Brilliant! (And Humble Too….)

Happy Spring! Thankfully the snow is finally melting here in Southern Ontario and we are enjoying temperatures above freezing for the first time in months.

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I am going to spend some time over the next little while really focusing on my cooking workshops and on a few writing projects that I have lined up but I also want to keep my blog “springing” forward (sorry…couldn’t resist the pun). So instead of hastily throwing together new posts, I thought I’d dig through my archives and re-blog a few oldies but goodies.

As I was going through my blog history it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve really got some freakin’ good content in there! My writing brilliance is truly one of my best qualities…right next to my modesty ; ) So please bear with me as I re-post some of my favourite recipes and ruminations over the next few weeks.

This is also a great opportunity for any of you aspiring writers to step up with a guest blog – I’m always happy to feature interesting new content. And if you live nearby and want to stay in touch – why don’t you come to my kitchen for an upcoming workshop? I’m throwing an All-Natural Kitchen Spa Party on April 12th and a Liquid Nutrition Workshop on May 31st. You can contact me directly at loriandmark@cogeco.ca for more information.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the throw-back posts as much as I do. It was fun to sift through and pick out a few of my personal favourites. Ok… so they might not be totally brilliant but I’m hoping some of them will at least put a little spring in your step ; )

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The Sweet Smell of Poison In Your Home

Saturdays were “house cleaning” days when I was growing up. We would haul out the bathroom scrubbing bubbles, streak-free window cleaner, disinfectant spray, furniture polish and other assorted cleaning products and get busy removing dust, dirt and germs. By the time we were finished, the house would be spotless and smell wonderfully fresh. Even today nothing takes me back to my childhood like a whiff of lemon-scented Pledge.

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All of our efforts were done to achieve a clean home but the scary truth is that the vast majority of the products we associate with cleanliness and fresh smells are often loaded with harsh toxic chemicals that can seriously damage our health.  Just because a house has the aroma of mountain air or spring daisy air freshener doesn’t necessarily mean that its clean. But most of us have been brainwashed into equating the smell of our cleaning products with their efficacy and not only is that a false assumption, it is also putting us directly in harm’s way.

According  to the David Suzuki Foundation, “Canadians spend more than $275 million on household cleaning products in a year.”  The familiar labels on so many of these products warn of immediate dangers like “poison”, “corrosive” and “irritant” but “there is no requirement in Canada for manufacturers to warn consumers about the health and environmental hazards associated with chronic, or long-term, exposure to chemical ingredients in household cleaning products. Most of us are exposed to cleaning products and their residues at low levels on a daily basis.” 

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Due to the artificial fragrances in the vast majority of cleaners, the very scents that we find so pleasing can lead to allergic reactions, rashes and asthma. And even more troubling are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s) that are in chemically-derived household products.

The list of VOCs commonly used in cleaners and air fresheners is shockingly long but a few of the most frightening ones include propane, butane, ethanol, and phthalates. “Propane is a suspected neurotoxin and respiratory toxicant. Butane is a neurotoxicant. Ethanol has been reported to be a carcinogen as well as an endocrine toxicant, liver toxicant, neurotoxicant, and reproductive toxicant. And phthalates are suspected endocrine disrupters associated with reproductive effects, including reduced sperm count in men.” Seriously scary stuff!

How do these nasty toxins get into our bodies? Well, when we scrub and spray our homes the chemicals linger in the air and we breathe them in. They can also enter our bodies directly through our largest organ – our skin- when we touch or rub up against the “sanitized and disinfected” surfaces and through our mouths if we swallow residues left behind on dishes. And these poisons have been shown to have a cumulative effect in our bodies and are extremely difficult to eliminate.

When switching to nontoxic cleaning products, it may take you a while to get used to not having that pine forest or lemon smell that has signaled  “clean” for, oh, your whole life! But trust me – odorless (or naturally scented) is much healthier.

Jessica Alba, The Honest Company

So what the heck should we use to safely clean our homes that will satisfy both our sniffers and our cleaning standards? Here are a few of my best suggestions:

 

1. Research: Check out the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning – they have done exhaustive research on over 2000 products and provide ratings and toxicity levels. My own personal favourites are: Benefect Disinfectant & All-purpose Cleaner, Cleanwell Hand Santizer, Vaportek Odor Control Products, The Honest Company and Seventh Generation cleaners and detergents. They are all safe and effective products that I feel comfortable using in my home around my 3 young children.

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2. Make your own – There are loads of websites and books available for whipping up your own natural and effective “homemade” supplies. Often a simple mixture of food-grade essential oils from Living Libations (lemon and tangerine are my favs) and pure water can clean and freshen up floors and surfaces. Wellness Mama and Keeper of the Home are great blogs to find recipes.

3. Kick it Old School – Real food author and activist Michael Pollan wisely advised us in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” The same can be said for our cleaning products. Our ancestors used things like vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, soap, hot water, scrub brushes and rags to keep their living spaces sparkling clean – and they still work just as well today!

My husband and his best friend have worked in the all-natural cleaning and disinfection industry for over 15 years – long before “green” cleaning was on anyone’s radar. And I’ll admit it always rubs me the wrong way when one of their customers complains about the “smell” of their products – all of which are scented exclusively with pure  essential oils (ironically it’s often these same people who freely spray toxic chemical disinfectants or rave about the wonders of an alcohol hand sanitizer from the drug store). C’mon people –  – it’s time to retrain our noses to transition to more natural and safer scents. Let’s use our buying power to support products that prioritize the health and safety of their consumers over the mass-produced chemical brands that are ultimately poisoning our homes and our bodies.

Unjunk Food

In many ways I would consider myself a hedonist. If you’re having a party – I’ll be there. If you want to stay up late talking or dancing or playing euchre until the wee hours, I’ll stick it out. If you are opening a bottle of wine- I’ll certainly have a glass. And if you want to order dessert – I’m always a sure bet to share with you. I love to have fun and making time to enjoy life is high up on my priority list.

When it comes time for a food treat, my pleasure-seeking brain will often gravitate towards something rich and sweet and junky. I consider myself a pretty good baker but sometimes nothing beats a pack of store-bought peanut butter cups, a handful of M & M’s or a Snickers bar. Every so often when I am checking out at the pharmacy or perusing the tabloids at the grocery store, I will give into temptation and throw a chocolate bar discretely in with my purchases. “Oh that’s just a treat for the kids” I’ll say to the cashier…. but we both know I’ll have that thing devoured before I even drive out of the parking lot.

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Have you ever really looked at the ingredients on the wrappers of some of those decadent confections? There are some downright scary things like “partially hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, chemical preservatives and refined sugar” that I’m not so sure I should be regularly putting into my body or the bodies of my children.

Which is why I was downright giddy with excitement when I found out about Unreal Candy. Although it’s only available for sale in the United States right now (I’ve already petitioned them to come to Canada so send them an email or tweet if you want to help move things along), this stuff is definitely worth a run across the border! The company was started by a young boy named Nicky who was determined to create candy that tasted great without all of the artificial ingredients. After an extensive search, Nicky and his parents found a master chef in Spain who brought together a team of chefs from across Europe to take up the challenge.

They began their journey by deciding what they’d leave out of the reinvented candy: corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and GMOs. They also set a goal to reduce sugar by 50% per serving… They decided that the key ingredients had to be responsibly sourced, thereby supporting farming communities and preventing the destruction of rainforests.  
In place of the junk, they added more of the good stuff, like more cacao, real caramel, and peanuts. They also added more protein and fiber from real food, so that each candy has a low glycemic index.

I have had the pleasure of sampling the Unreal creations and let me tell you – they are really really good! Candy coated chocolates, chocolate & caramel & nougat bars, peanut butter cups, chocolate & peanuts in a candy shell and chocolate & caramel & nougat & peanut bars. Absolutely delicious!

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Now I know darn well that given the nature of these products, there are people who will say that this isn’t really a good alternative or a healthy choice. And I’ll admit that I admire those of you who can be content with a crispy apple or a single wafer of dark chocolate when a sweet craving hits – I am truly in awe of your will power. But I know that being realistic, this “unjunk” food is a much better choice for me and my family when it comes time for a treat. Which is why this girl will occasionally be enjoying some Unreal Candy…. and because the odd hit of chocolate will keep me on top of my late-night euchre game : )

9 Fresh Ideas for Spring

Although its taking a long time coming in my neck of the woods, spring is definitely on the way! And what better time of year than spring to try something new? So in honour of the changing season, here are my 9 suggestions for embracing the season of renewal:

1. Try Some New Recipes  – my friend Sue actually inspired this article when she posted an idea on Facebook about handing cookbooks to her kids and telling them to each pick 2 new dinner recipes for the coming week. Brilliant! What a great way to change things up. Dust off your cookbooks and foodie magazines and hunt for a couple of yummy new dishes to experiment with (or check out the archives on my blog for some Lori Wilson classics ; ) Time to toss those same-old-same-old winter menus!

2. Switch up Your Pit Stick – as an all-natural deodorant devotee, I’ve found that it’s best to keep a few good brands in the vanity that I can keep rotating to maintain their effectiveness. They seem to work like gangbusters for a month or so and then I need to swap them out for a bit. Although I always keep Purely Great and Weleda on hand, my new fav is Penny Lane Organics Lavender Deodorant Stick – it’s chemical-free and works well even during my sweatiest workouts.

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3. Read SOAT – I have been a huge  fan of author Elizabeth Gilbert since she first published Eat, Pray, Love in 2007. I just adore the way her words jump off the page like she’s a close friend who is speaking directly to me (check out her blog and follow her on Facebook to see what I mean).  That’s why I couldn’t wait to dive into her latest fictional work “The Signature of All Things“. Now I’m going to be honest and admit that I started and stopped this book at least 5 times before I dug in and got hooked but you need to keep in mind that it’s an epic novel so don’t give up – trust me it’s well worth the read.

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4. Make A Small Change To Your Living Space– it doesn’t have to be anything big – perhaps you just grab a frame and hang up that picture you’ve been meaning to hang, shift the furniture around in the living room or paint one wall bright red. My hubby and I bought a new quilt for our bed for $60 while we were in the away on vacation in March and it makes me so happy every time I walk into my bedroom. Sometimes even a small shift can bring a fresh perspective.

5. Buy Something New for Your Wardrobe– To celebrate a good friend’s birthday, I went on a little shopping trip with a few pals a couple of weeks ago. We hit up one of my favourite local stores I purchased a bright pink short-sleeved shirt that I plan to wear the heck out of this spring. Grab a new scarf, a dangly pair of earrings or a funky new pair of jeans and see if you can add a bit of colour and energy to your wardrobe.

6. Start a Meditation Practice – Thanks to a great tip from my dad, I’ve recently rejuvenated my own meditation practice via a fantastic free app called Headspace on my mobile device. Meditation guru Andy Puddicombe guides you through 10 minutes a day of quiet contemplation and offers insights into the importance of this routine. I’ve also signed up for Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s free 21-day meditation session called “Finding Your Flow that will be starting in mid-April (I did their other free course back in the fall and loved it).

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7. Tend To Your Pearly Whites – Tea, coffee, red wine, chocolate, lemon juice….all things that I love and all things that can wreak havoc on my teeth. In an effort to keep them nice and white without undergoing a chemical bleaching, I am a big fan of daily Oil Pulling using pure coconut oil. I also read an article by author Kimberly Snyder about rubbing orange peels on the teeth a couple of times per week to amp up tooth whiteness and another post from one of my favorite bloggers – Wellness Mama–  about swishing activated charcoal in the mouth to remove stains. Yes these ideas might sound wacky but all of these options are natural, economical and definitely worth a try!

8. Drink Up Some Fresh Juice – According to nutritionist Meghan Telpner: “Juicing is the easiest way to get essential nutrients in- detoxifying your liver and other organs, increasing energy and your mood and helping to make other foods more digestible….For those trying to include more raw fruits and veggies into their diets, juice is the answer. For anyone looking to shed some junk from the trunk, clear up the skin, have shinier hair, and way more energy and vitality…guess what? You got it. Juice. is. the. answer.” If you own a juicer, it’s time to pull it out of the cupboard and get juicing. If you don’t, you can hit up a juice bar for a shot of wheat grass and a green juice chaser. And if by chance you live in the Burlington, Ontario area – my good friend Lisa has started a business providing beautiful and nourishing fresh juice- home delivery and full cleanses are also available.  Contact her via her at lisa@flowfit.ca for menus and more information. (photo below courtesy of Lisa Faley – www.flowfit.ca)

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9. Get Outside– Yes it’s cold (at least in Southern Ontario) but nothing makes me feel more clear-headed than a good brisk walk. Whatever your exercise of choice (walk, run, bike, skip, dance) – try to get outside every day even for a jaunt around the block and some deep breaths of fresh air. Guaranteed to give you a new outlook on life.

I hope these suggestions put some spring in your step! I for one am ready to bid goodbye to a long, cold and harsh winter. Yay spring!

Chaga Mushroom Tea Latte

I’m going to be completely honest and admit that there are many mornings you will find me at my favourite coffee joint in the drive-thru line up patiently waiting for my soy latte. I have a well rehearsed repertoire of excuses in my head to justify my “need” for a fancy take-out drink:

– I was up all night with a sick child and I desperately need a coffee today
– I worked out really hard this morning and I deserve a reward
– I’m going to start eating right and working out next week so I’d better get my treats in today
– I stayed up late working so I need a coffee to make it through the day
– It’s a holiday (insert any occasion here – including Ground Hog Day!) and I need to celebrate with a coffee
– I’m meeting a friend and I can’t be rude and not join her when she is drinking her coffee
– It’s Monday and I need to pick myself up for the week
– It’s Friday and I need to gear up for the weekend

Trust me, I could go on and on but I’ll spare you. Needless to say I really enjoy a nice tall latte filled with steamy soy milk and sugary add-ins to start off my day. But being something of a health nut- I am also well aware of the negative effects of indulging in this particular treat (not to mention that it costs $6 a pop!)

Although the pros and cons of coffee have been hotly debated I know for myself that I feel much healthier and my gut, skin and pocketbook are much happier when I stick to all-natural homemade concoctions. And yes I can see you rolling your eyes through my computer screen – but some of my concoctions really do taste great!

Because I’m a full-on food nerd, I was totally thrilled to find this bag of Canadian Chaga Mushroom pieces on a recent trip to my local health food store. This potent and unique superfood is “a slow-growing mushroom that develops on living birch trees, obtaining nutrients from its host and making them available to us.” Chaga is considered the most nutritionally dense tree growth in the world and is revered in ancient Chinese medicine as being the “king of plants“. Studies have shown Chaga to be the single most concentrated source of antioxidants known to man and it has anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and cancer fighting properties. Wow!

The cool thing about these mushroom chunks is that you boil 1/3 of a cup of them in a liter of water and just let them steep like tea. Afterwards you strain out the chunks and you will be left with a mild-tasting dark brown liquid that you can add to soups, smoothies, tea, coffee or just drink it straight up. And since the mushroom is so potent – you can actually reuse the chunks several times!

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This morning I added 1 heated cup of the Chaga tea to 1 cup of boiling water and blended it together with 1 tbsp. raw sesame seeds, 1 tbsp. hemp seeds, 1 tbsp. maple syrup, 1 tbsp. Dandy Blend, 1 tbsp. cacao powder, a small chunk of cacao butter and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract. Voila! Yummy coffee drink that has a ton of health benefits! (I also added a cupful of the tea to our morning smoothie)

So for today, I am skipping the fancy take-out coffee and sipping my Chaga Tea Latte. One day at a time right? As for tomorrow – if you happen to see me in the drive-thru line just give me knowing nod and a wave…..because trust me, I’ll have my excuse ready ; )

My Favourite Holistic Cold & Flu Remedies

As the fall weather starts to turn cooler, I always get a little anxious about cold and flu season. Luckily my family doesn’t get sick too often but when we do I feel so much better knowing I am prepared with an arsenal of natural remedies that can help us heal quickly. Here is my personal list of go-to illness busters that strengthen the immune system and offer comfort when someone is feeling under the weather:

1. Probiotics – I only recently learned that the foundation of immunity is in our belly. In fact, 80 percent of our immune system is located in our digestive system, making a healthy gut a major focal point if you want to maintain optimal health. Good quality probiotics are made up of healthy bacteria that balance harmful bacteria in the body. Each of us has more than 1,000 different types of bacteria that live in our digestive tracts and research is now showing that the “good” bacteria from probiotics helps not only to stimulate digestive health, but may  stimulate a healthy immune system. I follow the advice of my naturopath and use either the HMF or Culturelle brands that each contain many strands of live bacteria.

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2. Oregano Oil– I first learned about the power of oregano oil years ago from a client of my husband’s – and I thought she was nutty when she first told me about it. But I have since learned that oregano is a virtual powerhouse when it comes to it’s antiviral and antifungal properties and has been proven to kill unwanted bacteria, fungus, yeast, parasites and viruses. Living Libations makes a potent and pure food grade oil that I always have on hand. When I feel a cold or a sore throat coming on- I immediately put a drop or 2 under my tongue and swallow it a few times a day. But brace yourself – it is very strong and will burn for a minute or so after you ingest it. My older children are able to handle the oil under their tongues but I generally wouldn’t recommend this remedy for children.

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3. Castor Oil– Don’t worry- I’m not going to go old school and suggest that anyone do a shot of castor oil to clean out their system. But the oil from this amazing plant has wonderful healing properties when massaged onto the skin. According to nutritionist Meghan Telpner The ricinoleic acid in castor oil prevents the growth of bacteria, yeast, and viruses. When I have joint pain anywhere, I rub it on the joints, if I have swollen glands, I massage it into neck/gland area, if I am feeling a little backed up- on to my belly it goes (massaged in a clockwise direction- the same direction stuff moves through the large intestine). With a cold or congestion, I’ll mix in a little comfrey and eucalyptus and massage it into my chest.” You can also direct the healing power of castor oil directly onto your stomach by making a “castor oil pack”. You simply soak an old cloth in the oil and place that directly onto your belly. Cover that with a plastic bag and lay a hot water bottle over top and relax for 20 minutes or longer. The castor oil will soak through your skin and is said to “improve the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients, eliminate toxins, and stimulate circulation.” (source: Meghan Telpner)

castor flower

4. Flu Tea– I got the recipe for this tea from a Flu Fighter seminar I attended a few years ago that was offered by a local naturopath. As soon as someone in my family gets a bug, I immediately whip up a batch of this healing tea and serve it up a few times a day. The combination of natural healing herbs and superfoods will kick any cold to the curb! But you’ll want to add lots of honey to each cup to make it drinkable. Into a medium saucepan add 6 cups of water, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp of cumin powder, a 3-inch chunk of fresh ginger cut into pieces, and 1 lemon cut into slices. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve and save the tea in the fridge in a mason jar. Heat and drink as needed.

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5. Magic Socks– you are going to think I am off my rocker when I tell you about this remedy but my naturopath swears by it and everyone in my house has benefitted from this treatment over the past couple of years. You can follow this link to get clear directions on what to do but basically you warm your feet in hot water, dry them thoroughly and then put on a pair of socks that have been soaked in cold water and rinsed out. You cover those with a dry pair of wool socks and immediately get into bed. Think I’m nuts yet?! Well according to Jamey Wallace, ND, Clinic Medical Director at Bastyr Center for Natural Health: “The treatment is known as a “heating compress,” meaning that it’s up to the body to heat the cold, wet socks. The body reacts to the cold socks by increasing blood circulation, which also stimulates the immune system. You have to ‘rev up’ the immune system, so it’s ready for battle against the affliction or condition. This treatment acts to reflexively increase the circulation and decrease congestion in the upper respiratory passages, head and throat. It also has a sedating action, and many patients report that they sleep much better during the treatment. The treatment is also effective for pain relief and increases the healing response during acute infections.”

wool socks

6. Immune Illume – I mentioned the wonderful food-grade oregano oil from Living Libations above- but I also always have a bottle of their Immune Illume handy during the fall and winter. I simply cannot say enough good things about all of the pure and potent oils I have purchased from this company but the Immune Illume is my absolute favourite. According to Nadine at LL “This fortifying fuse of potent antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral agents groom a resistant immune; hyssop, thymes, ravensara, rosemary, eucalyptus + oregano releases breathing. Inhale, bathe, massage into chest + sinuses or diffuse. Ingest a drop or two in: olive oil, teas or honey.”

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I hope these ideas help naturally ease some of the pain of cold and flu season. Remember that these are my own personal remedies so remember to do whatever works best for you and your family.

Another quick suggestion- cook with tons of onions and garlic. They are both nature’s antibiotics and have potent virus busting properties. Sometimes I’ll even chop up a clove of garlic and swallow the bits with some water when I’m feeling a bug coming on. Powerful…and smelly stuff!

What are your go-to home remedies?

Garbage In Garbage Out Featuring Scooby Doo

I have a yappy and adorable 5-year-old cockapoo named Scooby Doo. He is a chaser of squirrels, a barker at cats and a stealer of table food but we love him just the same.

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From the time he was a puppy we fed him a high-quality kibble and he seemed to do just fine. Mind you he had red and itchy ears a few times a year, he licked and bit his feet until they were red and raw every fall for no apparent reason and he would occasionally have a bout of the runs. The vet chalked it up to seasonal allergies and prescribed medicated baths and ear drops and I didn’t think too much about it.

About 2 years ago after chatting with a friend I started to question his diet and decided to try raw food. I take full responsibility for the horrifying aftermath of this experiment that began with me too quickly changing his diet, his stomach rejecting the new food, weeks of living with a sick and weak dog and $4000 in vet bills only to have a surgeon tell us he had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and would have to be on medication for the rest of his life.

I am happy to report that today Scooby is the healthiest he has ever been and he hasn’t taken one single drop of medication since he recovered from that surgery. What has changed? Well Scooby now eats real, unprocessed, cooked food homemade especially for him. No it’s not vegan (although I hear Alicia Silverstone’s dogs eat all veggies) but it is real food with no garbage ingredients often found in commercial dog foods like salt, sugar, soy, yeast, corn and wheat and no fillers like ground animal by-products and other yuckiness.

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Now I’m not as good as my Aunt Jan who makes volumes of homemade food for her 2 large dogs once a month but I have found a healthy and reasonably priced solution from the wonderful women at The Skye’s The Limit. These amazing ladies prepare muffins of goodness for my little dog using 100% human grade and organic ingredients that I simply store in the freezer and defrost as needed. Scooby’s muffins contain chicken (but there are many other protein sources), green veggies, orange veggies, red apple, oil, water, egg and a pre-mixed formula made of organic milled whole brown rice, whole oats, whole barley, calcium, carob, 100% pure alfalfa, Acadian sea kelp, oregano, marjoram, parsley, rosemary, ginger and garlic. They will even cater to animal dietary and special needs including gluten-free, cancer, liver problems and diabetes.

As for Scooby his coat is shiny, his eyes are clear and best of all he has had no ear itchiness or redness, no foot problems and his poop is perfect and regular. So this Scooby Doo mystery is solved. Whether human or animal- garbage in equals garbage out.  It’s a good reminder that the food you put in your mouth has a direct link to your overall health (and they would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for this meddling mom ; )