Bonnie Penner learned the hard way the need to take charge of your own health. In her early 20s, she went for surgery to have an ovarian cyst removed—the doctor took out her appendix instead.
That was an extreme case of how modern medicine can go wrong, and her health problem, endometriosis, persisted. She was especially puzzled by her condition, given that she baked her own bread, cooked her own organic food from scratch, and had always been a big believer in healthy, active living.
Then a friend told her about xenoestrogens, chemical compounds that mimic estrogen. They’re also known as environmental estrogens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, endocrine disruptors, xenobiotics, obesogens, and other names. And they’re pervasive, in everything from cosmetics to cleaning goods to baby products.
“Xenoestrogens are everywhere,” Penner says in a phone interview from Kelowna, where she’s based. “They were in my laundry soap and my lotions and my shampoos.”
The problem? By mimicking estrogen, the substances can result in hormonal imbalances. Penner, who’ll be speaking at the upcoming Wellness Show at the Vancouver Convention Centre, notes that those imbalances may lead to thyroid problems, cysts, fibroids, infertility, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, and even hormone-sensitive cancers.
Examples of xenoestrogens include parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, phthalates, propylene glycol, triclosan, and bisphenol A (BPA).
“They’re related to a number of hormone issues people have, and when pregnant women are exposed to these chemicals, their babies are exposed too,” Penner says.
To reduce her own exposure to such substances, Penner began making her own products. Doing so set her on a whole new path, and she’s gone on to found Zero Xeno Enterprises, a website and a line of personal care, pet, and household products. She wants more people to be aware of the hazards xenoestrogens present and ways to avoid them.
What especially concerns her is the way many so-called natural and ecofriendly products are, in fact, no better than their conventional counterparts.
“When I started to make my own products, I had discovered that even organic brands contained chemicals as well,” says Penner, a mother of four. “That was very disheartening. They claimed on their labels to be free of such chemicals, but the ingredient deck on the back stated otherwise. That was when I learned about ‘greenwashing’.”
Penner will give a talk at the Wellness Show called The 7 Deadly Estro-Sins.
Also appearing at the event is Toronto registered dietitian Liz Pearson, author of several books, including the recently published Broccoli, Love and Dark Chocolate: Because Food, Love and Life Should Be Delicious!.
Her book encapsulates her philosophy and is in two parts: One is a science-based look at eating for the prevention of disease, including food myths, weight loss, keeping active, superfoods, and dietary “villains”; the other consists of simple recipes made with healthy ingredients.
Pearson will make a few appearances at the Wellness Show, including a talk about healthy snacking, which can be easier said than done.
“There’s so much confusion out there today,” Pearson says by phone. “I can’t tell you how many clients I deal with who just want to put their hands in the air and say, ‘I give up.’ The headlines change every day, and people don’t know what they should eat. Snacking is a good idea if you choose the right snack.
“A lot of people are choosing the wrong snack or snacking too often,” she adds. “Most of us don’t even know what hunger feels like anymore. People use snacking to medicate their lives with food: ‘I’m bored; I eat. I’m sad; I eat. I want something different; I eat.’ Unfortunately, for a lot of people, snacking serves as a Band-Aid.”
The ideal snack, she says, is as close to Mother Nature as you can get: a whole unpeeled apple and a small handful of almonds.
“There are no added ingredients and the food is as it’s found in nature,” Pearson says. “The research into the benefits of apples is exciting: it’s good for heart health, your waistline, satiety—keeping you full for a long period—disease prevention… Nuts are so portable and so tasty and have so many health benefits. People always want me to say, ‘Buy this granola bar,’ but I don’t. It’s just as easy to grab an apple and some almonds as it is to buy a granola bar.”
She’s also a fan of beans in any form, and one of her young daughter’s preferred snack items is a bowl of chickpeas that have been roasted with olive oil and rosemary. “They take 45 minutes [to roast],” she says. “It takes time but not effort. It’s better than any potato chip. It’s best right out of the oven; it’s not meant to be consumed an hour later. Kids love it.” Hummus and bean salads are other favourites.
Pearson will also be doing a cooking demonstration making two recipes from her book: a quinoa salad with black beans, red grapes, and apples as well as a spinach dip made with Greek yogurt.
“When people make these, they want to make them again,” she says. “That’s the best test of a recipe.”
The Wellness Show takes place Friday through Sunday (February 13 to 15) at the Vancouver Convention Centre.