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Last Sunday, my classmate Josh Smith and I gave a presentation at a parish in downtown F&F-KM-Teach-DSC_4757Baltimore organized by the Baltimore Food and Faith Project, supported by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. While I did mention this in my previous blog, I did want to give a shout out to the good work of the Baltimore Food and Faith project — working with faith communities, religious schools, and faith-based organizations to address social and economic justice in the food system as well as ecological care.

Josh and I were welcomed by a fantastic group of people eager to learn more about how to combine making healthy food choices with more sustainable living.

F&F_apple-chop_4734On the menu were 50 lbs of apples donated by the Baltimore Orchard Project, an organization dedicated to bringing productive fruit trees and fresh fruit to neighborhoods throughout Baltimore;  by doing so, they are working with local neighborhoods and faith communities to create a greener and healthier city, and more resilient neighborhood communities.

 

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EXPOphoto

MaryJane, Kathy McNeely and Sharon Chan presenting the magic of minerals

On March 21, for one of my classes at Maryland University of Integrative Health, we were asked to design a booth for our nutrition expo. I joined classmates MaryJane Bembenek and Sharon Chan in preparing a booth on Minerals. We presented on why they are important and did some simple testing to help people determine if they were mineral deficient. Thank you to those who were able to make it. We had a great night speaking  with lots of people from the  MUIH community and others in the surrounding area.

In the coming weeks and months I hope to share with you some of the insights I gained while preparing our mineral booth. Minerals, like vitamins are needed for so many of the body’s functions. Depending on how balanced out diets are, most of the minerals we need are provided by the foods we eat.

Minerals come from the earth and from the sea. As one can imagine, there are plenty of reasons to question whether the foods we eat are providing the right amount and balance of minerals needed for our bodies to function. Modern agriculture’s focus on nitrogen fertilizers and mono-cropping can advance soil depletion which negatively affects the mineral content of the vegetables and fruits we eat. These methods can also have a negative impact on the quality of the grasses and feed that animals eat, so animal products, like meat, eggs and cheeses could have less mineral content than they once had. Sea foods – like seaweed and fish have also been negatively impacted by pollution.

In biology and history classes I am certain you’ve heard of some of the diseases that are caused by vitamin and mineral depletion – diseases like rickets, pellagra, Beriberi, scurvy and night blindness and conditions like goiter are more widely known in the less industrialized world than they would be here in the United States. But, given the diminishing quality of mineral content of our soil, and the fact that processed foods (which strip the original mineral content from foods – only to add synthetic vitamins back in), are more widely available than whole foods, we can only benefit from paying more close attention to whether we’re getting the right balance of vitamins and minerals from our foods.

You know the old story of the tortoise and the hare – every new year I fancy myself the hare – come January 1, my life is destined for drastic change. Out go the sweets, the coffee, the alcoholic beverages, the wasteful purchases I made in the previous year and in comes the fruit smoothies, the fitness gear, ardent recycling and loads of veggies – all the tools I need to excel at living an enthusiastically healthy, green and virtuous year.

Big changes like the big, fast start the hare had in the famous race, are hard to maintain. If you want proof check out that expensive exercise equipment sitting in the corner and collecting dust since last January. When I look back at my life, I find that the most lasting changes have been the slow and steady ones – not the radical changes I vowed to make overnight.

So below I list seven slow and simple changes that can improve your health, and fitness while contributing to greening our planet. Happy New Year!

  1. Add more laughter. Physiological changes take place when we laugh. We stretch muscles throughout our face and body, our pulse and blood pressure go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. Some researchers believe that laughter may offer some of the same advantages as a workout. Maciej Buchowski, a researcher from Vanderbilt University, conducted a small study in which he measured the amount of calories burned in laughing — 50 calories burned in only 10-15 minutes of laughter.
  2. Drink green tea. Tea contains antioxidants that can help slow down aging and help your cells to regenerate and repair. Teas of all varieties contain high levels of antioxidant polyphenols that can help keep your body healthier and some studies suggest even ward of some cancers. Tea has less caffeine than coffee, and drinking lots of caffeine is hard on your heart and other organs. Tea can provide the pick-me-up of coffee with less caffeine, making you less jittery and helping you get to sleep when you want. Personally, I like to drink tea in the morning – I feel that my breath feels fresher after a cup of tea than it would after a cup of coffee!
  3. Drink more tap water.  Most North Americans walk around somewhat dehydrated – and often mistake thirst for hunger. Hydration, through drinking more water is a positive change that can improve your health; and choosing tap water can have a positive impact on the environment. The energy required to produce and transport plastic bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year! More often than not, plastic water bottles are not recycled—they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet the industry is not required to report testing results for its products. Independent studies have shown that some of the most popular brands of bottled water contain pollutants like pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue and arsenic. Public tap water, on the other hand, is subject to strict safety regulations, and you are paying for it anyway –so drink more! If you have any concerns about your tap water, install a water filter.
  4. Buy local! Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.
  5. Go for a ride. Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, and your gasoline usage. This year I renewed my membership to City Bikes in Washington D.C., a bike sharing programs that allows me to rent a cool red bike for short trips. As long as I keep the bike for under 30 minutes, my one-time a year membership fee pays for it. More time comes at extremely affordable rates. Similar programs exist in other cities, and are in the planning stages in other places. This is a great baby step for my health and for the planet. It takes me about the same time to ride the bike from one stop to the next as it does to ride the metro – it saves me the metro fare and gets me moving at the same time!
  6. Reduce your meat consumption. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but the small baby step of substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option can go a long way toward improving your health and that of the planet. In general, meat consumption is higher than the daily recommended amount, so cutting back one meal a week is a great baby step. Meat lacks fiber and other nutrients that have been shown to have cancer-protective properties; it is also high in saturated fat –which contributes to a number of preventable diseases. Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Websites such as Meatless Monday  offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment. 
  7. Take 20 minute walks. It turns out that simple, regular walking may provide all the mental and physical health benefits you need. Walking has been proven to lower “bad” cholesterol, raise “good” cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, manage weight, and improve mood and energy. And what’s more, walking is convenient and cheap – you don’t need a gym membership or any fancy equipment. It’s good for the environment as well – cutting down on the greenhouse gas emissions your car would be making. Try walking to work, and if you work miles from your home try other strategies – short walks through your neighborhood, parking in the last row of the parking lot when shopping or parking at work. Remember it’s about small steps and every step helps!

I have become really aware of the way that lunches generate trash. I live and work in Washington DC where boxed lunches are often provided at meetings. I am almost always shocked by the paper plates and napkins; plastic flatware and cups that are left after the meetings’ end.  I am fortunate enough to work at a place where we have a small kitchen, so I can leave food in the fridge and heat it if I need to on a little stove. Realizing not everyone has this option – especially teachers and children attending school – I was really happy to see that the Environmental Working Group EWG post an article on how to pack appealing lunches for children that are healthy and don’t cause too much environmental destruction. Heck, a lot of the suggestions look pretty darn appealing to at least this adult!

Thanks to a young girl’s experiment — we now know that we ought to be careful about the produce we choose. See for yourself:

 

 

One of the connections that many people miss is that plastic shopping bags are made of non-renewable fossil fuel, that’s right – in every plastic bag has its origins deep inside the Earth where dinosaurs once walked the planet. If we all do our part in decreasing the demand for these ubiquitous bags, while pressuring our policy makers to invest in renewable energies, we may just have a shot at saving our environment  by leaving this fossil fuel chapter of our collective human history behind. But it will take a mass movement of people to do this!

Ashel Seasunz’ and Alli Chagi-Starr’s inspiring Earth Amplified music/video campaign, featuring the video below on plastic bags, is one tool that is absolutely needed to help masses of people understand what’s at stake. This project is expected to go viral on YouTube – something that will take the artists’ work and message to a new level. You can click here to download the album: www.earthamplified.com, and you can go to www.kickstarter.com to contribute seed money toward the project.

Given the financial challenges many people are still experiencing as well as the current stresses endured by Mother Earth, below you will find seven ideas for greening the earth while adding some greenbacks to your wallet Consider incorporating at least one of the following practices into your new year.

1-    Eat the foods that keep your body fit: Most health conscious and/or weight-loss diets advise you to eat your vegetables, to cut out fatty red meat and to avoid processed foods. Incorporating these three suggestions in your diet can help you to save money while easing some of Earth’s burden. Vegetables and grains are the least amount of energy for production, while meat production often involves a number of inputs and processes that a 2007 UN Food and Agriculture Organization study has linked to global warming. Processed and packaged snack food and packaged prepared  meals are popular for people with little time to cook, but they tend to cost more – for the planet, your body and your wallet. Packaging in all shapes and sizes (plastics, paper, aluminum, Styrofoam, foil etc.) is taking up a lot of real estate in landfills throughout the United States. Processed foods take their toll on your health as they can be much harder to digest, and processed foods are often more expensive when all the costs hidden by subsidies and health risks are added up. Consider reducing your intake of highly processed foods by replacing them with whole foods purchased in bulk – especially fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and dried fruit.

2-    Walk if you’re going less than one mile or bike for slightly longer trips: This simple action will reduce your spending on fuel and maintenance for your car and decrease your carbon foot print. An added benefit is that you will be building muscle and melting away unwanted pounds while doing your errands.

3-    Minimize your exposure to toxic chemicals: If you make your own cleaning solutions you avoid the standard hazardous chemicals (ammonia, bleach, lye, formaldehyde and alcohol) that are included in most cleaning products. Look through your pantry and pull out some of these eco- friendly and less harmful cleaning products (baking soda, Borax, Castile soap, white vinegar, lemon juice). Learn more about using these here

4-    Use reusable bags when shopping: Over 50,000 bags are used every 5 seconds in the U.S. For a visual on this, click on this image put together by artist Chris Jordan in his exhibition “Running the Numbers.” Using your own bag lightens up the plastic load in city dumps. Reusable shopping bags are available at many grocery stores. In Washington, DC and in other cities around the country laws have been established to charge an extra fee (about 5 cents) for each plastic grocery bag you use. Every little bit adds up – so if you consider how many bags you bring home between shopping and picking up a sandwich here and a bottle of wine there, you could be saving about $40 – $50 a year by using your own. Try it – you will find that it does not take long to make it a habit that sticks.

5-    Cut back on paper towels: paper towels are a bottomless pit of expenses especially if you are reaching for one every time you clean your hands while cooking or eating, when you wipe up spills, clean your windows, counters and appliances, scrub the bathroom, etc. Why not make the switch this year to using a few old cloth rags for spills, cleaning and messes, and fabric napkins at the table. The advantage is that cloth versions can be washed and reused. You will save money and help to cut down on the 3,000 tons of paper towels that end up landfills every day.

6-    Eliminate Phantom power: You could cut your energy bill by as much as 10 percent over the course of the year simply by eliminating power leaks throughout your home. Unplug the charger for your cell phone, i-pad, mp3 player, etc. You can also invest in chargers that stop drawing current when the device’s battery is fully charged. Put those goods that are always on like your television, DVD player or stereo on a power strip to turn off all your appliances at once, or on a timer so that they automatically shut off overnight.

7-    Responsibly recycle e-waste: did you get a new electronic gadget for Christmas, or have you recently upgraded your cell phone? Do you have a stash of old gadgets, chargers, etc? Most people feel paralyzed because they don’t know what to do with all this electronic stuff so they stash it in a drawer. Especially after hearing that some enterprises that say they’ll recycle these gadgets for free end up shipping them to foreign countries where often women and children are not given protective gear while using dangerous chemicals and processes to extract microchips, gold and other recyclable materials from them. If what you want to recycle is relatively new, an option is to donate them to a reputable reuse organization, like the National Cristina Foundation or World Computer Exchange. They will match donated computers to charities and agencies, or send requested working items to educational institutions in developing countries.

Sorry Buffalo! I shuttered when I read the report of hundreds of motorists stranded for hours on the New York State Thruway when over two feet of snow fell over two days this past week. Yes, winter is upon us – at least for those who live in northern climates!

One of the most obvious ways that we use energy in the U.S. is to heat (or cool) our homes. We are keenly aware of this when the bill comes and many of us do all we can to insulate well and keep the thermostat low to avoid sending most of our paycheck to the oil, natural gas or to electricity companies that provide the energy.

Most U.S. electric plants use mainly coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, and petroleum to generate power. Each of these entails a huge economic cost as many of the fossil fuel-based sources of energy grow scarce. But the environmental and societal impact is also enormous for each of these – think oil spill, nuclear meltdown… At the same time, ridiculously small amounts of our electric energy come from solar, tidal harnesses, wind generators, and geothermal sources, all of which have a tendency to work with nature rather than depleting natural resources.

Like I said, in the winter we’re totally aware of the costs of heating energy, but in other times of the year do we carry some of the same awareness about what energy we expend in everyday tasks? The truth is that as a nation we consume lots of energy – and about 20 percent of total energy consumption comes from normal people like you and me just doing what we do in our homes every day.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backs energy-efficient appliances and consumer products with the ENERGY STAR label. These products meet energy efficiency requirements aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants caused by the inefficient use of energy; and allow us consumers to save on energy bills through a trusted system to identify and purchase energy-efficient without sacrificing performance.

Check out your own energy use by scrolling over each of the appliances that appear on this website.  Note which appliances have ENERGY STAR models available. If you are in the market for a new major appliance and choose an ENERGY STAR product or renewable energy system for your home you may even be eligible for a state or federal tax credit for energy efficiency. 

This summer many of us involved in advocacy on issues of health and ecology were extremely disappointed when the Senate failed to act on a comprehensive climate and energy bill. But even more disturbing is the fact that in the absence of such a bill, there have been congressional attempts to limit the power of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to limit heat-trapping emissions in order to protect public health and the environment and ensure that we avert the worst possible consequences of global warming.

Under the Clean Air ct, with its nearly 40-year track record of protecting public health and the environment and spurring innovation, the EPA has the ability to fully respond to scientific findings. With no clear climate and energy legislation from Congress, we need a monitoring system in place. If global warming emissions continue unabated, the public health implications will be severe: damaging heat waves; extreme weather events; wildfires; and increases in ground-level ozone linked to respiratory illnesses like asthma.

Since many on the planet are already feeling the effects of climate change, including flooding in Pakistan and China, drought in Russia, and heat waves and heavy rainstorms in much of the United States, the EPA must be allowed to do its job of cutting harmful pollution. I for one will be encouraging my senators and representative to oppose any legislation that would block or delay the EPA from reducing global warming emissions!

Health & Nutrition Counseling

An integrative approach to health and nutrition which includes Earth consciousness.

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