Recently I interviewed Katie Wells, and we talked about why we need to be aware of environmental toxins, plastic alternatives, how to identify safe cookware and personal care products, practical tips to move away from plastics. If you would prefer to listen the interview you can access it by Clicking Here.
Dr. Eric Osansky:
I am super excited to chat with my guest today, Katie Wells, who is known also as the Wellness Mama. I’m going to dive into Katie’s impressive bio, and then we will be talking about plastic alternatives, cookware, personal products, so it will be a very valuable episode that applies to pretty much anybody listening to this.
Without further ado, let’s get into Katie’s bio here. Katie, the Wellness Mama, is a mom of six as well as an award-winning blogger, author, podcaster, and real food crusader. Her mission with WellnessMama.com is to provide simple answers for healthier families through practical tips, real food recipes, natural beauty and cleaning tutorials, natural remedies, and more.
As a mom of six, Katie has developed systems and tips for leading a wellness lifestyle with a family and on a budget. She was named by Greatest.com as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Wellness along with Dr. Oz, Dr. Mercola, Food Babe, and Tim Ferriss. She writes at WellnessMama.com and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
She is also the creator behind Wellnesse, the first line of commercially available personal care products based on the DIY creation she had been making in her kitchen for years. Her popular Wellness Mama podcast can be found at WellnessMama.FM. Thank you so much for joining us, Katie.
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to chat.
Same here. If we could just dive into your background a little bit. Before we started this, you said your podcast started in 2014, so it’s been almost 10 years that it’s been out. What motivated you to start your podcast and your website?
The website started first. Two things lined up perfectly after I had my first son. It’s easy to look back and see. For instance, I tell people now if you want to create autoimmune disease, all you have to do is be really stressed out, eat a terrible diet, and not get enough sleep all throughout college, which is pretty much what I did.
I was doing okay until I got pregnant with my first child. Post-partum, I had some really weird symptoms. My background up to that point was in journalism, which is what I went to school for and had been working in until I had him. I was having these weird symptoms myself.
Sitting in my six-week follow-up appointment with my doctor, I read in TIME Magazine that for the first time in two centuries, the current generation of American children would have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This article went on to talk about the drastic rise in heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disease. I vowed in that moment that I wanted to help change that somehow. I had no idea how I would do that, but I didn’t think that was good enough for my son or anybody’s child. We needed to figure out why this was happening and how we could change that curve that was happening so drastically and quickly.
That lining up with my own health struggles that ended up taking about eight years and a whole series of doctors to get answers. I had Hashimoto’s, which is now fully in remission. That led to a really intense passion of researching those topics. I took my background in journalism and my loves of reading and research and writing and started trying to find my own answers when I wasn’t getting them through conventional medicine.
I was also trying to figure out what I could do to give my son and eventual other five children a solid foundation in life to not face those statistics I was reading about at the time. I have always been one to process by writing. As I started writing, I realized there were many other women and families in similar situations.
At the time, there wasn’t as much information available as there is now. I’m really grateful so much of this information is very mainstream. You can go on social media and see people talking about things like morning sunlight or sourcing food from clean sources or avoiding common toxins. This is so much more well-known now than it was 15 years ago when I started. That’s been encouraging to see.
But I also very much fundamentally believe that moms are an absolute force of nature. When you can help moms who are making the daily food choices for their families or who are influencing the habits of their children, you can create ripples that impact society at a larger level. That’s been my passion with Wellness Mama since day one, one I am extremely grateful to still get to do every day.
When did your website come out? 2014 was the podcast. The website was prior to the podcast.
I started writing in 2006 when he was born. I officially got the name Wellness Mama in 2009. It’s been mostly daily blogs since then. I don’t write as much as I used to with the podcast; I podcast more than I write. It’s been consistent since then.
I came out with my website in 2010, and my podcast hasn’t been around as long as you. Ever since coming out with a podcast, I’m definitely podcasting more than writing. I really do enjoy it. With the blog, it’s just my perspective, whereas with the podcast, when you have guests, you’re getting someone else’s perspective, so they are not just learning from me.
What an amazing honor to chat with incredible people, like you do, as my actual job. We’re in this very cool time in history where thanks to conversations like this and the availability of all this information on the internet, people are stepping into the driver’s seat of their own health, with the understanding that hasn’t always existed.
I say often on my podcast we each are our own primary healthcare provider. We can work with amazing practitioners, but what really impacts our health are our own daily choices and habits and the inputs we are putting into our own bodies. I really encourage and am excited to see this huge wave of people who are willing to step in and take responsibility for their own health. That’s how we will see the best outcomes: when we have informed patients who are well-researched and have a vested interest in their own health working with all these amazing practitioners now who are specialized in certain areas and have specific knowledge that can help people. Those are the best outcomes.
I noticed that the patients who are more compliant are those who are educated and already are familiar with things that we’re going to talk about today: trying to minimize exposure to plastics and cookware. If someone is brand new, not to say they’re not open to it, but sometimes it’s more challenging to get them to comply.
I agree. Having podcasts like yours and mine and others out there will lead to more compliance and better outcomes. I completely agree with that.
I want to start off by talking about plastic. I think that’s where I found you first, even though your podcast is so popular. I have been fascinated by all the articles you have on your website about alternatives for plastic and safe cookware. If you could tell people in your words what are the main concerns with using plastic on a regular basis?
Like anything, in some ways, the dose makes the poison. We’re also talking about compounds that are relatively extremely new to human interaction. These are things that did not exist on a wide scale 100 years ago even. The last few generations are the first to deal with plastic exposure. We’re very much still learning just how drastically that can impact not just human health but the health of our planet.
I know a lot of people talk about this. There have been great documentaries on this. How much that plastic exposure is now far reaching throughout the entire earth. We have found plastic chemicals under 30 feet of ice in the Arctic. It’s in the water and the ice in both poles at this point. Plastic has essentially saturated the planet. This of course has impact as well, but it really impacts human health for a lot of reasons
Things like BPA get the most airtime. That was one of the first ones people started talking about. It’s a compound that’s added to plastic to make it more durable and bendable, all the things that make it convenient for packaging, which I would argue also has some problems. This availability of ultra-processed foods at all times doesn’t line up with how humans have eaten through our history up to this point.
BPA was originally given to livestock and chickens to help them gain weight for slaughter. We know it has this effect. BPA is present in a lot of plastic compounds we interact with on a daily basis. It causes that weight gain through a disruption of hormones. The same effect happens in humans.
I do also think because we found out about BPA first, and it gets the most airtime, we have also not talked enough about the other compounds present in plastics. There is a whole family of bisphenols, like BPS, BPF. There is a lot of them. There is a lot of other compounds beyond that.
This problem is really widespread. We know 92% of people tested had pretty high measurable levels of these compounds in their bodies. We know babies are born with hundreds of chemicals in their core blood. The scary part about that is a baby in utero is in the safest environment on Earth because everything is so tightly controlled by the mother’s body. The fact that we’re seeing hundreds of chemicals, and these are just the ones that can pass through the placenta because the mom’s body is going to do everything in its power to get a lot of that stuff out. This has become a really widespread problem.
A lot of these are estrogenic compounds. They’re not the only factor by any means, but I do think they’re somewhat contributing to the rise in hormone-related problems and those often-quoted statistics about men having 1/3 of the testosterone that their grandfathers did at the same age. There have now been some really daunting reports about how even as early as 2050, we might be seeing things like total infertility in a lot of people, or a sperm count of zero in a lot of men. Part of this is these estrogenic compounds that mimic hormones in the body and disrupt or replace the natural hormone processes that are happening that we literally depend on for our survival.
There are also things like phthalates and all kinds of other compounds that we’re interacting with through these plastics. They’re not just in our food packaging, but in our home environment. Parts of construction are built with plastic. They’re in clothing. Not only are we ingesting these, but maybe people have read we consume about a credit card’s worth of plastic per week on average. These things are sitting on our skin all day every day. These things are connected to our food and in our food and water supply. It’s become a widespread process, and honestly, one that would be an uphill battle to undo because it’s saturated our lifestyle at this point.
I agree with everything you said. The hormone disrupting effects of these plastics are well known and in the research. You also mentioned other compounds, not just BPA, but BPF and BPS. The problem when someone just thinks they can use like a BPA-free container. Whether it’s a water bottle or another source of plastic doesn’t mean it’s completely devoid of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
There are floating islands the size of Texas in the ocean that are almost completely plastic waste that is just floating in the ocean. We run into additional problems with UV light breaking those down. Then you get these microparticles that get emitted, including things like DDT and PCB that are in the ocean and in the seafood supply and the water system in general. These things are all contributing to disruption.
Statistically, we are amping up our exposure and use of plastic. Over a trillion plastic bags per year are used worldwide. Those don’t break down in landfills. They are now entering the groundwater. Estimates are now up to a thousand years to start breaking down. That’s a million plastic bags per minute. More than 3.5 million tons of plastic each year. It’s a pretty massive problem that we’re facing.
Before we get into plastic alternatives, I want to circle back to the water. There was an episode, I forget the name of the practitioner you interviewed, but she was talking about the microplastics in fish. What is your perspective on that? It’s a little bit of a catch-22. When it comes to seafood, nutrient dense, a lot of health benefits. Because of the plastics, is it something that you and your family try to minimize? Or is it risks versus benefits, and the benefits of the nutrients outweigh the risks of plastics in seafood?
That is a consideration we have to weigh. There is the very real consideration about stress. It would be very easy to fall into the mindset of thinking everything will kill us at this point. You probably echoed this, but stress is one of the more harmful things we can introduce to our environment as human animals. It’s figuring out that balance of not getting to a point where everything is stressing you out, but making good choices as to what is available from a budget perspective, an availability perspective, and a health perspective to make the best choices possible, whenever possible.
Much like with heavy metals, there is an element with plastic in seafood that you want to aim for smaller seafood. The larger fish have eaten other fish that also have plastic contamination. The higher up the food chain you go, the more exposure you are potentially getting to both plastics and heavy metals.
I choose things like sardines or small fish that have a high nutrient density that are also inexpensive compared to other forms of seafood. They are like nature’s multivitamin of sorts because they also have minerals and calcium. You’re getting the whole fish in that sense. It’s good to make easier choices that way when it comes to choosing the type of seafood. It’s not like plant foods don’t have their own set of problems.
We know we need fat soluble vitamins and Omega-3s and compounds that are present in seafood or other animal products. It’s just being aware as consumers and making the best choices we can. You also have to realize that unfortunately, the reality of our time in history right now is that we are going to face these compounds in some way, just like we are going to be exposed to EMFs in some way. How can we just apply the 80/20 rule and minimize, when possible, but not in a way that will be a source of stress and lead to health problems in other areas?
That’s a good point. You can make a good excuse for not eating anything. No matter what the food, it seems like there is a drawback. I completely agree about if you’re going to eat fish, just try to avoid swordfish, king mackerel, and tuna, and stick with smaller fish, like sardines.
Let’s dive into some of the alternatives to plastic. For those who are like, “Well, what am I going to use instead of plastic bags?” Those Ziploc bags or other brands and plastic-fee storage container. I listened to your podcast, so I know storing meat it sounds like is a bit of a challenge when it comes to avoiding plastic. If you could talk about that, but especially for other sources, and then going into the grocery stores, those produce plastic bags. What do you do in your household to minimize your exposure to plastic?
There are some easy swaps in categories I will talk about. The gold standard is not doable at scale for all of us. To any degree we can have a direct relationship with where our food is coming from, whether it be growing our food or shopping from local sources. I live in an area near the ocean, so people can fish. If you can buy fish straight from the ocean that are not frozen and packaged in plastic for weeks or months, that’s a great step. There is a convenience aspect, and that’s not going to be feasible for most of us at scale.
There are some easy swaps from the categories of bringing your own cloth bags to the grocery store, not just for the bags I carry the groceries home in, but also produce bags. They have some great mesh bags that you can use. Those are some easy ones.
When it comes to food storage, there is amazing options for both glass and metal storage containers. Also remember that our grandmothers or great grandmothers managed to do all of this without plastic. It is possible, but it is a big job in a world where it is so much more convenient to use plastic. I try to apply that 80/20 rule in my house as much as possible, so it isn’t a source of stress.
Things like metal water bottles or glass water bottles is an easy swap. The packaging you’re using when you store food that you’ve made in your own home is an easy swap.
There are a lot of canned goods that are specifically free of plastic chemicals. Most people don’t realize that a lot of cans are lined with BPA or plasticizers to extend the shelf life of those things. You can get plastic-free versions. Making those easy swaps when possible.
In my home, I focus with my kids on the fibers of our clothing. When possible, choosing more natural fibers. I’m really encouraged by this upcoming generation in how aware they are of a lot of this. My older kids for instance pretty much exclusively shop at secondhand stores because they prefer it, not just from a budget perspective, but because they like the environmental impact of not having to buy new clothes and being able to buy secondhand. When you do that, you can look for cotton or more natural fibers in the clothing you’re buying.
The main one to be aware of there is a lot of the athletic wear that we see is extremely high in different plastic-based chemicals. Making choices there can be really impactful as well.
Like I said, it’s in everything. It’s in the cords of our lamps, the construction of our homes. It’s not realistic to completely avoid it unless we are willing to live off grid and build everything from scratch. Some of those easy swaps can make a big difference in our day-to-day exposure and reduce it enough, so we don’t have to be as stressed about it.
You said glass and steel. I’m going to be up front here. I have a stainless-steel water bottle. It’s sitting in the stainless steel, but the spout is plastic. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lifefactory water bottles, which are pretty much glass. I don’t like the spout, so I copped out and used the stainless steel even though it has a plastic spout. It’s not sitting in plastic, and the plastic is hard. Would you still recommend not using a water bottle like this? I want you to be up front with me. Would you not touch this water bottle because it has the plastic spout?
My take personally is that I have both options at my house. Most of the time, I’ll use a metal one that has a metal lid that screws on. The parts touching the water are metal. I also have a gallon-sized one where the water bottle is metal, and it does have a silicone spout and a plastic cap. The part touching the water is silicone. That one is much more convenient for when I’m at track meets with the kids or traveling, and I need to have enough water for the whole day.
That is part of the 80/20. I’m not going to use single-use plastic bottles that are sitting in the sun, which also drastically increases the amount of plastic you’re exposed to. But I’m also not willing to get dehydrated not to touch plastic as well. That’s one of those balancing acts.
I love to have a glass of water here, but I am cautious with the technology and the computer. I’m a little bit on the clumsy side, so that’s why. It’s a convenience. My wife has the stainless steel with the metal top. Every time she wants to drink out of it, she has to open it. It’s copping out because of the convenience, so I figured I’d ask your opinion.
Just besides the water, the same thing with food as well. Food, you try to store it in metal and glass in the refrigerator.
Yeah, I can be clumsy as well. They have these great metal containers that have latch-on lids, which is convenient with young kids. Since they will inevitably drop them at some point, they bounce instead of break, and the lid doesn’t come off. I have those in varying sizes all the way from single serve meal size for food prep to one that can hold two gallons of soup if I put it back in the fridge. Those are easy swaps and are entirely plastic-free. There is a brand called Life Without Plastic that makes a lot of these.
I also do some meal prep in glass containers with latch-on lids that are either silicone or wood. I am doing a lot of strength training, so if I am prepping my own food for the week, so breakfasts and lunches, I’ll do those.
To circle back on the hydration, one tip I give people from a habit stacking perspective and a hydration perspective is if you sleep with a glass quart-sized mason jar of water on your nightstand, and I also recommend putting trace minerals and silica and a bunch of stuff I know I need to get more of in that water. One habit is as soon as I wake up, I will drink that water before I drink anything else because we lose a lot of our hydration while we’re sleeping. We can lose quite a bit of water through respiration while we’re sleeping. Getting that water in our bodies first thing in the morning from a glass container ideally with minerals added in is an easy way to keep hydration on point for the whole day.
There has been a lot of research around hydration early in the day versus hydration later in the day, not just from a sleep impact perspective. We don’t want to drink a ton of water before bed and be up all night going to the bathroom. That early morning hydration, because we do get a mild dehydration during sleep, can be really impactful from an energy level perspective and help our detox pathways. Those are important to be aware of and support if you are trying to get out plastics that exist in the body. I’m a big fan of that as well as sauna use for getting out residual plastic in the body.
Good tips. Definitely want to stay hydrated. I love sauna. You want to especially stay hydrated if you are going to the sauna regularly. Take electrolytes. Do you do sauna daily or a few times a week?
A few times a week for sure. I go through phases of doing it regularly. When everything shut down for COVID, I actually used that time to do an actual experiment in my neighborhood. We were all locked down together, so I recruited this group. We did lab tests before and after.
People may have heard of the studies on sauna, especially the Finnish study that is most quoted. That is the one that makes a strong case for sauna use. I say if sauna were a pill, everyone would take it because the effects are profound. We know sauna use in the range of 4-7 times per week can reduce all-cause mortality by up to 40%. It can reduce risk of dementia, stroke, heart attack pretty drastically because sauna is an exercise mimetic. You won’t get the same strength benefits that you would from exercise from doing sauna, but you get a lot of the cardiovascular and mental benefits you would get from exercise. You’re sweating, your heart rate increases, and you’re moving your lymph system.
If people are able, hitting that 4-7x a week is the gold standard window. There is evidence of excretion of BPA and plastic chemicals from the body with regular sauna use, with the caveat being the studies that currently exist have looked at mostly the heat as the mechanism. People talk about infrared saunas, which I think are awesome. Make sure you’re hitting that minimum heat threshold and time threshold to get the benefits. Use whatever kind of sauna you have available.
Do you know what that heat threshold is?
There is a little bit of variation in what the studies say. I personally aim for 170 degrees or above, Fahrenheit. Some people say 150s and above. There is a time-dependent threshold there. I aim for 170 degrees and up for a minimum of 19 minutes without getting up. Uninterrupted heat exposure for 19 minutes. Sometimes, I’ll do several cycles of that. If I’m short on time, that’s the minimum I aim for.
Just curious. Do you follow with a cold shower after that?
Sometimes. The interesting thing about that is I think of them as three separate categories with separate benefits. Sauna use on its own has this whole host of benefits. So does cold exposure.
Since we have an audience that is potentially thyroid-specific, be careful with cold exposure at first if you’re working on rehabbing your thyroid. It can be stressful to the body if you are in a state of thyroid disruption.
Heat and cold together has its own set of benefits. They call that contrast therapy, where you’re going back and forth. Going from the heat to the cold makes it much easier to do the cold, and it’s a great relief from the heat.
I try not to do cold exposure every time I sauna because I think the isolated benefits of heat and staying in that heat exposure for longer can be beneficial. I have also lately been experimenting with doing the growth hormone protocol, where you do 30 minutes of sauna, cool down a little bit, and then do that four times, which is shown to drastically increase human growth hormone. If you’re trying to recover from something, that can be a beneficial tool as well. I think sauna on its own is really profoundly beneficial, even if you’re just doing sauna.
Wonderful. Didn’t expect to talk about sauna here, but I always love talking about sauna.
Before we move on to cookware, is there anything else that needs to be mentioned about plastics?
I think those are the big categories. I think of a lot of things in my life along the lines of the 80/20 rule, which is the idea that 80% of results come from 20% of inputs in both positive and negative contexts. Any time we can find those 20% of things that are actually causing 80% of our exposure, that’s a great starting point. Even if that’s the only point we ever get to, that’s a drastic change for our health. Same with stress. If you can find the 20% that’s causing 80% of your stress and work on those.
Side note: Since I didn’t say the results of the sauna study, we lab tested before and after. Only in a two-month period, there was a drastic reduction of inflammatory markers in the body. There was beneficial movement in all the labs related to inflammation, hormones, and sleep. Sauna can be really profound there.
I also don’t think sauna is necessary for health either. I know sauna is not always budget-friendly. I don’t want people to think they can’t be healthy without sauna.
Applying that 80/20 rule to plastic exposure and health exposure. I know we will talk about the personal care side as well, but that was my driving force with creating those particular products. What are the 20% of products that are giving us 80% of exposure to toxic compounds in the personal care products we’re interacting with?
I look at that with dietary approach in general. We don’t have to be 100% perfect. If we can be dialed in in the things that are making the biggest impact, we have a lot more leeway in the other areas.
I tell my patients that if you’re getting exposed to plastic water bottles on an occasional basis, if you’re on vacation or on an airplane where you can’t bring your own water bottle, if it’s every now and then, not a big deal. You don’t want to be buying water by the case and drinking that every single day. Same argument with tap water.
Same thing with cookware. If someone goes out to eat, you don’t know what cookware they’re using. You could ask, I guess. Chances are you probably won’t ask. As long as you’re not going out to eat every single day, not a big deal, it sounds like.
Exactly. You touched on something so valuable. The more of our food we can prepare at home, that makes a huge impact. It doesn’t have to be 100%. If we can make that a habit as much as possible, which is also great psychologically from a family perspective. There are a lot of studies looking at outcomes of kids in different areas of life. Just from having dinner together as a family every night, which is a great bonding experience. Hopefully, we’re cooking together, so our kids are learning those foundational skills. We have a lot more awareness and control over where our food came from and more of a connection with our food. Steps like that make such a big difference.
I know you would echo these steps as well, but staying in that point of not being stressed out and thinking everything is out to get us. Dialing in the stuff that’s free first. Getting morning sunlight in the morning because we are so light-dependent, as is the thyroid. There is a lot of light-dependent aspects going into that.
Getting outside for 10 minutes in the morning, not through the window. You don’t have to stare in the sun; please don’t. Just being outside, it’s a great time to hydrate or get some gentle movement or spend time with your family. That can make a huge difference in your cortisol, melatonin production, sleep quality, and other hormones as well because they all are dependent on those cortisol rhythms.
Same thing if we can dial in our sleep. Anything we can do that improves our sleep has ripples into our wakefulness as well. We know stress is a big epidemic. Anything we can do with our stress levels will have positive ripples. There is a conversation about health, especially related to thyroid, because that is so personal to me as well.
I also like to remind people that the body’s natural state wants to move toward good health and healing. I know with autoimmune disease, for a while, I felt like my body was out to get me. I had to realize, Dr. Cassie Huckabee says this so beautifully, “If your body wanted to kill you, it could do it in less than a second, instantly.” Your body is always on your side. It’s adapting, trying to do the best thing for you.
If we can approach it with that mindset, even if there are symptoms of something we don’t like going on in the body, our body is still always on our side. If we can approach it from the perspective of how do I best support my body in moving toward health, where it already wants to go and is trying to do, what steps can I do to help it get there, we will come at it from a much more positive mindset than thinking everything is out to kill us.
I agree with that. Thank you for bringing up sunlight in morning as well as sleep. I think everybody knows the importance of sleep. Even sunlight is something I have been working on over the years. Morning sunlight and in the middle of the day.
You live in sunny Florida, so it’s probably not difficult. If someone lives up north, or in a rainy area like Seattle, are you okay with them using a light box to get that exposure?
Absolutely. In the hierarchy, I put light as a very high priority as far as things we can do for health. I am grateful to live in an area now that gets a lot of sun and good UV throughout the year. It’s something I can integrate pretty easily here.
Before I lived here, I did have a 10,000 lux light I used in the morning. When I started using it, I noticed a difference in my energy levels. We are so light-dependent. There are receptors in our eyes that start the whole Circadian clock toward sleep, and it’s dependent on that early morning light exposure. My general rule was as soon as possible after waking, I would ideally get natural light exposure. If not possible, I would get exposure from the robust light boxes that hit those receptors in the eyes that start that clock for melatonin production at night.
Because I have done a lot of lab testing over the years as I was recovering, they really do make a measurable difference in our stress hormone levels. Stress hormones are a big issue for a lot of people in today’s society, but they often do overlap with thyroid issues as well because all hormones are connected, and they don’t exist in isolation. If you are only addressing thyroid but not the others as well with some of those free steps, like getting light, you will be fighting a more uphill battle. I love any time there is an inexpensive or free step we can do that has far-reaching impact on our health, and light is one of those.
It’s a little bit controversial, but we have done ourselves a disservice in the last few decades with our fear of light exposure and things like our fear of salt exposure. Both of those have had pretty negative impacts for health in general. Those are two things our bodies are dependent on.
From a mineral perspective, we need enough sodium for our sodium potassium pump activity to work correctly, and our electrical communication within the body. Especially those of us who eat a more natural diet, we are not exposed to as much salt from processed foods, which is overall a good thing. If we are not replacing those minerals from other sources, that can actually have your energy levels take a dip. That’s another easy one.
We got afraid of the sun, and we got afraid of natural minerals. A lot of people are facing deficiencies in both of those. Light and sun exposure, even though it’s controversial, is extremely high up on the list of priorities for supporting health across the board.
Like you, I get morning sunlight. I also try to get 20-30 minutes of bright midday sun exposure on as much of my skin as possible, with the caveat that we are not trying to burn. If we are burning easily, that can be insight that there is inflammation happening somewhere in the body.
I also noticed when I changed my diet and was much more careful about what I was eating that my sun tolerance went up a lot. My background is Irish/Scottish, so in high school, I would burn if I even thought about looking at the sun. Now that I’m eating a much more nutrient-rich diet and have worked on getting inflammation down, I find that I don’t burn, and I’m very careful not to burn, but I feel great when I get enough sun exposure.
I want to ask you another question about the sun, especially since you have six children. Do you ever use sunscreen? If you do, it’s a more natural brand. Or do you completely avoid sunscreen?
For the most part, I completely avoid sunscreen. That’s a controversial viewpoint. I very much take the view that we need more sun exposure, not less, with careful care not to burn. My preference is always to cover the skin or get in the shade if we’ve reached our tolerance of the sun for that day. If they’re at a sporting event, on the track field, with no shade, they will either put on a long-sleeved shirt or a hat, or occasionally they will use a homemade mineral sunscreen on their face.
I also find my kids, who have lived most of their lives in sunny environments, our bodies are so adaptable that they have developed really good sun tolerance from a young age. Kids are so great at noticing almost immediately the positive effects of changes they make. They notice they feel more energetic when they get good sun exposure. It’s so built into our family culture that they are very careful about not burning, but they are also pretty careful about making sure that they’re outside quite a bit during the day, which is great.
Especially in this day and age where a lot of children unfortunately are glued to their electronics and not getting enough sun. It also goes back to what you were saying about plastics. 80-100 years ago, they didn’t have to worry about plastic. It’s not like 100 years ago, everybody was using sunscreen. I don’t know when it was invented. For many years, there was no sunscreen out there. I’m not saying there is never a time and place, but for the most part, as long as you’re careful, not out in the sun for too long, taking the proper precautions when you are, you will probably be okay.
We can mimic some of the aspects of the sun, whether it be with red light or the light boxes or even UV lights. Those all get pretty pricey. Another thing you have to add to your to-do list every day. The sun is like the multivitamin of light. It’s free. It’s hopefully available to us in some form every day. At least start there, even if you do for your thyroid for instance red light for a while, or you want to increase your UV exposure if you live in a cloudy area, that’s great. I don’t think that needs to be the starting point, as the sun is free.
Now we’re going to go to cookware. I’m sure everybody has been waiting. I’m sure they have been learning a lot. I didn’t expect to talk about sauna and sunlight, but they’re important. That’s the thing with this podcast. I go in whatever direction if something important comes up. We tend to overlook some of these factors, like getting enough sun and even neglecting sleep. I appreciate you bringing that up.
I want to talk to you about cookware because that also is what I discovered on your website. Your articles talk about safe cookware options. There are problems with aluminum and the different coatings. I don’t know if you want to start off by talking about some of the problems with the nonstick pans and aluminum and other chemicals that are being used.
Absolutely. This is another area I think we are seeing a lot more awareness about, which is great. Now we have people stepping into the space that are creating healthier alternatives that are also still convenient. We see that curve happen a lot, where new things are created that make life so much more convenient, so they are easily adopted. Then we learn later about the potential downfalls of those things, which is also the case with nonstick cookware and aluminum.
The nonstick is so much easier to cook with for a lot of people, so it became widely adopted. But people have probably heard of the studies of how the off-gassing from certain cookware can even kill household pets that are birds because they’re so sensitive to it. Humans are not going to die from the fumes of it, but there is an impact on humans as well.
Just to acknowledge the convenience side, I get why people want to use those because it is much more convenient. Cleanup is a lot easier. Now, there is a whole category of products that are within the safe category that are also pretty convenient to cook with. I have experimented with a lot of those over the years.
I know my grandmother was pretty much just using cast iron that she had seasoned for decades that was essentially nonstick at that point because she had taken such good care of it.
There are other options as well. I’m a big fan of ceramic. It’s not nonstick, but if you cook with it correctly, it doesn’t have a high likelihood of sticking, and it’s very easy to clean. You can use metal scrubbers to clean it, which is not the case with a lot of other natural cookware. As long as you’re getting ceramic cookware that doesn’t have heavy metals or anything in the ceramic coating. I have a lot of fully ceramic cookware in my house.
There are also ones like the Always Pan, which is essentially nonstick but free of a lot of the compounds that are in traditional nonstick, like Teflon. There are ones that are emerging.
If the movement is more toward cooking at home as much as possible, then cookware is in that category of the 20% we can change that makes a big difference because it’s interacting with a lot of our food. Any time we can use ceramic or glass or safe metals over the aluminum or nonstick, that’s an easy step. We’re already cooking anyway.
I am a big fan of swaps that can be made without any extra inconvenience, whether that be natural laundry detergent that’s safe because you’re washing clothes anyway; whether that’s cookware that is safe because you’re cooking food anyway; whether that’s deodorant or shampoo or toothpaste that’s safe because you will use those products anyway. I’m a big fan of those swaps that don’t take any extra bandwidth or decision-making once we switch them.
You said the pan was the Always Pan. That is the name of one of the products?
The Always Pan. There is also a brand called Xtrema that makes ceramic as well. Caraway is new on the scene. A lot of people like it because they have bakeware as well. I have resources for all of these. There are thankfully a lot of great alternatives.
Stainless steel is a pretty decent alternative if it truly is aluminum-free. That one is widely available and pretty inexpensive. Or cast iron if you are willing to take care of it although some people have concerns about getting too much iron from exclusively using cast iron. That’s the one caveat with that one.
My wife and I don’t use it all the time, but we use cast iron a few times a week for some grilling, like grilled chicken. What do you use if you’re grilling burgers or chicken?
Usually cast iron or occasionally stainless steel. Cast iron has a better heat ratio and gives a better cook on those foods.
Do you use glassware as well?
I do use glassware. There are even glass pots and pans you can use.
The one thing I run into in my house is because there is so many of us, I also have to find cookware that’s big. I love the Always Pan, but it’s hard to cook for eight people in one skillet. I use a lot of stainless steel or ceramic stockpots for bigger meals, which is the majority of meals at our house.
For those listening who are wondering what’s the big deal with nonstick, there is some research out there, especially with Teflon, and when it comes to the thyroid, there are some disrupting properties. I’m sure it has other health concerns besides that. Just because there are alternatives as Katie has been sharing with us, it makes sense. The answer is convenience. That’s why people go for it.
Again, we use ceramic as well. We use a combination of ceramic, glassware, stainless steel, and cast iron pots and pans. There are definitely alternatives. Like the cast iron pots and pans, I don’t know if you found a good solution, but it is difficult. It is just one of those things where to me, it’s worth the time to scrub to avoid those chemicals.
One easy mom tip on that is both of those—stainless steel and cast iron—are very temperature-dependent in the cooking surface and how much they will stick. Often, a lot of the cleaning issues can be resolved by waiting to get to the right temperature before you put any food in the pan.
An easy test for that is to put a couple of drops of water in. If they immediately start dancing, that’s a safer temperature than using a natural oil when you put food in. I can even cook eggs often in either of those without any sticking as long as I have the temperature correct going into it.
Also, seasoning it carefully. Making sure it always has that natural oil barrier. Not using soaps or anything harsh to clean it. We’ll clean with salt or things like that not to break down that natural seasoning.
Do you recommend using salt?
Yeah, I use salt and a natural scrub brush. I always hand dry it and then oil it rather than air dry it, so it doesn’t ever get rust. I occasionally also season it in the oven to keep that barrier strong. If you take care of it well, a cast iron pan will get better with age for that reason.
Do you have an air fryer?
I do. There is one that has a stainless-steel insert. I don’t use it as often because it’s hard to cook for as many people in an air fryer, so I would have to do multiple batches. I normally use my stainless-steel bakeware in the oven because there are so many of us. But there are a couple good options now for air fryers. I know those have gotten really popular.
The reason I ask is because my older sister was raving about her air fryer, so I looked into them. A lot of people have the nonstick as well. The tray that they use for the air fryer. It sounds like there is one that is stainless steel?
Yes. With air fryers, and especially pressure cookers, that’s another one to be very aware of if you’re going to use them. A lot of them do have nonstick coatings. Especially with pressure cookers at pressure, you will see more of the movement of those compounds into the food itself. Heat and pressure both increase that movement, just like they do with heat or light in the ocean with plastics. The higher the temperature, the more careful you want to be.
Before we talk about personal care products, anything else when it comes to cookware that you wanted to mention?
I think that pretty much summed it up. There are easy swaps you can find now that are not much less convenient than the nonstick ones you will find everywhere. We are seeing a big move of people making those choices, which is great.
It seems like a battle between smaller companies that will rise up to solve a problem that will eventually get bought by bigger companies. A lot of consumers resist when a natural company is bought by a bigger company. Long-term, that’s a great sign. This means even the big corporations are acknowledging that people want safer products now. To fix the problems at scale, we need the consumers making great choices, and we need these big companies who have economies of scale, and can vote with many more dollars than we do, making those choices as well. I take it overall as a good sign that we are seeing so many of these companies pop up, and big companies are acknowledging the importance of them.
I agree with that. Let’s talk about personal care products because I know that is a huge passion, which is why you developed your own product line. What are some of the concerns? I think people who are listening know the concerns, but I still want to hear the main reasons why you decided-
First of all, before that, you had on your website DIY recipes, so it’s not like a product line is the beginning of it. For years, you have been promoting people making their own products. A lot of people don’t want to do that. They can also make it on their own. If you could talk about some of the concerns with personal care products out there.
All of those recipes are still on my site. I’m a huge fan of DIY. People who don’t want to buy natural products, there is now great DIY recipes for everything now.
For me, when I was in the thick of healing from my thyroid issues, I was much more sensitive to essentially everything. I was on a very restrictive clean diet, which thankfully I am not as restrictive as I was then. A lot of things in my environment were also causing problems at that point.
At the time, there were not natural alternatives to most things, so I started making them at home. This was everything from toothpaste to deodorant to hair care. Pretty much anything that came in contact with our bodies, I made from scratch, so I knew what was in it. That was fascinating. I learned that deep dive into chemistry and understanding how those compounds interacted.
What I learned is people will say our skin is our body’s largest organ. There is a strong case for that. I would argue that if you want to count muscle as an organ system, muscle would be a larger organ. Both are important.
With skin, a lot on our body also enters our body. People think of our skin as a barrier that doesn’t let things in. Our skin is a barrier, a very important one, but it’s also meant to uptake things. Things that do go on the body do eventually make it into the body, which can be used for positive as well as negative.
That was one thing with DIY products. How can I put beneficial ingredients into the things that go on my skin or are going in my kids’ bodies through their skin, and not just avoid the bad stuff? Hopefully avoiding the toxic stuff in skincare should be the baseline. I hope for a world one day where that is the standard for companies, not the exception.
Understanding that our skin is an organ that interacts with anything put on it, we hopefully become more aware of what we’re putting on our bodies or in our mouths, or especially tissue like the armpits, which is very close to our lymphatic system. There are some controversial studies about products put on our armpits from deodorants that might leech in, with a higher incidence of breast cancer.
I started making these at home and realized about 10 years later that a lot of people who were eating organic and making all these healthy choices weren’t willing to put in the effort to do the DIY. They also wanted products to perform a certain way because they were used to an experience with these products. Women essentially weren’t willing to trade how their hair looked or felt, or if their teeth were white, for using more natural products. For these friends who were eating organic but still using Pantene and Crest, the only way they were going to make a change is if there was a convenient, easy swap they could make with no extra effort.
Back to the 80/20 principle. I also realized that 20% of the products we use are responsible for 80% of our chemical exposure. We know statistically, on average, women encounter many more chemicals through personal care products than men do. Anyone who is married and has a bathroom counter can probably tell just from looking at the number of products the guy has versus what the woman has. This is especially a concern for women. Women also have a higher incidence of thyroid issues and all kinds of issues. This is one of the contributing factors, certainly not the only one.
If we could just make swaps in those products that are most impactful, that would go a big part of the way to changing everything. There are also natural makeup brands. You could swap out everything if you wanted to. But if you start with the stuff that is on your skin, or you are getting exposure to all day, that makes a big difference. Just like we talked about with the plastics, the things in our personal care products are getting integrated into our bodies and entering our bloodstream and our tissues. Many of them can store in the body for years. Personal care products, just like a lot of plastics, have endocrine disruptors. Avoiding those products can make a big difference toward health over the long term because our skin is such a large organ and allows so much to go through it.
That was the impetus for creating those products. I also started with what I started with for that exact reason. Obviously, oral care products are in our mouths. People can acknowledge those go into the body pretty rapidly. There is medication you hold under your tongue, which is so effective because the body can so rapidly uptake from the mouth.
I have been fascinated by oral health ever since learning about nutrition and physical degeneration over 10 years ago. I realized that not only do we have an oral microbiome, but there is this amazing living process that is going on in our mouths with remineralization and the interaction of our saliva and fat-soluble vitamins within the body and the constant rebuilding of the enamel of the teeth. Creating products that supported that natural process. Back to that idea of your body is always on your side. If something is going wrong, what does the body need in order for that process to go right?
I started with oral care and hair care because hair is also one where we think if we just wash our hair and wash it out, we’re done. What’s happening is we are getting the direct exposure to those products while we’re washing our hair. Not all of it is removed from the hair follicles. We are getting low-level exposure to whatever that is throughout the whole day through skin contact and respiration. Any of those really strong-smelling scents or perfumes, we’re inhaling those and getting low level SVOC exposure all day long.
It’s a dual exposure, which is also something to be aware of with laundry products. If your laundry products smell like air fresheners, those compounds are sitting on your skin through your clothing. You’re inhaling them all day, every day, even while you’re sleeping, if you are wearing pajamas or have sheets that were washed in those. Making swaps there can be an impactful change as well.
Same thing with deodorant. That being such a tissue where so much lymphatic activity is happening in the armpits. If you have chemicals sitting there, the body is uptaking those, and they can circulate throughout the body.
If I could replace those products that most people use every single day with oral care, hair care, and deodorant, that would go a long way toward removing some of at least the more dangerous and widespread exposures that we all have.
You have your own line of toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant, soap, and hand sanitizer.
Soap and hand sanitizer. Now floss as well. Most floss is actually lined with some of the more nasty plastic compounds to make it glide so easily. Those are sitting in the gums. Being especially aware of what goes into our mouth is a big problem.
Fluoride is another controversial topic in and of itself. There is a lot more that goes into oral care than just that. I know you have talked about the fluoride/thyroid connection and how we want to be wary of fluoride because it can interfere with thyroid hormone. Most people, when it comes to toothpaste that are aware of that, just choose fluoride-free alternatives, which is helpful.
When we use one called hydroxyapatite, which is what’s naturally present in tooth enamel to begin with, and what our body is using to rebuild tooth enamel all the time- There is also a diverse microbiome that is the start of the digestive process and is really involved in whether or not we get cavities or gum disease.
There are two kinds of imbalance that can happen within the mouth. In one direction, you will get the Strep mutans bacteria, which is the one that is responsible for cavities. But you also might see other imbalances that lead to gingivitis.
The interesting part is you typically don’t see those happen at the same time. Just like in the gut microbiome, there is an oral microbiome that is always trying to keep the bad bacteria in check. Usually, only one of those opportunistic bacteria at a time will spike. Understanding that, if we can support the oral microbiome, and support our good bacteria in our mouth, not only does that help with things like bad breath, which people are concerned about, and help with remineralization, but also it can help with keeping both of these more opportunistic and dangerous bacteria in check as well.
I love talking about the oral microbiome and how to support it. Just like with the hair care products, my goal was not just to avoid the bad stuff. It was mandatory that all of the products only had EWG-safe ingredients. But also knowing that these things are going to enter the body in a bigger way, how can we put the things that are beneficial to the oral microbiome or to the skin microbiome or to the proper functioning of a hair follicle into the products so that we are getting a beneficial effect all day long versus a negative one?
Is it the same with the soap? Do you have ingredients in the soap that can nourish the skin?
Yes. For example, in the hair care for instance, we have ones that naturally increase hair follicle activity. I know hair loss is a big concern for people, especially thyroid. I had hair loss for a while. I was looking at how I can create a multivitamin for the skin, hair, and oral microbiomes that will give it a benefit all day long.
That’s awesome. Getting back to toothpaste, the hydroxyapatite, it’s not only that it’s fluoride-free, but it also helps support the oral microbiome. It also helps with potentially the remineralization of the teeth as well.
Exactly. That was the goal with the toothpaste. It’s the one I DIY’d earliest, and it’s been through almost 100 iterations to get to this current version that I love. It uses hydroxyapatite, which is also what makes teeth look white. I know people prefer their teeth to look white and shiny. When you strengthen that tooth enamel naturally over time, it’s also what contributes to your teeth looking white and healthy because it’s supporting that natural remineralization process by providing that hydroxyapatite and the minerals that the body needs to interact with your saliva to constantly replenish your tooth enamel.
Wonderful. You can check out Katie’s line, Wellnesse.com. I highly recommend checking her products out. Anything else we need to cover with regard to personal care products?
Yeah. I’m glad we got into so many far-reaching directions. I love the work you’re doing. All of these subjects you’re tackling that are so important for all of us, but especially for moms, which have been my audience and community for so many years. I love that the work you’re doing is supporting families and helping all of us as well.
Thank you so much. Being that you at one time experienced thyroid autoimmunity, Hashimoto’s, if you could just finish by giving some additional tips for those with thyroid autoimmunity, things you have done over the years to maintain your health. You did mention a lot here with the sauna and sunlight and sleep. I don’t know if there is anything else to add, but if there is, I would love to hear it.
Thyroid especially is a place where I think we see the best outcomes when we have informed patients who are willing to do the research and make the daily choices and can benefit from the knowledge of amazing practitioners who have specific knowledge that can be helpful.
The thyroid is so far-reaching in its impact in the body, and there are so many inputs that can lead to an imbalance. It’s not that there is ever a single cause and effect, one thing that will fix the thyroid. All hormones are so interconnected that I often think the thyroid having an issue is a symptom of something happening wider in the body. We can’t just try to fix the thyroid, but it’s a great sign from the body that the body wants us to look at all these other things as well. When we take that holistic approach, it’s more impactful and hopefully a quicker healing than if we just try to treat the thyroid in isolation for instance.
It also leads into a little bit of a conversation around mindset, which was much more impactful for me than I expected it to be. For many years, I had that view that my body was out to get me, and it was attacking me and trying to kill me. I eventually realized that that mindset piece and the languaging I was using toward myself made a big difference in how I was approaching healing and how that process was going to look. I don’t think mindset alone will fix the problem, but I do think it’s an important piece to be aware of.
Shifting to that idea that our body is always on our side, coming from the approach of how I can best support my body and be a partner in achieving better health, which also leads to what could be many podcasts all on its own on the stress side and addressing if we have unresolved issues or trauma going on. That was part of it for me.
Shifting that mindset to a positive approach versus a negative approach, not restricting food because it’s bad, but choosing great food because we love and respect and want to nourish our bodies. Taking the positive approach of working with our bodies in the best way possible to nurture ourselves and work toward what the body already wants, which is healing.
I think that mindset piece opens the door and sheds light on a lot of the areas that we can work on in a way that makes it exciting and fun versus restrictive and feel like a prison. I always want to leave people with that. That mindset of working to a place of less stress and more self-love puts us in a better mental state for healing as well.
Thank you for sharing that. I agree. You mentioned mindset alone usually won’t be enough. I agree with that as well. I will say that when I work with people, those who have a more positive mindset do seem to get better results than those with more negative mindsets. Thankfully, most people I work with do seem to have that positive mindset. For those few people who have the negative mindset, it doesn’t mean they can’t heal, but it does seem like it makes a difference.
Can you remind people where they can find out more about you, Katie?
I’m Wellness Mama everywhere online. The website that hosts the podcast is WellnessMama.com. There are links to a lot of resources available on there. If people want more specific information in any of these categories, it’s often easy to google Wellness Mama and cookware or thyroid, whatever it is, and all of the articles on that topic will come up.
That’s how I find you when I want to refer to something. I type in “Wellness Mama cookware” or “Wellness Mama plastic alternatives.” That’s great advice.
If you’re one of the rare people who have not checked out Katie’s website as well as her podcast, please do so. Katie, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. You covered so much today, and I learned a lot. I really do appreciate it.
Thank you so much for having me. This has been such a fun conversation.