It was wonderful to interview Lauren of EmpoweredSustenance.com who is a rising star in the blogging world and an incredibly smart researcher.
Lauren and I talk about several topics that we are both passionate about, including the problems with canola oil, the benefits of gelatin and the importance of balancing hormones.
In This Episode with Lauren Geertsen, We Cover:
- Why canola oil is so dangerous and how we are both working to spread the word. (Read my full explanation here and check out Lauren’s campaign to get Whole Foods to remove it from pre-made foods)
- What foods are a “freak of nature” in both good and bad ways
- Why gelatin is an amazing superfood and how to consume enough
- Lauren’s own journey with debilitating autoimmune disease and how she overcame it
- Natural beauty care options and why it is important to avoid many conventional beauty products
- The unexpected factors that contribute to hormone balance
- How you can “Quit PMS“
- Lauren’s simple step for better health
- The advice she wishes she had gotten about health
- Her favorite health resources
- Why to avoid vegetable oil and margarine (Wellness Mama)
- The health benefits of near infrared saunas (Lauren)
- Natural hair care ideas (Lauren)
- Balance hormones with gelatin (Lauren)
- 12 uses for Gelatin (Wellness Mama)
- Solving The Paleo Equation by Matt Stone & Dr. Garrett Smith
Katie: Hi, this is Katie from wellnessmama.com. Welcome to Episode 4 of the “Wellness Mama” podcast, where I provide simple answers for healthier families. Today’s interesting fact is that, while blondes may or may not have more fun, they definitely have more hair. Hair color helps determine how dense the hair on your head is, and natural blondes top the list. There are about 100,000 hair follicles on the average head, and each follicle produces about 20 individual hairs during the person’s lifetime. Blondes average 146,000 follicles, where people with black hair tend to have about 110,000. Brown hair are right on target with about 100,000 follicles, and redheads have the least dense hair, averaging about 86,000 follicles.
Today’s guest has actually written quite a bit about natural hair care and has become the expert in natural and holistic hair and body care as part of her journey towards recovery. Lauren writes at empoweredsustenance.com. She’s a quickly rising voice in the blogging community as she writes about her recovery from ulcerative colitis, her own healing regimen, and all of the great natural tips and lessons she’s learned along the way. Welcome, Lauren. Thank you so much for taking your time to be here.
Lauren: Thank you for having me, Katie.
Katie: Awesome. To start, would you tell us a little bit about your own health journey and how you’ve gotten to where you are today? Was there a lightning bolt moment at some point that got you to where you are, or has it been a slow journey over many years?
Lauren: Yeah. Well, it definitely took years, but there was a specific lightning bolt at one point. It started when I was 14, and I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is an autoimmune disease, and it’s really not a pleasant disease. You know, it’s very painful, and during a flare-up I would be running to the bathroom like 30-plus times a day. And when I was first diagnosed, I started with the conventional medical route, which is trying different medications and seeing if any work, and in my case none of them really worked, and the other thing was these horrible side effects that really kind of took over my life.
And, finally, after my first semester at college, a couple of years ago, things got so bad that my doctors wanted to do a surgery that would remove my colon, and I kind of like my colon inside my body, so that’s when I realized I needed to find a different answer, because Western medicine was not gonna help me. And all through this time, I had been trying different things, like herbs, and I tried a gluten-free diet, a dairy-free diet, but it wasn’t enough. So the lightning bolt was when I decided to dedicate myself to a natural approach, and I returned home and learned about the GAPS diet, which is a grain-free healing protocol. And so I started GAPS along with doing things like acupuncture and stress management, and within a week of that I was symptom-free without any medications. So it was really miraculous, because nobody had told me that would be possible for my case.
Katie: That’s awesome. That’s so wonderful to hear your own story. I’m guessing that’s gonna be probably the biggest health struggle that you’ve had to overcome so far. But what do you think were the factors that really factored in there besides obviously just diet? Were there other things that you think helped as well?
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, diet was the biggest one, but, for me, it was also addressing my own personality. I think I was a very driven perfectionistic kind of person, and that really compounded my stress levels all through high school and leading up to my diagnosis. So now I call myself a recovering perfectionist, because I know that my health is not gonna go hand in hand with me being, you know, super driven and perfectionistic.
Katie: Yeah, I think I’m right there with you. We could find sort of a support group for perfectionists.
Katie: So, obviously, there are probably a lot of factors. I have an autoimmune disease also, and I know there are a lot of factors that went into probably creating that disease for me. In fact, I’ve heard a doctor explain that there are a lot of triggers that can cause that. His example was if you think of a bathtub, a lot of things can go into a bathtub to fill it up, but no matter what went into it, once it reaches a certain level, it’s gonna overflow. And that’s kinda how it is with inflammation and autoimmune disease, and, unfortunately, I think we have a lot of these factors that are happening too much all at one time to bombard a lot of our bodies, and this especially worries me for the future generation. I have five children and just trying to protect them from all these outside factors. I would love to get your take on what do you think is the biggest health struggle that the next generation’s gonna have to face.
Lauren: That’s a great question, and I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be infertility, and we’re already seeing infertility rates really skyrocket. And I’m sure you’ve heard about “Pottenger’s Cats” and this was a study done by Dr. Pottenger in the 1930s, and Dr. Pottenger actually helped champion some of the dietary discoveries of Dr. Price, Dr. Weston Price. So Dr. Pottenger found that cats fed in nutrient and enzyme-deficient diet became infertile after three generations, and I’m not saying that people are cats, but his findings are very applicable to human fertility, because we are already seeing the same thing. We’re in the 3rd generation right now of a very nutrient-deficient diet, and infertility is skyrocketing.
The other thing is, as infertility rates increase, we’re having IVF treatments become very mainstream, and we have the statistics that show how artificial conception methods actually drastically increase birth defects. And the main reason is because the egg and/or the sperm may not be healthy enough to conceive because of DNA damage, but you’re forcing that conception anyway. And the woman’s body may also have nutrient deficiencies, so it’s a protective measure that conception isn’t happening naturally. But the good news is that infertility responds very well to dietary changes and alternative medicine, in particular Chinese medicine. So, by using nutrition, you’re also preparing the body to maintain a healthy pregnancy with adequate nutritional stores. So I’m really passionate about spreading that message that nutrition is the best way to reverse infertility, because it’s gonna be a really big part of the health challenges for our future generations.
Katie: Yeah, I definitely agree with you on that. In fact, one food that I would say probably does a lot to harm fertility as well as a lot of other reactions in the body is canola oil, and I know we’ve both written about this on our blogs, and it’s something I’m very outspoken about and that you’re also very outspoken about. So I would love if you could tell us some more about the problems with canola oil and what should we use instead? What would be a better alternative?
Lauren: Yeah, I love talking about canola oil, and the main problem with it is that it’s not a food. I call it a freak of nature, you know. You can’t squeeze canola seeds, which are actually great seeds, but that’s not a pleasant name, so it’s called canola, and get a bottle of canola oil. The processing is very complicated and uses a lot of chemicals. So, first, the seeds are pressed to extract the oil, and then they’re washed in chemical solvents, which help strip the protein matter of the seed away from that residual oil that is still left in the seed. So then the oil is washed with lye, and, as a matter of fact, one of the byproducts of canola oil is soap-making materials because of the lye used in the processing.
And after that it’s deodorized and bleached, because it doesn’t smell or taste good. And after all this processing, it completely damages the integrity of the oil, and it actually turns much of the omega-3 content, which is often applauded by people saying, “Oh, canola oil is so high in omega-3, so it’s healthy.” But actually this processing turns the omega-3 into trans fatty acids. And another big problem is that canola oil is primarily polyunsaturated fat. This means that there are double bonds between the hydrogen molecules and the fatty acids. And double bonds break easily with heat, and that makes the oil go rancid. So rancid oil means free radicals, and we don’t wanna be putting free radicals into our body, because they’re basically cell damagers.
So as for the question, what should we use instead, I like to go back to, you know, the old-fashioned basic fats that don’t require processing, so those are things like coconut oil. You know, you can crack a coconut, take the meat out, squeeze the meat, and you have coconut oil. You can milk a cow, and you get butter. You can take the butter, and heat it, and separate the milk solids, and you get ghee. So things that don’t require all this processing and things that are primarily saturated fat, so it’s gonna be heat-stable, those are the healthiest options to use.
Katie: Definitely I agree with that. I love how you call it a freak of nature as far as how bad it is, and I think actually one thing we probably would call a freak of nature in a positive sense, almost like a superhero food, on the other end of the spectrum would be gelatin. And I know we’ve both done GAPS, so we’re very familiar with gelatin and all of its forms. And I think we’ve both seen its benefits firsthand, but for a lot of listeners, this may be a new thing, and they may not be familiar with gelatin or how to use it. So can you give us a primer on what is gelatin, and why is it so important, and then also how do we use it?
Lauren: Yes, I love gelatin. It definitely is a superfood. The most important thing about gelatin is that it has a very unique profile of amino acids, so it’s very non-inflammatory and offers protein, and the amino acids are helpful for the repair and rebuilding processes of the body. It’s also really great for digestion, which is why things like bone broth is emphasized on the GAPS diet, because the amino acids are very soothing and protective for the GI tract. So what happens when we eat muscle meats, like a big steak or a chicken breast, is the amino acids go into our bloodstream, and the body can react with stress hormones. And that’s because the amino acid profile resembles what happens when we haven’t eaten for a long time, and we start breaking down our own muscle tissue for energy. So it’s really helpful to eat some gelatin with muscle meats, because that helps balance the amino acids going into our bloodstream so it doesn’t just look like we’re breaking down our muscle tissue, and that in itself prevents our stress hormones from spiking. So a great source of gelatin, like I said, is homemade bone broth, which I like to drink with my meals.
I also recommend Great Lakes Gelatin, which is a great source, because it’s made from grass-fed cows, and the red can of their gelatin gels. I’m often asked, “What’s the difference between the red can and the green can?” So the red can gels, and that’s what you would use to make Jell-O or to thicken…like, I use it to thicken gravy, so that’s great. But the green can is awesome, because it’s processed in a way that it will dissolve in either hot or cold liquid and it won’t gel, so it’s a super easy way to add a spoonful of protein to your coffee or your smoothie, and you’ll get all those beneficial amino acids. And it really doesn’t taste, it doesn’t have much flavor, so I even will add it to water sometimes and just take it down.
Katie: That’s awesome. Yes, thank you, Lauren. I add it to both coffee and tea also. And I’m wondering, how much gelatin do you try to work in every day? How much do you consume if you had to guess on an average?
Lauren: I would say probably 2 or 3 tablespoons. I’ve heard that up to 6 tablespoons a day is helpful. That’s what Dr. Ray Peat says, he’s a nutrition scientist, but that’s a lot of gelatin, and it’s kind of pricey. So I try to get in a couple glasses of my homemade bone broth and then take a spoonful of the green can of gelatin in the morning and then a spoonful before I go to bed.
Katie: Yeah, that’s awesome, and I love that. When you just make bone broth, it’s a very cost-effective way to get that into your diet, and, obviously, you can add that to a lot of foods also. And so I think that’s an easy step for a lot of people that are just beginning to do that. So that’s awesome. Thank you for sharing. And now to switch gears a little bit, another topic of yours that I love. I know that you have found a lot of natural beauty care options and hair care options as part of your own health journey with trying to avoid toxins and chemicals in the things you put on your body. So can you talk about why you started to try to find these alternatives and how you found them?
Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. The main reason I made the switch to natural beauty products was because I realized just how much toxins we absorb when we use conventional products. I think the figure is like 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into our bloodstream. And, you know, conventional products are just filled with junk, and kind of the key to me was learning how most of the chemicals in the products are specific hormone disruptors. And I was already dealing with hormone imbalances, so anything that was gonna exacerbate that I wanted to avoid. And, really, as I got into natural beauty, I just loved it. You know, it’s really fun to go play around with essential oils and beeswax, and I was saving money, so it was kind of a win all around.
Katie: Yeah, definitely, me, too. I had the same experience. Did you have any major fails while you were trying to make homemade beauty products? Were there any that just did not work at all?
Lauren: I think the worst thing that happened was I made lip balm one time, and, you know, it has a beeswax base. And I was going to handwash the pot that I made it in, but my mom was filling the dishwasher, and she put the pot in the dishwasher. And it clogged up our dishwasher, and we had to buy a new one. So that was probably the most expensive beauty product fail I’ve ever done.
Katie: Oh, no, wow. Yeah, that’s a big one, for sure. What about on the opposite end of that spectrum? What’s your favorite beauty product that you’ve ever made?
Lauren: Well, I love using just pure raw honey as a facial cleanser, and it’s not really a recipe, it’s super simple. All you do is you just take a little bit of raw honey, like 1/2 teaspoon, and you massage it over your face when it’s dry, and then you rinse it off. And it cleans really well without stripping the skin and without drying it, so it’s perfect for sensitive skin. It’s also great if you have acne-prone skin, because raw honey is naturally anti-microbial. So I do this every morning. If you use it at night, you wanna make sure you’re not wearing makeup, or if you’re wearing makeup, use a makeup remover first, because it won’t take off makeup, but it’s great for the morning.
Katie: Yeah, definitely. I’ve tried that one, too. I’ll definitely make sure I put a link to your post about that in the show notes for anyone who’s interested in trying it. And I have to ask, because I ask a lot of people this, with all these, I know we make our own shampoos, and our own deodorants, and all these things, what’s the most crunchy thing you’ve ever tried?
Lauren: Well, in regards to, like, personal care, I don’t know if it would be something I made, but it would probably be switching to a menstrual cup, which was kind of scary for me at first, because it’s a foreign concept, but it is actually so amazing. It doesn’t leak. You can use it for any activity, and you’re not absorbing toxins from tampons, which are actually quite toxic with the pesticides used on the cotton, with dioxins that are used in processing. So it’s a much safer and healthier option.
Katie: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s something I’ve also recently come on board with, and it’s a little bit of a mental shift at first, you’re right, but it saves money and avoids chemicals in the long run. So all of this we’ve talked about so many different things, and a question I get a lot, and probably that I’m guessing you might also, is if someone is just starting, all of this information can seem so overwhelming. So I’ll actually, like, give people a practical idea of what it actually looks like on a normal life. So can you kinda give us a rundown of your typical day or how you incorporate all these things into normal life?
Lauren: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that my life is normal or that this would be part of a normal life, because, you know, my level of illness was pretty chronic, so I definitely had to make some big changes in how I live to accommodate that. So one thing was switching to online college courses, like we were talking before the interview. Now, I’m healthy enough that I think I’ll be able to transfer back to campus in the fall, but for these past two years, I’ve been working at home with my blog and then doing these online college courses so I can really dedicate myself to getting better. So I would say the most important thing I do is prepare 100% of my food at home, and I cook a lot of really nutrient-dense foods, like bone broth, and organ meats, and soups, and cooked leafy greens.
And then another important thing that’s part of my lifestyle now is making sure I keep my blood sugar stable. So I do that by eating a little bit of protein and fat every two hours on the dot, and I use a glucose monitor regularly to make sure that my blood sugars stay stable. And some other things that I do on a daily basis to support my health, one is oil pulling and also some slow, relaxing yoga, and both of these things are very detoxifying. And another thing I recently incorporated is a near infrared sauna, and this has so many benefits for improving all aspects of health from gut health, to metabolism, to hormone health, to muscle recovery. And I just put up a post about this on my blog if your listeners are interested.
Katie: Yeah, I read that post actually. Some really fascinating information, because I know we’ve known about far infrared saunas for a while, and they’ve become pretty popular actually in a lot of health circles, but I think it is an important distinction. So I’ll put a link to that in the show notes also if anyone’s interested in understanding what the difference is and why you would use one. And then another thing that you talk a lot about and that I’m a major fan of your work on is dealing with hormone health, and you’ve written a book called “Quit PMS,” which is an awesome title by the way. I know you’ve done a lot of research in this area of hormone health and healing. So can you tell us what you found in your own experience and research when it comes to hormone health, and what are some changes people can make that will make a difference and kinda move the needle for their own hormone health?
Lauren: Yeah, I love the topic of hormone balance, because it has been so important for me in my own health journey. I used to have really debilitating periods where I would be in bed for a couple days out of the month, and really, for a whole week, I would be unable to function as usual. And what I found was, when I started the GAPS diet and when I started my natural lifestyle, things improved remarkably, and I felt like a whole new person. So hormone health is a very big topic, because our hormones regulate all aspects of our health, and there are so many hormones. But I have three tips to share with your listeners about hormone balance that will really help them no matter what challenges they’re facing with their hormones.
The first is exercise. Exercise can be really detrimental to hormone balance. Cardio spikes stress hormones, which strains the adrenals, and it reduces our ability to synthesize adequate sex hormones. So when it comes to exercise and hormone balance, the rule is as little as necessary, not as much as possible, and that’s from one of my favorite books called “The Paleo Equation” by Matt Stone and Dr. Garrett Smith. It’s a great way to remember the world when it comes to exercise and hormones. So slow walks in nature are very helpful and have been shown to reduce stress hormones. Another thing which you’ve discussed on your blog is resistance training, which won’t wreak havoc on hormones when it’s done properly.
And, secondly, it’s absolutely vital to avoid soy when you have hormone imbalance. We can end up eating a ton of soy even if we’re not chowing down on tofu, because soy is present in many processed foods, like cereal, protein shakes, protein bars, and it’s also added in the form of emulsifiers and things like soy lecithin, which is found in everything from, you know, salad dressing to soup mixes. Soy has numerous aspects that disrupt hormones in both men and women, and it particularly screws up thyroid function, which is a key if you’re trying to regulate the other hormones in your body.
And, finally, I recommend switching to a standing desk if you work at a desk job. This is a really simple change, but it can have profound impact on your hormones. So when we sit all day, it cuts off our circulation and prevents proper lymphatic flow, and the lymphatic system removes toxins from our bodies. So we need to be detoxing regularly if we want to balance our hormones, and our bodies are just not designed to work optimally if we sit all the time. So standing up engages in more muscles and improves posture, and that in turn will get circulation going, it gets lymph fluid flowing, and it will help your hormones in the long run.
Katie: Those are awesome tips. Yeah, I would definitely encourage others to take heart of those tips and also to read more on your blog, because I know you talk a great deal about that. I can’t believe we’re already getting close to the end here, but I have three questions I always ask at the end of an interview. And the first one is, my audience is largely moms and families, and what advice would you give to someone that you wish you had been given earlier in life or especially things that a mom might implement earlier in life with a child that would make a big difference?
Lauren: That’s a great question. And the one thing I recommend for an easy practical step is taking breakfast cereals out of the house. It’s funny, because I think cereal addiction is a very real thing. And when you start the day off with an old-fashioned breakfast, like eggs and bacon, you’re setting yourself up for better blood sugar through the day, and that’s going to reduce sugar cravings and also help you sleep better at night.
Katie: Awesome, and this kinda ties in with that, but what is one really actionable step? If you had to start somewhere, where would you start? What action or step can someone take right now?
Lauren: Oh, I think I answered that question with the cereal. I got that mixed up. Yes, I would recommend taking out the cereal, and then keeping blood sugar stable is really important to minimizing cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. So that would be eating protein like a hard boiled egg as a snack or, you know, some raw milk cheddar cheese as a snack.
Katie: Definitely awesome. And then, obviously, besides your incredible blog, what is the best health resource you found that you would wanna share with others?
Lauren: Well, I am a diehard fan of Chris Kresser. He is a health researcher. He has these seven awesome free e-books that you can get when you sign up for his newsletter, and I find myself referencing them all the time, so I love his work.
Katie: Me, too. Yeah, he’s a wonderful guy and definitely wonderful with his research. He is very detailed. So it’s been awesome to chat. I hate that we’re almost out of time, but please tell everyone where we can find you and read more of your work.
Lauren: Yeah, I blog at empoweredsustenance.com, and I’m also on Facebook at facebook.com/empoweredsustenance. And, lastly, I really love Pinterest, so I spend a lot of time there, and my Pinterest username is empoweredfood.
Katie: Awesome. I’ll link to those in the show notes as well, and I’d encourage everyone to go find you and to follow your blog, because you are always coming out with such great information. And thank you to everyone listening for listening to another episode of the “Wellness Mama” podcast, where we have simple answers for healthier families. If you can take a second and hit Subscribe so you don’t miss any future episodes, and I’d also be honored if you love this episode if you would leave a review in iTunes so that others can find us as well. So thanks for listening, and until next time, have a healthy week.
If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes to help others find this podcast and if you haven’t already, subscribe to get future podcast episodes. Tune in next time as I talk to Genevieve of MamaNatural.com about natural parenting and pregnancy. The episode after that, I’ll be talking to Heather of Mommypotamus.com about tongue ties, eating dirt and natural beauty products.
Have a healthy week!