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6 Vegan Alternatives to Honey

By Becky Striepe

Honey is not vegan, but luckily there are delicious alternatives to replace it in any recipe. Try these vegan alternatives to honey!

The honey question is surprisingly contentious in the vegan world, but honey is an animal product and definitely not vegan. Bees do not create honey for humans to eat—they create it as their own, sole food source.

As Piper Hoffman explained to Care2, bees have a central nervous system. They experience pain, just like larger animals do. "I'm going to speculate here that starving causes pain," Hoffman said, "and thanks to beekeepers, some entire hives starve to death during the winter."

There are some vegans who argue that local honey is ethical, because the methods used to take the honey are less harsh than in commercial honey operations. The local honey debate is a hot topic and I'm not here to argue about it. You do you. The resources below are for anyone looking for vegan alternatives to honey.

Vegan Alternatives to Honey

1. Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a little bit controversial from a health perspective, but there is no question that when it comes to taste and how it behaves in recipes, it mimics honey like a dream. I think of agave nectar as a sometimes food, because it's not terribly healthy.

2. Bee Free Honee

This apple-based vegan honey alternative is truly amazing. Creator Katie Sanchez discovered this recipe in 1999 when an apple jelly experiment went awry. The result of her testing wasn't jelly, but it was a shockingly spot-on vegan alternative to honey.

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup gives recipes a different flavor than honey does, but it works well in baking, sauces and most other recipes that call for honey. I even use maple syrup in place of honey in beauty recipes, like this sugar scrub.

4. Brown Rice Syrup

Brown rice syrup is available at most grocery stores. It's slightly less sweet than honey, but that can be a good thing, especially if you're trying to cut down on your sugar intake. Use it just like honey, adding a bit more to recipes, if you find the results not sweet enough for your tastes.

5. Barley Malt Syrup

Barley malt syrup has a distinct, malty taste and, like brown rice syrup, it's a bit less sweet than honey. It's a fun one to play with, though, if you can find it at the store! I especially like barley malt syrup in place of honey for things like granola, cookies or cereal bars.

6. Sorghum Syrup

Sorghum is an interesting crop. Some energy companies are looking at this heat- and drought-tolerant crop as an alternative for the corn used to make biofuels and it's also versatile in the kitchen. Sorghum syrup is available at most grocery stores and is about as sweet as honey, so you can sub it in at a one-to-one ratio.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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7 Non-Toxic Yoga Mats

By Lauren Bowen

So many of the products that we buy and use daily will end up in a landfill at the end of their lives—especially those made from plastics or other unrecyclable (or uncompostable) materials.

Yoga mats usually fall into this category.

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This City Just Set Aside 1,000 Acres to Save Honey Bees

By Julie M. Rodriguez

It's no secret that bee populations have declined in recent years. Last year, beekeepers across the U.S. reported losing a staggering 44 percent of their colonies over the course of the winter and summer.

The causes of bee decline vary—exposure to a variety of pesticides, fungus, parasites and rising temperatures being just some of the potential issues—but there's only one really effective way to fight back against the problem. Bees need open spaces to roam and collect pollen without being disturbed.

One city in Iowa has decided to do just that, in a major way: Cedar Rapids is planning to set aside 1,000 acres of bee-friendly open space. (Eventually, it's hoped, the project may expand to as many as 10,000 acres). This spring, they'll start by seeding a modest 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, plants that will both nourish pollinators and prevent invasive weeds from spreading. So far, the initiative has secured $180,000 in funding from the state and the Monarch Research Project, an organization dedicated to restoring monarch butterfly populations and pollinator habitats.

Cedar Rapids isn't going to convert land used for other purposes for the project. Instead, they're simply repurposes public lands that are currently going unused, seeding them with 39 species of native wildflowers and seven species of native grass. The flowers will serve as an attractor for bees and butterflies, while the grasses will keep noxious weeds from invading the area. Some of the spaces that are being used for the initiative include far-off corners of public parks, golf courses, open areas near the local airport, sewage ditches, water retention basins and green space along roadways.

The project was proposed by Daniel Gibbons, the park superintendent of Cedar Rapids. According to Gibbons, over the past 100 years, Iowa's agriculture boom has resulted a loss of 99.9 percent of the state's native habitats. Converting these unused public areas back to their original state will do more than simply help bees—it's also going to help birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals who rely on native vegetation.

Converting these spaces back to native prairie isn't going to be a simple process. Right now, many of them are choked with undesirable vegetation that isn't bee-friendly. The invasive plants present in these areas need to be mowed down, burned and in some cases hit with doses of herbicide before the native seed mixture can be planted.

You Can Replicate The Cedar Rapids Experiment In Your Own Backyard

Most of us don't have 1,000 acres of unused space lying around, but if you want to do your part to help bees in the same way as Cedar Rapids, there's plenty you can do. If you have a garden or a place to leave outdoor planters, just a few square feet of wildflowers native to your area can help boost local bee populations. In Popular Science, pollination ecologist Stephen Buchmann suggests planting a diverse mix of wildflowers and heirloom crops that bloom in the spring, summer and fall.

If you do plant a pollinator garden, it's best not to use any herbicides or insecticides at all, as these are known to correlate with poor health in honey bees. If you must use these products, do it at night when bees are inactive.

Of course, simply providing a food source for bees does no good if they have no place to rest at the end of the day. You can also create nesting sites for native bees, if you can stomach the idea of a hive on your property. The Xerces society has compiled a helpful guide with information on how to provide nesting sites that allow bees to thrive. In many ways, the approach you'll need to take depends on the species of bees that live in your area—some prefer to nest in hollow wood, while others dig their nests in the dirt.

If we all make a small effort to create bee-friendly spaces, it's completely possible to replicate Cedar Rapids' experiment collectively in our own communities.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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60% of the World’s Primates Face Extinction

By Steve Williams

A new report indicates that more than half of wild primate species are facing extinction. With nearly three quarters of the world's primate population already under threat, is there anything we can do to save our primate cousins?

The study, which was conducted by a team of 31 leading scientists from across the globe, looked at the current data we have on the state of primates around the world and the challenges they face, utilizing data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) among other sources. While we have several smaller studies that give us a worrying insight into the decline of primates, this research aims to provide a broader snapshot—and the results aren't encouraging.

Of the total 504 primate species that we have on record it is estimated that 60 percent are under threat of extinction, while 75 percent have populations that are declining. What's more, the researchers believe that unless we take concerted action right now, several primate species may have as little as 25 years before extinction claims them.

To give an idea of how desperate the situation is, the Hainan gibbon, which is found in China, is now thought to have reached just 25 individuals. In fact, 22 out of the 26 primate species residing in China are now either critically endangered or under threat. The picture is similar in other areas like Indonesia and Madagascar, the latter of which is home to lemurs and shares some of the highest burden of primate population loss in the world.

Unfortunately, even when it comes to species who have received global attention and are being protected with conservation efforts, the picture is still worrying.

For example, figures show that the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan saw its habitat decline by nearly sixty percent during the period 1985 and 2007. One of the major contributors to this problem has been land clearing so that humans can use areas that were once the orangutan's home for farming.

While we have previously learned that orangutan populations have shown some surprising resilience to this threat, they cannot survive the onslaught for much longer. Though campaigners have urged tighter controls on things like palm oil and soy production, which together with livestock farming is leading to massive deforestation and thereby driving down habitable areas for the orangutan, action has been sadly lacking.

One thing the study does highlight that intersects with human political development is that civil unrest in the primates' home countries may be one driving force behind this rapid descent toward extinction. In countries where food scarcity has become a problem due to civil war and internal conflict, the scientists noted people may turn to hunting primates as a source of food and particularly as a source of rich protein.

Furthermore, in countries where poverty and a lack of job opportunities create systemic financial burdens, people may turn to hunting primates and sell them on the black market. Obviously both of these are terrible, but unless we tackle the root cause of these actions, namely extreme poverty and conflict, it's unlikely we can create meaningful change.

So can we do anything to stop this decline? The answer is yes and one way actually comes down to many of our buying choices. While global governments can help by utilizing international aid as well as peacemaking to ensure that nations are protecting their primates, we can use our spending power to avoid products that are going to contribute to deforestation and, as a result, species decline.

Prof. Jo Setchell from Durham University, one of the researchers in this study, is quoted by the BBC as saying, "Simple examples are don't buy tropical timber, don't eat palm oil." In terms of broader actions, Setchell also points out, "we need to raise local, regional and global public awareness of the plight of the world's primates and what this means for ecosystem health, human culture and ultimately human survival."

Given that primates are our closest animal cousins, they can teach us so much about ourselves. They also provide a vital link to the animal kingdom that teaches us about other species, too. As primates are often a key species in biodiversity and are a good marker for wider habitat loss, their extinction would signal not just the loss of a profoundly important part of our heritage, but it would mean that the natural world as we know it will have changed fundamentally and not for the better.

If you would like more tips on how you can help save species like the orangutan, Care2 has a guide. We also have information on how to choose products that do not contribute to deforestation and primate loss.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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Are Your Candles Making You Sick?

By Laura Bowen

Candles are a lovely way to add a beautiful, calm ambiance to your home—unless they're toxic and cancer-causing. Sound like an exaggeration? I promise it's not.

Conventionally-made candles are packed with some of the worst chemicals available, to the point that some compare breathing the fumes of a paraffin candle to breathing the exhaust from a diesel engine.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Paraffin is the nasty by-product of gas and oil refineries. It comes out of the ground grayish and oozing, then gets bleached with chemical solvents and mixed with heavy fragrances to prepare it for use in pretty candles.

According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, burned paraffin candles emit many pollutants and carcinogens like benzene and toluene, each of which have been connected to cancer, asthma and birth defects.

On top of that, candle wicks can contain heavy metals like lead. However, according to the National Candle Association (NCA), the likelihood of purchasing a lead-wicked candle in the U.S. is very low. "Lead wicks have been officially banned in the United States since 2003, and before then they were primarily limited to inexpensive imported candles," the organization said.

When you burn a candle properly, according to the NCA, you should only get carbon dioxide and water vapor. You shouldn't have to settle for the indoor air pollution that a paraffin wax candle produces.

And, fortunately, there are numerous candle varieties out there that aren't full of chemicals. In fact, some candles (those made from pure beeswax in particular) actually purify the air by removing pollution and allergens through the emission of negative ions.

One hundred percent pure beeswax candles are also thought to provide relief of allergies, sinus problems and asthma. Intuitively, this makes sense; the cleaner the air, the healthier the people who are breathing it.

Here's what you should be looking for:

  • Candles labeled as lead-free.
  • Candles that are 100 percent beeswax with cotton wicks. No blends.
  • Candles made from 100 percent vegetable-based waxes.
  • Essential oil diffusers to dispense scents, rather than candles.

Here's what you should avoid:

  • Candles made with paraffin wax in any form.
  • Candles that produce black soot around the wick when burned.
  • Candles that leave a mark like a pencil when you touch the wick to paper.
  • Candles that have a metal core.
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If You Like Eating Shellfish, You Should Read This

By Kevin Mathews

If you like to eat shellfish, you may want to start reconsidering your dietary choices in light of our changing environment. As NPR reports, researchers are linking climate change with an increase in potentially lethal neurotoxins found in shellfish.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a new study demonstrated that when oceans get warmer (a direct consequence of the rising atmospheric temperatures,) production of these neurotoxins, known as domoic acid, is boosted.

To find the source of domoic acid, you have to go straight to the bottom of the food chain: algae. When shellfish like clams, mussels and crabs consume tainted algae, the poison doesn't affect them directly, but they carry the neurotoxins in their body, which subsequently have consequences in the people who eat them.

(Not all creatures are impacted equally, however. While clams may hold on to the toxins for as long as a year, mussels can cleanse themselves of the dangerous acids within a matter of weeks).

Humans who wind up consuming shellfish containing domoic acid can develop respiratory problems, experience memory loss and in some cases death. In acute cases, the victims generally suffer from stomach problems like diarrhea and vomiting.

Even animal lovers who don't include shellfish in their diets should be alarmed by this news. Other creatures like birds and seals that eat life with the toxins can suffer just like a human would. Last year, the Marine Mammal Center reported that 75 percent of its sea lion patients were the victims of domoic acid toxicity.

The good news is that health officials are able to test seafood samples to identify whether a toxin outbreak is present in the waters, but it's not practical to verify whether all mussels, clams and crabs can be tested on an individual basis. Besides, these tests can't help spare the sea lions and birds that will continue to unwittingly eat tainted shellfish.

In 2015, lofty ocean temperatures ushered in so much domoic acid that the Dungeness crab industry on the U.S.'s Pacific coast had to stop fishing because the crabs were too risky to eat. Scientists believe that that blockage is a sign of what's to come.

As Scientific American points out, the seafood industry is already putting this research to use by starting to track ocean temperatures to determine when shellfish are most susceptible to domoic acid. This knowledge could help companies to plan around impending economic hardship, not to mention prevent a public health crisis.

Sadly, domoic acid is just one consequence of rising ocean temperatures. Other devastating examples include:

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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Here's Why You Shouldn't Eat Foods With MSG

By Michelle Schoffro Cook

MSG by any other name would still be just as harmful. When most people hear the name monosodium glutamate or MSG, they assume this chemical food additive is only found in Chinese food. While it is true that this chemical flavor tends to be used in many Chinese food restaurants, this brain and nervous system toxin masquerades under many different guises and is found in a huge number of common foods.

Monosodium glutamate has been linked to many serious health conditions, including: hormonal imbalances, weight gain, brain damage, obesity, headaches and more, you may be shocked to learn how prevalent it is. MSG is almost always found in processed, prepared and packaged foods. Even when there is no sign of it on the label, it is still frequently hidden in many prepared foods. That's because it goes by a wide variety of other names, including: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed oat flour.

What's even more shocking than MSG's seemingly ubiquitous nature is how the additive affects the brain. There is a protective mechanism in the brain known as the blood-brain barrier. The brain depends on careful control of chemicals to operate smoothly. Even small fluctuations in the concentrations of chemicals can cause drastic disruptions in brain function. When a category of chemicals known as excitotoxins enter the brain, they literally excite brain cells until they die. Monosodium glutamate is added to foods as a taste enhancer, but it is a well-established excitotoxin.

Additionally, some parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus and the pineal are not protected by the blood-brain barrier, yet these parts of the brain control many hormones in the body as well as other bodily functions, including mood. When MSG enters the brain, not only does it kill brain cells, it wreaks havoc on brain functions.

Many people react within 48 hours of ingesting MSG, even in minute amounts, which can make it difficult to trace back to the food source that caused the reaction. The effects can include: headaches, hives, canker sores, runny nose, insomnia, seizures, mood swings, panic attacks, heart palpitations and other heart irregularities, nausea, numbness, asthma attacks and migraines. Many of my clients report experiencing restless leg syndrome after accidental ingestion of MSG.

Research by neurologist and author of the book Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills, Dr. Russell Blaylock, MD, shows that MSG slowly enters the brain, bypasses the blood-brain barrier and reaches peak concentrations in the brain three hours after ingesting it. The high levels of MSG in the brain remain for 24 hours after the initial ingesting of the contaminated food.

According to Dr. Blaylock, MSG can be especially detrimental to people who have experienced some sort of brain injury or a genetic predisposition to brain disease.

Avoid prepared and packaged foods as much as possible. Avoid eating at fast food restaurants since they are notorious culprits when it comes to MSG usage. If food products, such as those made in-house at the bakery and deli departments in grocery stores, don't contain an ingredient list, you should assume it contains MSG. These types of food items frequently contain MSG. Avoiding as many of the MSG-containing culprits listed above can also help reduce your exposure.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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5 Trends in 2017 That Are Going to Be Huge

For health-minded folks, 2016 will probably go down as the year of acai bowls, mindfulness and yoga festivals. Kale and lemon water also had their moments in the spotlight, as did raw vegan recipes. With the year coming to a close, wellness experts are starting to predict what trends we can look forward to in 2017.

Here are a few of our favorite ideas:

1. Sober Parties

Last summer, booze-free dance parties really came into their own as a source of fun in the conscious community (pregnant ladies everywhere rejoiced too!). In 2017, experts are predicting that the trend will continue to grow.

Daybreaker is one of the companies pioneering this movement. With events in cities all over the world, Daybreakers has hosted sober raves, silent rooftop dance parties (in which everyone gets his or her own pair of headphones) and yoga happy hours.

The benefit of these kinds of events? No one imbibes and everyone has a great time. Most of these events are held in the morning hours, too, so you get a shot of positive energy right before heading into work.

2. Minimalism

Minimalism also saw a lot of buzz in 2016 and it's likely to continue into 2017. In particular, fashion minimalism may replace trends such as thrift store shopping. Instead of buying tons of vintage frocks and shoes, the new outlook toward fashion may simple be "less is more."

Consider the concept of a capsule wardrobe. This idea, pioneered by fashion bloggers and YouTubers, encourages participants to chose 33 wardrobe items per season. This includes pants, shoes, tops, tanks, jackets—literally everything you might need (minus underwear, pajamas and activewear). Because you're limited in inventory, you're forced to choose items that all go well together and suit your everyday needs. This process requires you to think more critically about any fashion choices you do buy, as you need to adhere to the mentality of "one comes in, one goes out." It's basically ultra-efficiency in fashion form.

3. Homemade Bread

What gluten-free eating was to 2016, healthy carbs will be to 2017. Homemade bread is making a big comeback, with health-conscious eaters turning to their own kitchens for healthy sources of starches and carbs.

Healthy whole grain and sourdough breads will be on the rise, as will artisan creations. And to those who haven't made bread at home before, don't worry—you don't actually need a breadmaker to make a fresh homemade loaf.

4. The Ketogenic Diet

While Paleo has enjoyed a hot minute in the spotlight, it will be the Ketogenic diet that consumes our minds next year. While Paleo favors a high-protein approach to eating, the Ketogenic diet is all about healthy fats and only moderate amounts of protein … which means eating a ton of meat is totally off-limits.

Rather, eating Keto involves consuming lots of olive oil, coconut oil, organ meats, free-range eggs, avocados, organic dairy and bone broth. It has demonstrable health benefits, including weight loss, better skin, slowed aging, more energy, blood sugar regulation and reduced risk of dementia.

5. Cooking With Teff

Teff flour is a African grain that is projected to be majorly en vogue next year. It's basically the next quinoa. According to Bob's Red Mill, teff flour is a "nutritional powerhouse" that contains high levels of iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. It can be made into cakes, breads, polenta and veggie burgers and is naturally gluten-free.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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2 Orangutans Who Spent Their Lives in Cages Are Returned to Their Forest Home

By Alicia Graef

Animal advocates are celebrating the successful rescue, rehabilitation and release of two critically endangered Bornean orangutans who had spent their lives in cages as pets.

The two orangutans, eight-year-old Johnny, and 10-year-old Desi, had spent their lives in confinement as pets before being rescued by a team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

The two have spent the last few years at IAR's Orangutan Conservation Centre in Ketapang where they went to "forest school" to learn all the skills they would need to survive in the wild, ranging from climbing and foraging to making their own nests.

"The rehabilitation process is a long one. It can take seven or eight years," said Karmele Llano Sanchez, IAR's program director in Indonesia. "Being kept as pets for several years can have a very adverse effect on the orangutans' mental and physical health."

Once they mastered those skills, they were moved to a pre-release island where they were monitored and assessed to see if they would be good candidates for release.

Finally, they began the long journey to the forests of West Kalimantan, Indonesia, where they were released.

While they're now free to do as they please, they will still be be closely monitored by a team from IAR to ensure they stay safe and healthy.

IAR believes both Johnny and Desi were saved just in time, but notes that not all those who are rescued will be so lucky. The organization has successfully released 11 orangutans at this site, but is still caring for more than 100 others at its rescue center. More concerning is that they expect the number to grow as orangutan habitat is destroyed by fires and cleared for palm oil, rubber or paper plantations, while still more will suffer from conflicts with us and the illegal wildlife trade.

Over the summer, concern over their declining numbers got Bornean orangutans moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered–just a step away from extinction–on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while the outlook for Sumatran orangutans isn't much better.

"We can't imagine a bright future for orangutans if their habitat continues to be lost at this rapid rate. They are threatened by the clearing of forests, fires, and also the threat of being caught and sold as pets like Johnny and Desi," added Karmele. "They will only survive when people start to take the problem seriously, although I fear it could be too late by then."

For more info on how to help protect orangutans and their homes, visit International Animal Rescue and the Rainforest Action Network.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Care2.

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