Saturday, January 28, 2017

Defining Food

This recent election has inspired me in many ways. In my 43 years I have spent 17 in a relatively conservative Missouri and 17 in a comparatively liberal Minnesota. Those 9 years in the middle I  visited every state except Hawaii. I also lived, worked and paid taxes in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Arizona and Tennessee. The chance to know people across this country from all walks of life has given me the unique ability to witness both the anger and frustration as well as the joy and excitement brought on by this election. From this, all I see is a serious need to listen to one another.

So how does this relate to nutrition? Well, most of my anger and frustrations are tied up in the approach to food in this country. I am of the opinion that if we don't have access to healthy food, or don't utilize it if available-what do we have? A lot of my displeasure resides in the healthcare crisis we are currently facing, and how it directly relates to the food choices being made. So instead of loudly expounding on my anger, this election has inspired me to listen.

 A recent talk by Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything, really forced me to question the definition of food in this country. He noted that quite a large percentage (I believe it was around 40%) of what we see on the market today as food, would not fit the definition of actual food. The word 'food' is defined as, "any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink in order to maintain life and growth." This means that the food you put in your mouth, to be defined as food, needs to contain nutrients. Nutrition means the promotion of health, or in other words, "the act or process of nourishing or of being nourished." A lot of what we consume in the U.S. today would not fit this description, and we are seeing the repercussions in the epidemic of chronic, preventable, conditions and illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention :

"Chronic diseases and conditions-such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes, obesity, and arthritis-are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems.....Health risk behaviors are unhealthy behaviors you can change. Four of these health risk behaviors-lack of exercise or physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and drinking too much alcohol-cause much of the illness, suffering and early death related to chronic diseases and conditions."

Although it makes us feel better to blame the government or the president, the reality is that a tremendous amount of healthcare costs are going to the treatment of conditions that are preventable I choose to eat healthy, nutrient-rich foods; preferably organic and locally grown, ideally from my own garden. I do this because it is important to me that my family and I are able to function optimally. This means healthy enough to accomplish physically demanding tasks, healthy enough to weather common illnesses without the need for antibiotics or progression into secondary conditions, and in enough of a healthy state to make good choices and decisions. When others choose not to do so it is directly affecting my family in many ways, but primarily via healthcare costs. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, healthcare costs now make up around 17% of our economy. In 2014 that was 2.9 trillion dollars. 2.9 trillion dollars!! The top two contributors to this sum: diabetes and heart disease.

I assume you all understand what a healthy diet looks like, so why would you/do you make unhealthy choices? 
My boss once said to me, "Food means different things to different people." What is food to you?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Alaffia: Peace, Health, and Wellbeing

Last year my primary goal, through my blog, was to shine a spotlight on businesses that are doing right for the world. I tend to be distrustful of traditional business practices as it seems that the focus is on profit above all else. Above fair work environments, above fair treatment of laborers, and most certainly over the health of the consumer. Which is why I choose to work in a business with a cooperative business structure. As an employee of a cooperative I am responsible to our owners (which are our  shoppers) to provide healthy products.  It is because of this, and the research involved, that my eyes have been opened to some businesses that are really trying to make the world a better place through profit.

This week I had the great privilege to attend the Alaffia Ladies of Togo Tour in Minneapolis. We
Olowo-n'djo and his mother
were pleasantly greeted by owner, Olowo-n'djo, Adide Awesso, Director of Community Support, Mawule Houmey, Manager of Traditional Oil Extraction, and Ahoumondom Bamassi, Manager of the Togo Artisan Center. In Africa, food is offered as an expression of love and kindness, and it was in this spirit that a traditional Tongolese meal was offered to us. Throughout the afternoon we learned of the tremendous work Alaffia is doing to help empower the people of Togo. Olowo-n'djo, with seven siblings, a 6th grade education, and sometimes living without enough food, was taught the importance of giving from
Abide Awesso
his mother. He realized early on that although monetary donations are needed, they are not sustainable. Alaffia, which translates to a state of peace, health, and well being, was founded on a need to empower the women of Togo by finding a way to use their skills and knowledge to help them rise out of poverty.  The benefits of the shea nut are many, the trees are prevalent in this part of western Africa, and the tradition of oil extraction has been passed down, through the women, for generations. It is through these traditions that the women's cooperatives of Alaffia were formed.

It was intense, listening to the ladies of Togo. Abide, a midwife by training, travels throughout Togo
Mawule Houmey
on her motorbike working to ensure proper pre- and post-natal care, as well as tirelessly attempting to eradicate female genital mutilation which is still practiced in this part of Africa and leads to both physical and mental weakness in its women. Mawule, an accountant by trade, learned the tradition of oil extraction from her mother, who learned it from her mother. She is now in charge of both shea and coconut oil extraction for Alaffia, which really speaks to the purity and tradition of their products. Ahoumondom manages Alaffia's new undertaking: Queen Alaffia. Queen Alaffia
Ahoumondom Bamassi
focuses on the sewing abilities of the women of Togo, producing the beautiful headbands we have in our store, as well as a line of purses and scarves. Her goal is to eliminate prostitution by employing these women at a fair wage.

Each woman deserves a blog post of her own to truly capture what it is she does for the women of Togo. I left feeling very lucky to reside in a country that supports my rights instead of ripping them away through poverty, lack of education, and mutilation, and humbled by the sometimes insurmountable fight these women face.

Supporting and empowering the women of Togo is only a drop in the bucket of what Alaffia is doing for that region. More than Fair Trade, Alaffia is certified Fair for Life by the Institute for Marketecology, which is the most renowned international certifications for organic and social accountability. Here is a list of more ways in which Alaffia has helped Togo in the past
12 years:
*Reforestation Project: 53,125 Trees Planted
*Eyeglasses Project: 14,200 Eyeglasses Donated
*Education Projects: 10 Schools Built
23,700 School Supply Recipients
1,855 School Benches Built (so the children are allowed space to learn instead of crowded together on the ground)
7,100 Bicycles Donated (so children can make it to school)
*Maternal Health Project: 4,142 Births Funded

And they make lotion! And shampoo! And those lovely baskets!. It's crazy to think about, but when you buy Alaffia products you are directly helping the people of Togo. In regular distribution there are at least 5 middlemen between you and the farmer. With Alaffia it is nut gatherer to Alaffia Cooperative to you the consumer. This is why you are able to purchase a clean product at a very reasonable price and help the world in the process. Alaffia truly shines a little ray of hope on what the future can hold for sustainable business practices.

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow." -Mary Anne Radmacher

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Happy Healthy New Year!

It's a new year, and with every new year comes the inevitable resolution to make it a healthier one. Working in a health food store I do notice more fruits and veggies in those grocery carts this time of year, and more people coming in to get some information on healthier options. I love it! I just feel there are too many misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy diet. With the release of the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, I think it might be a good time to dispel some of these misconceptions so we can not only create a healthier 2016, but make all our years healthier ones. 

Misconception: I could shed these extra pounds and be healthy if I could only find the right diet.
Fact: Until recently, diet has been defined as habitual nourishment, or simply: "food and drink regularly provided or consumed". The current definition has evolved to describe a method of eating that involves restrictions. The reality is that when we begin to restrict ourselves the body retreats to those prehistoric days, when we were hunter-gatherers. It thinks you are in a state of famine, so then holds on to fat to protect itself. In the long run you not only put the weight back on, but more often than not put on more pounds than before you went on the "diet".
New Dietary Guidelines: The best recommendation to come out of the new guidelines was this: make healthy choices for the long-term with an emphasis on finding a healthy eating pattern that works for you. I really like this. "Diets", as we've come to define them, are a very short-term solution. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, "About half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, overweight and obesity."  Over half! Looking far down the road to your health not only helps to make a great today, it will go a long way in helping prevent those chronic illnesses. 
Homework: Read "Smart People Don't Diet: How the Latest Science Can Help You Lose Weight Permanently" by Charlotte Markey.
What do I do now?: Slowly begin to incorporate healthy foods in to your diet. Our bodies prefer slow changes. If I had a dime for every time someone said to me, " I tried to eat healthy and I ended up sick!". If you make drastic changes, like say eat a diet of mostly processed foods, decide to eat healthy, then spend a few days eating a bunch of fruits and veggies, then yes, you may get sick. This is your body detoxifying. The fresh, nutritious foods are driving out the toxins. Your body needs time to adjust to the change. Pick one vegetable, find a recipe that includes that vegetable, and include it in your next meal. Go from there, slowly adding healthier options at a comfortable pace.

Misconception: I'll be fine if I stick to my proper calorie allotment.
Fact:  By this logic you could consume all the calories you need from a sugary beverages and cake and be all good. We know this is not true because calories are not created equal! A calorie from a fresh piece of salmon is a far cry from a calorie from a donut, yet we all still need to note the calories in any given product. I love (by which I mean I really don't love) when someone scoffs at the amount of calories in a tub of ice cream, an item that without a doubt contains an unhealthy quantity of sugar. In cultures where people eat naturally what grows around them, or what they grow themselves, the calorie count could be off the charts according to our governments requirements named in the Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Levels. Yet if these calories are from foods that nourish the body, you tend to see very little problems with heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes-all of which are debilitating illnesses prevalent under your typical American diet where the focus tends to be on calories.
New Dietary Guidelines: The new guidelines do not state anything too specific about calories, but it does reiterate continually the need to stay, "within calorie limits". I'm not going to tell anyone to throw out all thoughts of calories when choosing foods, but I do think that soon we'll see a shift in focus from calories to nutrient density.
Homework: Watch the documentary "Fed Up" and read the book "What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets" by Peter Menzel.
What do I do now?: As mentioned above, slowly begin to incorporate more nutritious foods in to your eating patterns. Also, begin the process of adding physical activity in to your life. The path to health is not just food, a healthy diet and physical activity go hand in hand. Again, go slow, find something you will enjoy.

Misconception: The government has my back, they wouldn't allow anything to market that would harm me.
Fact: A lot of the food we consume today is not really food. They are products produced to taste good so that you will buy more so that someone else can make a bunch of money. Very little is regulated. Our food is literally making us sick. Educated nutritionists, doctors and scientists all know  this, yet the general public is still oddly misinformed. We have one of the most educated populations, yet we are also one of the most obese, unhealthy populations to ever roam this Earth. Do you ever wonder why that is? We all know what it takes to eat healthy, so why don't we?
New Dietary Guidelines: The government guidelines released on Thursday state that sugar should account for no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Which is great! Sugar should be limited. But do you know what 10 percent of your daily calories looks like? According to the governments list of estimated calorie intake, I can eat 200 calories of sugar per day, but what does 200 calories look like when the only indication of sugar in any given product is listed in grams? Do we need to bring a calculator with us to the grocery store?  The answer is yes! Because sugar is in EVERYTHING, even places you wouldn't expect, like salad dressing and pasta sauce. I have done the calculations and my allotted 200 calories of sugar equals 50 grams of sugar which means I can eat 12.5 teaspoons of sugar a day. Note: humans lived for centuries with a sugar intake equivalent to approximately two pieces of candy per year.
Homework: Watch the documentary "Hungry for Change" and "That Sugar Film"
What do I do now?: Sugar reduction is no doubt of paramount importance, but even more pressing is this: With incredible access to the best medical care, education, and resources such as clean drinking water and healthy food, why are Americans one of the most overweight, over-medicated and unhealthy populations?
Have a Healthy, Happy New Year!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Gaia Herbs: Meet Your Herbs!

I have always been a bit skeptical of encapsulated herbs. Most herbal supplements I knew of in the past, were either dried and ground herb, standardized, or extracts. The dried and ground just didn't seem potent enough, standardized herbs involve toxic solvents for extraction-so I stuck with liquid extracts. Then I was introduced to Gaia Herbs.  Based out of Brevard, North Carolina, Gaia Herbs produces extracts, but also a line of quality encapsulated herb supplements. What makes them so unique is that their herbal supplements are basically extracts in a capsule, incredibly potent, with herbs grown sustainably. Their mission is, "to create and nurture healthy connections between plants and people. We do that through finding and maintaining strong global relationships in addition to championing personal and environmental sustainability here at home, on our own organic farm".

What really sets them apart is their Meet Your Herbs program. On the back of every product you purchase from Gaia is an ID number. When you enter this number in to their website, it will take you right to the field where that herb is grown. It is there that you can view a certificate of purity, integrity and potency, up-to-date information on your herb purchase, as well as its history and how it works in the body. Detailed information on seed source, the farm, parts used, you name it. Full transparency.

 In addition to this unique traceability program, Gaia Herbs is an amazing example of a business that uses their success to help the world. Globally, they help in almost every country in which their herbs are grown. In Kenya, they help Masai girls get the support they need, be it school or a rescue shelter. When the island of Vanuatu, in Indonesia, was hit by a large cyclone, Gaia Herbs was there to provide tools and supplies to help the residents of this island rebuild their homes and farms. They are part of the growing need to reduce carbon emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits and supporting the wind power industry. Organic farming is essential to Gaia Herbs, they support these practices all over the world. Locally, their tractors and trucks in Brevard, North Carolina are fueled with cooking oil waste from local restaurants. Every year they donate thousands of pounds of organic produce, from their large farm, to their local food bank. Gaia is there to help save the Everglades, they were there to support those in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, they are working to support preservation of remote Costa Rican coastlines. Really, the list goes on and on. When you purchase a supplement from  Gaia Herbs, you are not only getting an excellent product (that actually works!), you are helping support a wealth of programs focused on making this world a better place.

My favorite product: Adrenal Health

Runner-Up: Turmeric Supreme Extra Strength

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Goddess Garden Organics

Goddess Gardens is a small company rooted in Boulder City, Colorado. Owners Nova Covington and Paul Halter have always had a great appreciation for the outdoors and taking care of our environment. When their first child developed allergies to the chemicals in most bath and cosmetic products they put their backgrounds in herbalism and nutrition to use by developing a line of natural sunscreens. Their mission: "We believe in the power of nature-how it can move us, inspire us, and protect us as people."

A good natural sunscreen is very hard to find. Most sunscreens on the market today are full of chemicals that can do more harm than good. Have you ever wondered why you are told to apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before heading out into the sun? It's because chemical sunscreens need time to soak into the layers of your skin to become active. This means dangerous chemicals such as oxybenzone and avobenzone, chemicals that can work as allergens, endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens, are being absorbed into your body. Natural sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxides which are minerals that sit on top of the skin, which means immediate protection on application.

Goddess Gardens believes that you should be able to understand the ingredients listed on the products you purchase. Which is why you will see clean, natural ingredients on their sunscreens such as coconut oil, aloe vera, green tea and shea butter.

I have tried A LOT of natural sunscreens and I have to say, hands down, this is the best one I have found for children. You can tell this was a line of products founded by parents because their continuous spray sunscreens are perfect for squirmy kids who do not want to stand still to have sunscreen applied properly.

My favorite product: Kid's Continuous Spray SPF30
I will never rub sunscreen creams on my children ever again because of this product,. it is so easy to spray on.

"We believe that the more time you spend outside, the happier you will be, and that concerns over sun protection shouldn't spoil the fun."-Goddess Gardens

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Business Spotlight: Nordic Naturals

A couple times a year, the media tends to drag out the supplementation debate. The primary question: are supplements effective, or are they simply a waste of money? There is no easy answer to this question as supplements vary in use and effectiveness. One thing we do know without a doubt is that our bodies require Omega-3's, otherwise known as essential fatty acids. The word essential is in the name because your body requires these fatty acids to function optimally yet we do not produce them on our own. Every cell in your body need these fat molecules, yet the only way to acquire them is through food. According to the American Heart Association, a healthy person should consume fish twice a week for a good dose of Omega-3's. If you are unable to eat that much, supplementation is an easy way to get the essential fatty acids your body requires.
Quality is a huge factor when choosing the right fish oil supplement (or the fish you eat, for that matter). Not all Omega-3 supplements are created equal, this is why it is very important to know the company, fish supply and manufacturing of the fish oil supplement you choose.  Nordic Naturals is one of the best fish oil companies on the market today, here is why:

"Since our founding, we have always been deeply committed to the health of the oceans. Our firm policy has always been to harvest our fish only from abundant waters and to utilize fish species that are flourishing. 100% of our fish-both the Arctic cod harvested in Arctic Norway, as well as the sardines and anchovies harvested from the South Pacific ocean-is sourced in compliance with the Norwegian fisheries management system, which has been a model of sustainability for over 30 years."

"At Nordic Naturals, Corporate Social Responsibility is guided by our mission and core values to encourage community growth and development and voluntarily eliminate harmful practices-beginning with the sustainable sourcing of our raw materials and continuing through manufacturing, employment practices, philanthropic interactions, and donation programs."

"Because of their experience with other brands, some people might be turned off to fish oils because of the all-too-common complaints about taste and smell. Our oils taste great because they're fresh. Research shows that fish oils only smell unpleasant when oxidation has started to degrade the oils' lipids, causing rancidity. Rancid lipids also contain free radicals that can damage proteins, DNA, and cells. Our patented nitrogen-based processing technology protects the oils from oxidation."


"Our oxygen-free and low-heat processing maintains the integrity of delicate oils while also eliminating potentially harmful environmental toxins such as mercury. The result is that you consume only pure, health-promoting omega-3 your body needs and none of the toxins or oxidation you don't.
Nordic Naturals fish oils are documented to be completely pure. Every batch is third-party tested for environmental toxins, including heavy metals, dioxins, and PCB's."

"The vast majority of fish oil concentrates on the market are in the ethyl ester form, a 'new to nature' fat with only 20 years of history in the human diet.
In a recent study, the triglyceride form of concentrated fish oil was 70% better absorbed by the body than the ethyl ester form. 100% of Nordic Naturals products are in the triglyceride form."

"A certificate of analysis is an authenticated summary of test results completed by an independent laboratory. We offer transparent access to our certificates of analysis. Every batch of Nordic Naturals oil is third-party tested, and we have never found a competitor's product able to match our purity and freshness levels."

Nordic Naturals goes far beyond quality fish oil production. They stand out as a business not just producing a quality product, but truly exemplifying integrity on all levels.
My favorite Nordic product: Ultimate Omega Mini's
Runner Up: Vitamin D Gummies

Friday, March 13, 2015

Business Spotlight-Fair Trade edition: Alaffia

I'm not really sure how most businesses begin. Maybe a spark of insight, a great idea? Someone sees a need and creates something that satisfies that need? Or maybe businesses simply begin as a way to make money? With Alaffia, a business was born to empower a people.

Togo, Africa is a place very acquainted with poverty. They see 160,000 women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Children don't receive adequate education because they can't make the distance to school. Farming, the primary source of employment, is challenged due to deforestation. Alaffia, founded in 2004, began as a way to use the resources these people had at hand, to produce products that could alleviate some of these struggles.

Alaffia, now a thriving business, has put a serious dent in the battles these people face everyday. They now have three cooperatives producing Fair Trade Shea Butter and Coconut, along with other products that form the base to this line of lotions, shampoo & conditioners, body washes and facial care. The proceeds from the sale of Alaffia products go directly back to the people of Togo, Africa to support their Community Empowerment Projects. Here is an example of some of the great things this amazing company has done to support a people:

*Bicycles for Education: 6,300 bicycles have been provided to the children of Togo so they can get to and from school.

*Maternal Health Project: 3,558 births have been fully funded, pre- and post-delivery and any special or urgent care needs, for the Tongalese women of rural Togo. They have also started the Alaffia Women's Clinic Project as a way for local health clinics to provide training and information on everything from nutrition to preventing female genital mutilation practices.

*Reforestation Project: Since 2004, Alaffia has funded the planting of 42,625 trees to help control erosion.

*School Supply Drive: 11,700 children have received much needed school supplies through the sale of Alaffia products. They have also provided desks, installed new roofs, and built 1,250 school benches. They have also built 5 schools.

*Eyeglass Drive: 5,800 pairs of eyeglasses have been provided for those in need.

The next time you wash your face with Alaffia's wonderful face wash, or coat your body with their luxurious lotions, remember all that little product is doing to help pull the people of Togo, West Africa out of poverty.

My favorite Alaffia product: the Shea Butter. Perfect for the dry, winter months. I slather my face and
hands with this product every night.
Runner up: the EveryDay Coconut Body Lotion. I love it because it is so moisturizing, and the coconut scent is very pleasant.