Knowledge about how what we eat can affect our overall health has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent decades, enabling people to make more informed decisions about what they put into their bodies. Ever since the health food movement took off in the 1960s and 1970s, farmers, grocers, and companies have refined their products to add more nutritional value and also improve taste, to the benefit of individual consumers and society at large.
On this episode of Kentucky Health, host Dr. Wayne Tuckson welcomes the CEOs of two health food companies to discuss the latest advances in their industry and offer tips for folks who want to improve their wellness through making astute dietary choices.
Dan Chapman is CEO of Redd Remedies, a Chicago-based company that provides natural supplements and food products to improve whole-body health. Summer Auerbach is CEO of Rainbow Blossom of Natural Foods Market and Wellness Center, a Louisville-based company that has a focus on improving individual and community health.
“I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, ‘Eat organic food, or as our grandparents called it, food,’” Auerbach says. “Somewhere along the way, I think that food started getting so processed, people started to find better ways to process food and make it taste better and last longer. Food really stopped being as nutritious for us, and there were people who really wanted more simplified, whole food options, and those just weren’t available. And so that’s really where the natural or health food industry came from.”
Business Models Emphasizing Wholesomeness and Education
Auerbach says that Rainbow Blossom was started by her parents in 1977 after they spent time traveling on the west coast visiting natural products markets. Auerbach refers to the industry as a “natural products” rather than “health food,” saying that there’s been an evolution in terminology among companies due in part to what she perceives is a negative connotation for “health food” among consumers.
Chapman says his own inspiration for starting Redd Remedies also came from his parents. They had opened a health food store in the Chicago area in 1961, but the impetus actually came earlier, when Chapman’s mother became very ill during the 1950s. After visiting several doctors, his mother became self-educated about nutrition and changed her diet, which led to the entire family changing their habits.
“As a young boy, I would go with my mom to her health food store, and I really just fell in love with helping customers that came in with the different questions that they had,” he says. “Just being fascinated by somebody that would come in, having a health issue one week, and a couple of weeks later they would come back and visit, and that issue was either gone or significantly improved. I’ve enjoyed doing it ever since.”
According to Chapman, Redd Remedies is guided by a strict principle when it develops supplements and additives: he starts off by making a list of what the products won’t be included, such as pesticides. He explains that labeling of food products is much improved from the 1960s and that there are good markers identifying what “certified organic” means, what “non-GMO” means, what “gluten-free” means, and so on.
“There’s a lot of third party certifying agencies that make it a little bit easier for us today, and a lot of great food manufacturers that follow these standards well, and make food that tastes really good – maybe unlike what we grew up eating,” he says.
As for the raw materials included in Redd’s products, Chapman says that he sources herbs from partners all around the world. He explains that there are families who have grown specific herbs for generations, and their tradition-backed expertise is a valuable asset that his company utilizes and then develops further with its own production.
“We want to make sure that (the herb is) grown right, and that it’s harvested at the right time,” he says. “We know that often times, the root is going to have different properties than the flower or leaf or the stem of the plant might have, so we want to make sure that we have the right part of that plant, and then we’ve got a whole process for testing and quality that follows that up.”
At Rainbow Blossom’s stores and on their website, consumer education is a goal. They provide to shoppers a regularly updated document detailing nutritional information on new food ingredients. They also operate a Wellness Center in partnership with several on-site providers and featuring guest “wellness ambassadors” that include nurse practitioners, nutritionists and other professionals.
The stores also offer cooking classes specializing in different approaches to preparing food. “I don’t think that there’s one right way to eat, but certainly fried food, where the oils have been cooked at really high temperatures, it’s going to damage those cells and that’s not going to be as beneficial health-wise,” says Auerbach.
Auerbach adds that developing cooking and food preparation skills is a great method of learning about the nutritional value of food. Any person who takes up cooking and becomes good at it has a big advantage over someone who eats out, especially at fast food restaurants, or who mainly buys prepackaged, processed meals at the grocery, she explains.
“We don’t have one belief system or methodology,” she says. “We have people who teach vegan cooking classes, and we have people that teach paleo cooking classes. There’s a lot of philosophies within that (spectrum), and I think that they can all be right for the right person. We’re just trying to educate people about what opportunities are out there.”
Eating Better to Achieve Sustained Good Health
Improving one’s diet has benefits that are realized both in the short and long term, according to Chapman. Much of his current business involves selling herbs and supplements to clients toaddress specific, immediate health issues, but he also says that in each consultation he emphasizes making permanent dietary changes.
“We need to feed ourselves better than most of us are today, if we’re being honest,” he says.
Many of Redd Remedies’ clients are dealing with stress issues and are unaware of how severely stressors impact digestion and therefore overall well being, Chapman says. He recalls that his mother always told him never to eat when he was upset, and for good reason.
“The body naturally shuts down the digestive system during stress because it needs to prioritize its use of energy,” Chapman explains. “And so it’s going to prioritize that energy within our muscles mentally and physically so we can actively respond. We don’t need the digestive system to respond that moment.”
This would be fine if it only happened briefly, Chapman says, but many of us exist in a constant state of stress, and digestive system function is suppressed. “One of the best things that we can all do, regardless of the food that we eat, is to make sure that we take a deep breath, and relax, and take a moment for that meal,” he says.
In addition to that advice, Chapman touts the benefits of a class of herb called an adaptogen that’s offered by Redd Remedies. These adaptogen herbs have naturally occurring qualities that reduce the negative effects of stressors and help the body achieve homeostasis, says Chapman.
Another important decision consumers can make according to both guests is to take a long look at their normal dietary routine and identify which products need to be switched out for healthier alternatives. The belief that eating healthier is more expensive is simply not true, Auerbach says.
“I think you can eat very well on a budget. There are lots of foods that are actually very inexpensive, but cooking whole grain foods and whole vegetables, and making foods from scratch is going to save a lot of money,” she explains.
Chapman agrees. “Most of the time, it’s the packaged, pre-made foods that are not as healthy for us and are significantly more expensive,” he says. “For those who say, ‘Buying food at a health food store is too expensive, I can’t do that,’ I would spend a few moments just analyzing what you’re spending your weekly budget on first. Likely, there’s a lot of things in that weekly budget that I would say are probably expensive, such as sugar drinks, whether that’s soda, teas, or energy drinks that are pre-made. Those are some of the most expensive things that we buy, and the nutritive value for our bodies is near zero.
“So if we can trade those things for some good, healthy, whole-grain foods, we’re going to spend probably the same money, maybe even less, and eat so much better.”