Month: August 2013

Why Its Worth Choosing Natural Skincare

Personal care, in particular skincare, is hot topic of our age. As we want to look good, fresh and youthful, thousands of skincare companies promise we will get the desired look if we choose to buy their products. Advertisements bombard us through every possible channel to buy the hot, new products of the season, which will definitely make our skin look glorious. We respond to the powerful marketing campaigns of the personal care industry because we want to be well-groomed and we want to have radiant, beautiful skin.



The US-based Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) non-representative survey showed that, the average consumer uses 9 personal care products in any day. Women are the most keen personal care product users, as 25% of all respondents to the survey claimed to use 15 such products every day. Widely used personal care products include shampoo, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, body lotion, shaving products and make-up, according to the EWG.

Personal care products and harmful chemicals
Most personal and skincare products contain loads of chemicals and synthetic ingredients. The EWG claims that personal care products contain as much as 10,500 different chemicals. Some of these are carcinogens and toxins, which are dangerous to human health. Some of them have as yet unknown impacts on human health.

Governments tend to regulate the personal care industry to a varying degree. For example, the European Union banned 1,372 synthetic ingredients recently. However, other governments do not follow Europe’s lead, due either to extensive lobby power on the part of the personal care industry or due to sheer negligence. This means that in many jurisdictions, harmful chemicals end up in personal care products absolutely legally.

Why does the industry use the harmful chemicals?
First of all, using chemicals is cheap. In light of the volume of personal care products we use every day products must be affordable. Secondly, products must have a long shelf life given how far they must travel to get to the end-consumer. Chemicals ensure that products don’t go off quickly, minimizing potential losses for the industry. Thirdly, chemicals can create attractive colours and scents that we tend to respond well. Fragrance, in particular, is widely used. Our buying decisions massively depend on our senses. We love evocative aromas and a satisfying look & feel. Both of which can be achieved fairly easily by using chemicals.

So, chemicals ensure that our personal care products are affordable, remain ‘fresh’ for a long time and stimulate our senses.  However, all these attractive qualities may come at a price.

What are the harmful effects of chemicals in skincare products?
The known harmful consequences of chemicals in personal care products include some very serious conditions. Certain chemicals used in such products may cause:

–       Premature aging of the skin

–       Skin reactions, allergies, sensitivity, irritation, pore clogging

–       Weakening of the protein and cellular structure

–       Hormone disruption

–       Changing of genetic material

–       Decreasing fertility

–       Birth defects

–       Cancer

–       Defects of the central nervous system

So what should we do to avoid the harmful chemicals in skincare products?
There are an increasing number of personal care and skincare products that avoid synthetic ingredients. These products tend to use natural or organic ingredients. They tend to be scent and fragrance-free and free of colouring. The price may be a bit higher than the average supermarket product and the shelf-life tends to be shorter. However, a truly natural product will be pure, gentle on the skin and will not endanger human health.

Aroma Therapy


If you are keen on going natural, beware that certain companies try to fool the health-conscious buyers by putting ungrounded claims on the packaging of their products. Using the word “natural” on a fancy packaging may not correspond to the contents of any given product. So, it is best to look at the label before you make a purchase.

If you see any of the following on a skincare label, it would be prudent to steer clear of the product:

–       Parabens

–       Phtalates

–       Alcohol, Isopropyl (SD-40)

–       DEA (Diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine) & TEA (triethanolamine)

–       DMDM Hydantion & Urea (Imidazolidinyl)

–       FD&C Color Pigments

–       Fragrances

–       Mineral Oils

–       Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)

–       Propylene Glycol (PG) and Butylene Glycol

–       Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) & Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)

–       Triclosan

If the label suggests any further materials that you might hear about at a chemistry class, do not risk using it. There are perfectly safe, pure and natural alternatives available, which are definitely better for your health and more gentle on your skin.

Our sister-blog, will cover skincare related topics extensively. If you are interested take a look.  Also, share your thoughts on skincare safety in the comments below.

Yoga for Body and Mind

Yoga has gained increasing popularity in recent decades. Something that health-gurus and exercise-fanatics rave about. It is can most readily be associated with harmony, relaxation, wellbeing, strength, flexibility and posture. Its fans claim all sorts of good things that yoga brought into their lives. But what is yoga exactly, what are its benefits and how easy is it to achieve all these benefits? Today’s post seeks to answer these questions and aims to inspire you to hit the mat.

What is yoga exactly?
Yoga is not simply a form of exercise. It is a collection of practices that boost your physical, mental and spiritual health. The exercise components of yoga focuses on core strength, flexibility and posture of your body. In addition, breathing practices are used to enhance your physical wellbeing as well as to contribute to your harmonious state of mind. These two essential components of yoga are called “asanas” and “pranayama”. “Asanas” refer to the various postures yoga uses, while “pranayama” refers to breathing techniques. In addition, meditation also plays an important role. The combination of these three components (asanas, pranayama and meditation) creates the unique wellbeing regime that is called yoga.


Yoga is an ancient art. It was invented approximately 5,000 years ago in India. As one of the main Hindu schools of philosophy, it was elaborated with the aim of finding permanent peace in life. Yoga arrived in the western world in the 19th Century but it only started to become popular in the 1980s. In the last couple of decades different yoga stiles have become widespread around the world. By now, it has millions of dedicated fans globally. Let’s see why…

Why is yoga so popular?
Yoga has many varieties and there are a range of therefore yoga classes, catering to a range of can accommodate anyone with basically any fitness levels. Everyone should be able to do at least basic postures and breathing techniques. With practice, everyone can improve his/her yoga skills compared to their baseline fitness level. Age does not matter, either. With the right instructor and a carefully chosen yoga regime, even older people can benefit from yoga.

Several scientific research studies have found positive findings about yoga. It is suggested that yoga can help keep high blood pressure in check and thereby it can lower the risk of heart attack. Further benefits include boosting fertility, protection from arthritis, combating migraine, improving posture and thereby easing back pain, keeping the spinal disks supple, strengthening bones and preventing osteoporosis. It can also get the blood flowing, increase the ability of the body to fight infections, lower blood sugar levels and LDL (bad cholesterol), while increasing HDL (good cholesterol). This list is far from being comprehensive.  It is intended just to give you a taste of how you can benefit from yoga.


The practice of yoga is also beneficial in terms of improving mental health. It teaches you to breath properly, relax, offering techniques to cope with stressful situations, anxiety, panic attack, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and supports the goals of better sleep better, greater alertness and developing better memory.

It may initially be hard to believe on just how many levels one can improve and develop, thanks to regular yoga classes. As a bottom line, practicing yoga will give you an understanding of the body & mind connection and help you achieve a better balance in your life. Given the stressful, urban lifestyles many of us live today, we can all benefit from it, in one way or another.

Greek Aubergine Lentil Moussaka

On the small, isolated Greek island of Ikaria it is not surprising to meet centenarians.

As The New York Times and The Guardian have reported, the island is one of the five so-called “blue zones” in the world, where the local population outlives the average Westerner by around a decade. Ikaria seems to have found the key to longevity.

The secret of longevity seems to lie in the lifestyle of locals. First of all, their diet is simple and healthy. It contains an abundance of locally grown seasonal vegetables. In particular, they eat wild greens, beans, lentils and potatoes. They refrain from the consumption of refined sugars and they include only moderate amounts of meat in their diet. They daily drink a couple of glasses of locally produced wine, several cups of herbal teas, small amounts of coffee and goat’s milk. Their overall calorie consumption is low. Nonetheless, diet does not give the whole picture. Locals keep themselves busy, maintaining an active lifestyle by working on their farms and in their gardens and by walking reasonable distances each day. They take afternoon naps and in the evenings they meet their friends and neighbours. The community spirit is exceptionally strong on this island and the social life is active. All these factors help the locals to keep good spirits.


Cancer and heart disease are scarce on the island and Ikarians don’t tend to suffer from depression or dementia, either. They not only live long, but they have high quality lives.

In tribute to the long-living Ikarians, I have brought a Greek recipe for you today from Simon Rimmel. Try this vegetarian aubergine and lentil moussaka, with our without the dairy-based topping. The topping makes the dish look more complete. However, I tend to omit it in order to limit our dairy consumption and it is still really delicious without the topping. Consider serving it with some steamed vegetables, e.g. okra, spinach or broccoli to boost your intake of complex vitamins, minerals and fiber.

veggiemoussaka_90770_16x9BBC Food


For the filling:
– 400g/14oz aubergines, sliced into thin rounds
– 50ml/2oz vegetable oil – (try to minimise oil usage and use a good quality olive oil)
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper – (according to taste)
– 1 red onion, finely chopped
– 1 red pepper, finely chopped
– 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
– 50g/2oz tomato purée
– 400g/14oz canned chopped tomatoes, drained – (usage an organic brand, if possible)
– 1 cinnamon stick – (ground cinnamon will do too)
– 100g/3?oz red lentils, cooked according to packet instructions – (if you don’t have red lentils at hand, you may try green lentils)
– 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

For the topping:
– 125g/4?oz ricotta
– 125g/4?oz Greek-style yoghurt
– 3 free-range eggs
– Freshly grated nutmeg – (according to taste)
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper – (according to taste)
– 50g/2oz freshly grated pecorino – (other types of hard grated cheese can be used, too)

Preparation method:
– Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
– Cook the lentils according to packet instructions.
– For the filling, toss the aubergine slices in the vegetable oil, then drain and season with salt and pepper.
– Fry the aubergine slices in batches for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown on both sides. Remove from the pan and set aside to drain on kitchen towels.
– Add the onion, pepper and garlic to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until softened.
– Add the tomato purée, stir to coat the vegetables in it, then continue to fry for a further 4-5 minutes.
– Add the canned chopped tomatoes and cinnamon and simmer for 4-5 minutes.
– Add the cooked lentils and return the fried aubergines to the mixture. Simmer for a further 2-3 minutes, or until warmed through.
– Transfer the mixture to an ovenproof dish and sprinkle over the chopped parsley.
– For the topping, beat together the ricotta, Greek-style yoghurt, eggs and grated nutmeg until well combined in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
– Pour the topping mixture into the ovenproof dish on top of the filling. Sprinkle over the grated cheese.
– Transfer the veggie moussaka to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the topping is golden-brown.
– Serve with steamed vegetables and enjoy!

If you wish to read more about the longevity of Ikarians, read on the articles of The New York Times and The Guardian:

Five Good Reasons to Try a Vegetarian Diet

A vegetarian diet does not mean you’re condemned to eating raw carrots for each and every meal. Far from it! It is actually an extremely diverse diet. It is full of opportunities to try new things and use ingredients and combinations that perhaps you have never considered using while you followed the traditional meat-based diet. The variety is amazing and the taste can be truly fantastic. But before I try to convince you with a few mouth-watering recipes on this blog, I will give you some insights on vegetarianism and a few reasons why it is worth giving it a go. Read on and come with me on a journey of discovery.

Who is a vegetarian?
Vegetarianism is a broad category. Some follow a strictly plant-based diet, omitting everything that has anything to do with animals, while some vegetarians allow dairy and eggs into their diet. The strictly plant-based vegans and the dairy and egg consuming ovo-lacto vegetarians tend to follow completely different diets.

Ovo vegetarianism allows eggs but not dairy while lacto vegetarians allow dairy but not eggs. These are the mid-points of vegetarianism. Other trends include raw veganism, which is even stricter than veganism, allowing only raw or moderately cooked food intake. Fruitarianism allows the consumption of fruits only. Other strict vegetarian diets include the Sattivic diet, Buddhist and Jain vegetarianism.

When I talk about vegetarianism on my blog, I will follow the definition of the British Vegetarian Society. Accordingly, vegetarian is “someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter“.

As I am on a journey of discovery of vegetarianism and veganism, I sometime eat a moderate amount of cheese but tend to omit eggs and other dairy as much as I can. My objective is to embrace veganism in the longer term, but I do it gradually, without stressing myself over some moderate intake of dairy. Come and join me and let’s explore this lifestyle together.


Why is vegetarianism popular?
Most vegetarians can quote many reasons why they decided to go down the route of living on a mostly plant-based diet. The reasons can be fairly diverse. Some would mention health-related reasons while others may quote animal rights or environmental, economic or even spiritual motivations. Let’s examine the most common reasons for becoming a vegetarian.

According to the Vegetarian Times, motives of vegetarians tend to be quite diverse. I have collected several reasons why it is definitely worth giving this diet a go:

1)    Lead a healthier life. Vegetarian diets help in the prevention, treatment or even reversal of heart disease and reduce the risk of cancer. This diet prevents and halts coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension. Cholesterol levels of vegetarians are lower, while their fiber and antioxidant levels are higher than for those following the traditional, meat-based diets.

2)    Control your weight with plants. Traditional Western diets that contain high levels of saturated fat are fattening. Obesity-related illnesses include heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Numerous studies and vegetarian meal plans suggest that overweight people who switch to a vegetarian diet can effectively lose weight and can keep their weight in a healthy range.

3)    Live longer. Several scientific studies suggest that vegetarians can expect longer lifespans than meat-eaters. Notably, one study called the Okinawa Centenarian Study shows that the residents of the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan invariably live the longest lives in the world due to their primarily plant-based, low calorie diet.

4)    Reduce the risk of contamination and save the lives of animals. Meat, poultry, fish and seafood are responsible for more food-borne illnesses and epidemics than plants. If you omit animals from your diet, you not only avoid potential toxic chemical intake, but you can also contribute to the saving of animal lives.

5)    Energize yourself and reduce the symptoms of menopause. If you have good quality nutrition, your energy levels soar. Phytoestrogens mimic the behaviour of estrogen. Including foods in your diet that contain phytoestrogens can maintain a healthier hormonal balance in your system. Soy, apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash and yams are particularly beneficial from this viewpoint.



A healthy vegetarian diet is diverse – it is low in fat and high in fiber. Nonetheless, if you choose to be a vegetarian, you must pay attention to the following, especially at the beginning of your journey:

– Vary your food intake by trying new recipes. There is an abundance of vegetarian recipes on the Internet.

– Consume enough calories to enjoy the full benefit of your new lifestyle.  Remember that a planet-based diet will not be as calorie dense as your previous diet.

– Pay attention to your intake of protein, calcium, vitamin D, iron and vitamin B-12 from plants.

It is not only possible, but relatively easy, to create an eating regime that addresses these considerations. What’s your experience with vegetarianism?  Are you thinking about making the switch?  Or have you already ventured in the plant-based eating world.  Let me know in the comments below.