – in a facility producing pre-packaged food, or in a restaurant. Studies also offer conflicting information on this. While one study indicated that it is minimal or no gluten transfer between tools like toasters and knives when used for both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods, other studies indicate a major risk to those with Celiac Disease. Despite researchers finding ‘low’ gluten transfer between things like toasters, knives, and pans – there were still concerns over things like using the same cooking water for gluten-free pasta after cooking wheat pasta, and for restaurant appliances like fryers. This is why it is always best to check with restaurant staff to ensure optimal safety d ...

Are Sodas Naturally Gluten-Free?

Gluten Free Soda
Itching for a refreshing root beer to pair perfectly with your burger? Or simply wondering if you can safely enjoy a cream soda or can of coke? Worried about the ‘hidden’ ingredients in things like soda?  Gluten has become recognized much more prominently as a problematic allergen in recent years, but it can still be incredibly difficult to determine what foods and drinks actually contain gluten in them – especially for those eating out at restaurants. Anyone can request gluten-free burger buns, and things on the menu like fries are obvious ‘gluten-free’ options, but what about something like root beer? Is root beer truly gluten-free? Yes, generally, most soda and soft drinks are indeed gluten-free. While gluten can seemingly hide in any sort of food product or drink, most sodas are naturally gluten-free as well. The importance lies in checking specific brands – formulations can change from one company to another, and some corporations may use ingredients or natural flavoring that is derived from gluten, or which has come in contact with gluten. This is often referred to as “cross-contamination,” and the reasoning behind why people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance react to things like oats that do not naturally contain any gluten. In this article, we will further explore what soda is most frequently made from (mostly carbonated water and sugar, with flavoring), what gluten actually is, and how to spot potentially problematic ingredients that may contain gluten – whether in a restaurant or a grocery store. Not all soda is created equal.  What Is Soda Actually Made From? Traditionally, most sodas are typically made from carbonated water, sugar (or glucose-fructose), flavoring, and preservatives. Very few soft drinks contain any traces of gluten, and if they do contain wheat or wheat-based ingredients, they would be labeled explicitly as allergens on the bottle or can. While you might not see the gluten-free label plastered on the outside of the can or bottle, most of the major corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co ensure the products are safe for those with Celiac Disease so as not to cut this large demographic out of the market. The concern lies in the “natural and artificial flavoring” and things like “caramel color,” which could potentially be derived from wheat or barley. These additives have caused a lot of stress for people wondering if that can is really safe for them to drink.  More on these problematic additives will help better clear up the fear among consumers looking to avoid gluten – but first, let us actually explain what gluten is and if you need to be avoiding it if you do not have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. What Is Gluten? Should I Avoid It? So, what is gluten, actually? Gluten is used as a very broad and general term for the complex of proteins specifically found in wheat and wheat-related grains. Most people have likely heard the phrase ‘gluten-free’ by now, but many are still blissfully unaware of what gluten is all about. Shall we? As we mentioned, gluten relates to the proteins found in wheat and wheat-related grains, which include everything from durum wheat semolina (often used to make pasta) to rye, barley, farro, farina, spelled, triticale, and emmer.  You do not need to be familiar with all of these varieties of wheat to understand that essentially any grain that is not specifically marked or indicated as ‘gluten-free’ on the packaging has the potential to contain gluten, or be “cross-contaminated” with gluten. For most people, this is not a problem – as we have consumed bread, baked goods, cereals, pasta, and soups containing these grains for over 10,000 years. Part of the issue lies with a lot of modern food production processes. Current wheat crops have been bred to have an especially high gluten content, as this is desirable for leavened bread, the perfect consistency of pasta, and that ‘rise’ we get in dough and baked goods. However, a higher gluten content means more of the problematic proteins in wheat that can cause people allergies and intolerance – just as people have digestive upset from milk and cheese due to the ‘casein’ protein found in dairy. This means that current wheat crops may be more inflammatory and allergenic than those in the past. For those without Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, gluten does not need to be avoided. “Celiac Disease” is an autoimmune disorder that results in the body attacking itself upon consumption of wheat or gluten-containing grains.  As a result, gluten damages the intestines by immune cells in the body attacking it. Damage to the small intestine can result in “intestinal permeability,” which can lead to a whole host of health issues including vitamin deficiencies, i ...

Shea Butter: Synonymous with Hydration and Won’t Clog Your Pores

Shea Butter Benefits
One of the most commonly used ingredients in ‘natural’ moisturizing skin care products, shea butter, is a force to be reckoned with. Beyond being a natural, non-comedogenic moisturizer, it also boosts a high vitamin E content, fatty acids, vitamin A, and allantoin, and has benefits for those with fine lines, wrinkles, or skin conditions like acne or eczema. For those with dry, flaky skin – opting to try out pure shea butter as a soothing morning or night application and skin calmer is a no-brainer. Those with tree nut allergies tend to still tolerate shea butter without a reaction, as it doesn’t appear to contain any appreciable quantity of the problematic tree-nut proteins that can trigger allergies or anaphylactic response. Allergic reactions or adverse skin reactions to shea butter are exceptionally rare. The Production Process of Shea Butter Shea butter is not refined in the traditional sense, and the production process is quite simple. Extracted from the shea nut tree’s oily kernels within the seed, once the kernel is removed, they are ground and boiled to extract the fatty portion – the ‘butter,’ which becomes solidified. Most shea butter, regardless of organic certification, is sourced from West Africa.   The Many Therapeutic Skincare Applications of Shea Butter Shea butter can always be used on its own or incorporated with other ingredients as a combination moisturizer. Given how dense and solid shea butter is at room temperature, it is usually best incorporated with other body oils for an easier application process. The high amount of natural (and healthy) fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, and palmitic, combined with natural phenols and vitamin E content make it an ideal cosmetic product for soothing irritation or dry skin – the composition of fatty acids also makes shea butter mildly anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Shea butter’s natural anti-inflammatory properties make it not only suitable as a moisturizer for dry, irritated skin, but also for sunburns, wrinkles, fine lines, aging, scarring, acne, plumping the skin, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and puffiness. Shea’s properties, including concentrations of linoleic acid, are specifically beneficial in treating inflammation and irritated skin without being pore-clogging or leading to overproduction of oil. Picking and Storing Shea Butter Shea butter should always be stored out of direct sunlight – and it usually lasts about 2 years from the date it was produced. Even after exposure to heat, it will re-solidify back at room temperature.   Refined or unrefined, which works best? Almost all of the shea butter you’ll find at Healthy Planet Canada is unrefined, meaning it is not extracted using any solvents or formulated with preservatives, or bleached. Some people prefer refined because they dislike the smell of natural shea butter’s nuttiness and the consistency may be smoother, but unrefined shea butter allows you to experience all the natural benefits of shea butter with its full range of antioxidants and compounds without any worry of what was used in the production process. Unrefined shea butter has more of a light beige or yellow color, and is much more ‘earthy.’ If you need some skincare help in the form of an all-natural, moisturizing powerhouse that protects against aging, skin conditions, and inflammation, look no further than shea butter. 

Safe Sunscreen: Avoiding Harmful Ingredients

Sunscreen
Sunscreen is increasingly important in the warmer and brighter months – but the frequent use of sunscreen could be contributing to vitamin D deficiency. Additionally, sunscreen (at least conventional sunscreen) can often contain harmful ingredients which are penetrating the skin on a daily basis given how sunscreen is applied and absorbed into the skin (often during excruciatingly hot days). Many of the common-place ingredients used in conventional sunscreen, like “oxybenzone,” for example, are well known and documented endocrine and hormone disruptors. Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreens and Sunblock Products It is always best to opt for a sunscreen that contains primarily ‘mineral-based ingredients – oils, fatty acids, and plant-based extractives are generally totally fine as well. All of these ingredients – those harmful (and those that are benign), are absorbed into the skin after one application, so it is extremely important to only pick a natural sunscreen that is safe (i.e., paraben and - benzene free). Oxybenzone may also be labeled as ‘benzophenone-3 and is the most concerning active ingredient in sunscreen products. Studies have found that young boys exposed to higher levels of oxybenzone had dramatically lower total and free testosterone levels, and an increased risk of endometriosis in girls. Other notable ingredients to avoid are: Octinoxate – UV filter that offers protection from UVB rays, and is linked to reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Also, may be labeled as “octyl-methoxycinnamate.”   Homosalate – Linked to hormone disruption, and enhances the penetration of other harmful ingredients into the skin. This product is found to persist and is not broken down easily. Avobenzone – Systematically absorbed into the body after a single use and persists in the blood weeks after use, like oxybenzone. Known as a hormonal and endocrine disruptor with reproductive toxicity. Octocrylene – is often contaminated with known carcinogens, and has “endocrine-disrupting potential” in higher concentrations. It easily absorbs through the skin at several times the level the FDA labels as ‘systemic exposure to the chemical. Safer Alternatives You’ll notice the sunscreens available on Healthy Planet Canada are often zinc or titanium oxide based (i.e., mineral-based) and these are often much safer options, especially for younger children. Zinc Oxide is a natural UV absorber and often gives these natural sunscreens their distinct ‘white’ paste color. It is often more effective as a natural sunscreen than titanium dioxide, as it provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB ray protection compared to titanium dioxide, which is primarily effective against UVB rays. Choosing the Right Sunscreen by Reading Labels Always opt for a sunscreen that is explicitly advertised as a ‘mineral’ or ‘natural’ sunscreen – these often guarantee that the active ingredients will be paraben and oxybenzone-free while being zinc or titanium-based. In terms of ‘base’ or inactive ingredients, always ensure there’s nothing un-needed in there: things like emollients (oils and fatty acids) are fine, as well as things like beeswax, vitamin E, or botanical extracts. These are all perfectly safe to be applied topically, and also help retain moisture and protection of the skin itself. SPF numbering may throw some people off, in that they automatically assume more is better and needed, but this isn’t really the case. The increase from, say, SPF15 to SPF30 isn’t that dramatic and is mostly unwarranted unless you will be outside for a much longer or more prolonged period of time. SPF15 blocks ~93% of UVB rays, while SPF30 blocks around 97% of UVB rays. However, SPF50 only blocks 98% -- not much more than SPF30. SPF is also a measure of protection against UVB rays only, which is why it is important to look for products that specify “broad spectrum” protection specifically, which means protection against UVB and UVA rays. UVA light is the kind of rays associated with premature aging and wrinkles – exposure to UVB light is shorter, and associated with sunburn and damage to the skin common in those staying outdoors for long periods of time in the summer without proper protection. However, protection against both is important, especially for those that care about their skin.