The Healing Power of Food

A Doctor’s Journey from Disease to Health.

Originally posted on Sep 26, 2018, 10:36 am. Updated on Oct. 16, 2019.

If you’re doubtful of the healing power of food, just ask Brooke Goldner, M.D. When she was 16 and diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Nephritis with stage four kidney disease, she never thought she would reach the age of 40. Now she’s healed, healthy and was featured on the cover of Vegan Health & Fitness magazine’s Fit Over 40 issue in April 2018. That’s a transformation that she credits almost entirely to the way she eats. Today, as a best-selling author, the founder of VeganMedicalDoctor.com, GoodbyeLupus.com and creator of the Hyper-Nourishing Nutrition Protocol for Lupus Recovery, she’s helping others to heal themselves with food as well.

As I was interviewing Dr. Goldner for my post on Exploring a Plant-Based Diet, she shared her story with me. There was simply no way I could fit in all of the powerful information she gave me into that one post, so I decided to begin my new profile series on the Healing Power of Food with Dr. Goldner’s journey from disease to health. She reveals the not-so-secret way that she overcame her debilitating and potentially deadly disease and some things you can do to heal your body and feel your best.

** The end of this post was updated in October 2019 with information about the amount of nutrition training U.S. doctors get in medical school.

Photo of different types of greens on grocery store shelf that serve as healing foods
Photo by Madison Inouye from Pexels
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The Importance of a Daily Schedule

How Planning Your Day Lets You Live in Abundance Instead of Lack.

Frustrated, frazzled, overwhelmed, stressed, adrift, easily distracted, and scattered. If any or all of these describe how you’re feeling even some of the time, then it may be time for you to re-think or develop for the first time a daily schedule. I know that I recently realized that I was feeling all of these things more times than not. No matter what I was doing, I always felt like I should be doing something else. That’s when I realized that my daily schedule needed an overhaul. 

If you’re in the same boat, this is definitely no way to live. The constant state of stress it creates is incredibly harmful to our physical and mental wellbeing. That’s why we’re taking a look at what exactly a daily schedule is and how planning your day lets you live with a sense of abundance instead of lack. 

Photo of a weekly planner app on a tablet as an example of a daily schedule.
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My Journey in Transitioning Off Birth Control Pills

Setting My Body Up for Success.

I’m going to share with you a very personal, intimate decision. After 26 years of being on birth control pills, I’ve finally decided to transition off them. I’m sharing this with you because it’s a big decision that many of you are also making. My situation is a little more complicated than most, but at the end of the day, I’m a strong believer in that if this is something that we’re going to do, we need to set our bodies up in the best possible way. 

Photos of packs of birth control pills

My Birth Control Pill Story

I started on “the pill,” when I was 22 because PMS had always been a huge issue for me. We’re talking both physical and emotional misery. My doctor assured me that birth control pills were the answer and would help to “balance” my hormones. I now know from “In the Flo” author and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti over at Flo Living that if I was experiencing PMS that badly, my hormones were definitely out of whack. I also know now that I could have addressed the issue in a more natural way1

Two kids and 16 years later, I started having debilitating migraine headaches. They were so bad, the doctors at first thought they were a type of seizure that ultimately ended up happening an average of 28 days out of the month. Suspecting that there may be a hormonal component to it, my neurologist told me to start taking the pill continuously. It wasn’t until we found the right medication though 6 months later that the migraines stopped. It’s unclear what role, if any, taking the pill continuously had to do with that. 

Where I Am Now

Flash forward 11 years to today. I’m 49 years old, well into perimenopause and still taking birth control pills continuously. I changed to a healthier diet long ago (including giving up caffeine). I strongly believe that because of my diet changes, I was able to stop taking the headache medication that I was told I would be on for the rest of my life.

I’ve been wanting to quit birth control pills for several years but have been hesitant because of fears that the migraines will come back. It’s been more than evident though lately that my hormones are running “amok,” and my body is telling me it’s time to do this. My gynecologist is fully behind it. She does have some concerns about the migraines returning, but that’s why I’m going into it as carefully as possible. 

Transitioning Off Birth Control Pills

While I’ve always been a believer in getting all of the vitamins and minerals I need from food as opposed to supplements, I fully recognize that I’m probably going to need an extra boost in getting my hormones balanced while I make this transition. That’s why I’ve started taking these supplements as suggested by Alisa Viti for the following reasons. No, she doesn’t have an exact formula for women in my situation, but this is what I’ve pieced together as a good place to start.

  1. B-Complex vitamins – Low levels of B vitamins can cause low energy and fatigue. B6 also helps to boost progesterone production and works with the liver to remove extra estrogen from the body. 
  2. Evening Primrose Oil – This is a source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), which helps with prostaglandin production. Prostaglandins are hormones that control inflammation and blood flow2. It’s also a popular natural therapy for helping to ease PMS symptoms and hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause. 
  3. Vitamin D3 – Foundational for hormone balance and overall health. 
  4. Alpha Lipoic Acid – Promotes optimal liver function for getting rid of excess estrogen. It also reinforces healthy weight maintenance by supporting healthy blood sugar and insulin balance. 
  5. Probiotic – Supports healthy gut function, which is essential for managing hormones. 
  6. Tulsi (Holy Basil) Peppermint Tea and a nighttime Tulsi Sleep Tea – Holy Basil supports a healthy adrenal response, helps to stabilize blood sugar and supports liver function. 
  7. Ashwagandha – An herb that helps to reduce oxidative stress and supports a healthy stress response. Alisa also says it’s been shown to safely improve sexual function and low libido for some women. 

Bottom Line for Transitioning Off Birth Control Pills

Hormones at this stage of life are no joke, but we don’t have to resign ourselves to “just waiting it out.” We can be proactive in trying to help our bodies and our minds feel as good as possible. Transitioning off birth control pills, taking supplements to help with that, regular exercise and maintaining my healthy diet are just some of the ways that I’m doing that. 

If you’re transitioning off birth control pills or are considering it, tell us about your experience in the comments below. We don’t need to do this alone!


Money Saving Tip: Strengthen Your Emergency Fund

Reduce Stress Associated with Financial Emergencies.

There’s no getting around it. Financial emergencies are stressful. It could be the loss of a job, a work slowdown because of a pandemic, an unexpected home repair, a medical bill or a car breaking down. Simply dealing with the impacts of these things is stressful enough, let alone the fact that trying to figure out how to pay for them often leads to a cascading financial fallout. The state of chronic stress that results not only makes it hard to make good decisions, it’s also bad for our health. That’s where an emergency fund comes in and why strengthening it as soon as possible will save us money in the long run and is imperative for our overall wellbeing. 

**Important note: The information given here is not meant to be financial advice. I am not a financial advisor. This information is based on 25 years of personal money management experience. There’s no doubt that maintaining an emergency fund at all times has saved us what’s sure to have been tens of thousands of dollars and prevented us from what would have been plenty of sleepless nights. If you have specific questions about your particular situation, I highly recommend contacting a financial advisor. 

Photo of white piggy bank with emergency fund written on it in red ink beside stacks of money

Please Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

What is an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund is meant to be cash that you can access quickly if needed. It’s not a nest egg, and it’s not a vehicle for necessarily making money. (Although any interest it’s making while hopefully just sitting there is a welcome addition.) It’s meant to pay for essential household repairs, doctor’s bills, to help cover costs while looking for a new job, or any other “unexpected” expenses that might otherwise have you turning to credit cards or taking out loans. 

You’ll notice that I put unexpected in quotes. That’s because these things are all part of life. Life happens, and we know it’s going to. We may not know what form these emergencies will take, but the fact that they’re going to happen at one point or another is just the way it works. We can plan for them to some extent by having an emergency fund. 

Because this money should be easy, but not too easy, to get to, money market or savings accounts are among the best and most accessible ways to save. That way it’s kept separate from your regular money but can easily be moved over and withdrawn if an emergency comes up. It’s also easy to put the money back when you’re able to do that. 

How Much do You Need in an Emergency Fund?

The general rule of thumb for the amount to have in an emergency fund is enough to cover 3-6 months of expenses. If you’re starting at nothing or if the recent economic downturn has left you with little to no extra money each month, that can seem fairly overwhelming. Remember, 3-6 months is the ideal goal. The reality though is to start where you can. $500 – $1,000 is definitely better than nothing. If it means the difference between being able to pay for a car repair in cash rather than putting it on a high interest credit card, it can mean everything. 

In fact, personal finance expert Rachel Cruze and money guru Dave Ramsey both suggest that if you have debt, start with an emergency fund of $1,000. Once you’ve paid off your debt, you can fully fund your emergency fund. 

Ways to Save

Here are some of the many things that we’ve done over the years to give you some ideas on how to get started. 

  1. Determine how much you need and what a reasonable amount of time is that it would take to save for it, then divide by that many months. The result is the amount of money that you need to put away each month to reach your goal.
  2. Skip buying coffee out. Invest in a good travel mug (affiliate link), make your coffee at home and take it with you.
  3. Take your lunch.
  4. Reduce the number of times that you eat out to once or twice a month. 
  5. Go through your monthly expenses and find any other seemingly small ways that you can cut costs. It adds up!
  6. Treat your contribution to your emergency fund like a regular bill. Create a line item in your budget for it. 
  7. Move money into your emergency fund automatically. You may notice it at first, but once you’ve adjusted your spending to only what you have coming in, you won’t miss it. 
  8. If you have to use some of the money from your emergency fund, develop a plan right away for paying your fund back. While this doesn’t need to be a cause for stress, it should be one of the first things that you do once you’re out of the emergency situation. 
  9. If you have an influx of money such as with a tax refund or for a birthday or Christmas, deposit most of it into your emergency fund. This will help you reach your goal faster. **Pro tip: Be sure and keep out a little for a small treat for yourself. You don’t won’t to feel deprived. 

Bottom Line

As we’ve seen here. Having an emergency fund has everything to do with fostering good health and taking care of yourself. It doesn’t mean being pessimistic and only expecting the worst. It means being realistic and knowing that things are going to happen. Your health and mental wellbeing will thank you if you’re prepared.  


The 5 Best Healthy Food Blogs

Resources to make eating healthy so much easier.

If sitting down to plan your meals for the week is one of your least favorite tasks, we need to get you some better resources. I’m not saying that it’s my absolute favorite thing to do, but it definitely doesn’t need to be something that we dread. In fact, meal planning should be one of the most creative things we do. To help it become more of an inspired process and less of a chore, I’ve come up with a list of what I consider to be the 5 best healthy food blogs. 

The recipe creators on these sites will give you plenty of options to get you started or keep you going. If you just need a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing, they’ve got you covered. Or, if you need step by step instructions for every meal and snack of the day, they’ve got you covered as well. Most importantly, enjoy getting to know them and definitely appreciate the work they put into these labors of love that will help make eating healthy so much easier. 

Images of healthy meals from examples of the best healthy food blogs.
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Money Saving Tip: Reduce Your Portion Size

Good for Your Wallet and Your Health.

When it comes to food, there are very few of us who can say that our portion sizes are currently too small (except maybe when it comes to vegetables…). In fact, when we’re eating out, our average portion sizes have increased 2-3 times or more from where they were 20 yearsago1. This, in turn, has played a big part in normalizing what we think of as a normal portion, whether we’re eating at home or eating out. So, for most of us, when it comes to saving money while eating healthier, reducing our portion size is one of the easiest and healthiest things that we can do. 

Portion Size vs. Serving Size

According to the National Institutes of Health, a portion is the amount of food that we choose to eat for a meal or snack2. In other words, it’s completely up to us how big or small our portion sizes are. 

Portions often get confused with serving sizes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a serving is a standardized or measured amount of food3. It may be stated in tablespoons, ounces or cups but is a standard amount that can easily be measured. 

Take for instance a 16-ounce bag of chips. I could easily eat half the bag in one sitting on a really stressful day. In that case, half the bag or 8 ounces would be my portion size. On the other hand, the bag’s nutrition label says that there are about 16 servings in the bag or 1 ounce or about 11 chips per serving. So, if I eat half the bag, I’ve eaten 8 servings and an outrageous number of chips. Hmmm…. 

As another example, if I have an 8-ounce box of pasta, and I fix half the box as one serving, I’ve had a 4-ounce portion of pasta. If you look at this amount compared to what you get for a dinner serving in many restaurants, it’s about the same. The catch though is that the nutrition label on my box of pasta tells me that 2 ounces is a serving size, so I now have to double all of the values listed. Ouch! 

This is where the National Institutes of Health’s idea of “portion distortion1” comes in. If you want an interesting look at how portion sizes have increased over the past 20 years, be sure and check out their interactive quizzes on that here.

Benefits of Reducing Portion Size

Given the increase in the size of portions over the years, when we talk about reducing them, we’re not talking about unhealthy food restriction. We’re talking about getting back to a healthier way of looking at the amount of food we eat. In general, we simply do not need as much food as many of us are currently consuming. Two of the most significant benefits to reducing our portion sizes come in terms of saving our health and our money.

Health benefits

Regularly eating portions that are larger than what our bodies need takes its toll on our health over time. That’s due in large part because consuming more calories than we burn causes the excess calories to be stored as fat. In turn, too much body fat may cause us to become overweight or obese4. In addition, too many simple carbs and too much sugar can wreak havoc on our blood sugar levels, also resulting in many health problems5. Here are just some of the risks associated with being overweight, obese or simply eating more food than we need. 

  • Eating too much food requires your organs to work harder4
  • Type 2 diabetes6
  • High blood pressure6
  • Heart disease and strokes6
  • Certain types of cancer6
  • Fatty liver disease6

While reducing portion size won’t prevent all of these issues, it will go a long way toward making sure that we’re not needlessly overloading our bodies with food it really doesn’t need or want. It will also enable us to eat a reasonable amount of something that’s not-so-healthy if that’s what we want while at the same time leaving plenty of room for healthy food. 

Money saving benefits

This one is fairly straightforward. If we eat less, our food bill isn’t as high. Again, the idea here isn’t to starve ourselves by any means. That is absolutely not the point. But, if we get back to eating reasonable amounts of food, we can stretch our food budget even further or invest in healthy foods that we might have otherwise thought were too expensive.

Take my bag of chips. What would have been two servings on a couple of really tough days or even 4-5 servings in amounts that many of us would regularly eat, could actually be up to 16 servings. That means that instead of going through a bag of chips a week, one bag may last two weeks. 

The same holds true with my pasta. If you go by the serving size listed on the box, instead of needing two boxes to feed four people, you only need one box to feed four. That’s half the cost in both cases. 

How to Limit Portion Size

The concept of reducing portion sizes is fairly easy. Putting it into practice is where things can get more challenging. Here are some ideas to help get you started.

  • Learn how much of the healthiest foods to eat at different calorie levels by following the  NIH Guidelines.
  • Weigh and/or measure your food at least in the beginning until you learn what an appropriate portion looks like. 
  • Learn what a reasonable serving size looks like without measuring cups or a scale by following the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Serving Size Card.
  • Drink water about an hour to half hour before you eat. Water is something that most of us need more of, and it will make you feel more full while you’re eating. 
  • Don’t eat from the bag. Set out a serving size or a serving and a half if that seems like a more reasonable amount and put the bag away.
  • Eat healthy snacks at regular intervals throughout the day so that you’re not ravenous  when you sit down for a meal. 
  • Go by the nutrition labels on packages. 
  • If you’re making a recipe from a blog, follow the recommended serving sizes that are usually included. Most blog recipe creators are home cooks. You can normally rely on them to include very reasonable serving sizes as well as the associated nutrition information. 

Bottom Line on Reducing Portion Size

The bottom line on reducing portion size is that we’re not talking about depravation here. We’re talking about eating more intentionally and intuitively as to what your body needs to nourish it. That’s opposed to what your emotions may be making you think they want as well as what may just be habit or conditioned eating. When it comes to portion size, you’re in the driver’s seat, and you’re the one in control. Let that be empowering for you – whatever you decide to eat. 

Sources

  1. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/portion-distortion.htm
  2. National Institutes of Health. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm
  3. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eat Right. Serving Size vs Portion Size is There a Differencehttps://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/serving-size-vs-portion-size-is-there-a-difference
  4. The University of Texas. MD Anderson Cancer Center. What Happens When You Overeat? https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/focused-on-health/What-happens-when-you-overeat.h23Z1592202.html
  5. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
  6. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Health Risks of Being Overweight. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight


What is Herbalism?

Part of the Series on Exploring Alternative Medical Care Options.

If you think of herbs as something that you only use in your kitchen and not in your medicine cabinet, then the idea of using them for healing may seem a little “out there.” The fact is though that using plants for healing was the original form of medicine. In fact, many conventional drugs have their origins in plant sources1. So, the idea that herbalism, or the “science of using herbs for promoting health and preventing and treating illness,2” is now considered a form of “alternative” medicine is fairly ironic. 

In order for us all to have a better understanding of what modern herbalism really is, I went to clinical herbalist Katja Swift with the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism. As we continue our series on exploring alternative medical care options, my Q&A and with her sheds light on why this is such a critical field to at least be aware of if not to consider as a possibility for yourself.

Photo of herbs in jars on shelves that are used in herbalism
Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Please Note: I earn from qualifying purchases made through some of the links included in this post. You can read my disclosure policy here.

Peppermint Tea & Me: What is herbalism?

Katja Swift: The simplest answer is that herbalism is working with plants to make your body healthy. For some people, it kind of stops there. They may say, ‘Oh, if I drink Marshmallow Tea then my heartburn doesn’t feel so bad, and if I drink chamomile, it helps me sleep at night.” And that’s literally the end. Well that is herbalism. And it’s legitimate. If that’s all you ever did, you’d feel better.

Photo of clinical herbalist Katja Swift
Katja Swift, Clinical Herbalist

But it doesn’t stop there. We have revived the tradition enough now that herbalism in this country is a much more complete system that is completely independent of or parallel to conventional medicine. We have an entire system of assessment and don’t depend on medical diagnoses to determine what’s going on and what an appropriate approach would be. Since the world is dominated by conventional medicine, we can work with a diagnosis, of course. We have to study it, and we have to understand it, but it’s also not required. If somebody came and had not seen a doctor at all and didn’t know what was going on with their body and didn’t have any lab tests or anything else, we can work with that. 

The last part there would be that the comprehensive system of herbalism also includes not just the plants themselves but also the dietary changes, the lifestyle changes and movement. 

PTM: What do lifestyle changes really have to do with herbalism?

KS: While not everybody agrees exactly on diet, everybody is in a very whole foods, get rid of processed food, get rid of sugar place. What we’re trying to do is bring back to baseline or repair the damage that our culture has done to our bodies. If you’re going to stick your hand in bleach for an hour, it’s going to hurt. It’s going to cause irritation. We can put an herb on it, but if you’re immediately going to put your hand back in the bleach, we can only do so much with a plant. So, herbalism is also really recognizing that we need to look at how we resolve those baseline challenges that we as human bodies face living in this very sedentary, productivity-oriented culture. That work really is an essential part of herbalism, even though there might not be plants involved in that part. 

PTM: Do herbalists promote an entirely plant-based diet?

KS: Not at all. In fact, we find that harmful as a long-term lifestyle because we believe that animal protein is critical for humans. That does not mean that we think everybody needs to eat beef. If you’re more comfortable with fish, if you’re more comfortable with chicken or whatever, we’ll work with where a person is. It’s also not like we won’t work with someone who is committed to being vegetarian or vegan. Of course we will. But it’s just very difficult to maintain that in a healthy way long-term. 

We do though promote a lot of plants in the diet. At least 50 percent of your plate should be plants. Frozen is fine because fresh vegetables aren’t necessarily accessible to all people, so frozen vegetables are great. Whatever vegetables you can get on your plant. Just lots of them. 

We do also think that it’s critically important to be conscious of animal welfare and to not take life unnecessarily and to not cause suffering. That’s not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because unhealthy, disrespected animals create food that will hurt humans. If you raise a cow or a fish in a feeding operation, and it’s not able to live its life and eat its normal food and roam around the way that it wants to, that meat is actually not healthy and causes a lot of inflammation in the body. 

PTM: How is herbalism used in alternative or complementary medicine?

KS: That depends a lot on the person seeking help and also on the skill level of the person who is providing care. I work with cancer and terminally ill clients regularly. I also work with clients with very complicated autoimmune conditions, and I work as an integrated member of their care team in many cases. Not everybody feels comfortable doing that kind of work because it can be intimidating to work with medical practitioners. We are also adjunct faculty for the pharmacy schools here in Boston. We’re very comfortable going back and forth between a medical environment and an herbal environment. But a lot of people aren’t, and it isn’t necessary. 

It could also be as simple as a child who gets recurring ear infections, and the doctor keeps giving antibiotics. Since most ear infections aren’t actually bacterial, and that doesn’t necessarily take care of the problem, maybe Mom is looking for something else to try to support that child’s health and deal with those recurring ear infections. Or maybe someone who gets UTIs very frequently recognizes that this has become a pattern that they want to stop. Any of those types of models are completely reasonable and very common. Maybe not every single practitioner works in every single way, but they are common in this country right now I would say. 

PTM: What forms do herbal remedies come in?

KS: About the whole rainbow. My favorite thing to work with actually is tea. Part of the reason that I like working with tea so much is that the time it takes you to make the tea is also part of the medicine. In our culture, a lot of our health problems come because we don’t really have support for downtime or self-care. So, just the act of making a pot of tea is actually pretty radical. If I can get somebody to make tea several times a day, that means that they stopped and thought about their health and thought about their body and thought about the fact that they want to do things to help themselves be stronger and feel better. So, I prefer tea when I can get people to do it, but it’s not always convenient. 

You can also make tinctures which are a little bit stronger or more concentrated because they’re the alcohol extract of an herb. You can put them in your bag because they’re more portable. I also really like elixirs, which is part alcohol, part honey. You blend it together and get a full spectrum extraction from the plant that way. 

In addition, there are salves, and there’s lotions, and you can make lozenges or old-fashioned pills, which are little balls of powdered herbs. You can also put herbs in your food. That’s a completely legitimate way to take your medicine. A good example for that is cinnamon. Cinnamon is a really effective herb for helping to manage blood sugar levels. When you start looking, you realize that the spices that you have in your kitchen, as long as they’re fresh and potent, they’re much more than just a flavor. There’s a lot more going on there. 

PTM: How is each type of herbal remedy used?

KS: They’re not interchangeable. The challenge with herbalism is that you have to get the herb to the problem. This is a little bit less of a challenge with pharmaceutical medicine. We’re very accustomed to pharmaceutical medicine being a pill that you swallow, then it just sort of magically goes to where it’s needed, and herbs don’t necessarily do that. 

So, the big challenge is how do I get the herb to where it needs to be? Not all herbs actually pass through the intestinal lining very well, so turmeric is a great example. We talk about turmeric being an anti-inflammatory herb, and it does have amazing anti-inflammatory properties, but it doesn’t get to the blood stream very well. While it’s not great as a systemic anti-inflammatory, it’s amazing for inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. And so, that’s where we would work with it. 

People are also sometimes familiar with an herb called Goldenseal, and maybe they learn that it’s an herbal antibiotic. The catch is that it doesn’t get into the bloodstream at all. It doesn’t pass through the intestinal lining. So, it’s only an herbal antibiotic if you have a GI bacteria that you need to deal with or if you put it topically on a wound. Otherwise, it’s not getting into your bloodstream. 

I think one of my favorite examples of this is an herbal steam. This is where you get a pot of boiling water and put a towel over your head and breathe in the steam and toss some herbs in there. They’re great because they get that antimicrobial action and also the immune support right into the respiratory tract.

PTM: You’ve touched on some types of conditions that could be effectively managed with herbs, what are some of the others?

KS: There’s nothing that couldn’t be improved with herbalism. The reason that I say that is because everything that people are dealing with, whether it’s a splinter or whether it’s Alzheimer’s, there still a component of we as humans are living outside of what our bodies expect. Our bodies do not expect to sit at desks all day. Our bodies don’t expect to have climate control. That wasn’t part of the deal. Our bodies don’t expect to have sugar so widely available. So, something very simple can become so much more difficult to manage because we all live with this sort of constant elevated baseline inflammatory state. Because of that, I really don’t think there’s anything that can’t be approached herbally. 

Maybe herbalism isn’t going to 100 percent be the answer to everything. If someone needs open heart surgery than they need that. You can’t have an herb instead of open heart surgery. But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a place for herbs there as part of the preparatory and recovery process in terms of making the body stronger to be able to withstand the surgery itself. 

Then of course, it can help make sure that you only have one open heart surgery. We want to say, “Oh, that’s a wakeup call. Let’s make a bunch of changes in your life, so that you’re not going to have to do that again.” I don’t think that herbalism has to be the only answer for a person’s health issues for it to be a legitimate answer. I’m sort of very agnostic about the collection of approaches that anybody takes to finding comfort and better health. I think that every approach that helps you is a good approach.

PTM: What is the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism?

KS: We are a school and a clinic. Right now, everything is online because of COVID. We even run our free clinic online now, and we have online courses. When we started to put our program online, one thing that was important to us was that a lot of people really want to learn herbalism but our culture is so productivity-based. Everybody is working ridiculous hours, and they get home and they’re tired. They grab some food and sit in front of the television and turn on Netflix. We wanted to create an herbal curriculum that was very high quality and that would take somebody from their very beginning place all the way through to clinical herbalism if that was their goal. We wanted to put it online so that it would be just as easy as watching Netflix. 

PTM: What should someone look for if they’re thinking about working with an herbalist?

KS: It’s important to find someone who will match your requirements and will meet you where you are. I also strongly recommend working with a qualified Registered Herbalist.  A Registered Herbalist is a person who has been recognized for their work by the American Herbalists’ Guild, which is a national professional organization. Since herbalists are unlicensed, registration with the national professional organization is the highest and most rigorous recognition that herbalists in the U.S. can attain.

If you don’t have a Registered Herbalist in your area, then be sure to read things that the herbalist you’re considering has published. They should at the very least have material on their website that gives a good idea of their philosophy towards the work, to make sure that it resonates with you. Then of course, when you go to your session, use your critical thinking skills. An herbalist should be explaining to you the “why” behind their suggestions, and you should feel engaged in collaborating on the types of things that will work best in your life. 

Important Note About Insurance and Herbalism

Because herbalists are unlicensed in the United States, insurance does not cover their services. however, registered herbalists are now allowed to take health savings account funds. If paying out of pocket isn’t an option for you or you don’t have a health savings account, Katja says that most herbalists do offer a sliding scale or free clinic time as well. If you can’t find someone who does that in your area, look online. Many, such as the free clinic offered by the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism, will continue to operate online even after concerns over COVID-19 subside. 

Resources

Here are some helpful resources offered by the CommonWealth Center for Holistic Herbalism. 

  • The Holistic Herbalism Podcast
  • Family Herbalist program – In this program, you’ll learn how to work with herbs to keep you and your family healthy. Enter the code pepperminttea to get 20% off the cost of the program. 
  • Because of the economic impacts of COVID-19, CommonWealth Herbs is also offering support for people whose income has been impacted and who would like to study herbalism. Contact them at info@commonwealthherbs.com for more information.

Sources

  1. Vickers, A et al. “Herbal medicine.” The Western journal of medicine vol. 175,2 (2001): 125-8. doi:10.1136/ewjm.175.2.125 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1071505/
  2. American Herbalists Guild. https://www.americanherbalistsguild.com/herbal-medicine-fundamentals


Money Saving Tip: Restock Your Emergency Food Supply

Don’t wait until the last minute.

While there are many lessons to learn from our global pandemic, one of the most practical is that we need to restock and maintain our emergency food supply. This is not hoarding, and it’s not stockpiling. This is simply being smart. Clearly, as we’ve all learned, once we’re in the middle of an emergency or someone high up says that one is imminent, it’s often too late to count on getting what we need, let alone finding healthy options at the best possible price. At that point, it’s just grab what you can even if it’s a brand that costs triple what you usually pay.

While none of us want to be caught in that situation again, it’s easy to let our guard down when the supply chain seems as if it has caught up or the emergency is over. That’s why it’s important to remember how the benefits of restocking our emergency food supply far outweigh any negative aspects to keeping extra food around the house. 

Photo of jars of food in pantry as part of restocking emergency food supply
Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

Benefits of Restocking Your Emergency Food Supply

The benefits of restocking your emergency food supply before an emergency are many. Here are just a few of them.

  1. An emergency can happen at any time. While the pandemic is our most recent painful reminder, it can be weather-related or any other type of natural or man-made disaster.
  2. These situations are stressful enough without adding the possibility of being without the food we need to the mix. (Just always remember the sight of the empty shelves for rice, flour, toilet paper and other staples. I don’t know about you, but the mental toll that took on me is not something that I want to repeat if I can at all avoid it.)
  3. Doing it ahead of time means that you can stock up on affordable options and take advantage of sales. While stores and suppliers aren’t supposed to price gouge during these times, if there’s a shortage, prices are going to go up or at least not be as affordable as they are at other times. It also gives you options to compare as opposed to having to take whatever brand is available, even if it’s the most expensive. 
  4. Items are going to be more accessible during normal times than during an emergency. 
  5. You don’t have to rush out when it’s unsafe to do so, and you don’t have to stand in long lines waiting to get in to stores or to check out. 

Items to Include in Emergency Food Supply

The rule of thumb to keep in mind is that you should have two weeks of food on hand for your emergency food supply. While everyone’s needs and wants are different. Here’s a list of the basic items that I believe most of us have found that we need or would want to have to get us by. 

Pantry staples

  • Yeast
  • Brown rice any other staple grains that you use
  • Flour (keeps for 6-8 months in pantry and up to 1 year refrigerated1)
  • Bread flour
  • Powdered buttermilk
  • Vital wheat gluten (can make bread flour out of it)
  • If need gluten-free, make sure that you have all of the flour alternatives that you need
  • Dry legumes (less expensive)
  • Non-dairy milk alternatives (Non-refrigerated cartons of soy milk, hemp milk, flax milk, rice milk or Cashew milk)
  • Sugar or sweetener alternatives 
  • Soups and broths
  • Flour and/or corn tortillas
  • Taco shells
  • Seasoning packets (or better yet and much less expensive, the spices on hand to make these yourself)
  • Pasta
  • Oats
  • Comfort foods (anything such as chocolate chips needed for baking favorite treats)
  • Healthy snacks (Unpopped popcorn is the best for storing for long periods of time)
  • Cocoa
  • Peanut butter or nut butter alternatives
  • Juice (Including lemon and lime juice)
  • Jelly
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Olive oil or other cooking oil
  • Maple syrup
  • Honey
  • Condiments (Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, Barbecue sauce, etc.) 
  • Canned coconut milk (Trust me. If you don’t use this already, you may find it very useful in an emergency.) 
  • Anything needed for a special diet 

Canned Goods

  • Vegetables 
  • Soups
  • Meats such as wild-caught tuna or salmon
  • Fruits or jars of fruit
  • Pizza or marinara sauce

Refrigerated

These items are good because they will keep for a while. If they’re getting close to going bad, go ahead and use them and then restock with more.

  • Non-dairy milk alternatives such as almond milk
  • Shredded cheese (mozzarella if making pizza is a thing)
  • Eggs (these stay good in the refrigerator for 3-5 weeks1)
  • Butter or butter substitute

Frozen

  • Meat
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Bread to have in freezer 
  • Frozen fruit
  • Anything needed for a special diet (For example, gluten-free bread to keep in the freezer.)
  • Frozen homemade soups

Miscellaneous 

Some of these aren’t food items, but while you’re re-stocking your supply, you know you’re going to need them. 

  • Toilet paper
  • Clorox wipes 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand soap
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Food for infants
  • Bottled water (gallons and individual bottles)
  • Food storage (plastic or re-usable baggies, plastic wrap, foil)
  • Paper towels
  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Masks
  • Latex gloves
  • Pain reliever

Cooking supplies in case of power outage

  • Propane camp stove or gas grill (outdoor use only)
  • Extra tanks of propane for gas grill

Helpful Resources

While the focus here is on being prepared for an emergency, be sure and check out my post on Buying Food During a Crisis. The suggestions there may just change the way you think about buying food on a regular basis. To make this process even easier, you can also access my free Food Inventory and Shopping List template here or through the box at the side of your screen. 

In addition, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has more suggestions for emergency preparedness at ready.gov/food and the FoodKeeper App lets you see how long specific foods will last and the best ways to store them. 

Sources

  1. FoodKeeper App by Foodsafety.gov. https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app

The 7 Best Vegan Recipe Blogs and Websites

My Favorite Plant-Based Recipe Resources.

Whether you’re considering a vegan diet, are just starting out or simply want to include more plant-based meals in your routine, it may be hard to know where to turn. There are so many potential resources out there that it can be a little bit overwhelming. The key is finding the best vegan recipe blogs and websites that will have you coming back for more.

I know this firsthand because when I changed my lifestyle to include healthier foods, I had no intention of becoming primarily plant-based. The recipes I found though were so good and made me feel so much better physically that before I knew it, that’s simply how I was eating. To help you wherever you are in your journey, I’ve put together my list of the 7 best vegan recipe blogs and websites that I can personally vouch for. I highly recommend starting with these and then branching out from here. 

Photos of Vegan Tuna Salad and Crispy Smashed Potatoes as examples of the best vegan recipe blogs

Oh She Glows

What I love: This blog is among my favorites because most of the recipes are gluten-free, soy-free and processed food-free. Angela’s writing style is also very conversational, open and honest, and while you’re going to her for her recipes, you’ll get so much more “real-person” bang for your buck. I also love that her recipes are simple and easy enough that anyone can follow them – regardless of experience level in the kitchen. 

My favorite recipe: Crispy Smashed Potatoes with Avocado Garlic Aioli

Veggies Don’t Bite

What I love: Trust me on this one, Sophia has good taste. As in she knows what tastes delicious. If she puts it on her blog, you can be sure that it’s going to be fabulous. What’s even better – she’s the mother of three boys, so you can bet that her recipes are going to be very doable for even the busiest of us. 

My favorite recipeEasy Vegan Chickpea and Spinach Enchiladas

Kris Carr

What I love: There’s no question that this website has a place on my list. Kris is where I got my start with healthy eating. While simply feeling better physically, not weight loss, was my goal, Kris was the one who introduced me to the idea that if we simply eat nutrient-dense delicious whole foods, there’s really no reason to count calories. While she has plenty of recipes that are very easy to make, there are plenty to try that take a little more time and effort if you’re feeling more adventurous. 

My favorite recipeBrain Booster smoothie (Kris is the one who got me started with my green smoothie a day habit, so there’s no way that I couldn’t pay homage to one of my favorites here.)

Veggies Save The Day

What I love: Amy operates under the idea that eating plant-based doesn’t have to be boring, and her recipes definitely reflect that belief. She bases her recipes on the Mediterranean diet, which means there’s lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes involved in her delicious creations. It’s also important to note that she eats gluten-free, so if that’s something you’re looking for, she’s a great resource. Even if you’re not gluten-free, you’re going to love her recipes. Best of all – she’s a big believer in keeping it simple. A simple ingredient list and simple recipes. My kind of cooking!

My favorite recipe: Vegan Tuna Salad (I was never even a fan of regular tuna salad, but to say that you can now find this concoction in my fridge at all times isn’t an overstatement!)

Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine

What I love: I first learned about the committee when I interviewed its president, Dr. Neal Barnard, for my post on Exploring a Plant-Based Diet. Its philosophy is to put prevention over pills, and one of the best and easiest ways to do that is to get people to eat more whole foods. Not only does the website explain why a plant-based diet is so healthy, it also provides plenty of recipes that make eating healthy easy and delicious. 

My favorite recipe: Quickie Quesadillas

VNutrition

What I love: While Mary Ellen has many different types of recipes, it’s her vegan appetizers and cheese recipes that had me from the beginning. I fully admit that I am a “bar food” kind of girl and could easily eat at least a meal a day of just finger food if I lived in my perfect world. Mary Ellen’s recipes get me as close to that dream while still eating healthy that I’m going to get. I also LOVE cheese, and if I’m not eating plant-based, it’s usually because I’ve given in to that craving. Thank goodness Mary Ellen’s got my back there too. 

My favorite recipe: Dairy-Free Mozzarella

Forks Over Knives

What I love: Forks Over Knives is one of the most well-known advocates for plant-based eating. One of the things that I appreciate most about the recipes is that they use the complete spectrum of whole foods – vegetables, yes, but also fruit, brown rice, quinoa and plenty of legumes. They also include very little if any oil. In addition to the many recipes included on the website, there are also many practical resources for starting and maintaining a plant-based diet. 

My favorite recipe: Baba Ghanoush Flatbreads

Lean on Your Community

Is there another resource that you would consider to be among the best vegan recipe blogs or websites that’s not listed here? If so, let us know what it is so that we can all check it out. 


The Mental Benefits of Seasonal Decorating

Tips for Seasonal Decorating on a Budget.

How does the topic of seasonal decorating belong in the health and wellness space? The answer is actually, perfectly. That’s because there are many mental benefits associated with decorating with the seasons, and it can easily be done for very little money. To fill us in on what those benefits are and how you can do it on a budget is DIY home decorating expert and Instagram Influencer Jodie Kammerer. She’s half of the Jodie and Julie team over at the The Design Twins, where she and her sister share their best tips for DIY home decorating.

Photos of faux greenery in a cup near a burning candle and a wall display as examples of seasonal decorating

Jodie’s Story

When it comes to the mental benefits of seasonal decorating and decorating on a budget in general, Jodie speaks from a place of experience. She loved to travel the world and didn’t even have a home of her own until she was nearly 40. That simply wasn’t part of her dream. 

Photo of Jodie Kammerer
Jodie Kammerer

When she did decide that she wanted a family, she gave up traveling and focused on her children. But, as she fully admits, it took a long time to find happiness in her home. “I was really unhappy and depressed. My husband had lost his job, and he spent years trying to create a new business, so our finances were completely deteriorated.” Meantime, Jodie was trying to make ends meet as a stay-at-home mom. “I didn’t have a new dream besides what was just connected to my family, my boys, and I was just really depressed because I was within the walls of my house without a budget and without any ideas.” 

Turning it around

It all turned around when she figured out that she could apply creativity to her own home and have projects that made her feel like she was accomplishing something even on a “tiny, nonexistent budget.” In fact, one of her first very inexpensive projects was no-sew drop cloth curtains. She still considers it to be one of her “best projects ever.” Jodie says that she never would have stretched herself creatively in that way if she’d had a sewing machine, known how to sew, or could have afforded fabric or pretty pre-made curtains. “The idea that I could buy drop cloths and transform my house with no skills just blew my mind!”

Transformation through chalk paint

Another transformational decorating discovery for Jodie was chalk paint. She says that every piece of furniture in her house was hand-me-down and mostly things that she didn’t like. “Chalk paint to me was another ‘aha moment,’ where you could take old furniture, not attractive furniture and make it into something that you love. Love is a strong word, but when you take something, ugly, and you transform it with your own two hands with literally probably $20 worth of paint, it becomes love.” 

Jodie says that piece changed the room and was part of what changed her life. “I don’t know if it really looks as good as I think it looks, but that sense of empowerment, that sense of happiness that you’ve been able to do something, you’ve been able to impact your space with just your own two hands.” From there, Jodie’s home decorating and Instagram business took off because, as it turns out, many of us want at least a bit of that sense of empowerment that Jodie was able to tap into. 

I like to have things that make every season feel special.

Jodie Kammerer

Mental Benefits of Seasonal Decorating

I will fully admit that before I found Jodie and Julie, I thought of seasonal decorating as a luxury. Something that I could look forward to doing when my far-off in the future grandkids come to visit but not something worth my time, energy or money right now. Thanks to the pandemic and being confined to my home and the same surroundings around the clock, I have changed my tune. This is the sort of mental shift that Jodie already made and that many of us are just now catching up to. 

Jodie says that seasonal decorating, and even decorating in general, lets us feel like we’re not stuck. “It’s so much more than just being stuck in that physical environment. It’s being stuck without options. We want to be empowered to change our mood, our outlook and our situation.” Seasonal decorating helps us do that on a manageable scale. 

Whether we’re in the middle of a pandemic or just stuck in a rut, very few of us do well with monotony. It’s draining and can suck the energy out of us. Jodie believes that change, even in a small amount, is invigorating. That’s where seasonal decorating comes in. It allows us to play, be creative and let our personalities come through. Jodie calls this being “whimsical,” but she also calls it a worthwhile investment. “This is spending time, money and energy on creating happiness. Happiness and making family memories that are within the home.” 

Joy and anticipation

Jodie remembers that she used to look forward with great joy and anticipation to traveling outside of her house. Now, she gets that same type of excitement about decorating for the seasons. “I don’t feel that I’m missing out because I have brought that anticipation and excitement to my home and to my family. I focus on the joy that I can create within my home.” She does this by making sure that there’s something to look forward to and to celebrate for every season. 

Photo of pot of pink flower and empty wooden picture frames as an example of seasonal decorating

Tips for seasonal decorating on a budget

When it comes to tips for seasonal decorating on a budget, Jodie has plenty. 

  1. Decorate with faux flowers, plants or greenery. These are inexpensive and can be re-used in different ways from season to season. 
  2. Use pillows to easily switch up your décor. Jodie suggests buying a few pillows with covers that can slip on and off. She says that switching out two different pillowcases for a season can completely change your color scheme – especially if you keep everything else fairly neutral.
  3. Buy fresh, seasonal flowers. They’ll usually last at least a week and will do wonders for boosting your mood. 
  4. Create a vignette or a small grouping of objects that tell a story or have something in common. This can be done on a tray, a tabletop or any other smaller space and is a way to make disconnected or unrelated items look like they go together. For example, you might have small items that are all a “spring” color that aren’t otherwise related. You can also tie items together with some of your faux florals or greenery.
  5. Don’t forget wall décor. Jodie loves to change out wreaths on her walls for the seasons as well as to put faux flowers or greenery around frames or signs. She also swaps out items in a gallery wall as another way to change up a space with the season. 
  6. Change out your curtains. This is an easy way to alter a room’s look so that it reflects the season outside. Once you make the initial time and/or money investment in the curtains, it’s just a matter of storing them and possibly steaming them when you’re ready to switch them out. 
Photo of large and small light green jugs and other light-colored jugs as an example of seasonal decorating

Resources

Jodie recommends the following resources for seasonal decorating. 

  • Pillows and pillow covers – Ikea (great inserts and very affordable), Etsy (can usually buy pillow covers with or without inserts), HomeGoods, TJ Maxx or of course, you can always shop local.
  • Faux flowers, plants or greenery and wall décor – Craft stores such as Hobby Lobby, JoAnn, and Michaels. Jodie recommends shopping at these stores ahead of the season because they often have 40-50% off sales at that point. If you wait until the season starts, the sales go away. If you wait until after the season, items are picked over. 
  • Items for a vignette or collection – Dollar or hardware stores and craft stores such as the ones previously mentioned. 
  • Fresh, seasonal flowers – You can get these at the grocery store or at your local farmers’ market for under $10. 
Photo of pink and white flowers next to a white chair

Lean on your community

As we’ve seen here, seasonal decorating has many mental benefits and is something that can be done inexpensively and on a small scale. If decorating with the seasons is something that you already do, what are your favorite ways to do it? Let us know in the comments below so that we can all get ideas. 


Processed Food: What It Is, and Its Role in Our Food System

6 Things to keep in mind when it comes to buying or eating it.

We may hear “Don’t eat processed food” a lot these days, but in reality, that’s very hard, if not impossible to do. In fact, in many cases, it wouldn’t even be that healthy. That’s because there’s a lot of confusion over what processed food actually is. In this post, you’re going to get the answer to that question as well as 6 things to keep in mind when it comes to buying or eating it. 

Photos of pizza and soda and fresh vegetables and fruit as examples of processed food.
Pizza and soda photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

What is processed food?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, processed food is food that has undergone any changes to its natural state1. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health clarifies that means any washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state. It also includes adding salt, sugar, fat or other additives for preservation or for taste2

That means that even if we start out with fresh fruit or vegetables from the farmers’ market, the minute we wash, cut or chop them, we are processing them. This is food preparation at its most basic in one of its healthiest forms, but it’s processing, nonetheless.

In fact, the first food processing took place about two million years ago when cooking or heating over fire was discovered3. Later in prehistoric times, humans learned how to transform, preserve and store food safely through fermenting, drying and preserving with salt3. Since this is what allowed communities to form and survive, it seems that most of us could easily appreciate the concept and practice of food processing. 

In that case, what’s the fuss all about? The confusion comes over the different ways and degrees to which food is processed. 

Types of processed food

The NOVA classification system, which is recognized by the United Nations and the World Health Organization, breaks food processing down into four categories4. The following descriptions of each are taken from a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 

Unprocessed and minimally processed food4

Unprocessed or natural food is the edible part of plants (such as fruit, leaves, stems, seeds, roots) or from animals (such as muscle, offal, eggs, milk), and also fungi, algae and water, after separation from nature. 

Minimally processed food is natural food that is altered. This can be through the removal of inedible or unwanted parts, drying, crushing, grinding, powdering, fractioning, filtering, roasting, boiling, non-alcoholic fermentation, pasteurization, chilling, freezing, placing in containers and vacuum packaging. The difference between unprocessed and minimally processed is not considered to be significant, and for both, the nutritional content of the food has not been substantially changed from its natural state.

Processed culinary ingredients4

Processed culinary ingredients are usually derived from unprocessed and minimally processed foods or else from nature through pressing, refining, grinding, milling, and drying. These can include oils, butter, sugar and salt. Some methods used to make processed culinary ingredients are originally ancient, but now they’re usually produced through industrial methods. These ingredients are rarely consumed by themselves.

Processed food4

Processed food is made by adding salt, oil, sugar or other processed culinary ingredients to unprocessed and minimally processed food. This includes canned or bottled vegetables or legumes preserved in brine; whole fruit preserved in syrup; tinned fish preserved in oil; some types of processed animal foods such as ham, bacon, pastrami, and smoked fish; most freshly baked breads; and simple cheeses. Most processed foods have two or three ingredients and are recognizable as modified versions of unprocessed and minimally processed food. 

It’s important to note that even the dish that results from cooking at home using multiple natural food and culinary ingredients is a processed food. 

Ultra-processed food4

Ultra-processed food is made from ingredients that are usually created by a series of industrial techniques and processes. Some common ultra-processed products are carbonated soft drinks; sweet, fatty or salty packaged snacks; candies; mass-produced packaged breads and buns, cookies, pastries, cakes and cake mixes; margarine and other spreads; sweetened breakfast ‘cereals’ and fruit yogurt and “energy” drinks; pre-prepared meat, cheese, pasta and pizza dishes; poultry and fish “nuggets” and “sticks”; sausages, burgers, hot dogs and other reconstituted meat products; powdered and packaged “instant” soups, noodles and desserts; and baby formula.

The case for and against ultra-processed food

Breaking down these four categories makes it easy to see that when people say, “Don’t eat processed food,” what they really usually mean is “Don’t eat ultra-processed food.”  This is the category where we can get into the most trouble with our health. That’s because highly processed foods often contain more saturated fat, sugar and sodium than less-processed foods2.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that the systems and ingredients “used in the manufacture of ultra-processed foods make them highly convenient (ready-to-consume, almost imperishable) and highly attractive (hyper- palatable) for consumers, but they also make ultra-processed foods typically nutritionally unbalanced and liable to be over-consumed.” That’s not good because of their high content of ingredients that aren’t good for us. The more we eat of them, the less we’re eating of unprocessed, minimally processed and healthy processed food. 

Fortification with vitamins and minerals

While fortifying ultra-processed foods can be seen as a benefit, especially when access to nutritious food is limited, it’s important to understand why they need to be fortified in the first place. In many cases, the only reason that adding vitamins and minerals is needed is because the food wasn’t made from “real” ingredients in the first place or because they were stripped during processing. All that said though, if access to nutritious food is limited, fortified foods are definitely beneficial. 

Things to keep in mind

Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to thinking about the role processed food plays in your life or the life of your family. 

  • Even when we’re talking about home-cooked meals made with multiple ingredients, we have to be careful when it comes to the processed culinary ingredients we use. Using too much sugar, salt and refined oils in our kitchen can be just as unhealthy as getting it from ultra-processed food. 
  • When cooking at home, look for recipes that contain primarily unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients.
  • When it comes to buying meat, especially deli meat, hot dogs, sausage, etc. look for a very simple and short ingredient list. The primary ingredient should be the meat itself with only a few other ingredients needed for preservation. It should not contain a lot of fillers or ingredients that you can’t pronounce. 
  • Don’t buy products that have a long list of ingredients that you can’t pronounce or don’t know what they are. You should know what every ingredient is that you’re putting into your body.
  • Shop the outside aisles of the grocery store as much as possible. That’s where the freshest and least processed items are found. Items on the inside aisles have the longest shelf life, which means they are more highly processed. The exception to this is what are considered staples such as brown rice, oats, legumes, and other foods that contain beneficial nutrients1
  • The way I think about it is that if I’m buying packaged food from the store, I look for products that contain 5 or fewer ingredients. If it has more, I have to recognize every ingredient listed.

Bottom line

The bottom line is that most of the food we eat is processed in some way. The degree to which it is and the amounts that we eat of more highly processed foods are the keys. While there are some health benefits to ultra-processed food, the general rule of thumb is always going to be to eat as much unprocessed and minimally processed food as possible. 

Sources

  1. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/
  2. Poti, Jennifer M et al. The American journal of clinical nutrition. vol. 101,6 (2015): 1251-62. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.100925 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4441809/#b1
  3. Floros, John D et al. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. August 2010. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1541-4337.2010.00127.x
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/3/ca5644en/ca5644en.pdf