Alyssa Giacobbe

Alyssa Giacobbe

Posted on May 31st, 2012 by in Nutrition

Would You Eat Test Tube Meat?

It’s coming.

No matter which side of the go-vegetarian debate you’re on, there’s no arguing that the current methods of animal farming are wholly unsustainable. Animal farming currently takes up nearly a third of the earth’s land mass, the widespread mistreatment of animals has been widely reported, and meat production is extremely inefficient. Meanwhile, researchers predict that demand for meat will double over the next 40 years. We want burgers—currently to the tune of $74 billion a year.

Which is why a group of Dutch scientists has spent years developing lab-grown meat, which they recently announced will be ready for an initial taste test by the end of the year. Using bovine fetal cells cultured like bacteria, grown in a vat, and mixed with lab-grown animal fat, the scientists are working to create test tube burgers, sausages, and more, with plans to expand to dairy and other animal products later. Though the associated costs are currently high, the hope is that eventually the technology will feed more people more efficiently—while also reducing environmental, cruelty, and illness issues related to farming—and it’s so far gotten support from several avenues, including private donors and PETA. But do we really want to eat test tube meat?

read →
Posted on May 23rd, 2012 by in Yoga

A Religious Experience

In yoga, one writer reconnects with the notion of faith.

Like most kids in my middle-class New England town, I was raised Catholic, though in my case it was something of a default option. My parents had both been brought up in religious households but, by the time I came along, they were largely non-practicing. My mother’s strict Irish-Catholic family—so devout (or stubborn) that they refused to acknowledge her secular college education—turned her away from the church, and my father, a journalist, had been trained to follow facts, not faith. While they wanted the decision of religion to be mine, they also sought to provide me with a base from which to explore, a base that would include Baptism, Confirmation, and 10 years of weekly after-school Catholic-education classes.

But while I made all the milestones, I neither connected with nor opposed their meanings. My given religion was never something to think about; it just was. Later, as a teenager, church on Sunday remained important to me mainly because to my parents it was not. (What a rebel, right?) But it wasn’t as if my friends were so pious: The annual Christmas-eve midnight mass was as much about socializing as it was about celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Throughout, no one I knew questioned what we’d been taught. We took the word of our teachers, and our priests, on “faith.” In those early years, “faith” meant believing that if you were a good person, good would surround you; that if you treated others well, you would be treated well in return; that if you followed the Catholic doctrine, you would be rewarded with peace while you lived and after you died. Faith, for the most part, did not include questioning authority. And, for a long time, I didn’t.

read →
Posted on May 14th, 2012 by in Nutrition

Should Your Kids Be Vegan?

Vegan Is Love: A new children’s book incites debate

A new children’s book heralding the widespread benefits of veganism is stirring more pots than PETA. Vegan Is Love: Having Heart and Taking Action, now in stores, has nutritionists, psychologists, and even gossip columnists, asking whether veganism is appropriate for kids—and, more poignantly, how we should be talking to little ones about the ethics and politics of food. On Today, Matt Lauer wondered if the title itself suggested that “if you’re not a vegan, is it about hate?” while a widely read Hollywood gossip columnist asked, “Would you read this book to your child?” On FOX News, child psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein called the book “the most disturbing children’s book I’ve ever seen.”

Author-illustrator Ruby Roth’s intent in writing Vegan Is Love was to judge—at least a little bit. Through clear, simple dialogue and colorful illustrations of smog-covered land and sad animals in cages and zoos, the book calls on children to start protecting animals, the environment, and starving kids in Africa through a plant-based diet. It explores complex themes like animal cruelty, big agriculture, and world hunger, and while the message is not overly heavy-handed, Roth doesn’t dance around the idea that she believes eating meat will destroy the Earth and everyone we love, and soon—a heady concept for a kid, for sure.

John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu Healthy Living programs, says that kids can be very healthy as vegans, but it’s important to remember that it’s not as simple as “just eat plants.” For example, a vegan diet for children that is mostly grain, flour, and fruit juice is much more unhealthy than one that’s mostly fruits and vegetables with, say, small amounts of fish, he says. “So many vegetarian and vegan parents embark on this journey with the misconception that kids have the same nutritional needs as adults,” says John. “Nothing could be further from reality. Kids’ brains are developing so fast and there is clear evidence that high-quality essential fatty acids, like those found in oily fish, are a factor in brain development. You can also get these nutrients in raw walnuts, raw pumpkin seeds, freshly ground flax seeds, and power-packed specific greens such as purslane.” But getting them is essential. B12 and zinc are also critical.

read →
Posted on May 9th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Nutrition

Eating Local Benefits Mind, Body, Spirit, and Earth

Photo Courtesy of Angela Cardinali of Berkshire Farm and Table

The concept of eating local is as old as humankind itself, when hunters and gatherers would naturally eat plants and animals that grew or lived nearby. But with industrialism and the advent of the big box supermarket, where absolutely no food is out of season, we’ve grown accustomed to having whatever we want, whenever we want it: Macintosh apples in humid Miami, coconuts in snowy New England. Now, a growing number of people—dubbed “locavores”—are going “back to the earth,” eating locally-grown or -made food as much as possible.

Eating local doesn’t mean having to get your hands dirty. (Though perhaps the biggest coup for the “eat local” movement came when Michelle Obama announced the groundbreaking of the White House vegetable plot, the property’s first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s WW II-era Victory Garden.) There are urban farmers’ markets and farm-to-table-obsessed neighborhood chefs to help out those of us without gardens of our own. Here at Kripalu, up to 75 percent of the produce we serve comes from local farms, depending on the time of year. So why should you consider joining the local food movement?

read →
Posted on May 4th, 2012 by in Nutrition

Coconut Water: Worth the Hype?

The coconut water hype. Yogi essential or overblown fad?

The country is experiencing a specialty beverage bonanza, with customers snapping up “functional” drinks and enhanced waters that promise to deliver better health and well-being. Coconut water has been touted as the “natural” alternative to such drinks, which are often filled with sugar or artificial sweeteners. As more and more yoga teachers are heard ending class with directives to “go home and drink your coconut water,” legions of devotees are happily shelling out up to $3 for an 11 ounce serving of the water, which is available everywhere from corner bodegas to mainstream supermarkets, yoga studios to gyms. Hollywood’s in on it, too: Spokespeople for and investors in the most popular brands—Vita Coco, O.N.E., and Zico—include Demi Moore, Matthew McConaughey, and pop singer Rhianna, as well as professional athletes like baseball player Alex Rodriguez and Celtics player Kevin Garnett. But is coconut water really better for you than regular water?

An 11-ounce container of coconut water (approximately the amount of water contained in the center of a single coconut, and not to be confused with coconut milk, which is derived from the meat of the fruit) is said to have 15 times more electrolytes—namely, sodium, potassium, and magnesium—than the average sports drink, with only about 60 calories per serving and no added sugar or fat. Electrolytes, which are lost through excessive sweating, allow cells to generate energy and move fluids throughout the body and are thus essential to muscle and nerve function. That’s why electrolytes are supplemented to sports drinks like Gatorade.

read →

Sitting Pretty: Not So Much

Forget baseball. Researchers say America has a new favorite pastime: sitting.

Various studies show that Americans spend, on average, eight hours a day on our rear ends, and the effects aren’t good: A study published last month in the Archives of Internal Medicine—and corroborated recently by a similar study out of Finland—reported that the longer men and women sat every day, the greater their chance of dying prematurely, even if they spent at least part of that day working out. It’s one reason Dr. David Agus argues in The End of Illness that a sitting habit may be worse than a smoking habit.

“The body is a mechanism of movement, so prolonged sitting without breaks is very hard to sustain without consequence,” says Cristie Newhart, a Senior Faculty member at Kripalu and a Kripalu yoga teacher. Still, says Newhart, it’s not necessarily that we sit, but how we sit. “Most of us slump in our chairs and sit forward of—rather than on top of—the sitting bones,” she says. “That rounds and compresses the spine and brings stress to the low back. Such slumping can also invite shallow breathing, which can create a sort of permanent state of ‘fight or flight’ within the nervous system.”

read →
Posted on April 12th, 2012 by in Healthy Living

The Big Sneeze

Early spring may sound lovely—early shedding of thick winter layers, early walks on the beach. However, early spring can also mean a sudden surge of allergies, both for longtime sufferers and those who’d previously been allergy-free. According to Ayurveda, that’s because just as water returns to nature—evidenced by all those new leaves and blooming flowers—so, too, does water return to our bodies. And too much water too quickly can show up in the form of runny noses, watery eyes, and congestion, making those long walks on the beach a little less fun.

“When we shift from one season to the next—which in Ayurveda we refer to as ritusandhi—our immunity is especially low for two to four weeks,” says Ayurvedic specialist Rosy Mann, a senior faculty member of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. Typically, the transition from winter to spring is slow, with gradual changes in temperatures that allow our bodies time to adjust. “When warm weather comes on very suddenly, though, it overtaxes the system,” clogging our digestive and respiratory tracts and inflaming tissue, says Mann. Our bodies then produce even more fluid—in the form of mucous, usually—to flush out toxins.

There’s good news:

read →
Posted on April 3rd, 2012 by in Nutrition, Studies, News, and Trends

Vitamins and Antioxidants, with a Grain of Salt

Living in the Information Age means that we’re constantly bombarded with data—much of it contradictory—about our health. A recent example: In a University of Paris study conducted among 2,500 men and women, researchers found that taking fish oil supplements was linked to a higher incidence of cancer in women. But wait: Haven’t we been told for years that fish oil supplements were good for us, acting as antioxidants to reduce the risk of breast cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease?

It’s certainly not the first time a new study has challenged our established way of thinking—and that’s not always a bad thing. But it’s important to keep in mind that many new studies that are released—and reported on—are not complete, says Kripalu’s Healthy Living Director of Medical Education Lisa B. Nelson, MD. A recent study that reported calcium supplements increase the risk of heart disease in women older age 50 had many women eliminating their calcium intake entirely, while other reports about the benefits of certain vitamins or antioxidants, like vitamin D and beta-carotene, have led to dangerous overconsumption.

read →