“Don’t eat anything your great great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” — Michael Pollan

Do you brown bag? Do you send your kids to school with a packed lunch? Does your child buy the school lunch? Do you go out to lunch at the local restaurant? These are the choices we all face every day.

Many people who are reading this try to do the right thing and make better choices for lunch.

The first problem is that marketing of food can be deceptive. You can’t believe all the health claims you read on packaging.

Another issue is that our children want to eat like their friends and it is hard to send them with a healthy lunch every day. And, truthfully, most of us have so many issues going on in our gut that we often have cravings and are powerless to actually make a healthy choice.

Big food companies have caught on to the trend toward healthier eating. Many of the companies that used to provide healthier food choices in the grocery store have been bought out by larger corporations. Many of the foods that are advertised as healthier alternatives or “natural” really are not.

Have you looked at the school lunch menu recently? Mini tacos, pizza, hamburgers, cheese-filled breadsticks, chocolate milk — and the list goes on. Is it any wonder childhood obesity is on the rise? The worst part is that this menu is required to meet government guidelines and it does!

Lunch meats are not good for you. Lunch meats contain nitrates and are high in sodium. These processed rolls do not resemble the animal they came from. Boar’s Head and Applegate Farms brands provide better options. Boar’s Head makes an all-natural ham, turkey or roast beef that is about the best you can get in processed, non-organic lunch meats. Applegate Farms also has organic lunch meats. Even though they are better choices they are still processed meats.

Restaurants of all types and price ranges are in the business of buying food at the lowest possible prices. Even places that market themselves as healthier alternatives to fast food serve conventional vegetables and meat and poultry products from the same factory farms that supply the fast food industry. A good rule is the more convenient the food, usually the worse it is for you.

So what is a person to do? Know where your food comes from! The most important thing is to make knowing where your food comes from the No. 1 priority. Until you make this a priority, you can’t take charge of your health.

How was it grown? How was it raised? What was it fed? Which pesticides were used to grow it? Which chemicals or medicines were used to raise the food? What was the environment like where the animals were raised? Has this food been genetically modified? Has the animal been raised on genetically modified food? How has it been processed?

These are not always pleasant things to discover but all of these things matter and directly impact our health. When did not wanting to know what we are eating become the norm? Truthfully, we ask more about our sports teams and ask more questions of our car mechanics than we do about the food we put into our bodies every day.

We need to look at the cheap food we are consuming. We use the term “cheap” as a derogatory term for everything except food. We get excited when food is cheap. Cheap food is cheap for a reason. The good news is that once you make the decision to prioritize your food sources, better options are available.

Lunch choices need to go back to what people ate in the 1950s. Try cooking organic, antibiotic-free chicken the night before or in the morning and make a salad or sandwich from that. Leftovers make great lunches and save money.

How much are you spending per day per person on lunch? Organic fruits and vegetables are great lunch options and pack easily and do not require refrigeration.

So as the school year winds down and your child is at home for the summer, take the time to evaluate your health priorities. Start thinking about where your food comes from and look for better options. For most people, lunch is the most challenging meal of the day to try to eat healthy. Try making your own lunch and start getting ideas for what you can pack your child next school year.

Use the summer break to build healthier eating habits for your child so that he or she will be more willing to accept the lunch options that you pack for them during the coming school year.

Find local food sources at localharvest.org.

 

Originally published in The News Herald column Food for Thought by Theresa Edmunds.

Did you know that gluten is one of the most difficult substances for humans to digest? Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye and barley. From these grains, wheat is the predominate grain in our diet.

Wheat also is the grain that has been hybridized over the last 50 years. This hybridization caused the gluten content in wheat to increase. This is believed to be the main reason that many people are reacting to gluten today.

Reactions can be quite varied from digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation to headaches, arthritis, thyroid problems and even infertility. These can all be symptoms of gluten intolerance.

Behavioral issues also can be attributed to gluten sensitivity. ADHD, autism and bipolar disorder can be exacerbated by gluten. Many people find their symptoms of these issues are significantly reduced by eliminating gluten from their diet.

Celiac disease is the most serious form of gluten intolerance and is considered an autoimmune disease. The body sees gluten as a foreign substance and begins to makes antibodies against it. Celiac disease is considered a gateway autoimmune disease. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and thyroid disease all can be triggered by celiac disease.

The good news is that there are many ways to manage gluten intolerance. From learning about hidden sources of gluten to gluten-free alternatives, it is easier to live gluten free today than ever before. There is also evidence that suggests that a specific type of diet could even heal gluten issues.

These are the types of things that I will discuss in a four-week class about gluten beginning Wednesday at Monroe County Community College. Helpful resources and information will be supplied.

A second class on Wednesday will focus on allergies, autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

The three conditions are on the rise. Doesn’t it make you wonder why these problems that were virtually unheard of a generation ago are so prevalent today?

Food allergies have become so prevalent among children that it is not uncommon for each classroom to have several children with food sensitivities. Many children have multiple food sensitivities. This is usually a result of a compromised digestive system, which can be healed.

Seasonal allergies are no longer something that adults experience just in spring and fall. Many people, including babies, are experiencing “seasonal” allergies most of the year. Often this is also a result of a compromised digestive system and/or chemical sensitivities.

Years ago, autism affected 1 in 10,000 children; today it is estimated that 1 in 50 children are affected. There are many theories as to why autism is on the rise. The one obvious connection is that something is causing autism; it is no longer simply genetics. There are many different theories about possible causes and ways to lower the risk of autism. There are also several therapies, diets and doctors that can treat and even cure autism.

ADHD is a term that we didn’t even know 25 years ago. It started as ADD (attention-deficit disorder) but then the hyperactivity component was recognized. We then had ADD and ADHD. Now medical literature uses the term ADD with or without hyperactivity.

There are two schools of thought with ADHD. Many people are encouraged to put their child on Ritalin and some see improvements. Unfortunately, there haven’t been long-term studies of these types of medications.

There are alternatives to treating ADHD. Many functional medicine doctors are finding that deficiencies can play a role in behavioral and learning problems. We also know that many of these children can be sensitive to chemicals in our environment and our food. Some children also have a genetic component that can be managed effectively.

 

Originally published in The News Herald column Food for Thought by Theresa Edmunds.

We spend weeks looking forward to our summer vacation, a time to relax and have fun. It is good for us to take a break from the everyday routine and, usually, it means less cooking and more eating out. 

This is great from time to time but there are ways to stay on track with healthy eating, even while travelling.

We should enjoy our vacation and eat foods that we like but often we wind up eating foods that we normally wouldn’t, due to convenience. With a little planning, we can eat foods that taste good and leave us and our family feeling good too.

Maybe you’ve noticed that while on vacation, children’s behavior sometimes deteriorates. Obviously, children get tired with so many activities and late nights, however, this is often a result of a change in diet and poor nutritional content.

Many kids are sensitive to dyes and preservatives, which are so prevalent in package, processed foods as well as fast food. Often, children have much more of this while travelling and also consume more sugar than normal.

In addition, most kids aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables on vacation. The lack of nutrition that this can cause can catch up with kids over the course of a few days.

Sometimes, this can be the cause of deteriorating behavior as the trip goes on.

There are many great options for eating fun and healthy while on vacation. With a little forethought, your next vacation can be healthier and less stressful!

When planning a road trip or going camping, pack a lunch for your first day on the road. This cuts down on one day of fast food. If you have a plug-in cooler for your car, pack the second day’s lunch.

Make some interesting sandwiches, try pretzel buns, sub buns or bagels to change up the routine. Cut-up veggies and fruit, nuts, granola bars, trail mix or cheese and crackers are all good options for snacks.

When you do have to eat on the road, look for healthier choices. Some restaurants are providing healthier offerings, like Panera Bread and Chipotle.

If you are a camper, you have a great opportunity to eat well if you forgo the typical hotdogs. Prepare some grass-fed beef hamburger patties and freeze them before you go.

Make a big pot of Sloppy Joes with the same grass-fed beef. Cook some organic chicken breasts to serve with a salad, or cut in strips and serve with veggies and dip.

If you are camping late in the season, a big pot of chili made at home can be a welcome addition on a cooler night around the campfire.

Cooking over an open fire can be a fun activity. Try salmon, whitefish or sausage with onions, potatoes, bell peppers and tomatoes to wrapped in parchment paper inside of aluminum foil and cook it up over the fire.

If you leave the potatoes out, you can make these at home. They can be cooked on a grill, as well.

The parchment paper keeps the vegetables from sticking and also protects your food from the aluminum foil. Foil can transfer aluminum to the food.

If you’re staying in a hotel, the free breakfast many hotels offer is convenient and saves money but, unfortunately, it is almost always fairly low quality.

Refined carbohydrates like cereal, bagels, muffins and waffles offer little in the way of nutritional value. Feel free to choose some of the offerings and add some of your own.

Bring a stick blender and make your own smoothies in the room. Take along a cooler with some frozen organic berries, add a banana and hemp seed hearts, nut butter or Greek yogurt for protein.

For lunch, look for a local deli or market that will make a carry-out lunch, which can make a nice picnic or beach lunch. Keep an eye out for restaurants that serve organic or local food. Farm-to-table restaurants are on the rise and can often be found in the unlikeliest of places. Ask the locals where they would recommend.

No matter what restaurant you are eating in, try to make salad and veggies part of the meal, even for the kids. If you order a pizza, order a salad to go along with it or stop at the grocery store and pick-up a vegetable and dip platter.

If you can offer the salad or veggies to kids before the pizza, chances are you’ll get more vegetables into them. Getting some nutrition into kids can make a big difference in their moods and behavior.

If you are renting a house or staying at a hotel with a kitchen, do your pre-trip research. Search for local Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other regional markets that offer organic products. Make sure to have a grocery list ready before you get to the store and stock up for the week. Buy some of their pre-made food to get a headstart on cooking. If you do find yourself preparing more food, consider using paper plates to cut back on the clean-up.

With a little planning before you head out to enjoy your vacation, you can feed yourself and your family well. Making the extra effort just might make the next trip more fun and less stressful.

 

Originally published in The News Herald column Food for Thought by Theresa Edmunds.

Is buying organic really that important? It’s a question a lot of people ask me. The answer is a resounding “yes.”

What many people don’t realize is that everything used to be organic. Until about 60 years ago, all food was organic. That’s right, pesticides, herbicides and synthetic fertilizer and hormones didn’t exist a generation ago. Humans were eating food in its natural form. If that isn’t enough reason to buy organic here are 10 more.

Reduce your toxic load. Toxins like the chemicals found in pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizer as well as antibiotics are being found in the human body. While you may not be able to control toxins entering your body from certain types of pollution, you can certainly control what you eat. By choosing to consume organic food you lighten the load on your body and give it an opportunity to detox the chemicals you can’t control.

Protect your kids. Research shows that children are four times more susceptible to these chemicals. The “safety” testing of these chemicals was based on adult tolerance levels, not on children’s. Their bodies are still developing, physically and mentally. The brain can be affected by these toxins, according to the National Academy of Science “neurological and behavioral effects may result from low-level exposure to pesticides.” These chemicals are also known to impact the nervous system. The endocrine system, which is our master hormone system, has been shown to be adversely affected by pesticides including decreasing fertility.

Protecting each other. The “pesticide drifts” from farming are carried on the wind, wafting into a multitude of local communities, affecting air quality and causing these toxic chemicals, not only to be ingested but also inhaled. This affects the workers on these conventional farms, too.

Preserving the nutrient value of our food. Mono-culture farming, which is the practice of growing only one massive crop, has depleted our soil of many necessary nutrients. Synthetic fertilizers has also damaged the micronutrients, minerals and organisms in our soil. This depletion has led to many of the mineral deficiencies we are seeing today.

Be a part of the change. The movement back to real food is growing. In 1994 there were approximately 3,000 certified organic farms, compared to 10,000 in 2006. However, as a percentage of the two million farms in America, organic is still a small percentage. Only by supporting organic farming will we see it continue to grow and thrive and to see pricing come down.

Support small business. Many organic farms or farms based on organic principles but not certified are independently owned and operated. These farms operate in biodynamic harmony with nature and provide for the local economy. As farm co-ops, Community Supported Agriculture and farmers’ markets gain popularity, it gives everyone a chance to support local organic farmers. In these days of giant corporations and their giant profits, local independent farmers need our support.

Eat real food. Much of what we are eating today should not be considered food. Between GMOs, hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers and herbicides found in whole foods and dyes, flavorings and preservatives in processed foods, much of our food is created in a lab. These technologies have not been properly researched and research that indicates concerns has been discounted. Buying organic means that you are buying food free from these laboratory created compounds.

Understand the global food scene. Many of these chemicals and technologies have been banned in other countries. Corporate America is so powerful and far reaching that it, more often than not, dictates the regulations and policies passed by the government. Want a broader view? Look at what other countries allow into their food supply.

Chronic diseases are linked to these foods. Cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autism and ADHD have continued to increase with our greater consumption of chemically treated, laboratory engineered and processed foods.

Our environment. With only .5 percent of the farmland in this country designated as organic that means 99.5 percent has been exposed to herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizer, not to mention other chemicals used in the farming process. These chemicals infiltrate our soil, air and water supply. Runoff from fertilizers is causing dead zones in our oceans. The Gulf of Mexico has a dead zone that was reported in 2002 to be 22,000 square kilometers — an area larger than New Jersey.

 

Originally published in The News Herald column Food for Thought by Theresa Edmunds.