Taxes on junk food

An August 23, 2009 LA Times article is an interesting read on the push to tax junk food. Apparently what really helped people give up smoking was to tax tobacco product so much that smokers started to finally just give it up in increasing numbers; and the increased taxes are supposed to go towards health care system costs. I don't like to advocate increased taxes, but this is one type of tax that may help, especially if the taxes do actually go directly to funding the health care system. The article raises various issues in implementing such a tax regime. Some key quotes from the article:

"With increasing vigor, public health experts and think tanks are calling for extra taxes on foods and drinks that are heavy in calories and light on nutrition. New York Gov. David Paterson proposed an 18% soda tax last year as a budget-balancing measure, only to abandon it three months later in the face of stiff public opposition. Lawmakers in at least five other states have gone on the record in support of the idea.

"Junk-food taxes are often mentioned as a way to help fund a restructuring of the healthcare system, though no one in Congress has endorsed them.

"The notion is catching on with the general public, however. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last month found that 55% of respondents favored a tax on unhealthful snack foods, up from 52% in April. Support for a soda tax rose to 53% from 46%.

"And 63% of those who opposed the idea said they would change their minds if the revenue were used to fund healthcare reform and combat health problems related to obesity."

To read the article:

Vegetables not as nutritious as they were 40 - 50 years ago

The following if from Natural Foods Merchandiser's blog:

Store-bought vegetables are not as good for you as they were 40-50 years ago.

According to the USDA, fruits and vegetables were packed with far more nutrients back then than they are now.

Experts attribute the nutritional drop to hybrid breeding of crops, designed more for size and color and ability to survive transport, than nutritional value.

With the $25.2 billion supplement industry showing a 5 percent growth in the last year, perhaps many of us are aware that we can no longer eat enough food to get all the nutrients our bodies need. Monavie acai berry drink officials claim you would have to eat 7-9 peaches today to get the same level of nutrients from eating one peach in the 1950s.

Go to Mother Jones to click through a slideshow of fruits and vegetables “that have gone to seed,” according to the website.

Winning on a Healthy Lifestyle

Like many locals, I come from a family of UH Wahine Volleyball fans. If there were a sport that could bring my entire ohana together, it would definitely be volleyball. As part of the Love Life! Team, Mama T and I did a cooking demo for the UH Wahine Volleyball team in early May. I was excited to finally meet some of the amazing athletes from the UH Wahine Volleyball team. They were a bright and diverse group of women from various backgrounds—one of them shared beautiful stories of her hometown in Germany!

It was refreshing to sit down with these women and share my personal story on how I came to a plant-based diet. I recalled my early years as a budding vegetarian in my second year of undergrad. They were eager to learn how to make easy lifestyle changes to improve their health and their performance as a team. Mama T showed them how fun and easy it is to make green juices. Their faces lit up with joy as they all took turns trying their hands at juicing. I taught them how to make a delicious smoothie with local apple bananas, cacao, and almond butter. These simple recipes really inspired them to find ways to improve their health and their performance on the court.

I am truly humbled and inspired by these women and incredibly happy to hear that they are taking charge of their lives! It’s wonderful to see them setting an example for others to start living an active and wholesome lifestyle. My hope is that we all can make simple changes in our diets and inspire our peers to do the same!

Summer Fun: Cooking with your Keiki in the Kitchen

Photo: Girl Eating a Popsicle

Ahh, summer is here… For many kids, summer is a highly anticipated break from school to just hang out and relax. However as many parents know, the summertime boredom quickly sets in and then there’s a mad scramble to find fun stuff for the kids to do.

One suggestion is to get them cooking in the kitchen. This will serve a few purposes.  Besides giving you quality time with your children, it’ll give them somehing to do.  They’ll be helping out making meals for themselves and for the rest of the family, it’ll teach them a valuable life skill in cooking, and (hopefully) they’ll have fun!

Here are a few easy kitchen activities that you and your kids can do this summer:

Ice Pops: Have the kids mix a variety of fresh fruit (stick to easy fruit that doesn’t need too much cutting like bananas, berries, kiwis, etc.) with a big bowl of unsweetened yogurt. Pour them into paper cups or a popsicle mold and stick a popsicle stick in the middle. Allow them to freeze for 3-4 hours and serve them for dessert or for a cooling snack.

If you have older kids, have them try to come up with some unique combinations with seasonings and herbs like a strawberry chili pepper pop, watermelon with mint and basil, or banana with a pinch of allspice.

Pizza Making: This activity works well for a range of ages:

Younger Kids (3-7): Prepare pizza dough along with some easy toppings like olives, marinara sauce, shredded cheese, pineapple, etc. Split the prepared dough to make mini pizzas and have the kids roll out the dough and place the toppings themselves. While they’re waiting for the pizzas to cook, print out a paper chef hat template and have them decorate their own hats to wear.

Older Kids (8 and up): Have the kids do the recipe from start to finish from creating the pizza dough to choosing the toppings themselves and baking.

No Bake Cookies and Bites: These are perfect for kids who like to touch everything, (y’know what we’re talking about). These recipes are basically a few items that kids can mix together and roll out with their hands. It’s messy, sticky and just super fun.

Suggested recipes: No Bake Oatmeal Cookies, Dried Fruit and Nut Bites, and Raw Cacao Fudge Truffles.

If the kids get really into cooking, ask them to choose a recipe (or a few!) that they want to make and have them create the shopping list for it. Invite them along for a special shopping trip to Down to Earth or to the farmer’s market. Help them pick out the items they need but try to let them explore and figure it out themselves. You can get really specific and talk about what ingredients go into products or even how to choose fresh fruit and vegetables. We hope those little chefs and their parents get to have fun in the kitchen and maybe just leave the dishes in the sink to do tomorrow. Happy Summer!

Got an awesome kitchen activity for kids to do? Share with us in the comments below!

Life Foods: Our Favorite New Brand!

Photo: Veggie Burger

I'm very excited to introduce Life Foods, Inc., one of our favorite new brands in the store. Life Foods is a Maui-based company that makes wonderfully delicious superfood products including veggie burgers, condiments, hot sauces, salad dressings and vegetable ferments. Life Foods was founded on Maui in 2013 and continues to expand throughout the islands (and soon mainland distribution!). They source as much as possible from local Maui farms to support our island agriculture and to bring you the freshest, most nutrient-dense foods possible. We were super excited to learn how successful the company has been in the last year, and excited about their expansion throughout Hawaii. They recently purchased a large production facility in Wailuku, Maui, and they are in the process of looking for production kitchen space on Oahu.

All Life Foods Inc. products are 100% organic, non-GMO, vegan, soy-free and gluten-free. They feature natural, unprocessed foods like quinoa, beans, vegetables and fresh herbs in combination with unique and powerful superfoods. Superfoods like maqui berry, noni, taro, hempseeds and acerola add to the nutrient density of their products. But most importantly, their products taste amazing! They continue to create delicious new products, and have recently released a soy-free tempeh made with fermented mung beans.

One of the most popular items in their product line is the Superfoods Burger. This burger is gluten-free, soy free, dairy free and made with 100% organic and non-GMO ingredients. The burger features sprouted mung beans, quinoa, buckwheat, seeds and vegetables along with superfood additions like turmeric, dulse and ginger. The Superfoods Burger can be found in the freezer section of all our stores. You can also purchase a Life Foods Superfoods burger in our deli. Choose a wrap or a gluten-free bun and enjoy your burger with all the fixings: Vegenaise, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, sprouts, pickles, and more. You can find Life Foods burgers in the freezer section at all of our locations: Honolulu, Pearlridge, Kailua, Kapolei and Kahului. Their salad dressings and condiments are in the refrigerated cases at Honolulu, Kailua, Kapolei and Kahului. Try them out and let us know what you think!

Super Foods for your balanced life. Burger patties, condiments, hot sauces, salad dressings and gomasio made from non-GMO, organic, superfood ingredients. Their products are always 100% vegan, soy-free and gluten-free.

The Health Benefits Of a Compassionate Plant-Based Diet

Photo: Foal with a Woman

Did you know that eating a plant-based diet can help reduce your health risks and increase your compassion? We’ve talked before about certain health benefits of eating a plant-based diet – particularly the fact that meat is high in saturated fat, which contributes to cancer, high blood pressure and strokes. However, a plant-based diet offers another health benefit that you may not have considered: the relaxing, immunity-boosting effects of compassion.

Many people instinctively feel compassion towards animals, especially pets. When you get home from work and your dog runs up and licks you in the face to welcome you--wagging his tail wildly—you can’t help yourself. Your dog loves you and you can’t help but love him back. Some would say that’s because, indeed, there is a person inside there. We often feel deep compassion for such animals.

But at dinner time, it’s easy to forget that the meat on your plate was once a living being with feelings and thoughts of its own. When you make the conscious effort to give up something you enjoy (like the taste or the convenience of meat) for the benefit of another living entity, this reinforces feelings of compassion and altruism.

According to medical traditions from around the world, compassionate feelings and actions towards others can improve health in a number of ways. For example, many practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine explain that developing compassion is actually the foundation of healing. Today, research scientists are starting to notice that there are measurable health benefits to compassion.

For starters, having a compassionate attitude towards others – animals as well as people – helps decrease stress. Many people in modern society suffer from chronic stress. During stress, our brain releases chemicals and hormones that damage our body over a prolonged period. Because stress impacts our ability to fight infection and inflammation, reducing stress has the effect of boosting our immune system overall.

In addition, engaging in compassionate acts helps encourage the relaxation response in our nervous systems. The relaxation response is the opposite of stress. It helps your heart rate, blood pressure, digestion and hormone levels return to normal. The relaxation response also helps relieve pain by releasing endorphins. This creates an effect similar to the way a person feels after a good work out.

Finally, compassion helps to promote feelings of well-being and a positive mental attitude that combat anxiety and depression. Shifting our perspective outwards to focus on others helps take the focus off of our own worries and concerns.

The fact is that eating animals is unnecessary because nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance. Therefore, the slaughter of animals for food is a luxury rather than a necessity and is morally wrong.

A vegetarian lifestyle awakens our spirit of compassion and guides us towards a kinder, gentler society in which we exercise a moral choice to protect animals—not exploit them by killing them merely to unnecessarily satisfy our tongues and bellies. Down to Earth’s slogan is Love Life!—based on the idea that it is better to love animals, not eat them.

So, next time you’re at the grocery store, take a moment to consider your frame of mind. Let yourself indulge in a feeling of compassion and care towards everyone you meet – people as well as animals. You can feel secure knowing that the good feelings you get from being polite to other shoppers, smiling at the cashier - and reaching for the tofu or tempeh instead of a pork chop – you are helping your health in more ways than one.

The Asian Diet: Back to Future

Photo: Fresh Vegetables on a Plate

The traditional Asian diet receives a lot of attention in the United States because many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, are not as prevalent in Asia compared with the Western Hemisphere. Researchers believe that the traditional Asian diet provides protection against many chronic diseases and contributes to long life spans because it is mainly a plant-based diet consisting of locally grown staple grains, starchy roots, legumes, and other vegetables and fruits. Meat is treated as a side dish rather than the main course.

However, diet-related disease is increasing in Asian countries as adoption of the Western meat-based diet grows more popular. For example, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, in 1995 diet-related chronic diseases in China accounted for 41.6 percent of all deaths. That number is expected to increase to 52 percent by 2025. The trend is similar for other Asian nations.

Interestingly, the increase in chronic diseases such as obesity, adult-onset diabetes, hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and cancer are all related to diet. Obesity is now a major public health problem in Asia.

At the same time that the influence of Western media has made processed food and meat more attractive to many Asian families, rising incomes have also made them more accessible. Ironically, greater wealth has not led to greater health. In fact, a return to a traditional plant-based Asian diet may be just what the doctor ordered.

Contrary to what advertisers would like you to believe, the results of Western eating habits are disastrous. Chronic, diet-related diseases - including cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease are now the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. How bad is it? You might not be able to tell from watching American TV shows, but more than a third of Americans are clinically obese. Experts estimate that 1 in 2 American men and 1 in 3 American women will develop some form of cancer in their lifetime. And one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease.

Now, rates of disease are skyrocketing in Asia too. There are numerous factors, including high rates of smoking and increased alcohol consumption. But the biggest reason is that processed and meat-based foods full of excess sugar, sodium and saturated fats are displacing whole, plant-based diets. If trends continue, obesity, heart disease and cancer are expected to reach epidemic proportions in the next fifteen to twenty years.

Historically, Asian countries have had the lowest incidence of chronic disease on the planet. And it’s not just in the genes. According to leading scientists, diet and lifestyle are key factors in the prevention of chronic disease.

The power is in your hands to choose what you eat and feed your families. The best wisdom on nutrition has been developed by millions of families across the Asian region cooking traditional plant-based meals for centuries. If you’re not sure what diet is best for you, ask your grandparents. Chances are, they’re experts.

Vegetarian Diet is Key to Sustainability

Photo: Cooking with Fresh Vegetables and Mushrooms

Everyone is talking about "sustainable" solutions for a better planet. It has become a lucrative business for many companies to offer "sustainable" or "green" solutions. However, not all these solutions are as useful, or "sustainable" as one might think.

According to the World Bank, for example, the massive switch to growing corn for ethanol, which is believed to be a more sustainable fuel, is driving up food prices around the world. Land normally used to grow crops for food is being converted to grow crops for fuel. Increasing amounts of farmland is also being switched to grow crops for plant-based plastics, which puts additional pressure on food supply.

From a more basic perspective, consider that over 70% of the world's agricultural land is used to raise animals for food, much of this land being used to grow animal feed crops. These crops are then fed to livestock animals that often live under insufferably crowded, filthy, and torturous conditions. A question for society to consider is whether cycling food (which could be eaten by humans) through animals to then feed humans animal flesh is sustainable, or whether it makes sense at all.

In its stunning 2006 report on global warming, the United Nations stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Most of it is carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide coming from manure.

The meat industry is also a major cause of fresh water depletion. As more water is diverted to raising cattle, pigs, and chickens instead of producing crops for direct human consumption, millions of wells are going dry. India, China, North Africa and the U.S. are all running freshwater deficits, pumping more from their aquifers than rain can replenish.

The fact is that it takes thousands more liters of water to produce a kilo of beef than to grow the same quantity of grains or vegetables. In the United States, the great Ogallala aquifer, a resource that took a half million years to accumulate, will be depleted in less than 40 years. It is being used to water corn crops for animal feed and ethanol. Manure, antibiotics, and hormones all find their way from livestock farms into our water system, while fish farms release chemicals and parasites that threaten wildlife.

Another concern is topsoil erosion. In the United States, 85% of it is due to raising animals for food.

The root cause of society’s sustainability is overconsumption. A modest household consuming a meat-based diet uses far more natural resources than the world can support on a sustainable basis. Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet. The spread of a meat-based lifestyle from western society to everyone else on the planet is simply not sustainable.

A meat-based diet damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do. Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth. In contrast, plant-based diets have a low environmental impact because they use fewer natural resources, so they are better for the environment. Nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance, so eating meat is an unnecessary luxury rather than a necessity.

The single most important thing an individual can do to support our planet's sustainability is to adopt a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet contributes to a cleaner and safer environment and better health while causing less pain and suffering for the innocent animals.

Natural Food Is Best for Your Health

Photo: Couple with Fresh Garden Vegetables

Natural foods, what are they, and why are they good for you? Unfortunately, there are no commonly agreed upon national or international standards that formally define and regulate "natural foods" or "all-natural foods." The natural products industry defines natural foods as foods that contain no hormones, antibiotics, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives that were not in the original food, and are foods that are minimally processed—either mechanically, chemically, or by temperature. This definition therefore excludes foods derived from new artificial processes such as genetic engineering or cloning.

Additionally, at Down to Earth, we believe that the best natural foods are also ALL VEGETARIAN.

When it comes to the ingredients listed on the labels of food packaging, a simple rule to follow is that, if you cannot pronounce, have only seen or heard of it before in chemistry class, or if it is a combination of letters and numbers, don't eat it! These ingredients are often chemicals, synthetic additives and preservatives that collect in the fat tissues of your body, increasing in toxicity over the years.

The importance of opting for "natural" ingredients goes beyond food. The use of vitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements is important to help improve your health and well-being. Ideally, you should choose supplements that have no artificial binders or fillers, and are made from natural ingredients and which contain no synthetic chemicals. There’s no point in taking supplements to improve your health if they are loaded with potentially harmful ingredients.

To help you adopt a natural lifestyle, we suggest that you always prefer:

• Grains and grain products that are minimally processed and have not been bleached or bromated.
• Prepared foods that are free of artificial sweeteners, flavors, additives, colorings, and have minimal preservatives.
• Eco-friendly cleaning and personal care products for the household.
• Natural bulk foods, which help protect the environment by reducing packaging and allow you to purchase the amount you want while saving on unnecessary packaging and marketing costs.
• Organic foods, which are the most natural foods as they are grown without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers etc. and are produced in a sustainable manner.

Natural and organic foods are good for you, good for your family, and good for the environment.

Your Health and the Environment

Photo: Cows Standing in a Pasture

What we eat can cause or worsen diet-related illnesses and thus has a significant impact on our quality of life.

Virtually all the major scientific and medical institutions in the world agree that the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, obesity, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes, among other diseases is linked to a meat-based diet consisting of highly processed foods laden with fats and artificial ingredients. These institutions further agree that the risk is greatly reduced by adopting a healthy low-fat, high-fiber diet.

So what is the prescription for a healthier body, both now and in the future? Simple. Eat less meat, or even better give it up completely, as meat has all too often been blamed for the above mentioned diet-related illnesses, and replace it with an all-vegetarian diet. This makes sense for a number of reasons.

At the most basic level, meat, fish, and eggs have high cholesterol. Their wide-scale consumption has contributed to the dramatic increase in the number of premature deaths from heart disease, strokes and cancer; and meat-based diets contribute to a host of other health-related problems.

In contrast, a plant-based diet is generally low in fat, including saturated fat, which can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk for heart disease. Flesh foods, on the other hand, are high in saturated fat, which is the biggest contributor to blood clotting, which can result in heart disease and stroke.

And, plant-based proteins have zero cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for developing heart disease. Meat is high in LDL (bad cholesterol) and the more LDL you have in your bloodstream, the more likely plaque (atherosclerosis) will form in your arteries.

A meat-based diet is an extremely wasteful use of the earth's limited resources, as it requires many times more resources to create a pound of animal flesh than a pound of vegetarian foods. Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth.

And finally, from an ethical point of view, eating animals causes extreme pain and suffering to billions of innocent creatures. Given the suffering these animals endure, and given that all our nutritional needs can easily be satisfied without eating these animals, vegetarianism is morally required. The fact is that eating animals is unnecessary because nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance. Therefore, the slaughter of animals for food is a luxury rather than a necessity and is morally wrong

The single most important thing you can do for your health, the environment, and the innocent animals is to adopt a vegetarian diet.