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The beginning of Spring marks the reawakening of the Earth. As plants begin to grow again and animals come out of hibernation, this is a natural time for new beginnings and a fresh start.
In fact, Spring may be a better time for resolutions than the beginning of the calendar year. For the northern half of the hemisphere, January is in the middle of winter. It is a time when immunity is low, and we are often exhausted after the holidays. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we struggle with health-related New Year’s resolutions.
Starting a new diet or a new exercise regime perhaps just wasn’t meant for the darkest and coldest time of the year. One of the first foods we look to when we want to eat healthier is leafy greens, aka salads. However, in North America, greens are not in season in January, but they are during Spring. Animals coming out of hibernation such as bears will often choose grass as their first food. Not only is it in abundance, but it is also water-rich and will help to cleanse their body after being stagnant all winter.
However, it is not just animals who would choose Spring as a time to cleanse. If we think about how our ancestors lived, we can imagine that early Spring would have been a time when food was very scarce. There are no flowers and certainly no fruit, but there were often leaves. Leafy greens are rich in water and minerals. Bitter greens, in particular, stimulate bile flow, which will help to cleanse the liver. This may be particularly helpful to a body that has consumed and stored extra fat over the winter. An example of bitter greens would be dandelion, which just happens to be one of the first plants to grow in the Spring.
In Canada, however while it is technically Spring, we still often have snow on the ground throughout March and April. Therefore, indigenous people in Canada had to be extra creative during this time. While there may not be greens growing yet, the freezing and thawing of tree sap creates the perfect conditions for maple water. The water that comes from the maple trees during this time of year is full of minerals and electrolytes. Drinking maple water during Spring was a common practice of the native North Americans, as it can nourish and cleanse the body after a long winter.
There are some religions and cultures that even practice fasting or abstaining from food around this time, for instance during Lent in the Christian-based religions. While each culture has its own specific traditions, there are several common themes in Spring: cleansing, abstinence from food and new beginnings.
So, rather than beating ourselves up because we dropped our New Year’s resolutions by February, or we gained a bit of weight over winter, perhaps we should try working with our body’s own natural rhythm instead of against it. This also means working with the ebb and flow of the seasons. When we take care of our body in a way that is in harmony with nature, we can take care of the planet we live on as well. With Earth Day coming up, we may also be thinking about habits we can change to lessen our environmental impact.
Here are 9 healthy habits to start this Spring for us and the planet:
1. Eat with the Seasons
How does a tomato taste in the winter? Bland and grainy. It doesn’t contain very many nutrients, and it has often had to travel a great distance to the grocery store.
Think of a tomato fresh off the vine in mid summer. The difference in taste is night and day, as is the nutrition and environmental impact.
Nature is smart, in that fruits and vegetables tend to be in season when our body needs them. As mentioned, leafy greens are in abundance during Spring, which is a good time for cleansing. Water-rich fruits, such as peaches and berries, are in abundance during summer, when it’s hot and we need simple sugars and lots of liquid.
Then the heartier root vegetables come around just in time for the colder months. These are richer in more complex carbohydrates needed to sustain us through winter. These root vegetables also keep for long time. When a food is in season and in abundance, you will probably see it on sale at grocery stores.
Paying attention to what’s in season doesn’t mean you can’t have a salad in the winter, but by varying your diet based on your environment, you can improve your nutrition, save money, and reduce your impact upon the planet.
2. Buy Local
Eating with the seasons and buying local often go hand-in-hand. This is because it will be easier to find local produce if you start with what’s in season. However, you can take it a step further, by looking for produce grown specifically in your region. This will further reduce the distance your food has to travel, thus reducing the nutrient loss.
The easiest way to buy local is to pay attention to food labels. However, local produce can also be purchased directly from farmers. There are many small farms that sell products directly to the consumer, or you can also visit a farmer’s market.
Buying local doesn’t mean never enjoying a mango or banana again; it’s just about being conscious of where food comes from before making our choices.
For instance, if you are in Canada, you may want to use local maple syrup or raw honey as your sweetener of choice instead of an agave syrup. These small changes to your food choices are conscious and healthy habits to start, and can have a big impact.
3. Avoid Processed Foods
One of the best ways to reduce your impact on the earth is to reduce waste. One of the main sources of waste is the packaging that comes from packaged food. Thus, by reducing the consumption of processed and packaged food, you can also reduce your waste. While whole foods also come with packaging, there are ways to reduce this as well:
- Use reusable produce bags, or no bags at all. I wash my produce anyway, so I don’t care if it touches the conveyor belt in the grocery store.
- Buy grains, beans, nuts and seeds in bulk; many bulk stores now allow you to bring your own jars and other reusable containers.
- Purchase meat from a butcher, who uses paper to wrap instead of a Styrofoam tray.
Avoiding processed food is also one of the best healthy habits to start to improve your health.
In order to properly package food, it must be stripped of nutrients and pumped with preservatives, additives, and inflammatory oils.
While there are always times when we may need to sacrifice health for convenience, in general, a healthy diet should include mainly home-cooked meals. Cooking meals from scratch will increase nutrition and decrease waste being diverted to landfills.
4. Eat Organic
An easy way to keep the planet and our body clean is by purchasing organic food. Pesticides and herbicides are not good for our body or the planet. Not only that, but organic food has been shown to contain more nutrients.
Studies have shown organic plant foods contain anywhere from 18-69% more antioxidants and organic meat has 50% more omega 3 fatty acids.
This is because organic food is so much more than being pesticide-free. In order to keep a crop growing without chemical intervention, it must be a healthy plant that can use its own natural defenses to repel disease and pests. This means taking care of the soil and all the organisms that live in it.
In order for animals to be certified organic, they need to free range as much as possible. Pastured animals are healthier and happier, and therefore their meat is healthier for you. You can check out the Canadian Organic Grower’s Association for more information on what it means to be certified organic and how it impacts both your health and the planet.
5. Spring Clean with Natural Products
Most indoor environments are more polluted than outside. As inside is a closed environment, pollutants from cleaning products and air fresheners cannot easily dissipate. Spring is the perfect time to open the windows and do some cleaning. However, many cleaning products are toxic and will enter our body via our respiratory system, or our skin, and affect our health.
Here are some ways to clean your home using simple natural ingredients:
- Citrus: Lemon juice is an excellent de-greaser and can be mixed with vinegar, baking soda and Castile soap as an oven cleaner. Leftover lemon and orange peels can be placed in large mason jars with white vinegar for a potent cleaner.
- Vinegar: White vinegar on its own works great for windows and mirrors and to make the chrome in the bathroom shine. Vinegar infused with citrus peels and mixed with Castile soap in a spray bottle is my all-purpose cleaner; I use it for everything.
- Castile soap: A natural soap derived from olive oil. It’s heavily concentrated, so you don’t need much. It doesn’t lather as much as detergents, so you need to work it a bit to see the suds. However, suds are really just for show.
- Essential oils: Work as an air freshener and disinfectant. Certain essential oils can damage certain materials so be careful and do your research.
Here are some tricks for cleaning your house with these simple ingredients:
- Toilet Bowl: Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda, let it sit for 15 minutes, then add ½ cup of vinegar, scrub with a toilet brush and let it sit for another 15 minutes. Add 1 tsp of Castile soap and scrub again. Flush to rinse then add some essential oils for a fresh scent. Wipe down the porcelain and handle with vinegar and essential oils (or all-purpose spray.) Add Thieves oil by Young Living to the toilet tank to prevent or kill any mold.
- Bathtub: Sprinkle baking soda over the bathtub. Add Castile soap and a damp sponge or cloth. Scrub bathtub and tiles. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Spray with vinegar to dissolve baking soda and wipe down again. Polish the faucet and handles with vinegar
- Floor: Add hot water, vinegar, a touch of Castile soap and essential oil of choice to a mop bucket. Wring out and mop floor as usual.
- Carpet, Couch, Mattress: Sprinkle with baking soda and a couple drops of essential oil. Let sit to absorb dust and dirt, then vacuum up the baking soda.
- Room Spray: Mix cheap vodka or other odourless alcohol with essential oils of choice; you can also add vanilla, or citrus rinds. Let sit for about a month. Add to a spray bottle, as a DIY natural air freshener.
6. Practice Self-Care with Natural Products
Taking care of our health means taking time for ourselves. This means taking care of both the inside and outside of our body. Taking a bath or moisturizing our skin with a body cream is an easy way to show ourselves some care.
Almost anything that is put on the skin gets absorbed into the bloodstream.
Therefore, a part of health is also being conscious as to what goes onto our body as well as in it. You may have heard the saying before “don’t put anything on your skin that you cannot eat.” If you can digest it, so can the planet; meaning natural body care products are often made with ingredients that can easily be biodegraded.
The EWG Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database is an excellent resource to review the potential health and environmental effects of your body products is. Of course, you should never actually eat your body products, no matter how natural. Even if they are not “toxic” to your body, they most likely will be indigestible and make you quite sick. While it may not be practical to switch out all your products at once, now is a good time to take a look at what can be replaced with a natural, more environmentally friendly option. This is my favourite local green body care shop.
7. Start a Garden
You can’t get more local than your own backyard!
The benefits of a garden are endless, and it’s one of the most healthy habits to start this spring. It is an amazing way to connect with nature and have access to fresh, organically grown produce.
While not everyone has the space or time for gardening, here are some easy things you can grow even with limited resources:
If you want to start really small, try a house plant to help keep your air clean. Peace lily, aloe vera and snake plant are all great, lower-maintenance options. Keep in mind that some house plants, for example peace lily, are poisonous to pets, particularly cats.
8. Start Composting
If you already have a garden and you want to take it to the next level, try starting a compost bin. You cannot make something out of nothing. The nutrients in our food have to come from something, and that something is the soil.
If soil is deficient in minerals, then the food will be deficient. Weak plants also attract more pests, which means a greater need for chemicals. When food decomposes, its nutrients return to the soil. This is known as the nutrient cycle. The nutrient cycle is reliant on microbes and other organisms (worms!) that live in the soil.
Much like the microorganisms living in our digestive tract, we need to take care of the microbes in the soil in order to keep ourselves and our planet healthy.
Composting means allowing your vegetable and fruit scraps to break down naturally. A healthy compost bin needs air and space for the bugs to come and do their job. It should not be too wet or too dry. An easy way to achieve a good balance is by layering your compost bin by alternating greens (vegetables, fruits, leaves) with browns (leaves, straw, hay, cardboard).
Some items that should not be composted are meat, seafood, bones, human or pet waste and bread. It’s a good idea to keep your compost bin moving or turning every couple of days to ensure you do not create an anerobic condition.
If you cannot have an outdoor compost bin, but you still want to compost, you can try indoor vermicomposting, as long as you are not squeamish around little red worms. Of course, if composting isn’t an option, you can always purchase ready-to-go compost for your garden.
9. Walk, Run or Cycle
Today we are quite used to either driving places or having amenities in close proximity. For years, I lived in the suburbs, where I could easily walk to a bus stop to take transit wherever I wanted to go. Therefore, I had no real need for a driver’s license or a vehicle. However, four years ago myself and my family moved out to the country where nothing was within walking distance, or so I thought.
Not always having access to a vehicle, and still needing to get places, I chose to walk more. It reminded me of how much humans used to walk or run before built-up cities or vehicles existed. Yes, sometimes it takes more time and requires more planning, but it’s both relaxing and an excellent form of exercise, and an easy healthy habit to start right away.
What if instead of driving to the gym, we chose to run, walk, or cycle to our destinations relying on our exercise of choice?
This is the first year my four-year-old son has really paid attention to the seasons. He kept asking when Spring was coming, so I told him that Sunday March 20th was the Spring Equinox. He woke up that morning yelling “it’s Spring, it’s Spring!”, however he was quite disappointed to find that there was still snow on the ground and he still had to wear his coat outside.
Changing your habits is like the change of seasons, it doesn’t happen overnight. The change isn’t always linear either. Just like April in Canada, in which one day we have sunshine, and the next day is a snowstorm!
Cultivating healthy habits takes time and you don’t always feel as though you are making progress. Today, more of our time is spent with a computer rather than with nature. However, we are not machines; we cannot just flip a switch or reprogram a new habit.
We come from nature, and we need to work with nature to help us along our health journey. The good news is that it is a symbiotic relationship.
Healthy living can benefit both us and the planet!
Kirsten Colella, CNP, graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours as a Holistic Nutritionist. She has always had a deep passion for holistic health and all it encompasses. Kirsten and her family live on a farm outside of Toronto. As a mom of three, she enjoys making healthy food for and with her children. You can see Kirsten’s healthy recipes on our Instagram page @essentialbalanceholistic .