The Politics of Food..What is at Risk?

In this very politically charged world we are living in it is hard for me, as a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Educator/Counselor to ignore the politics of food. The access to good food is critical for all people in reaching their optimal health and well-being. Without good food we know that we are less likely to be successful in what we endeavor to do in life.

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I am very fortunate in that I have access to good food, grown often very close to where I live. Food that is grown organically or with great care to avoid a multitude of pesticides. I also have jobs that I love at Vermont School for Girls and Southern Vermont College. I work with thoughtful people who seem to enjoy and support the work I do. And I have my private practice as a Holistic Health and Nutrition Educator/Counselor which every day teaches me something new. Enjoying my work adds to my overall health as much as the quality and choices of food do. I spend a great deal of time working and so made a committment to myself to only do what I consider to be good work. I am aware that not all people have these same blessings and so I remain active in the political arena making an effort to increase access to good food for everyone.

Recently, I had the great privilege of being one of the workshop presenters at the Northeast Organic Farmers Association’s (NOFA) Winter Conference in Burlington, VT. http://nofavt.org/events/35th-annual-winter-conference. While there I offered a workshop on the positive impact food has on not only our physical health but also mental health. I was as you might guess singing to the choir. Talking with the people who attended my workshop feed my desire to continue to seek ways to increase access to goof food for more people. The keynote speakers are both people I respect and I admit I’m a big fan of both due to the amazingly transformative work they have and continue to do in the area of accessibility to real food grown in a sustainable manner.

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The first keynote was Dr, Fernando Funes Monzote, who is a founding member of the Cuban Organic Farmers Association and the developer of the Agroecolocial Project outside of Havana, http://nofavt.org/events/winter-conference/keynote-speakers. I encourage you to read about he and his families work to provide better access to food in Cuba on small parcels of land. I was struck by the intelligent approach he took to reducing the food crisis Cuba experiences as a small island country. I thought if he could create such a successful farm under such challenging conditions then we here in America could learn from his example and figure out how to better feed our nation.

The second speaker Dr. Vandana Shiva, who is truly one of my heroes in the world of food accessibility and for her work to protect biodiversity and water rights. She was so approachable meeting with vendors and farmers who gathered for the conference as if she had known us forever. I am such a fan that I found myself following her around the conference for every minute I had to listen to her wisdom and experience her kindness. Here is a Bill Moyers film to introduce her to those of you who are not familiar with her and the work she does: https://youtu.be/fG17oEsQiEw. She has written widely some of the most powerful books include Monocultures of the Mind , Water Wars and her most recent book Making Peace with the Earth. These books will change the way you think about food and water and the very health of this beautiful planet we live on. I truly believe that if we can create food sources that are closer to people and grown with the care connected to organic and sustainable farms we can not only feed more people but we can create a culture that allows peace. And we can do it in a way that makes food not only more accessible but also more nutrient dense improving health of planet and it’s people.

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As for the risks if we continue on the model of large-scale industrial style agribusiness, it has become evident that we will continue to see a rise in health conditions in our country related to the food we eat and the chemicals that are used in the growning process. We will continue to see the decline in the health of this planet which by the way can do without our presence. It is in our best interest to learn about, teach, explore and act to protect the health of our neighbors and this Earth by developing better growing practices such as were presented at the NOFA Conference. Make it your job to get informed and buy or grow your food locally.

Eat Well, Be Well, Live Well

Blessings,

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Leanne Yinger, M.Ed. HNC

Certified Holistic Health Coach @ Kira’s Kitchen

Blog: http://kirasgoodeatskitchen.com

Phone: 413-464-1462

 

 

Food And Mood – The Gut Brain Connection Expanded

There is a lot of noise out there about the gut-brain connection as it relates to our health. We are learning so much more about how a healthy gut can greatly influence our health. Research in the fields of neuropharmacology & neuroscience are revealing just how important it is for us to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria in order to achieve homeostasis within our body (and our gut) thus experiencing optimal health. This bacteria is known as our microbiome. The human microbiome is the totality of microorganisms and their collective genetic material present in or around the human body.

Michael Spector, an American journalist and staff writer for New Yorker magazine wrote the following about the human microbiome. “We are inhabited by as many as ten thousand bacterial species, these cells outnumber those which we consider our own by ten to one, and weigh, all told, about three pounds-the same as our brain. Together, they are referred to as our microbiome-and they play such a crucial role in our lives that scientists have begun to reconsider what it means to be human.”

Michael Specter

Elaine Hsiao a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry & biology at Cal Tech spoke on Ted Talks in 2013 about the promise of micro based therapies and the potential to reduce more invasive types of therapy for various illness. She explained that our bodies contain 10 times more microbial cells than our own eukaryotic cells. These microbes which include bacteria as well as viruses and protozoa are part of the micro flora that make up our commensal microbiome. There are 100 trillion commensal microbes in our intestines which effect our behavior inclusive of anxiety, learning & memory, appetite and satiety. I guess it can get a little crowed in our gut…it may look something like this:

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So how do these microbes in our gut contribute to brain health & help to control disease? According to Hsiao it occurs in several ways. The first is through the Vagus Nerve which contacts the gut lining and extends up to the brain stem. In this case the bacterium – Lacto Bacillus Rhamnosus effects depressive behavior in studies on mice and demonstrated that the mice treated with this bacterium exhibited less depressive symptoms.

The second way these microbes contribute to health is through activation of the immune system. Hsiao explains that 80% of our immune cells live in our gut. Immune abnormalities contribute to several neurological disorders. In this case the bacterium Bacteroides Fragillis was used to treat mice with the outcome being that these mice were more resistant to developing multiple sclerosis. This was also dependent upon a special subset of regulatory T-cells that express the marker td-25.

Another way in which microbes contribute to health is through the activation of the gut endocrine system. Gut endocrine cells are primary producers of neuropeptides and neurotransmitters. Gut microbes can also produce metabolites which impact brain function and have been shown to reduce communication deficits such as are present with autism in studies on mice.

In addition to understanding how the health of our gut influences our overall health, there are certain vitamins and minerals that when present in healthy amounts in our body produce improved mood. We can improve our gut flora depending on the foods we eat. This chart can help explain the spectrum of foods from acid to alkaline. A diet that is too acidic which is the case in many American homes increases our risk of becoming ill.

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Adding in the daily amount of the following vitamins can also reduce your risk for symptoms related to depression.

Calcium is important in maintaining healthy bones and blood vessels. Some studies show that low levels of calcium in women (could not find similar studies for men) may increase symptoms related to PMS and depression.

Good food sources for calcium include: Broccoli, collard greens, kale, edamame, bok choy, figs, oranges, sardines, salmon, white beans, tofu, dairy, almonds and okra.

Chromium is a trace mineral needed to help the body metabolize food and regulate insulin. Chromium also plays an important role in increasing the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and melatonin in the brain which are all critical to regulating mood and emotions.

Food sources include: Broccoli, grapes, whole wheat products, potatoes and turkey.

Folate, or B9 supports the health and creation of cells in the body and regulates serotonin. Serotonin is the brain’s messenger, passing messages between nerve cells and assisting the brain in regulating mood among other things. Folate and B12 are often paired to treat depression. The recommended daily amount is 400 mcg (micrograms) per adult.

Foods rich in Folate include: Spinach, avocado, black eyed peas, Brussel sprouts and asparagus.

Iron transports oxygen through the bloodstream, supports muscle health and general energy. Low levels of iron leave us feeling tired and depressed. Iron deficiencies are more common in women.

Foods rich in Iron include: Soybeans, lentils, turkey (dark meat) beef or pork liver, clams, mussels, oysters, spinach and fresh ginger

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Magnesium is responsible for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body…it helps to break down glucose and transform it into energy.

Foods rich in magnesium include edamame. cashews, almonds or hazelnuts for snacks; add more whole grains such as millet, quinoa and brown rice and eat fish (halibut in particular).

Omega-3 fatty acid is not naturally produced by the body but it is critical to mood health. Deficiencies in omega-3 can contribute to mood swings, fatigue, depression or decline in memory.

Salmon, sardines, tuna and rainbow trout contain omega-3s. Chia seeds are also a good source. Vegetarians who rely on plant based sources may wish to consider supplements as plant and animal omega-3 differ.

B6 promotes the health of our neurotransmitters. A deficiency of B6 can lead to a weakened immune system, depression, confusion and short term anemia. B6 is known to relieve mood related symptoms of PMS. RDA is 1.3 mg daily for adults.

Foods containing healthy amounts of B6 include: Chickpeas, tuna, Atlantic salmon, chicken or turkey (white meat), sunflower seeds, pistachios, bananas, lean pork, dried prunes, avocado, spinach and lean beef.

B12 is critical to good brain health. Our mood depends largely on the signals from our brain making B12 one of the most important nutrients. B12 synthesizes a group of nutrients that are critical for neurological function. Low levels of B12 can contribute to increased fatigue, depression, lack of concentration, mania and paranoia.

B12 is found naturally in animal proteins such as eggs, beef, fatty fish and pork. It is also added to enriched cereals and breads. Taking a supplement is wise as the body can store what it does not use for a later time.

Vitamin D – Most of us are vitamin D deficient. It is recommended that we take a supplement to assure we take in enough vitamin D. Rates of depression increase with vitamin D deficiency.

Few foods contain vitamin D naturally but Salmon, eggs, chanterelle mushrooms and milk are good food sources.

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Zinc protects our digestive system as well as promoting a healthy immune system. Research has shown that healthy levels of zinc in the body reduce the risk of depression. Zinc has been known to enhance the effectiveness of antidepressants in some studies.

Foods rich in zinc include: pumpkin seeds, cashews, Swiss cheese, crab and pork loin.

Eating foods that balance blood sugar levels can also reduce the potential for fluctuation in mood and improve general health. You can do so by following these simple steps:

Increase whole grains. Whole grains release glucose into the bloodstream more slowly and evenly sustaining blood sugar levels and thus your energy. It is not so hear to do so. Eat power snacks that provide energy without weighing you down such as nuts, yogurt, fruit. Think of food in this way: carbs provide energy, protein helps to maintain that energy and healthy fats extend energy. So make the most of good carbs, fats and proteins in your diet?

Eat Well, Be Well

Leanne Yinger, M.Ed. HNC
Certified Holistic Health & Nutrition Educator @ Kira’s Kitchen
Email: Kiraskitchen5@gmail.com