If you visit the nation’s National Parks for unadulterated majestic beauty and serenity, you’re not alone. Millions of people trek to the U.S. National Parks every year. But park concessions have long been the antithesis of their surroundings: serving unhealthy processed foods. That’s all about to change.

“We want the food to be as memorable as the scenery,” Kathy Kupper, public affairs specialist for the National Park Service, told Specialty Food News.

Over the last several years, the Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People U.S. initiative has helped the National Parks set healthy food guidelines for its concession areas, with an emphasis on local and sustainable food options.

“Under the guidelines, at least 30 percent of a restaurant’s beverage selection must have no added sugar; half servings or reduced portion sizes must be offered when possible; and better-for-you products should be placed more noticeably in grab-and-go outlets to encourage healthier choices,” reports Specialty Food News. “The standards have been applied on a voluntary basis with existing concession contracts, and are required with new or renewing contracts.”

While many people make park-going a picnic kind of stay, bringing in their own food and beverages, the concession areas actually do a huge amount of business, serving more than 23 million park-goers every year. The National Park Service manages more than 250 foodservice outlets in 75 parks.

Parks like Muir Woods, which are nearer to urban environments where it’s easier to access fresh and healthy food have been some of the first to adopt the shift. “Muir Woods in Marin County, north of San Francisco, serves cage-free egg salad on organic nine-grain bread,” reports Specialty Food News. “Kiosks along the National Mall in Washington, D.C., offer freshly made sandwiches and salad options. Wilderness parks like the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, however, aren’t beholden to the guidelines and may not offer as many choices.”

And the local trend is on the rise too. According to the park services, there is a big commitment to support regional growers and producers. “Shenandoah National Park in Virginia now sources 90 percent of all menu items within 200 miles, and Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park purchases items like corn tortillas, prickly pear red pepper jelly, craft beer, and freshwater trout from local vendors to provide visitors with a taste of the region,” Specialty Food News explains.

“People want variety, a good value, and fresh and healthy ingredients,” Brian Stapleton, vice president of food and beverage for Aramark, a provider for the parks told Specialty Food News. “Sustainable cuisine is also becoming more sought after.”

Image via yellowstoneNPS

 

Exercise is crucial to our health. There’s no question about it, particularly when we spend so much of our time these days parked at desks or on the couch. But it turns out, some women may benefit from exercise more than others, finds a new study. And those benefits could amount to achieving weight loss goals.

“Women in the study who had certain genetic markers gained weight after following a strength-training regimen for a year, whereas women who didn't have those markers lost weight after following the same regimen,” researchers told LiveScience.

The researchers were looking at genes that have been connected with an increased risk of developing obesity. “The findings may mean that women whose genes predispose them to obesity need to do more exercise to get their desired weight-loss results, and may also need to pay more attention to their diet, study author Yann C. Klimentidis, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Arizona in Tucson told to LiveScience.

DNA samples from 84 women between the ages of 30 to 65 were analyzed in the study. The women performed high-intensity workouts along with moderate impact exercises for at least one hour daily for three days each week over the course of the year. The women were grouped by their genetic risk of obesity.

"There is just a higher wall to climb if you have a high genetic predisposition [for obesity]," Klimentidis said. However, he noted that "exercise is good [for your health] in lots of ways, not just body composition and weight."

What the researchers noted was that exercise had a greater impact on women’s weight loss goals and overall body fat in the women at a lower genetic risk for obesity than in the women whose risk was higher. In fact, the women at higher risk of obesity actually gained 2.6 pounds during the study, versus the women at lower risk, who lost an average of 2.9 pounds. The at-risk group also maintained their percentage of body fat during the study period while the low-risk group lost an average of 2.7 percent of their body fat.

The study shows that "the benefit that one might get from exercise is going to depend on their level of the genetic risk [of obesity]," Klimentidis said.

While the connection isn’t exactly clear how genetic predisposition impacts the benefits of exercise on the body, but a couple of theories exist: “One possibility is that these genes may interact with exercise through physiological mechanisms such as satiety, taste and regulation of energy expenditure,” reports LiveScience.

“But it's also possible that people who have a low genetic risk for obesity may also respond differently to doing more exercise, in terms of how much they eat and how much energy they expend, compared with those with a high risk, according to the study.”

Image: teammarche

The state of Vermont can move forward with its plans to require labeling on foods containing genetically modified ingredients, ruled U.S. District Court Judge Christina Reiss earlier this week.

Judge Reiss’s ruling to dismiss the requested injunction against Act 120 came after the Grocery Manufacturers Association along with the biotech industry, attempted to block the law set to go into effect in 2016, with a lawsuit calling it “unconstitutional.”

"The safety of food products, the protection of the environment, and the accommodation of religious beliefs and practices are all quintessential governmental interests, as is the State's desire 'to promote informed consumer decision-making,'" wrote the judge, quoting from the state's court filings.

The law would make Vermont the first state in the U.S. with an active GMO labeling bill in effect. However, the suit is still likely to go to trial, where the judge says the GMA and biotech industry may be victorious on several claims.

"Manufacturers are being harmed, and they are being harmed now," the association said in a statement. "Act 120 is unconstitutional and imposes burdensome new speech requirements on food manufacturers and retailers."

The GMA alleges that manufacturers will not only incur extra costs in readying product packaging under the law, but will also face undo discrimination and customer confusion over the safety of genetically modified ingredients. U.S. agencies have found no health risks to consuming genetically modified foods, but in more than 60 countries around the world, they’re banned or severely restricted over human health and environmental concerns.

In addition to requiring manufacturers to label foods containing GMOs, Act 120 would also require foods containing GMOs to refrain from using words such as “natural.” This could prove problematic for the state and with the case now going to trial, it may have to be cut from the bill.

Image via USDA.gov

A vegan ice cream recipe that changes the game.

Show me a person who doesn’t love ice cream and I’ll show you a liar. We all know it’s the best thing ever. But some of that love comes from knowing that it’s not exactly good for us. But what if you could have your ice cream and eat it too? (We know, you’re going to do that anyway.)

This vegan ice cream recipe is not only free from processed sugars and allergic dairy products, but it also gets a super healthy boost from powdered organic greens. Just like adding a spoonful or two of organic greens, like our mustHave greens, works wonders for a smoothie recipe, it can do the same thing for a bowl of ice cream—especially one as oh-so-yummy as this.

Organic greens is a pretty broad term—we use it to describe our mustHave greens, which includes dried oat and alfalfa grasses along with kale, spirulina and chlorella. All of these foods are incredibly nutrient-dense—elevating energy, enhancing the body’s natural detoxification process and pushing you past your RDA on a number of vital nutrients.

Of course, you don’t have to use our greens. Spirulina on its own works fine, so does dried wheat grass. Or blend up your favorites.

Bonus: you don’t need an ice cream maker either to rock this one. It’s that simple.

Mint Chocolate Chip Vegan Ice Cream Recipe with Organic Greens

Serves 4 (unless you don't want to share, which is totally understandable)

Ingredients

28 oz full fat coconut milk
1/2 cup agave syrup or maple syrup
1-3 tsp organic greens (the more you add the greener it will look and taste)
3 Tbsp cacao nibs or chocolate chips
½ teaspoon peppermint extract

Instructions

In a blender, mix all the ingredients except the chocolate chips or cacao nibs. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Gently fold in chocolate pieces. Cover it and place it in the freezer for at least 3-4 hours. Before serving let the mixture thaw for 20 minutes to be able to scoop it out with a medium to large cookie scoop.

 Image: smittenkittenorig

Tyson Foods Inc, the nation’s largest poultry producer, says it’s going to stop giving its chickens human-use antibiotics.

Tyson has set a September 2017 deadline for pulling the antibiotics, making it “one of the most aggressive timetables yet set by an American poultry company,” reports Reuters.

The move comes in part due to Tyson’s relationship with McDonald’s Corp, the nation’s leading fast-food chain, which also announced plans to stop selling chicken products that contain antibiotics. In recent years, there has been growing consumer concern over the use of antibiotics in livestock feed and the connection to antibiotic resistant “superbugs,” which pose serious human health issues.

“Tyson controls its chicken supply chain from beginning to end, from owning the birds to supplying the medicated feed to the contract farmers that raise the broilers for them,” Reuters explains, and Tyson says the move away from antibiotics will not impact prices. Tyson’s main rival, Perdue, says it also does not use human-use antibiotics on 95 percent of its chickens, and approximately half of its flocks receive no antibiotics of any kind.

Tyson also announced that it’s looking into ways to reduce antibiotic and other livestock drugs in its pork and beef operations. A company spokesperson told Reuters the company did not know how many antibiotics are being used on its other livestock farms because they are not managed by Tyson directly. "We don't know because we don't own those animals," the representative said.

To achieve its goal, Tyson will be working with groups of farmers, suppliers, veterinarians and industry experts to develop methods for treating animals without antibiotics, particularly those also used on humans.

When human-use antibiotics are used in the food supply, it makes treating infections with those antibiotics more difficult. The World Health Organization has said that the "post-antibiotic era" is imminent unless we can protect these vital medicines.

In factory farm settings, antibiotics are given to animals to treat and prevent illnesses, but they’re also used to enhance growth. Animals fed antibiotics tend to reach market weight much faster, making a quicker profit for producers.

Image: qmnonic

 

Thinking of giving the Paleo diet a try? You may want to reconsider that thought. That’s because several new bodies of research suggest our gut microbes, or the microbiome, may not be up for the diet. In fact, our guts may not be handling any food very well these days.

According to NPR, the studies revealed that “Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped a few dozen species right out of our digestive tracts. One missing microbe helps metabolize carbohydrates. Other bygone bacteria act as prebiotics. And another communicates with our immune system.”

Why is this an issue? Because, the researchers concluded, we’ve lost a huge number of bacteria that have historically helped us with digestion, “Americans' digestive tracts look like barren deserts compared with the lush, tropical rain forest found inside indigenous people,” NPR explains.

"The concern is that we're losing keystone species," microbiologist M. Gloria Dominguez-Bello, at the New York University School of Medicine told NPR. "That's a hypothesis, but we haven't proved it." 

Dominguez-Bello and her team flew down to visit with a remote tribe in Venezuela, the Yanomami tribe, which traces back more than 11,000 years in that region on the border of Brazil. The researchers took samples of the tribe’s fecal matter to look specifically at digestive bacteria. Using DNA analysis, the researchers were able to uncover a rich world of microflora—about 50 percent more strains of bacteria and biodiversity than what’s found in most Americans. 

While you might expect that from people who live in a forest environment without access to bleach, there’s more to it than just set and setting. According to Dominguez-Bello, our modern loss of bacteria in the digestive tract may correlate with increases in illnesses ranging from allergies and autoimmune disorders to multiple sclerosis.

"So the big question is: Are these two facts related?" Dominguez-Bello asked. "It's not clear if more diversity in the microbiome is healthier. But maybe we have lost species with important functions," she told NPR.

And it’s not just diet choices that dictate microbiome health. The Yanomami tribe certainly isn’t ordering Pizza Hut or eating Pop Tarts for breakfast. But they’re not being exposed to antibiotics either (some members of the tribe have been treated since the 2009 visit).

"Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut, and sometimes species don't come back," Dominguez-Bello told NPR, "This is especially true with children, whose microbiomes are in the process of getting assembled. Impacts on the microbiome at a young age can have long-lasting consequences."

The other study, led by Jens Walter, a microbiologist at the University of Alberta, points to another culprit though: clean drinking water. An achievement of tremendous value, our sanitized water may actually be preventing the transfer of healthy bacteria between individuals, one common way it spreads.

In Walter’s research on Papua New Guineans, the tribe had 47 more species of bacteria “that are essentially absent in the Americans they studied,” NPR explains. “The Americans, on the other hand, had only four species in their microbiome that were missing in the Papua New Guineans.”

Image via: ibm4381

With warmer weather comes longer days, busier schedules, and most likely, a good bit of stress management. Even though your goal may be to spend more time outdoors, relaxing and enjoying the spring and summer months, that desire can put pressure on other areas of your life—making it to the beach or the trail takes planning, coordinating, and of course, freeing up your schedule, which can mean more work ahead of time. No. Fun.

But don’t let all the work deter you from enjoying the warmth and outdoor activities. Take stress management into your own hands—and mouth—with these foods that naturally reduce stress. And bonus stress reducer: you don’t have to do elaborate meal planning or prep. Just throw them into a blender and watch your stress puree away! 

  1. Greens – A salad or a smoothie with leafy green vegetables in it at least once a day is a terrific strategy in handling stress. Loaded with nourishing vitamins and minerals, greens can provide a calming effect while also boosting energy naturally, so you’re not overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and awake enough to handle them.
  2. Bananas are a sweet, tropical treat. And their rich sources of magnesium, potassium, B6, fiber and tryptophan, help to calm and relax you while also giving you healthy energy.
  3. Chia seeds are all the rage these days for their healthy fats and protein. But they’re also great sources of magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, calcium, iron and fiber. It’s a super filling food and will certainly help to reduce your stress levels.
  4. Chocolate – Really. Truly. Chocolate. This superfood is so loaded with nutrients it will make your head spin. Cacao—chocolate in its raw form—is loaded with magnesium and tryptophan, both of which help the body to relax and feel good (which is part of why we love it so much). But don’t reach for a Snickers bar. Stick to really dark chocolate (it should say at least 70% on the label). Or better yet, reach for the raw cacao beans or powder and add to your smoothies. 

So now that you’ve got your stress-relieving foods—let them do the work of stress management in a smoothie! 

In a blender, add one banana (preferably frozen), a handful of spinach or other leafy greens, plus a teaspoon or two of dried greens like our mustHave greens, along with 2 teaspoons chia seeds and 2 teaspoons chocolate powder. Fill in with a nondairy milk like almond or coconut. Add a sweetener if you like ( a drip of honey is good) and any other fruits like berries or pineapple. If not using a frozen banana, add a handful of ice. Blend and serve!

Image: Robert Gourley 

New research reveals more about the health of honeybees and their relationship with a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids.

Over the last decade, honeybee populations have been declining as a result of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious condition that causes bees to become disoriented and abandon their hives.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics as they’re referred to, have been banned in the EU for their alleged connection to the condition, and now, researchers may have pinpointed another issue related to the pesticides. The bees may actually prefer plants that have been treated with neonics, which are derived from nicotine, the same addictive substance in cigarettes.

A number of conventionally grown seeds including corn, soy and canola, are pre-treated with neonics, which are coated onto the seeds before they’re planted. It’s estimated that 95 percent of corn grown in the U.S. has been treated with neonics.

In the new research, it turns out that the bees are drawn to the neonic-treated plants. When given a choice between a plain sugary solution and one that contained neonics, the bees chose the poison, which is toxic to the pollinators’ nervous systems. “It's possible that they're getting a little buzz from the neonics, similar to the way a human may get a buzz from nicotine,” reports NPR.

What’s perhaps most disturbing about the research is that the bees couldn’t taste the pesticide in the study, but preferred it anyway because of its effect, even though it meant an eventual death.

And according to NPR, another study published in the journal Nature, found that bumblebees that fed on canola plants treated with neonics were more likely to experience negative health issues including slowed growth and reproductive issues.

Scientists for Bayer CropScience, a leading producer of neonics, wrote in an email to NPR that the research "demonstrates yet again there is no effect of neonicotinoids on honeybee colonies in realistic field conditions, consistent with previous published field studies."

But it hasn’t quelled the growing concern over neonics. Lowe’s, the popular home improvement retailer, recently announced plans to stop selling neonic products.

Image: Eran Finkle

It’s Earth Day and you’ve probably already read quite a few stories about why this day matters. Maybe you’re even doing something to make the world a little greener today, like planting a tree or cleaning up a strip of beach or highway. But if you’re feeling called to make Earth Day an every day kind of commitment, here are just a few ways you can make a difference year-round.

1. Stop eating animals: Going meat free is one of the best and easiest ways to help the planet. You reduce the impact on the environment by limiting the contribution to greenhouse gases, reducing use of water, land and nutrients that livestock animals use up. Plants are a healthier, lower impact food source that’s better for you, the earth and the animals.

2. VB6: If going completely animal-product-free isn’t an option, try the Vegan Before 6 (pm) idea—eat vegan all day and then, if you want, have animal products with dinner.

3. Conserve your water usage: This can be as easy as getting better at washing dishes, transitioning to a grass-free lawn, or capturing and using your grey water. It may not seem like much, but every bit helps.

4. Switch to green cleaners and laundry detergents: Not only do green products get the job done, they’re free from chemicals known to have human and environmental health risks. Switch to natural products or make your own!

5. Eat organic: Yes, it can sometimes cost more, but when you start to think about the big picture—about how the lack of pesticides is better for the land and for the farmers as well as your health, eating organic soon becomes a no-brainer. Just do it.

6. Reduce, reuse and recycle: You’ll probably hear this 100 times today and for good reason! These three steps are, quite simply, really important. When we think about everything we’re using and whether or not it can fall into one of these three categories, we become more aware and more invested in protecting our planet. Not just on Earth Day, but every day.

Image: woodleywonderworks

Another Earth Day has arrived! This year marks the 45th, and in honor of tomorrow’s special day, we’ve pulled together some of our favorite quotes reminding us why we need to respect and honor our earth mother.
 
1. “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” - John Muir

 
2. “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” - Henry David Thoreau
 
3. “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” - Neil Armstrong
 
4. “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” - Rachel Carson
 
5. “Waste is Criminal.” - Kristin Cashore
 
6. “I would request that my body in death be buried not cremated, so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth, so that flora and fauna can dine upon it, just as I have dined upon flora and fauna during my lifetime” - Neil deGrasse Tyson
 
7. “How can we be so arrogant? The planet is, was, and always will be stronger than us. We can't destroy it; if we overstep the mark, the planet will simply erase us from its surface and carry on existing. Why don't they start talking about not letting the planet destroy us?” - Paulo Coelho
 
8. “...the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” - Wendell Berry
 
9. “We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.” - Vandana Shiva
 
10. “Our love was born
outside the walls,
in the wind,
in the night,
in the earth,
and that's why the clay and the flower,
the mud and the roots
know your name.” - Pablo Neruda

Image via starmama
 
 
 

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