Author: Rebecca McCracken

The Essence of Beauty Begins with a Good Moisturizer

(originally published 5/5/2008)

It’s no secret that women are on a continuous quest for skin that looks fresh and young. In the past few years, there has been an upswing of anti-aging products that tout the effectiveness of moisture. “Skin is definitely in. The quest for younger looking skin is growing and there is no shortage for skincare products on the market today,” explained Ellen Delisle, technical sales manager for Bio-Botanica. However, a cleanser and basic lotion is no longer acceptable for skincare. “A simple moisturizer has become a sophisticated vehicle of complex nourishment and regulatory molecules to the skin,” she added. (more…)

Organic vs. Natural

(excerpt, originally published 8/5/2008)

Throughout the ages, man has been faced with difficult choices: Chocolate or vanilla? Yankees or Mets? Soup or salad? However, these all pale against today’s biggest dilemma: Organic or natural?

The battle begins

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, which oversees the National Organic Program (NOP), published the final rule on national organic standards on Dec. 27, 2000. USDA’s Organic Standards asserts that organic and natural are not the same thing. “Natural” suggests that products have been minimally processed and are free of synthetic ingredients. Products labeled as “organic” have been certified as meeting USDA organic standards.

The website for the Organic Trade Association (OTA), Greenfield, MA, provides its perspective on organics: “Organic food production is based on a system of farming that maintains and replenishes soil fertility without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and fertilizers. Organic foods are minimally processed without artificial ingredients, preservatives or irradiation to maintain the integrity of the food.” (more…)

The Health Benefits of Chocolate

(originally published 08/04/2008)

In ancient times, the Aztecs revered the cocoa plant as a gift from the gods; today, many women also revere the cocoa plant as a gift from the gods. Native to lowland, tropical South America, cocoa has a rich history, with its earliest documented use around 1100 B.C.

For the most part, chocolate is eaten simply for pleasure’s sake, but it also offers health benefits. “ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) is a measurement for antioxidant activity in food. Of all the healthy fruits and vegetables the USDA has tested, the highest ORAC values were found in prunes, not exactly everyone’s favorite snack,” said Darlene Zembrod, trainer and educator for Ecco Bella. Luckily, for those who are anti-prune, Zembrod added chocolate’s ORAC value is more than two times higher than prunes, and dark chocolate has the same amount of flavonoids as red wine and four times the polyphenols of green tea.

Claire Polson, vice president of marketing and business development, Explorer’s Bounty, explained specific types of flavonoid antioxidants found in chocolate include epicatechin, catechin and procyanidins.

Lisa Francoise, owner and spa chocolatier, Sweet Beauty, noted, “We need to consume a diet high in naturally derived antioxidants to neutralize the free radicals our body is exposed to.” She added free radicals have been linked to premature aging and many diseases.

“Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants and can contribute to heart health, if eaten in moderation,” said Jessie Williams, CEO of EatPastry and partner of Organic Style, citing the large amounts of flavonoids found in chocolate. “Dark chocolate can also lower LDL [low-density lipoprotein] cholesterol, increase blood flow through the arteries, decrease blood clots and may help to lower high blood pressure.”

Zembrod agreed, noting cocoa can reduce blood’s platelet activity, thinning the blood as aspirin does, which helps improve immune function and reduce the inflammation of blood vessels.

One of the ingredients in chocolate, cocoa butter, is thought to be partially responsible for heath health. “Cocoa butter is a heart-healthy fat that does not raise cholesterol levels. In addition, it contains oleic acid, an unsaturated fat that actually raises the good HDL [cholesterol] levels of fat in blood,” said Zembrod. Williams added chocolate can also improve one’s mood, as it raises endorphin and serotonin levels in the brain.

Romancin’ the Bean

Phoenix Picks

(originally published 01/04/2008)

Because our first date with hubby-to-be was at Steve’s Espresso, it holds a warm place in our crusty little heart.  A far cry from your run-of-the-mill, mass-produced coffee cattle call, Steve’s is über-chill without any of that highfalutin’ snobbery.  With their sky-blue ceiling, kitschy Western wall art and comfy chairs, you can sit and relax for as long as you want, without ever feeling rushed or unwelcome (not to mention the masseuse they had in the corner, who was offering massages for a mere 10 bucks!).

Their drink service is something to behold: an old-school French press makes rich, smooth coffee, without any burned, acidic undertones.  The flavorings they add enhance and complement the coffee’s flavor so it’s never cloying or overly sweet.

For those who prefer tea, rejoice: they have an extensive collection of loose-leaf teas that you can order iced or in a bottomless, cast-iron teapot.  Steve’s also offers up frozen drinks and baked goods, including dense but flaky scones and decadent muffins.  And did we mention that Steve’s has free Wi-Fi?  So it’s the perfect nook for curling up with a warm laptop or a good book.

Steve’s Espresso
1801 E. Baseline Road, Ste. 102
Tempe, AZ 85283
480.777.5373
www.stevesespresso.com

Like We Give a Knit

(originally published 06/05/2009)

When we were but wee Phoenix Pickers, our dear Grandmère tried to teach us to knit. We sat there, our tiny hands sweating as we struggled to grasp the giant needles and damp yarn. The whole experience came to a head when we stabbed our beloved teddy bear in the face, threw the tangled mess across the room and burst into tears. Grandmère stuck to less difficult pastimes from then on, like coloring.

Recently we were trying to figure out a way to soothe our jangled nerves. Drinking seemed too common, we don’t “do” running and we’ve long since lost our crayons, but we decided to give knitting another go. We quickly fell into the lullabye motion and mindless counting. Since then, we’ve been on a knitting bender and are always looking for our next fix.

Enter Knit Happens in Scottsdale. Full of drool-worthy, gorgeous yarns, amazing patterns and weekend knitting classes, we’re in craft heaven. It does our soul good to be surrounded by skeins of vibrant colors and textures, and so far we’ve managed to avoid stabbing anything with our needles.

Knit Happens
7777 E. Indian School Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
480.941.3898
www.knithappensllc.blogspot.com

Brazilian Wax-iness

(originally published 05/01/2009)

While we were one of the (rare) good brides who didn’t subscribe to the “It’s My Day and I’m the Princess” philosophy, we do admit that we indulged in a wee bit of pampering—we got waxed. No, not our eyebrows. Or our legs. That’s right, we got our lady bits did. All the way. And while there is nothing enjoyable about having the-hairs-down-there ripped out of your body, we have to admit that we have never felt more sexy (and the new hubby certainly enjoyed it).

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and boy did it ever. Instead of smooth and lovely, we’re pokey and scratchy. Needless to say, we turned to our new beauty savior, the Suddenly Slimmer Spa in Phoenix.

With every spa offering a girl could imagine, Suddenly Slimmer Spa is clean, gorgeous and the staff is amazingly nice. Not only did they help prune our garden, but they did it expertly and (almost) painlessly. Now if only we could convince the hubby that he should indulge in some of the manscaping services they offer!

Suddenly Slimmer MedSpa
3317 E. Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
602.667.8164
www.suddenlyslimmermedspa.com

Supplements for Sleep and Stress

(originally published 10/21/2008)

Perhaps one of the best-known supplements in the category is melatonin, which is often taken to promote a healthy sleep cycle. “Your natural cycle of sleeping and waking hours [the circadian rhythm] is controlled by your melatonin levels,” Amanda Steele, co-founder and CEO, Dreamerz, noted. “Typically, melatonin levels rise in the evening as a cue for sleep, remain high for most of the night and decline as dawn nears. Natural melatonin levels do decline gradually as you age; some older adults produce very small amounts or none at all.”

Accumulating evidence suggests melatonin supplementation may regulate the circadian clock and be a beneficial in the treatment of certain insomnias, according to a 2004 study review from University, Ill.6 Unfortunately, the review also found the therapeutic potential of melatonin has been difficult to realize in clinical trials, possibly owing to non-specific actions of the agent and its unfavorable pharmacokinetic properties when administered orally.

(more…)

Consumer Trends Impact Nutrition Bar Market

(excerpt, originally published 01/09/2009)

As meal replacements or snacks, for young or for old, for man or woman, everyone is able to find a nutritional bar to suit their tastes and needs. Bars are targeted toward consumers’ unique needs, such as women’s health, energy bars, protein bars, cholesterol management, sports nutrition and kids’ bars.

Nutritional bars have undergone quite a transformation over the years. From tasteless, gummy messes to something that’s actually appetizing, they’ve been formulated to appeal to the masses. According to AIBOnline.org, the nutritional health bars total category sales in 2004 (52 weeks ending in December 2004) was more than $656 million.

One of the motivations behind a consumer’s decision to eat a nutritional bar is convenience, according to Jack J. Singh, N.D., CEO, Organic Food Bar Inc. “People’s schedules are more frenetic than ever and it is often challenging to eat a healthful, delicious, prepared meal on-the-go,” he noted.

(more…)