Spotlight on Marina Volod of Avitalin Skincare

By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC

We loved testing Avitalin Skincare’s line of awesome, natural products earlier this year (check out our review), and wanted to know more about the woman behind this line of super nutritious and potent products.   Founder, Marina Volod, shares her philosophy, unique approach to skincare science, as well as some killer tips to fight the signs of aging skin!

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The Healthiest (and Yummiest) Snack Bars!

The Healthiest (and Yummiest) Snack Bars! | The Organic Beauty BlogThose of you who are no stranger to The Organic Beauty know that I am not a huge proponent of snacking. Excessive need for snacking means you’re not getting enough substantial nutrition, and it can lead to weight gain from unnecessary added calories, as well as constantly fluctuating blood sugar. That said, sometimes you really need a frickin’ snack! Maybe you didn’t have time for a big healthy lunch, or don’t want to arrive at your nephew’s birthday pizza party famished. It’s times like these (hopefully not too often!) that you want to have access to a delicious, nutritious and quick snack that get’s the job done, without setting your diet back.  An ideal snack bar gives you a good bit of protein to keep you full, fiber to keep things moving, and healthy carbs to give you energy.  I’ve compiled a list of my top 5 snack bars that fit the bill…  Plus, I’ve added the snack bars you should avoid at all costs, just for good measure.

  • LARA BARS:  These are consistently my number one top recommended snack bar.  They are made of nothing but nuts and dried fruit… no additives, no sugar, no chemicals, no crap.  Simple, whole food ingredients means more complete nutrition! This also means they’re gluten-free and vegan.  A typical Lara Bar provides you with a full serving of fruit, 5 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber, making it the perfect snack!  My favorite flavor is Cherry Pie… delish!

  • JOURNEY BARS:  These are a relatively new bar on the market, and I have to say, I am super impressed!  The bars are savory, which means you’re not getting that god awful blood sugar spike, and come in yummy flavors like Rosemary, Hickory Barbecue, and Coconut Curry (my current fave).  The bars feature amazing organic, gluten-free whole grains like amaranth and millet and savory spices and herbs that do great things for your body.  They also pack about 5 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber.

  • BUMBLE BAR:  Here’s another delicious, organic, gluten-free bar filled with nutritious seeds, grains, nuts, and dried fruit.  The bars come in great flavors like Awesome Apricot (my favorite), Chai Almond, and Lushus Lemon, and many are sweetened with naturally low-glycemic sweeteners like organic agave or organic brown rice syrup.  They pack anywhere from 4-7 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and an average of 7-10 grams of sugar!

  • PURE BAR:  These are another line of delicious, organic snack bars that have perfectly simple and pure ingredients.  Dried fruit, nuts, brown rice protein, and agave make up the vast majority of their bars, that come in flavors like Banana Coconut, Wild Blueberry, and Dark Chocolate Berry (that last one is more of a dessert bar, but I’ll tell you what, it is sooo good, and still super healthy!).  They have around 6-7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, and are loaded with antioxidants!
  • RISE BAR:  Rise has three different lines of breakfast bars, energy bars, and protein bars, all with simple, healthy ingredients like organic fruit, nuts, and whole grains.  Depending on your needs, you can select bars with as much protein as 20 grams (in the Almond Honey Protein Bar),  and all the bars have about 4 grams of fiber and are sweetened with healthy brown rice or tapioca syrup, or honey!  The bars are designed to keep you sustained and energized for 3 hours, which is definitely the mark of a great snack!
Now what you don’t want out of a snack bar is unfortunately what the vast majority on the market have to offer:  chemical additives and sugar replacements, processed or refined carbs, processed soy, processed dairy, and all kinds of other allergens (I love this image on the left from A Healthy Kitchen, which illustrates all the harmful crap found in most “diet” bars).  As with anything you put in your body, LESS IS MORE!  Any product with a super long list of ingredients is no good for you.  A good rule of thumb is to only eat foods with 5 or less ingredients, and if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, stay away!  Anything with “hydrolyzed” or “partially hydrogenated” ingredients typically means a low quality product.  Some bars to stay away from are:
  • “Diet” and meal replacement bars like Atkins Meal Advantage, Zone Perfect Bars, South Beach Diet Bars, Slim-Fast Snack Bars, Balance Bars, Nutribar, Special K Meal Bars — which are all full of tons of processed soy, fake sugars, chemicals and additives.
  • Protein bars and sports bars like Pure Protein, PowerBar, Solid Protein by Nature’ Best — also full of processed soy, palm and canola oils, dairy, and unhealthy chemical sweeteners.
  • Pseudo-healthy bars like Kashi Go Lean bars, FiberOne Bars, Think Thin Bars — which, although slightly better than the bad guys above, are still full of processed ingredients, unhealthy oils, and sugar substitutes.
If you’re trying to bulk up your muscles and are working out a ton, a much healthier alternative to protein bars is a great shake with organic rice or hemp protein powder, fruit, and water or a nut milk!
Bottom line, derive your nutrition from REAL FOOD, not fake food substitutes.  If you need something quick to grab and go, grab something that is REAL FOOD (i.e.: nuts, fruit, whole grains) and not a food facsimile!  Just because something is “high protein,” “high fiber,” “low calorie,” or “sugar free” does not make it healthy — in fact, usually, it means the exact opposite!
Natasha Uspensky, chhc
Holistic Health & Nutrition Counselor

How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals?

How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals? | The Organic Beauty BlogThis past Tuesday, I attended a conference put on by the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), entitled “Birth Defects, Learning Disabilities, Obesity and Breast Cancer:  How Can We Avoid the Effects of Toxic Chemicals?”  Although many of the chemicals discussed were those that we at the Organic Beauty have been writing about for some time (see 4 Steps to Naturalize Your Life), hearing first hand about the research and catastrophic effects these chemicals have on our bodies, and particularly children, was very jarring.

A panel of brilliant doctors, many of them young fellows in the Children’s Environmental Health department at Mount Sinai, spoke about the effects of endocrine disruptors (like parabens, DDT, phthalates, PBDEs, BPA and DBP found in common plastics, electronics, furniture and beauty products) on reproductive and neurological development, as well as cancer, diabetes, and obesity.  These toxins are ubiquitous, but it is with persistent, on-going contact that the long-term effects begin to manifest.  What struck me most was how preventable  these environmental causes of disease are.  By taking action in our communities and taking manageable steps within our own homes, we can significantly lessen our exposure to toxins that can not us sick, but make our unborn children sick as well.

So… what can you do?  Become an educated consumer!

  • Use glass or stainless steel instead of plastics, especially when storing or cooking foods.  If you must use them, avoid #3 and #7 plastics, which are chock full of pretty much every toxic chemical we should be avoiding. This handy saying helps you remember: “Four, five, one and two, all the rest are bad for you!”
  • Avoid using vinyl shower curtains.  Like many other products mentioned here, these contain phthalates, the fumes from which are then inhaled every time you enter your bathroom.  Phthalates disrupt development of male reproductive organs, lower sperm count, and damage the endocrine and immune systems.
  • Use natural beauty products.  I mean honestly, at this point there is no excuse not to!  There are countless affordable, natural products out there with ingredients that are recognizable.  If you don’t know what it is, don’t put it on your skin.  At the very least, make sure anything you put on your body and hair is paraben-free, phthalate-free, and SLS-free.
  • Clean your home with a wet mop and/or a vinegar solution, and when you must use cleaning solutions, make sure they are natural and non-toxic as well.  Everything you use to clean your house with is inhaled by you, your family, and your pets.  If it’s full of disease-causing toxins, that’s what you’re going to get…disease and toxicity.  Cleaning with homemade solutions is infinitely cheaper than store-bought as well!
  • Buy fragrance-free products, or those scented with essential oils only.  Nearly every common product with a fragrance, from lotions and shampoo to detergent and countertop spray, contain toxic VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that increase risk of all manner of cancer as well as neurodevelopmental disorders like ADD, ADHD, autism, behavioral problems and lower IQ.
  • Only use DBP, formaldehyde and toluene-free nail polish.  There are loads of brands that are now free of these chemicals, so again, there really is no excuse to expose your body to these deadly, carcinogenic chemicals, especially if you are, or are around, a pregnant woman!  (Priti and O.P.I. are just a few of the safer brands)
  • Choose PBDE-free electronics and furniture (especially mattresses).  PBDEs are flame retardants that are found in most older, stuffed furniture items and rugs, and many electronics like phones, TVs and computers.  When buying any of these items, verify that they are free of PBDEs, which decrease thyroid hormone levels, damage reproductive systems, and cause neurological symptoms as well.  The EWG has a handy PBDE Guide everyone should check out! 
  • Avoid canned foods and beverages, unless they are BPA-free.  Almost all canned foods and beverages contain BPA, which can have devastating effects on the neurological and reproductive systems, and has also been linked to heart disease, intestinal damage, diabetes, and obesity.  So far, Eden Organics is the only brand that has made the switch to all BPA-free cans.  But Trader Joe’s and Wild Planet offers some, but far from all, products in BPA-free cans.
  • Wash your hands after handling thermal receipts.  Those smooth, warm, thermal receipts used by so many retailers are made up of nearly 3% pure BPA, which then gets onto your skin and even straight into your mouth.  Always wash your hands after touching the receipts, or forgo them altogether!
Dr. Philip Landrigan, who moderated the panel, added the following universal recommendations for avoiding exposure to these dangerous toxins:
  • REDUCE YOUR CLIMATE FOOTPRINT (which lessens universal risk of exposure)
  • USE INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT (instead of toxic pesticides, sprays and fumes)
  • EAT ORGANIC WHENEVER POSSIBLE (which lowers exposure to pesticides by a whopping 90%)
  • JOIN A FOOD CO-OP  (or start one if there isn’t one in your area)
  • BE A CITIZEN!  (nothing will change if we don’t make our voices heard.  All of these environmental causes of disease are preventable, and with enough public pressure, we can get these toxins banned!)