HEAL­ING POWER OF FOOD

Healthy eat­ing shapes phys­i­cal, emo­tional well-be­ing

Times of the Islands - - Contents - Leah Biery is di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Sani­bel Sea School.

What we choose to eat af­fects how we feel, shapes our phys­i­cal and emo­tional well-be­ing. En­trepreneurs on Sani­bel and Captiva have taken no­tice of this trend and are shar­ing their skills, cre­ativ­ity and ex­per­tise to meet the de­mand for in­no­va­tive foods that nur­ture the mind, body and soul.

WWhat we choose to eat af­fects how we feel, and Sani­bel of­fers plenty of good choices to main­tain a healthy diet or to jump­start your nutri­tional life­style. Think of any cul­ture in the world, and chances are it re­volves, in many ways, around food. All hu­mans gather at the ta­ble to cel­e­brate, to mourn, to ne­go­ti­ate and to re­lax. Eat­ing of­fers us an op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with oth­ers, and what we choose to put into our bod­ies shapes our emo­tional and phys­i­cal well-be­ing. Science is teach­ing us that cer­tain ap­proaches to eat­ing can op­ti­mize our over­all health, and in­di­vid­ual foods can in­deed heal spe­cific ail­ments—some­times just as ef­fec­tively as mod­ern medicine. Our is­lands at­tract a com­mu­nity of ac­tive, open-minded res­i­dents and vis­i­tors who ex­press a grow­ing en­thu­si­asm for the ben­e­fits of a healthy diet and life­style, and many are in­trigued by the con­cept of al­ter­na­tive medicine. En­trepreneurs on Sani­bel and Captiva have taken no­tice of this trend and are shar­ing their skills, cre­ativ­ity and ex­per­tise to meet the de­mand for in­no­va­tive foods that nur­ture the mind, body and soul. “It’s sur­pris­ing how many peo­ple come into my shop out of cu­rios­ity, then end up stay­ing for hours to talk about their food jour­neys and how di­etary changes have af­fected their lives,” says Chelsee Joel, co-owner of Among the Flow­ers Café, a cof­fee and juice bar that also of­fers healthy ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian dishes. Joel has done ex­ten­sive re­search on in­gre­di­ents with heal­ing pow­ers.

“Right now, I am fas­ci­nated by the health ben­e­fits of mush­rooms like chaga and reishi,” she says. “When I can source or­ganic mush­rooms, I like to make a medic­i­nal broth for my cus­tomers.” Var­i­ous species of mush­rooms have been shown to im­prove sleep qual­ity, im­mu­nity and brain func­tion. Herbs, bee pollen and ca­cao are also

on Joel’s list of su­per­foods. “Many herbs are adap­to­gens, which means they can re­duce stress and help to sta­bi­lize the body’s pro­cesses,” she says. Bee pollen, the sub­stance con­sumed by young bees, can re­lieve skin ir­ri­ta­tion, boost energy and sup­port the di­ges­tive and im­mune sys­tems. Lo­cally-sourced bee prod­ucts are also linked to al­lergy re­lief. Joel’s hand­made bee pollen chocolates, which con­tain or­ganic ca­cao, are a fa­vorite treat among her café pa­trons.

Although she is an en­thu­si­as­tic pro­po­nent of the medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of spe­cific in­gre­di­ents, Joel em­pha­sizes that there is no “magic cure” that can make up for a life­time of poor health habits. “To max­i­mize the ben­e­fits of de­li­cious, nat­u­ral foods in their purest forms, you re­ally have to ded­i­cate your­self to mak­ing good de­ci­sions about what you con­sume all the time,” she says. “One of my fa­vorite things about own­ing a café is that it of­fers a plat­form for me to ed­u­cate and sup­port oth­ers when it comes to mak­ing that life­style shift.” Joel cus­tom­izes juices, smooth­ies, and meals for clients strug­gling with spe­cific health chal­lenges.

Per­haps the most ef­fec­tive way to move to­ward this health­ier way of liv­ing at home is to plant a gar­den, which is Erica Klopf’s spe­cialty. Klopf, founder and owner of Florida Ed­i­ble Land­scap­ing, de­signs, in­stalls and main­tains eco-friendly food forests for her clients based on per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples. Per­ma­cul­ture is the prac­tice of ap­ply­ing the pat­terns found in nat­u­ral ecosystems to food pro­duc­tion. It is bet­ter for the en­vi­ron­ment and re­sults in more nu­tri­tious pro­duce than in­dus­trial farm­ing, which de­pletes the soil. In late 2016, Klopf and her team in­stalled a Seed to Ta­ble gar­den on the Robert Rauschen­berg Foun­da­tion’s prop­erty on Captiva. Dur­ing a re­cent visit, she har­vested car­rots, kale, radishes, toma­toes, beans and tomatil­los for the on-site chef. “The in­cred­i­ble thing about per­ma­cul­ture is that any­one can do it,” she says. “Vir­tu­ally any non-ed­i­ble, non-native plant in your yard can be eas­ily re­placed with some­thing wildlife-friendly that you can eat or drink. When it was grown in your back­yard, it’s the per­fect in­spi­ra­tion to cook some­thing fresh and de­li­cious in­stead of re­sort­ing to lesshealthy op­tions.”

Also a be­liever in the heal­ing prop­er­ties of foods, Klopf’s fa­vorites in­clude chamomile and cal­en­dula, both com­mon in­gre­di­ents in tea that can be suc­cess­fully grown in our re­gion. “Chamomile is very calm­ing and great for treat­ing in­som­nia,” she says. “Cal­en­dula is anti-in­flam­ma­tory and can soothe a sun­burn if you rub it on your skin.” Klopf en­cour­ages turmeric and moringa plant­ing. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have shown that turmeric is ef­fec­tive in slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s dis­ease, re­liev­ing the symp­toms of arthri­tis and treat­ing can­cer in an­i­mal stud­ies. Nu­tri­ent-rich moringa is also anti-in­flam­ma­tory and may pre­vent plaque for­ma­tion in the ar­ter­ies. It is known to sup­port brain and liver health, speed up the heal­ing of wounds and fight in­fec­tions. “Moringa is a fas­ci­nat­ing plant,” says Klopf.

“If I had to rec­om­mend one way for peo­ple to boost their health by eat­ing a sin­gle food, I would tell them to plant a moringa tree and eat one leaf ev­ery day.”

Fresh Taque­ria, a whim­si­cally dec­o­rated space serv­ing out­stand­ing Mex­i­can cui­sine—of­ten with a cre­ative twist from chef Jerry Gon­za­lez—was also founded on the idea that restau­rants should serve meals made from fresh in­gre­di­ents. “I want to serve our cus­tomers the kind of food I would feel com­fort­able serv­ing my fam­ily,” says owner M.G. Whi­taker. “Noth­ing on the ta­ble should come from a fac­tory and noth­ing should con­tain chem­i­cals, hor­mones or an­tibi­otics. We will only serve meats that were raised hu­manely. It’s harder to run a busi­ness this way, but I be­lieve it’s the right thing to do.”

The en­trance to Fresh Taque­ria’s prop­erty makes it clear that Whi­taker prac­tices what she preaches. Pa­paya trees line the park­ing lot and yuc­cas, tomato plants, pep­pers and herbs grow in pots along the walk­way. A pas­sion fruit vine climbs over a trel­lis and up the side of the build­ing. In­gre­di­ents are har­vested

daily and go di­rectly into the ta­cos, sup­ple­mented by pro­duce and sus­tain­able meats and seafood sourced lo­cally. Whi­taker adds, “When you’re get­ting your in­gre­di­ents from nearby farms and your beer from lo­cal brew­eries, you’re not only serv­ing your clients food that is good for them, you’re sup­port­ing and re­viv­ing your com­mu­nity. Why fund gi­ant cor­po­ra­tions when you can buy much bet­ter stuff from the guy next door?”

The restau­rant’s best-sell­ing dishes in­clude car­ni­tas ta­cos made with free-range, acorn-fed pork, ve­gan ta­cos made with mush­rooms, kale and sea­sonal squash, Mex­i­can street corn and a pickle plate. “Ev­ery item on our pickle plate is made in-house,” says Whi­taker. “I’m sur­prised by how pop­u­lar it is. Some days we run out of pick­les. I never thought that would hap­pen!” Pick­ling is a form of fer­men­ta­tion and pick­les con­tain pro­bi­otics, which are ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria that en­hance body func­tion. Pro­bi­otics aid in di­ges­tive pro­cesses by sup­port­ing a healthy gut ecosys­tem and may re­duce de­pres­sion, aid in weight man­age­ment, pro­mote skin health and im­prove heart func­tion. A healthy gut, full of help­ful in­testi­nal bac­te­ria, is ex­tremely im­por­tant for over­all health be­cause it is the gate­way to our other body sys­tems.

Kom­bucha, a type of fer­mented tea that orig­i­nated in China, is also a pro­bi­otic and of­fers a plethora of ad­di­tional health ben­e­fits. “Tea by it­self is medic­i­nal, but when it is turned into kom­bucha it be­comes even more ther­a­peu­tic,” said Mar­garethe Thye-Miville, owner of Captiva Tea Com­pany. Thye-Miville, who be­came in­ter­ested in kom­bucha when a friend sipped it to re­duce nau­sea and boost her energy while en­dur­ing chemo­ther­apy, brews a va­ri­ety of fla­vors from her own line of loose-leaf teas. She sells both at the Sani­bel Sprout, a quaint ve­gan café and mar­ket that sells an ar­ray of al­ter­na­tive health prod­ucts, and at Ambu Yoga on Captiva. “In ad­di­tion to be­ing full of pro­bi­otics and an­tiox­i­dants, kom­bucha con­tains glu­curonic acid, which helps de­tox­ify the liver,” she says. “It’s also al­ka­line, so it bal­ances the body’s pH and cre­ates an in­hos­pitable en­vi­ron­ment for ill­ness, and it is said to al­le­vi­ate joint pain and arthri­tis.” Kom­bucha is de­li­cious, re­fresh­ing and restora­tive and cer­tainly worth a taste if you have never tried it be­fore.

In­di­vid­ual in­gre­di­ents may be pow­er­ful, but a sig­nif­i­cant life­style shift will im­prove the way you look and feel and will give you an energy boost that will al­low you to en­joy our is­land par­adise more than ever be­fore.

Bee pollen chocolates are a pop­u­lar item at Among the Flow­ers Café on Sani­bel.

Fresh Taque­ria ( above) on Sani­bel brings au­then­tic Mex­i­can fare, mean­ing healthy in­gre­di­ents. Erica Klopf ( be­low), owner of Florida Ed­i­ble Land­scap­ing on Captiva, de­signs, in­stalls and main­tains eco- friendly food forests.

Su­per- healthy kale, car­rots, beans and radishes are abun­dant and eas­ily grown in South­west Florida. Cal­en­dula flow­ers (bot­tom right) are used in oils, heal­ing salves and teas.

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