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A Tale of Three Bagels

Enriched wheat flour [flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid], water, sugar, yeast, dehydrated onion, wheat bran, cornmeal, salt, wheat gluten, preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid), grain vinegar, rice flour, monocalcium phosphate, cornstarch, mono- and diglycerides, polysorbate 60, soy lecithin, potassium iodate, onions.

And there it was: soy lecithin. It’s an ingredient you’ll find in a lot of chocolate bars, but I didn’t expect it in a bagel. I guessed the other ingredients were probably there, but this was an unusual circumstance. I thought I could eat a little Sara Lee bagel and get away with it. But I couldn’t.

This onion bagel was the joy of Larry’s day so I wanted to find a better bagel.

First I went to a local bagel shop. They didn’t have their ingredients posted, so I asked. I was told they didn’t know the ingredients. They just bake the bagels. Apparently it all comes in a mix or something, they aren’t actually mixing ingredients at this location. I’m not sure this is legal to not have the ingredients available for a food item, but that is not the issue here. We couldn’t find out the ingredients to see if the bagels contained fat or not. When we asked this specifically we were told, “We don’t know so don’t buy the bagel.” Talk about difficulty getting a list of materials used to make a product…

Then we went to a local independent grocery where we often shop. They had bagels in bulk bins that we could buy individually, but no ingredients. But there was an attendant at the bakery counter. We asked her and she said “These are authentic New York bagels. They only contain flour, water, yeast and salt.” And she picked up the phone and called the bagel maker to confirm.

We bought those authentic New York style bagels and loved them, The Sara Lee bagels didn’t even taste like bagel and were more like bread than bagels.

Now, you are probably asking why I didn’t buy organic bagels. Well, I tried. The first place I looked was my local organic food store. But they didn’t have any. We used to buy bagels at the farmer’s market made from organic hand-ground whole wheat flour and they were out-of-this-world delicious. But they are no longer being made.

So for the moment our best choice is fat-free, additive-free bagels. But they are a tiny part of our whole food intake, which revolves around whole organic foods, more than half purchased at the farmer’s market.

I’m telling you this story just because I mostly live in the world of natural food store and farmer’s market. It was actually shocking to me to look back at industrial food and experience what it is made from, how it tastes and what it does to my body, and to see how difficult it was to get the ingredients of food products.

Just a little slice of life to show the range of choices.

Now that I’ve had my bagel digression, I’ve decided I’d rather eat my whole organic food. The day after I wrote this I bought a loaf of hand-ground whole grain organic bread made from heirloom Italian grain. Oh so much better!

Linen Sheets + Making the Bed

Rough Linen is having a sale on many items right now.


As you may know, Larry and I moved across the country from Florida last September. Last week we accomplished the momentous milestone of moving to a storage unit half the size, so I thought I’d celebrate by looking for my linen sheets.

Turned out they were in a bag I had brought into the house and stuffed in the closet months ago, but I was happy to find them.

I had one white linen sheet I had inherited from my great aunt, one white linen pillowcase I had received as a gift from Life Giving Linen and one natural linen duvet cover I had purchased at Macy’s last year on sale. At the time I had thought we would be doing a lot of traveling, so I bought a king size duvet cover with the idea that we could put it on top of any hotel bed and sleep between linen sheets. We haven’t yet done that, but we did try to use it as a duvet cover on our queen wool comforter and that didn’t work very well.

Meanwhile I had been looking at buying this Sheet Set from Rough Linen that is currently on sale. The description explained that it had two flat sheets to save money. It occurred to me that also made sense because my problem with sheet sets has been that the bottom fitted sheet wears out much faster than the top sheet and pillow cases, and with two flat sheets I could alternate which one is on the bottom and the sheets would last longer. In fact I think the two sheets should be numbered or have some indentification symbol on them so you can alternate them easily. Of course, we would all need to learn to make mitered corners, but it’s not difficult.

But before I could get to mitered corners, it was late and there were no sheets on the bed, so we just laid the linen duvet cover on top of the mattress and used the comforter with the cotton flannel cover that fit and I used the white linen pillowcase and it worked perfectly! My body so loved laying on that linen again! I could feel my body releasing tension. And then the flannel cover was cozy and warm. Just perfect, perfect perfect. Just laying the sheet over the mattress is working very well. No corners to fold and it actually stays in place better than the fitted sheet.

I highly recommend that you consider linen sheets if you can afford them. They are worth saving up for and will last longer than cotton,, especially if you alternate two flat sheets as I described above.

As it turned out I didn’t buy the sheet set because I was happy with the combination of the bits and pieces I already had. But one day I will buy a set of linen sheets and sleep happily ever after.

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UPF/UV Coating on Clothing


Question from Dean

Hi Debra,

Are you aware of any health dangers posed by UPF/UV treatments on clothing?


Debra’s Answer

First let me explain what this is.

You’ve probably heard of SPF with regard to sunscreen. That stands for Sun Protection Factor and measures the amount of time it takes for skin exposed to the sun to redden.

UPF is a similar measurement for fabric, which indicates the amount of UV radiation that penetrates a fabric and reaches the skin. To learn more about the UPF rating system and choosing UPF clothing, see this excellent article from REI: How to Choose Sun Protection (UPF) Clothing.

Now to answer your question.

Sun protection fabrics are generally made from synthetic fibers. Those that have chemical additives don’t seem to be disclosing what those chemicals are. The only UPF additive I could find was nanoparticles of titanium dioxide.

I generally don’t recommend synthetic fibers and don’t recommend chemicals that do not disclose what they are.

There are many guidelines that explain how to choose clothing that offers some protection without wearing synthetics or unknown chemicals. Any dark, tightly woven natural fiber will offer protection.

Here’s an article with more information: SUN & SKIN NEWS: Dress to Protect: 5 Things that affect How Well Your Clothes Block UV Rays

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Polyester-free Umbrella

Black Oversized Nylon Umbrella from online

Question from Sue in TX

Hi Debra,

I am allergic to polyester. I used to be able to buy nylon umbrellas from Totes, but they switched to 100% polyester (at least I have not been able to find an existing Totes umbrella, at this time, that is not 100% polyester). I have searched online, for any brand, and I cannot find a nylon umbrella. Thank you for any help!

Debra’s Answer

I had no problem finding nylon umbrellas. Here’s a whole page of nylon umbrellas at

But while I was looking I found an interesting article about the construction of umbrellas at QUORA: Why are umbrellas made of nylon? Isn’t there a more waterproof material that could be used?

Umbrellas may disclose the basic material they are made from, but often don’t tell you they are waterproof because they are coated with Teflon or “most often” a polyurethane film.

Apparently the most common material now for umbrellas is Pongee, which is usually silk, but can be a synthetic material by the same name.

In purchasing an umbrella, try to find out if waterproofing chemicals or films have been added.

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Winter Coat

Geirger of Austria Classic Black Women’s Boiled Wool Jacket at Alpenstyle

Question from Bonnie

Hi Debra,

I have an old winter coat I have been using for years that is finally going bye bye. I need to replace it with a new one but have not had much luck over the years. I am allergic to down. Anyone have any luck with this?

Debra’s Answer

Readers, what suggestions can you offer?

I live in a fairly temperate climate, so I’m usually warm enough with several layers of cotton shirts and sweaters and scarves. I haven’t owned a winter coat in years.

But I did find a website called AlpenStyle that offers “outerwear for women [and men] manufactured by companies that reflect the best fabric quality and styling of European sweater pullovers and cardigans, coats and jackets. AlpenStyle carries three of the most prominent ladies’ outerwear clothing lines: Icelandic Design, Geiger of Austria and Skjaeveland. AlpenStyle specializes in these three producers of fine clothing because all three provide incredibly high quality products, all reflect that particular look associated with European clothing and because all three are companies with high integrity offering natural fabrics that feel good to the touch and stand the test of time.”

These are not inexpensive, but are very well made and designed to last. Plus sizes too.

What do you all do for winter coats in cold climates?

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New Scratch-and-Sniff Postage Stamps Should be Banned

I finally got a whiff of the new scratch-and-sniff postage stamps at my local post office this morning.

Though I knew they were coming, I hadn’t written about them before because “scratch-and-sniff,” well, I didn’t know for sure if that meant one needed to scratch them before you could smell them.

But now I can tell you with certainty that they DO smell before scratching, just like those perfume inserts in magazines.

The scent actually upset my stomach and triggered me to rush to the nearest store to get something to eat/

To me, this is just an unacceptable infringement on my human rights.

Last week I wrote about a 2016 ruling a woman’s chemical sensitivity was a disability under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it interfered with the major life activity of breathing.

The ruling outlines accommodations employers may need to make in the workplace for those with fragrance allergies, which go so far as to ask or require other employees to abstain from wearing or using scented products.

But it’s not just about allergies. Synthetic fragrances emit toxic chemicals . We are all being exposed now to yet another source of toxic chemicals for “fun.”

I don’t want scented stamps in my pile of mail, but I can’t opt-out of the exposure without opt-ing out of the United States Postal Service, which I have a right to use as a citizen of this country.

Please don’t buy these stamps. And encourage others to not buy them too. And how can we get the Post Office to stop selling them?

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The masquerade of synthetic-fragranced products as “natural”


Question from Jane

Hi Debra,

You are one of our “household gods” and have been for many years. It is such a relief to find a source of information about chemical sensitivities and allergies that is non-judgmental and so widely and wonderfully informative!

My specific concern right now is Mrs. Meyer’s products, especially her laundry products. I have only moderate MCS, but I cannot use Mrs. Meyers at all. Several years ago, I actually had to get up in the middle of the night and change our sheets because they had been washed with her detergent.

The company makes so many claims to be fresh and natural, and yet their scents do not smell at all natural to me! For example, I know real live honeysuckle and its beautiful scent. Mrs. Meyer’s version of “honeysuckle” is not what I recognize as the real thing!

Yet I read and hear, on YouTube especially, people I would think of as intelligent just rhapsodizing about Mrs. Meyers products and, worse, convincing other people to buy and use them! What are the long-term effects of exposure, especially to children, of these highly fragranced, super-hyped items?

I know you share a longstanding concern about fragranced personal care and household items. But this line of products is marketed with such sweet promises that they make me think of the scene in the Disney film Snow White, when the witch looks at the beautiful apple she has prepared for Snow White, and we see a skull and crossbones take shape over that lovely red surface. Isn’t this what is happening here?

Thank you for any comments you can make!

Debra’s Answer

It’s not a secret that Mrs. Meye’s products contain synthetic fragrances. They disclose this right on their Ingredient Glossary.

Note they are not organic, so whatever pesticide is in the natural material gets concentrated into the essential oil. My standard is ONLY certified organic essential oil (and if you see anything otherwise on my website please let me know so I can remove it).

I agree with you that this is exactly like the poison apple from Snow White.

There has been a period of time where our product purchases have been influenced by how well advertising appeals to us, rather than what we need and rather than evaluating the product. I think we’ve all be there. I know I personally have made an enormous shift from buying things because advertising convinced me to buy, to buying based on my real needs to sustain my own life and health and planet.

It’s a whole different mindset to consider how to sustain a life, but that is the question Larry and I discuss every day. Will making a particular choice contribute to sustain ourselves, our health, our relationship, our ecosystems, or will it contribute to their destruction. This is the basis of our life together.

A reader asked me the other day with so much information available, that often conflicts, who do we listen to? For me, it’s not WHO, it’s WHAT is the result of using that information in my life.

Larry and I sometimes talk about using toxic chemicals for glamour, fun, and profit. A face covered with toxic cosmetics is no longer beautiful to me, bright blue food doesn’t make me want to eat it. Give me a farmer’s market and linen sheets and essential oils and water fresh from a spring and I will be very happy and deeply satisfied.

Now, about Mrs, Meyers. I think the biggest problem here is that their message and their ingredients are not aligned. And that is a problem of Truth in Advertising. They are making you believe that the product is natural and pleasurable when it’s not. There are laws about this.

Here’s a website where you can report companies making bad claims, take legal action, and more (or so they say, I have no experience with them): TruthIn

I could spend all day reporting false claims but I would rather spend my time educating consumers and making more known companies that are making true claims and using toxic-free materials.

There! I did have a few comments on this.

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Wisconsin Goes Fragrance-Free

The above sign was spotted in a roadside rest area in restroom, maintained by the state of Wisconsin.

Other public places could do the same.

This may be a response to a 2016 ruling a woman’s chemical sensitivity was a disability under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it interfered with the major life activity of breathing.

The link in the above paragraph outlines accommodations employers may need to make in the workplace for those with fragrance allergies, which go so far as to ask or require other employees to abstain from wearing or using scented products.

I remember when smoking cigarettes was first banned in public places and now it is widespread. So I am optimistic the same will happen with fragrance.

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Toxic Free Paper Notebooks

These are the recycled paper notepads I use from Staples. (I don’t like spiral-bound notebooks).

This week I received TWO emails asking about paper office products after not receiving one questions about them in almost forty years of doing this work.

I’ve never addressed this because I’ve never noticed a need to. I buy various recycled paper pads at Staples and I’ve never noticed an odor.

Bonnie wrote this to me:

I have been sorting my old papers which I keep in paper 2 pocket folders. 2 types have solid colors, one with a smooth surface, the other less smooth. I have manila folders which I assume are safe. I have a bank of America folder which is glossy. Also have spiral college ruled paper notebooks. The front are solid colored and the back looks like cardboard.

The back has an odor. I was thinking to buy paper only next time. Are any of these toxic? Thank you.

This is from Mary:

I had been using Mead’s 5X7 150 page notebook to keep track of what I eat, how I feel, etc., but they smelled strongly of disinfectant and I had to air each one out page by page over many days.

I found these notebooks at OfficeSupply. They have no odor. I thought maybe your readers might like to know about them. I don’t knotice an odor with things like steno pads but I needed this style. They are only 120 pages though.

Anyone else having trouble with paper notebooks?

And anyone else have favorite sources for notebooks with no odors?

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Natural Treatments for Dry Skin


A few weeks ago I sent out a survey and at the end I gave respondents the opportunity to be sent the survey results.

A few days ago I sent the survey results to anyone who wanted them, and soon received this reply:

Still reading the wonderful compilation (and have to do other things today – will get back to it tonight) –

But I was saddened by the woman with severe MCS who is completely isolated. The comment that was really sad was she said her skin is shriveling up because she can’t use any lotions.

I hope you can write to her, or write a piece at some point, not only about the wonderful unscented products out there (I use Griffin Remedy in Bulgarian Lavender, but I know they make a completely unscented – not masked – product), but she could be using organic coconut oil, or extra virgin olive oil, or just some fresh avocado on her skin. Lots of choices besides purchased products!

And most of the good texture in our skin comes from what we eat, not what we put on it. She could be getting more essential fatty acids in her diet I would guess.

So grateful for the work you do so people don’t have to suffer so much!

Love, D

I don’t have dry skin, so I don’t have personal experience with this. But something did come to mind.

Years ago I used a product that was made with a base of honey and it was my favorite skin care product ever. It had some other natural things mixed with it, but I could feel the healing properties of the honey. If I cut my finger, I put honey on it to help it heal. So I would suggest honey, or honey thinned with water.

Ah! I just looked this up and found:

Honey is a natural humectant, meaning it draws moisture from the air into the skin and ensures it’s retained it in the layers where it’s needed most for penetrating, long-lasting hydration. Try it: Spread one teaspoon raw honey on clean, dry skin, and let sit for 15-20 minutes. Rinse with tepid water.

Another post says honey is full of antioxidants and is great for slowing down aging.

I suggest getting raw organic honey because it will be more “alive” than supermarket honey.

If you do have dry skin, leave a comment on what you use that might be tolerable for someone with MCS.

Thank you.

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