Super Natural Home by Beth Greer

Every once in a while, I’ll read a book so filled with helpful information that I want to remember every single thing it says. Super Natural Home by Beth Greer is that kind of book.

From the introduction, where I learned that the author had been healed of a 5 cm benign tumor in her chest by changing her diet, to the fact-filled chapters jam-packed with tips and suggestions, to the list of resources in the back, this is a book that gives value on every single page.

I’m already a pretty “green” person. I buy organic foods when they’re available (not often enough or in sufficient variety here in the Heartland), check all personal care products on the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database, and try to use as many natural and organic household products as possible. I recycle and compost. I eschew fragrances and added chemicals. And I eat a mostly raw, vegetarian diet.

Yet I still scored poorly on the “Super Natural Home Quiz” that begins the book. It’s an inventory that asks about everyday exposures to products with harmful ingredients, such as synthetic pajamas and cotton-blend sheets, Tupperware, high fructose corn syrup, and VOCs from carpeting and paint. Even as conscientious as I am, there are lots of things I can improve on. I shudder to think how toxic my house was before I made the changes I’ve already made — back when my kids were still kids.

None of us can go back in time, but we can make changes to affect the present and the future. Super Natural Home is a wonderful compendium of information about how to make small changes — and large ones, too — that can help each of us improve our health and our lives.

Following the Introduction and the quiz, the book is divided into four sections. In Section I, “What Goes in You: How to Eliminate Exposure to Toxic Chemicals in Your Food and Drinking Water, ” I squirmed a bit when I read facts like these (all bullets are quoted directly from the book):

  • [T]he Popcorn Board’s 2008 Agri Chemical Handbook lists 33 insecticides, 38 herbicides, five fumigants, 15 fungicides, and four “miscellaneous” chemicals that are approved for use in nonorganic popcorn.
  • A 2006 USDA test found that 81 percent of potatoes tested still contained pesticides after being washed and peeled, and the potato has one of the highest pesticide contents of 43 fruits and vegetables tested, according to the Environmental Working Group.
  • Artificial colors are made from petroleum as well as coal tar (an extract of coal that the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] says is highly toxic) and are found in things such as fruit drinks, sports drinks, candy, ice cream, ices, pet food, and store-bought cakes and cookies (think blueberry bagels and green St. Patrick’s Day bagels and muffins, too!).
  • There is a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day, according to Sharon P. Fowler, MPH, and colleagues at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio.
  • [I]n 2008, an investigation by the Associated Press showed that America’s tap water, coast to coast, is contaminated with a vast array of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including antibiotics, pain medications, antidepressants, and sex hormones.

Oh, there’s a whole lot more scary information than that. But Greer tempers the lists of cautions with sound advice about what we consumers can do to improve our families’ diets. Here are a few:

  • Wash nonorganic produce well. Try using a product called Veggie Wash. It is 100 percent natural and uses ingredients from corn, coconut, and citrus to remove wax, pesticides, soil, toxins, and fingerprints.
  • Understand the vocabulary. “Conventional” means pesticides were used; “organic” means 95% of the product contains no pesticides; “100% organic” means none of the product contains pesticides.
  • Choose smaller fish, such as herring, sardines, and mackerel, which are less likely to have toxins than large fish such as tuna or swordfish. They also are very rich in omega-3s.
  • [C]heck the PLU (price look-up) number on the stickers of fruits and vegetables. Conventionally grown produce has four numbers; organically grown has five numbers prefaced by the number 9; GMO produce has five numbers prefaced by the number 8. (Example: a conventionally grown Fuji apple is 4131; organic is 94131; GMO is 84131.)

Section II, “What Goes on You: How to Choose Safe Cosmetics and Body Care Products,” provides a wake-up call about all types of things that we put on our faces, our hair, and our bodies. For example, Greer cautions against the nanoparticles that are becoming increasingly common in cosmetics:

Some experts wonder about the risks of these highly engineered nanostructures. There hasn’t been much research into their safety. If you apply them to your skin, do they end up in your brain—or, if you’re pregnant, your unborn fetus? Will they do damage? Will other, less welcome, substances piggyback on them? And what will happen if a number of different nanoparticles, from your face cream, sunscreen, and foundation, join together? We don’t know those answers yet. What we do know is that when you mix two or more chemicals together, sometimes you get a substance more powerful than the sum of the individual parts. In other words, 1 + 1 does not equal 2. It can create a chemical reaction packing a powerful punch.

Here’s another unsettling fact. Until I read Greer’s book, I had no idea that mercury is commonly used in some cosmetics. Mercury! That’s highly toxic. Greer writes, “The federal government currently allows a small amount of mercury as a preservative in eye liner, mascara, skin-whitening creams, and freckle creams. ‘It is known to cause neurological damage in people even in tiny quantities,’ said Senator John Marty, the Democrat from Minnesota who sponsored” a ban against intentionally adding mercury to cosmetics.

Along with solid advice about ways to limit or avoid exposure to toxins in personal care items, Greer provides lists for easy reference, such as these, in Section II:

  • Companies Selling Truly Organic Products
  • Companies Selling Products without Harsh, Artificial Ingredients
  • “Natural” Companies That Sell Products with at Least One Ingredient Deemed Harmful by the EPA
  • Super Soaps
  • Chemicals to Avoid When Purchasing a Sunscreen

She divides Section III, “What Surrounds You: How to Minimize Indoor Air Pollution in Your Home Environment,” by the rooms of a typical house. Each chapter in the section gives more facts and suggestions, such as these:

“The Bedroom: How to Improve One of the Most Important Rooms in Your Home”

  • Despite all we know about the dangers of lead and other toxic chemicals, the U.S. government doesn’t require full testing of chemicals before they are added to toys. So it’s not surprising that lead is found in a significant percentage of toys currently on the market.

“The Living Room, Den, and Home Office: Choosing Safe Flooring, Wall Coverings, and Furniture”

  • If your tables, chairs, desk, and cabinets are made of plywood or particle board, chances are they have been treated with pesticides and constructed with glue that contains formaldehyde.

“The Kitchen, Laundry Room, and Bathroom: Discover Safe Household Cleaners, Cookware, and Dishware”

  • Since only foods and herbs can be certified organic, the word “organic” on the label of a dish or laundry soap doesn’t mean much.

“Super Natural Home away from Home: How to Maintain Your New Lifestyle on the Road, at Work, at School, and at Play”

  • Another great thing to do at school is to use no-waste lunches. This involves a reusable lunch box, waxed paper instead of plastic, recycled aluminum foil, cloth napkins, and a metal water bottle. Make sure you offer organic food, including snacks, in those lunch boxes! One place to buy a reusable, waste-free lunch kit is

“Action Plan: 10 Easy Ways to Have a Super Natural Home”

  • Start from the inside out, beginning with your mind by keeping a positive attitude. Negative thoughts and emotions can be more harmful to our health and wellness than the toxins found in our homes. The good news is that we can produce natural healing chemicals in our bodies by focusing on love, faith, hope, joy, and gratitude. In the worlds of William James, “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Each chapter in the book is loaded with tips, stories, inspiration, and enough facts to arm consumers for battle. And it is a battle, truly. If we passively accept the products that are thrust upon us in the marketplace and wherever we travel, we allow ourselves and our families to be slowly poisoned. Instead, Greer urges all of us to fight back by drastically limiting the number of toxic products we expose ourselves to.

But the book is much more than just dry facts. It’s peppered with interesting and well-written anecdotes from Greer’s own experience. She has faced the same challenges as the rest of us when it comes to greening her lifestyle, and it hasn’t always been easy. I am inspired by her dogged determination to provide her family with the healthiest possible environment while maintaining her humor and her sanity.

Other features of the book that I found helpful and of interest were “3 Ways to Make a Shift,” in which Greer distills tips from her anecdotes; “Unsung Hero” profiles about people who are making a difference to bring better products to the marketplace; recipes for healthy foods and healthy home care products; myths/truths; and a whole lot more.

Because you care about what goes on, into, and around your body and your family’s, I believe you will find this book to be a wealth of practical information that you’ll turn to again and again. I’ve already recommended Super Natural Home to my family members, and I’ll be buying copies for my adult kids. I can’t think of a better gift for young people starting out on their own. (And for not-so-young people, like myself, who might need a reality check.)

Super Natural Home is published by Rodale and available in bookstores for $15.95 US and $17.95 Canada.

The Small Print

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Julia Wasson

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