What is probably the last of the snow is melting here in northern NJ. Since we've "sprung ahead" and the days are staying lighter longer it's not unusual to see someone doing some tentative clean up in their yard in the evening hours. On the weekends I'm starting to hear the sound of chainsaws announcing yard clean up as we get ready for the warmth of summer. As my thoughts turn to the pleasures of summer, I can't help but to think about the glories of getting fresh local Jersey tomatoes, corn and berries.
If you've ever thought of joining a Community Supported Garden, this is the time to do it. CSG's have a limited number of shares, and their regular members are going to make sure they have their share reserved. If you join while there are still shares to be had you can look forward to a weekly supply of fresh produce. Of course, the volume and variety is predicated by the weather, putting you back in touch with the growing seasons. CSG pick-ups usually include not only vegetables in season but may include herbs, fruit, honey or even baked goodies depending on the nature of that particular CSA. They each have their own personality that spawns a mini-community surrounding the rhythms of the summer harvests.
If the idea of "sharing" a garden intrigues you, take a look at the Community Supported Gardens listed here and see if there isn't one near you that you'd like to look into joining.
If you don't see a CSG that seems to meet your needs, then you can look into to New Jersey's Farm Stands and Farmer's Markets in your area. In a few weeks the markets will be starting their seasonal sales giving us another opportunity to get healthy local food. There's also a delightful feeling of freedom to spend some time on a weekend or a weekday evening exploring the aisles of a local farmer's market. Like planning a garden or cleaning up the lawn, researching local options for fresh food and marking it on the calendar is a renewing ritual of spring.
It's hard to keep up with what we're "supposed" to be eating to be healthy. Wheat products are a great example. In the 50's and 60's fortified bread was supposed to be healthy then we're told we should be eating whole wheat bread, then we hear whole wheat isn't adequate, it has to be whole grain. Now we're finding out we're consuming too much wheat period!
We've all experienced the confusion of the unending variations on healthy diet advice. Here are 6 definitive steps you can take to improve your health for good.
1. Replace your unhealthy sweeteners. No sugar, no corn syrup. Use alternatives such as Stevia, Succanut and Xylitol. Even the "good" sweeteners should be used sparringly since sweet tastes tend to make us crave more. It’s hard, but worth it. If you drink soda look into alternatives such as making your own with a Soda Stream, or mix seltzer with flavored liquid stevia. Xylitol has the added benefit of supporting dental health, especially in children. (Kiss Your Dentist Goodbye: A Do-It-Yourself Mouth Care System for Healthy, Clean Gums and Teeth) So get rid of your sugar. Sugar is really, really bad for you.
~ Spikes your blood sugar levels causing tiredness and food cravings
~ Appears to be addictive in many people, the more you have the harder it is to resist
~ Feeds cancer
~ Ages your skin and causes puffiness (Dr. Perricone's book Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Ageexplains the science behind this and what we can do about it)
~ Causes cavities
~ The more our blood sugar is spiked, the more likely we will develop insulin resistance, which means the body can’t stabilize its blood sugar adequately anymore
~ Insulin resistance leads to diabetes and heart disease
2. Cut out Trans Fats. Think of trans for artificially transformed, these fats are also known as partially hydrogenated fats. Food companies love them because they have a longer shelf life than healthier natural fats. Thankfully food companies are now required to list trans-fats on their food labels. Watch for other names though - like partially hydrogenated fats. California and some cities like New York City, Philadelphia and Seattle, have banned the fats. Trans-fats are really, really bad for you.
~ Compromise bodily tissue repair (Dr. Mary Eng Eat Fat, Lose Fat: the Healthy Alternative To Trans Fats)
~ Compromise insulin metabolism and adrenal function causing fatique
~ Cause weight gain
~ Contribute to high cholesterol
~ Displace healthy fats disrupting our hormones and immune processes (Udo Erasmus Fats That Heal, \Fats That Kill)
~ Aggrevate asthma and contribute to low birth weight babies
~ Promotes ADD/ADHD in children due to the disruption to normal glucose absorption
3. Increase your good fats. Healthy fats feed our brains and our skin. They help our bodies’ hormones, immunity and anti-inflammatory responses. Unfortunately when eating a diet of fast and pre- packaged food we aren’t feeding our bodies as we need to; we're just eating sugar, trans fats and chemicals.
Then there's our meat, which is from factory farms where livestock get little exercise, so there’s more fat, but it’s not healthy Omega 3 rich fat as they fatten up on grains and fillers instead of vitamin and mineral rich grass.
~ Get your livestock meats from local farms that pasture their animals. Animals fed on grass have higher amounts of the good fats in both their meat and dairy.
~ Grass fed beef and wild Pacific fish (available at Vital Choice ) contain higher amounts of Omega 3 than their nutritionally deprived counterparts
~ Cod Liver oil supplements, egg yolks, evening primrose oil, olive oil and flaxseed oil
~ Traditional healthy fats such as organic butter and whole milk. Any dairy you consume should be organic to avoid the added growth hormones, and antibiotics
~ Use olive oil and butter for low temperature cooking. Use grapeseed oil or coconut oil for high temperatures.
~ Can support weight loss (Kat James The Truth About Beauty: Transform Your Looks And Your Life From The Inside Out )
4. Eat organic when you can, if not organic, buy local. Organic is still expensive, so prioritizing what organic foods to eat is necessary for most of us. While some studies show there’s no difference in the health of organic vs non-organic food, those studies have primarily looked at the vitamin and mineral content and have not included variables such as pesticides or the effect of genetically modified organisms (GMO). Other studies, such as this California study, say organic food is healthier. Consider some of the issues below and see if it doesn’t make sense to get organic food into your diet.
One very important caveat about organic foods. The cost of gaining the organic label is cost prohibitive to many small farmers. Check with your local farm, their products are fresher and they may not be able to afford the cost of the organic certification but nevertheless be virtually organic. In that case their product would be better for you than a store bought organic item that's traveled hundreds of miles.
~ Unless organic, corn products are virtually always GMO.
~ Unless organic, wheat products are virtually always GMO
~ Unless organic, soy products are virtually always GMO. and by the way, GM foods are not currently required to be labelled, so you don't know you're eating them
~ Salmon is being considered for genetic modification. You can avoid this possibility by buying organic.
~ The pesticides on the surface of fruits and vegetables can be washed, although I wonder what growing in soil full of fungicides and herbicides does to them. ( See this California study mentioned above).
~ You can prioritize which fruits and vegetables to buy organic based on this list of which are treated with more pesticides :The Dirty Dozen from the Environmental Working Group.
~ Livestock products (beef, pork, even chicken) that aren’t organic may contain growth hormones and antibiotics and may have been fed various unsavory fillers, including GMO corn, as part of their feed. The practice of feeding cattle ground parts of other dead cattle contributed to the spread of Mad Cow Disease several years ago.
~ Dairy products that aren’t organic may contain growth hormones and antibiotics and come from livestock that have been fed various unsavory fillers, including GMO corn, as part of their feed.
~Our fruits and vegetables have far less vitamins and minerals than they used to (2004, Donald Davis, University of Texas in Austin), however organic produce has been found to contain higher amounts of beneficial antioxidants called phytochemicals (Alyson Mitchell, PhD, study in Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry).
5. Reduce consumption of wheat and high carbohydrate products. Wheat is high glycemic because it converts to sugar in your blood steam. If you eat a lot of bread and high carbohydrate products your body is in constant fat storage mode. Unless organic it’s also treated with a host of pesticides and grown in soil treated with herbicides. It’s believed the increasing incidence of gluten intolerance may be related to the increased consumption of wheat products over the years. Your diet should be primarily (healthy) fats, fruits and vegetables, with some protein on the side, not primarily carbohydrates.
6. Consume foods that support digestion. Yogurt with active cultures, probiotic and enzyme supplements, sauerkraut, kefir and kim chi all support your ability to get the most nutrition from your food through good digestion. Consume one of these digestion supporting foods or supplements every day. Note that the most effective probiotic supplements are refrigerated, as they are indeed live cultures that will die off if kept in a warm environment.
These steps all support weight loss as well. Work to decrease the highs and lows in your blood sugar, which will in turn decrease binging on unhealthy foods. (Again I would refer you to Kat Jame's wonderful book for more information on stopping cravings and binging). This means eating on the lower end of the glycemic index, a measure of the amount a food will convert to sugar in your system.If the list is too overwhelming, prioritize ridding your diet of sugar and trans fats.
Oh yea, and back to that wheat question. The answer, as indicated in number 5 above, is to watch your consumption of wheat products in general, but any grains you do eat should indeed be from the whole grain. While whole wheat is good, whole grain is even better as it gives you a variety of grain nutrients.The whole grain has a lower glycemic index because it converts to sugar more slowly, avoiding the insulin spike we now know is so detrimental to our health.
Whether you decide to work on just the first two or all six suggestions above you’ve made huge strides to support a healthier you!
NaturalJersey.com was created in order to have a place on the web where we can all share the great green & natural health resources in NJ. I hope you find it a never ending resource when you're looking for health-minded local businesses.