Posts Tagged ‘nutrition’

posted by | on , | Comments Off on Food is an Intensely Personal Choice

The following is a guest post by DC Ecowomen Board Member Programs VP Jen Howard.  

It is also a confusing and guilt ridden choice. Do I want to be a carnivore, vegetarian, vegan, or some mix? Which is better organically grown or locally farmed? I can’t always afford organic/free range options and I don’t have time to go to farmer’s markets on the weekends, so am I doomed to mass produced meat and chemically ripened veggies from the grocery store? My husband is a picky eater (no fish or beef, no green leafy anything, no squash, eggplant, or broccoli, the list goes on) so what can I cook that is healthy that we both will eat without getting repetitive?  Also, fast food is good, it just is, and some Monday mornings I just “need” a greasy egg and cheese biscuit to face the day, am I supposed to feel bad about that? Could I ever get the same emotional fulfillment from a juice blend or oatmeal? (This might be a good time to mention that I am an emotional eater and thus I eat even if I am not hungry. Yet another challenge I face.)

I have been struggling with these questions for a long time so I was really excited about attending DC EcoWomen’s “Overfed Yet Undernourished” workshop last Thursday. Drs. Threlkel and Windsor from the Restorative Health Center for Integrated Medicine walked us through common deficiencies and then demonstrated some easy recipes that focus on getting those vitamins and minerals back into our diet. Their goal was to teach us how to listen to our bodies, realize what we need, and find healthy alternatives to the greasy egg and cheese biscuit.

Some things that I took away from the workshop:

1) Almost everyone is deficient in vitamin D and even if we all lived in the tropics and played beach volleyball every afternoon in our bikinis we would still not get enough.

2) Sugar is a drug. Anyone that has tried to give up sweets or go carb free knows this in their hearts but it is nice to have professional validation.

3) There is basically a mineral war going on in your body all the time. Calcium, magnesium, and folate work together and against each other (in a very complicated molecular biology, organic chemistry kinda way) to trick your body into absorbing more minerals. Once the balance of power shifts in any one direction the other two suffer.

4) Magnesium helps relax muscles, lowers blood pressure, and reduces PMS cramps. It is also found in dark chocolate hence the chocolate carvings that hit once a month. In general cravings are signals that your body needs something. If you aren’t listening carefully enough to your body you might overeat trying to satisfy it without realizing what it wants. Listening to your body is a skill that takes practice so next time you have the munchies for no reason take a few minutes to figure out what exactly your body is saying to you.

5) You can make chocolate brownies healthier by substituting black beans for the oil and eggs. WHAT!!!!! Mind blown.

Like I said at the beginning, nutrition is a personal choice and one I am sure I will continue to struggle with. However, Drs. Threlkel and Windsor helped me have a greater understanding of how the food I eat influences how I feel on a day to day basis, how to think about my food cravings and determine what my body is really asking for and find healthy substitutes, that no one diet is right for everyone, and my husband may never be an adventurous eater but I can trick him into eating leafy green vegetables using a juicer!

If you’re interested in reading more about women’s health and nutrition, check out our blog post on Malnutrition in American Women or check out our resource page on Healthy Communities.

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Is a calorie just a calorie?

Obesity is one of the most visible problems in our country. But it may be masking another overarching chronic health problem – malnutrition.

In a country with so many choices, so much inexpensive food everywhere, and a McDonalds in every town big or small, why would we have to worry about malnutrition?

We pride food on being inexpensive and convenient above all else – above sustainability, above quality, and above nutritional content. As a result, the grocery aisles have become stuffed with packaged, processed foods designed for low cost and long shelf-life. Unfortunately, the nutritional value of these foods is often little to none. So while most Americans are certainly getting enough to eat, they are not consuming the nutrients that are essential for health.  Nutrient deficiency-related diseases can happen to anyone – even an EcoWoman.

Everyone has a different diet, and risks for possible nutrient deficiencies. And women in particular face risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. Here are five common nutrient deficiencies in American women:

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D aids the auto-immune system – a deficiency may lead to increased susceptibility to colds and the flu. Vitamin D’s role with the immune system also helps prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes. More commonly known is vitamin D’s critical role in calcium absorption and in regulating the nervous system. Women have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis than men, so maintaining bone health is particularly important.

2. Calcium

Calcium and Vitamin D go hand in hand in terms of bone health. Osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases among women – over half of women over the age of 45 are affected. The risks of osteoporosis are more deadly than one might think – bones degraded from osteoporosis causes about 250,000 hip fractures in the U.S. each year, resulting in a 20 percent risk of death.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Over 90% of Americans have too little Omega-3 Fatty Acids in their diet. As an essential component of the brain (60% of brain material is made from omega 3 fatty acids), a deficit can lead to learning disabilities, such as ADHD, or contribute to depression. It also may contribute to obesity or heart disease.

4. Folic Acid

Folic acid is extremely important for women that are pregnant or planning to get pregnant. Folate helps protect against a number of embryonic malformations, including neural defects. Also, advanced folate deficiency can lead to anemia. And speaking of anemia…

5. Iron

For vegetarians, iron can be the biggest challenge. Iron-deficiency anemia causes extreme fatigue, dizziness, and an increased heart rate – so much so that it can be difficult to simply walk up a hill. And in the longer term, anemia can have severe impacts, leading to heart disease or heart attacks. The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world.

With all the research on the dangers of vitamin supplements, it is important – and increasingly difficult – to get these nutrients from natural sources. There are exceptions, of course – vegetarians might take iron supplements to ensure their iron stays at healthy levels and prevent anemia. But they should always be supplemented with the real thing – iron pills could be taken with quinoa, spinach, and lentils.

One thing to take away from this is that maintaining nutrient health is HARD. It can be very difficult to get all the nutrients you need in a natural way, without relying on a multivitamin. But there are experts that can help. Now, I’m no expert – just an EcoWoman trying to stay healthy. For a chance to learn from real experts, DC EcoWomen is hosting a workshop. Dr. Melissa Windsor and Dr. Karen Threlkel of the Restorative Health Center for Integrative Medicine will talk about why we’re malnourished, what the common deficiencies are, and how simple changes in your food choices can make a difference.

A calorie is NOT just a calorie. A nutrient-filled calorie means a whole lot more. In time, it could mean everything.

Learn more about the workshop “Overfed Yet Undernourished” and reserve your ticket.