Friday, March 15, 2013

Elevated Eats - The Simple Truth About Processed Food

I want to introduce you to my friend & fellow blogger, Lisa, of  Lisa is certified as a Nutrition Educator and is based in San Francisco, where she also offers cooking classes.  I consider her to be a great resource on healthy living - she has this ability to put things into very clear & simple terms.  With her permission today, I wanted to share one of her posts on processed foods/additives.  To read more of her, and to see what she's cooking in HER kitchen these days, please visit her website,

Simple Truths About Processed Food

People generally know that whole foods are good for you and processed foods aren’t but I don’t think most know exactly why processed food is such garbage.  Here are a few of the many undesirable items you’re ingesting when you eat those convenient, attractively packaged items lining the grocery store shelves:
  • Preservatives such as sodium benzoatesodium nitritepotassium sorbate and sulphur dioxide are used to prevent the growth of fungus, mold and bacteria on our food and to ward off oxygen damage.  In our body, however, they can cause toxic, allergic reactions, birth defects, vitamin deficiencies, cancer and brain damage.
  • Sweeteners like fructose are common in a lot of processed foods.  Fructose lowers your sense of fullness causing you to overeat. Apparently, that’s happening on a grand scale since fructose is now the #1 source of calories in the United States.  Overconsumption of fructose leads to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and diseases of the immune system, all of which are on the rise.
  • Chemicals such as aspartame and MSG.  Aspartame has been linked to tumors, cancer, seizures, hallucinations, depression and infertility.  Diet Coke anyone? MSG overexcites our nervous system causing cells to actually excite themselves to death. Brain cells, to be specific.  It also causes obesity, nervous system disorders, hormone fluctuations and liver inflammation. Think you’re not eating MSG?  If you consume products with malted barley, brown rice syrup, yeast extract or hydrolyzed vegetable protein you might be.
  • Stabilizers like carageenan and guar gum give foods like ice cream, nut milks, soups and protein drinks a better texture and “mouthfeel.”  They also increase inflammation.  Carageenan does this by depressing the activity of the immune cells that remove debris and pathogens while simultaneously producing compounds that trigger inflammation as part of our immune response.  Guar gum is derived legumes and contains lectins, protein molecules that are resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes making them indigestible for some people.
Did you know that processed foods contain additives that can even be listed as “natural” on a label if the FDA considers them Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS)?  Check out this link to see the list of substances that was evaluated by the FDA.  Do you know what most of these items are?  Chances are that if you don’t recognize them your body won’t either.  If the FDA decides they fall into the GRAS category, you won’t ever see these ingredients listed individually, they’ll be hiding on the label as artificial flavor, artificial coloring, natural flavor or natural color.   This is extremely problematic and outright dangerous for people with food allergies and sensitivities who can unknowingly end up eating substances that will make them very ill.
Foods that are ultra-processed can be manipulated in a number of ways:  pasteurized, sterilized, bleached, deodorized, refined, stripped, mechanically separated – the list goes on and on.  In addition to the many substances added during this processing, food loses something as well:  nutrients.  Processing exposes food to high heat, temperature changes, light and water, all of which damage unstable nutrients like Vitamin C.  Vitamin E and some B Vitamins are also unstable and risk loss when exposed to some of these same elements.
Don’t be fooled by the many processed foods that manufactures market as “healthy”, they are anything but.  Take a look at the ingredients inNature Valley Fruit and Nut Trail Mix Bars:  Whole Grain Oats, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Raisins, Almonds, Roasted Peanuts, Sugar, Rice Flour, Chicory Root Extract, Fructose, Cranberries, Canola OilMalodextrin, Vegetable Glycerin, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Barley Malt Extract, Baking Soda, Natural Flavor, Mixed Tocopherols added to retain freshness.
So in addition to those fruits and nuts you’re also consuming MSG, GMO’s, rancid oils, several types of sugar, 4 of the 8 most common foods people are allergic to (gluten, soy, corn and peanuts) and who knows what else.  Yum.  Those of us that buy processed food for the ease and convenience might feel stuck when it comes to finding other options here, especially for snacks.  I’m happy to share a few of them with you:
Make your own snack bars:  throw some soaked dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon, vanilla and salt into your food processor.  Pulse it, press it into a square dish and cut it make bars.  How about grabbing a banana, apple, carrot sticks or some nuts and seeds?  Do you like snacks that are both sweet and salty?  Add a smidge of almond butter to a date along with a sprinkle of coarse salt, it’s dangerously delicious.  Bake some kale chips for a crunchy snack, make hard-boiled eggs for some protein or grab some briny olives.  The options are endless.
If the thought of making real food is overwhelming do it gradually, one thing at a time.   When I say ”real food” I’m referring to whole, unprocessed/minimally processed, hormone and chemical free food that doesn’t need a label or list of ingredients to explain what it is.  Things like oranges, kale, sweet potatoes, grass-fed beef, honey, cilantro, coconut, olive oil, tomatoes.  Real food doesn’t have to be complicated, hard to make or time-consuming.  Keep it simple and it will naturally be delicious.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Officially GREEN

It's official.  I've just become the newest member of the Green REsource Council and was awarded the National Association of Realtor's GREEN Designation!  There are only 35 other Realtors in the entire state of Connecticut who currently hold this special designation.

It only took 18 hours of classes and a bunch of exams, but it's done.  Now I get to use this groovy logo:

Please help me decide how to celebrate by voting in the comments section.
A.  Plant a tree.
B.  Try a new bottle of organic wine
C.  Dinner at Six Main Vegetarian Restaurant in Chester, CT
D.  All of the above! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Solar Estimator/Calculator

I get A LOT of questions about our Solar PV system, and even more since we added a Solar Hot Water System.  The question I keep hearing lately is, "Does it make financial sense or is it just to feel good about clean energy?"  My answer is both.  We're in it for the long term, looking at the big picture. We have no plans to move and we're looking to reduce our costs of living as we get older. Our house will be paid off in 9 years, our electricity bill is at a set price for the next 12 years then drops significantly after that, and in 7 years we break even with our solar hot water system.  All of that just at the right time because we'll have two children in college. 

The cost of our 40 photovolatic panel system back in 2010 was high.  Thank goodness for all the grants and the CT Clean Energy Fund - we wouldn't have been able to afford the system without them - in fact, we did it with almost zero upfront out of pocket expenses!  The monthly electric cost for our 5 BR house (with 2 working kitchens) is now a flat fee of $131 to the CT Solar Lease program and $16 to our utility company, CT Light & Power.  I think it's fair to say that we generate more energy now that we use and we're sending back more to the grid and earning credits.  Are we making money on the system yet?  No, I don't think so.  Perhaps if we had waited longer for the costs to go down? Possibly.  I have friends who just put in solar panels for about half the cost we did because theirs were done through an innovative program, Solarize CT , which picked their town for the pilot program, and the more people who signed up the better the price for all of them.  Phase I was a huge success and they're moving onto Phase II which includes the CT towns of Canton, Coventry, Bridgeport, Mansfield/Windham.
Our PV array before the addition of the Solar Hot Water System

With our solar hot water system, we have a pretty good prediction of when we break even.  (Our 113 year old house is heated by hot water and the goal is to reduce our oil usage.)  We paid for the 5 panel system up front and redeemed our tax credits afterwards.  One of the tools we used to see if this was a good investment was an online solar estimator/calculator.  While there are several online, one that was recommended to us is  By entering our information it was able to calculate for us that our break-even point on the solar hot water system is 7 years - after that we're just saving money.  (I noticed yesterday that my husband was creating a spreadsheet of our fuel bills - I think he's working on calculating how much less oil we're using - I can't wait to see how it comes out!)  The online solar estimator works for other systems such as PV system, solar pool/spa heating, & wind turbines.  (Tip: Some of the best information that comes up is at the bottom of the page - so be sure to scroll down and read the whole thing!)

The sun is shining today (after a 2-day Nor'Easter storm that left us with 18 inches of snow!) and after this morning's "photovoltaic avalanche" (where all the snow comes crashing off the roof in a dramatic & loud roar) we are cranking out the solar energy & the solar hot water! 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The International GREEN CT Realtor

This past week I've had International real estate on my mind.  I think the trigger was the dental hygienist who cleaned my teeth while we chatted about how she lives in Switzerland 6 months of the year, and the differences between Swiss German and High German.  Seriously, I could have talked to her ALL day.  I almost invited her to lunch afterwards... that wouldn't be weird, would it?

Instead, I worked on a page for my main real estate website, on what I think might be...

A few helpful resources for those considering an International Move...

Prudential Relocation is our company site with links to information like the Department of Motor Vehicles, Education & Tourism.  It offers a menu of all of our relocation services.

Shanghai - photo credit Scott Minnick
Brookfield Global Relocation Services owns our Prudential Relocation Services and has a website devoted to Global Relocation Services with areas such as "knowledge centers" where you can watch free webinars on topics like The Richness of China's Culture or US Inbound International Assignment Challenges.

Another resource, this one aimed towards business & management, is Totally Expat  - "The Forum for Expatriate Management."  This site has current news articles from around the globe on studies of global mobility, updates on work permit laws, immigration news, changes in work-rights, and global business announcements, etc. 

Specific to 31 cities around the world, Expat Info Desk is a collection of advice & helpful links to each of the cities, and sells a relocation guide to each of them. As I haven't purchased a guide, I can't talk to the quality of their guides, but reading their tips for the various cities was interesting and I did learn a thing or two.

There's a British blog Expat Explorer with advice from those living & working abroad.  One of my favorite features was their hints page which addresses things like making a successful transition, overcoming culture shock, connecting with people in a new country, etc.  It's the kind of information that is helpful regardless of your reason for relocating.

I also have a favorite blog Lost in Cheeseland written by an American who married a Frenchman and lives in Paris. Lindsey (who also just wrote an article for the New York Times!) writes the most helpful information about Paris, and there was a fabulous post about the process of Becoming a French Expat.  

For those with children, I really liked Expat Child with all kinds of advice & resources for families from preparing for the move and helping them adjust afterwards.  (It's also helpful for general travel with children, which is a big part of my life...we're headed abroad again this summer!)  I particularly enjoy reading the stories & anecdotes as I feel a strong connection to this community.  As a child I experienced 2 International moves, and then studied abroad in college, so if you have questions about how children will do with a big move, I'm happy to share my own personal experiences.  With loads of family & friends living abroad, I also have contacts around the globe to turn to for advice.

If I can be of any help with your real estate needs, Internationally or locally, please don't hesitate to ask.  It's what I do!