How To Eat Sustainably

The most recent issue of Whole Living (formerly Body + Soul) magazine had a section on sustainable eating. Since we are doing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) this year, I am more in tune with the idea of sustainability and I am making a more conscious effort to eat locally whenever possible. I really liked some of the ideas in the article, and wanted to pass them along to you guys. Enjoy!

  • Use the whole vegetable. The stems of cauliflower or broccoli, the inner leaves of celery, the fronds of fennel, the greens of beets, even the stems of herbs: all edible, all tasty.

  • Be a farmers’ market regular.

  • Google your milk. Until the USDA revised the standards last year, 30 to 40 percent of the milk sold in the U.S. that was labeled organic was actually from factory farm-raised cows. Regulations are tighter now, but not all organic milks are created equal. Check your brand at www.sustainable.org, and opt for antibiotic- and rBGH-free (no artificial bovine growth hormones).

  • Buy local bread. Shop at your neighborhood bakery or farmers’ market. You’ll eliminate a plastic package and a fuel-burning journey, and the bread’s likelier to be made with fewer ingredients.

  • Read PLU codes. If the number on the produce sticker at the supermarket starts with 9, then the item is organic.

  • Be a smarter carnivore. Skip the additives by buying only absolutely antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. Choose domestic meat. You can imagine how eating lamb from New Zealand might affect your carbon footprint. Eat it seasonally. There’s a reason we have turkey at Thanksgiving – the birds mature in the fall. Look for lamb in spring and goose around Christmas.

  • Pour on the honey. A huge amount of water is required to produce regular table sugar. Honey, on the other hand, is a perfectly renewable resource that requires little more than healthy bees and healthy plants and flowers from which to pollinate. Try adapting your favorite recipe to use honey instead of dry sugar.

*All of the above were taken from the August 2010 issue of Whole Living magazine.


Calendula: The herb that does it all

Even though I’m in nutrition school and not herbal school, I still love learning about different herbs and their medicinal qualities. I’m not opposed to taking some over-the-counter meds for the little things that come up like headaches, constipation or skin rashes, but if I can treat it with herbs (or nutrition) successfully, it’s my preferred method. However, my home remedy knowledge is limited… I use things like peppermint tea and ginger root to ease an upset stomach; I put raw honey on cuts or bug bites; and I’ve experimented with a few herbs such as Oregon grape root, barberry root, fenugreek, and nettles. Oh, and for those that have an iPhone, there’s an app for herbs. I use it occasionally but I’d have to say I’ve been underwhelmed with the information the app provides so far.

Calendula is one herb I learned about recently that seems worth pursuing. As my teacher said, “it’s a great herb to just have around.” Calendula comes from the daisy family of plants. They bloom into brightly-colored flowers, and are edible so they are often used in salads or other recipes.

External Uses

One common use of the herb calendula is for healthy skin care. Topically, it can be applied to soothe eczema, yeast infections, herpes, gingivitis, ringworm, athlete’s foot, varicose veins, and other cuts, burns or wounds. It contains many important phytochemicals, which are known to accelerate skin cell repair. It is also effective in treating dry skin in very specific areas, such as hands or feet.

Carotenoids are a specific phytochemical found in calendula that make it so powerful for healthy skin cell production, whether that be in the case of someone who has to heal a wound or scar, or someone who just wants healthy aging of their skin. The essential oils and salicylic acid that are naturally found in calendula make it a great herb for someone treating acne or other skin infections.

Internal Uses

A tincture or tea of calendula can be very helpful for digestion problems, irritable bowel, yeast overgrowth, and inflammation. It promotes healthy digestion and stimulates bile production, which aids in fat digestion. The herb stimulates the gall bladder, liver and uterus, and also supports heart health. Calendula also helps with swollen glands and other types of inflammation found internally. The flavonoids that are so abundant in calendula are what help to reduce and treat inflammation.

Calendula has also been successfully used to treat abdominal cramping and constipation. Since it has the power to aid in digestion and promote healthy bacteria in the intestines, it makes sense that cramping and bloating would subside and regular bowel movements would be more easily obtained with the use of calendula.

Calendula for Babies

When babies get diaper rash, calendula can be a perfect herb to use. It is very safe and gentle, and will reduce the discomfort and heal the rash. Calendula cream is also good for babies with eczema and other skin sensitivities or rashes. Many companies make organic calendula creams, shampoos, and other products specifically designed for babies’ sensitive skin. I don't have kids so have never used calendula cream for babies, but if any of the mothers out there have, please share your experiences in the comments section!

How Do I Get It?

Calendula can be taken in many different forms – pills, powders, tinctures, oils, extracts, seeds and teas. You may find it at your local health food store or a specialty botanicals store. For those of you in Colorado, I recommend MoonDance Botanicals or Apothecary Tinctura. Mountain Rose Herbs is a great online source that I use, but there are many online stores that sell high quality herbs. Just do some research and make sure the herbs are organic and come from a reputable company.

So, like my teacher said, this is a great herb to keep around for just about anything that can come up! I love the idea of having one herb that can treat so many different issues, because it simplifies things and the herb can do many beneficial things at once. Plus, there are fewer negative side affects of using herbs than there are of other medications, so they are always a good thing to try.


Coffee & Migraine Headaches

I had class on Monday, which was technically a holiday since July 4th fell on a Sunday. Needless to say, only a small group of us showed up, and our teacher finished an hour early in case we wanted to enjoy the rest of the day with friends and family. However, she did offer to stay a little later and answer any questions we had. Despite wanting to go home and rest (I had flown into Denver from Maine earlier that morning and was exhausted), I had to stay because this is always the best part of class! Our teacher is a naturopath, so she knows a lot about many different health issues and the natural remedies that can help them.

Someone asked about coffee, and why it can sometimes ease a migraine headache. If you are someone who has experienced a migraine, you know that they are extremely painful and debilitating. But why does coffee relieve this pain?

Coffee is a vasoconstrictor. Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels that occurs when the muscular walls of the vessels contract. It causes decreased flow of blood in a localized area or throughout the body, and is one way the body regulates arterial pressure. Migraines, on the other hand, are often caused by vasodilation of the cranial blood vessels. Vasodilation refers to the expansion of the vessels, which leads to increased blood flow. So, when someone drinks a cup or two of coffee, this can initiate vasoconstriction, which can then relieve some of the migraine pain. In fact, many migraine medications act just as caffeine would – they work to narrow the blood vessels so blood flow in the head is more regulated. Some other common medications that are also vasoconstrictors include antihistamines, decongestants, and ADD or ADHD stimulant medications.

Some people are addicted to the caffeine in coffee (or, other drinks such as soda or energy drinks), and their bodies become dependant on the caffeine to regulate vasoconstriction. When they eliminate caffeine for an extended period of time, vasodilation occurs, making them crave more caffeine. If they give into these cravings, the caffeine will temporarily relieve the headache pain. However, if they continue to abstain, eventually the body will correct itself and start regulating the vasoconstriction and vasodilation without the aid of on outside stimulant such as caffeine.

If you are someone who is addicted to caffeine and experiences regular headaches, I would recommend reducing caffeine intake slowly, which will allow your body time to adjust to the changes. Hopefully, this will lead to fewer headaches and less dependency on caffeine. However, if you experience terrible migraine headaches and never consume any caffeine, just remember that if you’re in a pinch, a small cup of coffee may help relieve that pain. I don’t recommend becoming dependent on this remedy, but it’s something that may help every once in a while.


Asparagus: Why does it make our urine smell?

We’ve all noticed that our urine smells funny after eating asparagus, and may appear to be slightly foggy or more yellow than normal. This happens to everyone to some extent, and there is an explanation behind the phenomenon.

Asparagus contains certain compounds that, when broken down and metabolized by humans, release a strong odor and are excreted through the urine. These compounds are called mercaptans, and they are actually the same things that give skunks their distinctive smell! If you have not noticed a distinct odor in your urine after eating asparagus, it may be because either your body does not break down these compounds into the strong-smelling chemicals, or you don’t have a great sense of smell. However, it could also mean that you are just very well hydrated. The more dehydrated someone is, the stronger the scent and deeper the color of the urine. So, one option to minimize the smell is to stay very well hydrated before, during, and after eating asparagus. But, if you do experience the strong odor don't be worried - it's actually a good thing because it means your kidneys are functioning properly!


Fruits vs. Vegetables: What's What?

Ideas for my blog posts are often inspired by my teachers, who pour nutrition information into our brains each week and take the time to answer all of our eager questions; or they are inspired by family, friends or other PWN readers – people who are fairly interested in nutrition and knowledgeable enough to ask really great questions. Today’s post, though, is inspired by a group of 7-year olds. And, it happens to be an extremely tough question that has me stumped!

As I’ve mentioned before, I spend some time each month working with an organization that teaches nutrition and cooking skills to underprivileged people. It’s very fun and fulfilling, and I especially love working with the kids. The class I am doing right now is all kids, and last week during their nutrition lesson they asked us what the difference is between a fruit and a vegetable.

This question caused all of us to pause. It’s one of those things that is often discussed but rarely agreed upon. For some reason it’s hard for us to grasp and accept that, say, a tomato is a fruit.

So, I think I’ll clear this up for once and for all! Or at least I'll try...

A fruit, according to the dictionary, is “the developed ovary of a seed plant with its contents and accessory parts, as the pea pod, nut, tomato or pineapple”.

A vegetable, then, is “any plant whose fruit, seeds, roots, tubers, bulbs, stems, leaves, or flower parts are used as food, as the tomato, bean, beet, potato, onion, asparagus, spinach, or cauliflower”.

Still confused? Me too.

Other sources say that anything with one or more seeds should be considered a fruit. This would include things like tomatoes, avocados, peppers, green beans, zucchini and cucumbers. And apparently in 1983 the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes should be classified as vegetables when it comes to tariffs. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a vegetable, so I guess it’s still a fruit. Vegetables, rather, are edible parts of plants that don’t have seeds. These “edible parts” include leaves, stalks, roots, flowers or stems.

So, the difference between a fruit and a vegetable is still fairly confusing, but hopefully the more technical definitions at least shed some light on what’s what. And at least now I have some fact-based information to go by when this subject comes up in conversation!