QUESTION: What is Herbal Medicine?

ANSWER: Herbal medicine, used for thousands of years, supports the healthy structure and function of the body. It works to promote vitality, balance and longevity. Simply defined, herbalism is the art and science of skillfully collecting, preparing and utilizing herbs to nudge the body towards wellness. Herbs and plants can be prepared and used in many ways. They can be taken internally as tinctures, teas, powders, syrups or capsules. Externally, they can be applied as lotions, oils, and salves and in baths. The strength of herbs lies in their capacity to support and nurture the body’s innate healing capacity, rather than just fix the problem. Many choices are available for using herbs therapeutically. The taste of the herbs or the experience of preparing the herbs can be part of the benefit. That being said choose the form that works for you and consider different options. Enjoy!

QUESTION: Are vitamin supplements herbs?

ANSWER: No. Vitamin supplements are micronutrients that are derived either from vegetable sources or made synthetically in a laboratory like other pharmaceuticals. Some supplements will blend both micronutrients and herbs together. If you are taking vitamin supplements, it is best to take one that is vegetable based. Read the label! It will tell you if it is a vegetable-based supplement. For example, the source of Vitamin A in the pill will be from Carrots.

QUESTION: What does an herbalist do?

ANSWER: My goal as a Clinical Herbal and Nutritional Practitioner is to support client’s health goals through education and resource sharing. The human body is an amazing instrument that responds well to change when we can tune in and remember how harmony works for us. I begin each session by asking my client to set their intention for health. This serves as a guide for our work together. Based on my client’s past health history, current health condition or concerns and future health goals, I may formulate a specific nutrition and lifestyle plan. Herbal Medicine and other natural supplements may also be recommended. I do not endorse any one product, yet custom- compound herbal remedies and suggest natural supplements from a variety of vendors who have a proven track record for using the highest quality products.

QUESTION: Can herbs help me lose weight?

ANSWER:  The best weight loss strategy is eating a balanced diet of whole foods and daily exercise.  Herbs are powerful remedies that assist the body in regaining a healthy balance. There are herbs that may curb sugar cravings, help balance blood– sugar levels, encourage elimination and support proper liver function.  However, such herbs should be used in conjunction with dietary changes and established exercise routines, not as a cure-all for weight loss.Be weary of any herbal supplement that claims to increase weight loss.  Sometimes, these supplements contain ingredients like caffeine or certain constituents in plant’s like ephedrine that are toxic in high doses. Taking large doses of herbs that encourage elimination can be very stressful to the body and lead to other health complications. If you want to use herbs as part of your weight management routine: see an herbalist!

QUESTION: Can I take herbs along with my medicines (pharmaceuticals)?

ANSWER:  The majority of herbs are gentle and work synergistically with our body functions. However, there are some herbs that can either potentate medicines (make them work faster or stronger) or interfere with medicines. Therefore, it is always best to work with a skilled herbal practitioner who is knowledgeable about what herbs are contra-indicated with certain medicines.

QUESTION: What is the best artificial sweetener on the market today?

ANSWER: All artificial sweeteners provide the same benefit: empty calories with a sweet taste! Adding Splenda, Nutrisweet, or Sweet-n-Low isn’t really supporting your goal of decreasing the number of carbs you eat. Most of the sugar carbs we eat are hidden because refined carbohydrates like french fries, potato chips, pasta and bread break down into simple sugars during digestion. This is a main cause of weight gain.

QUESTION: Is honey, agave nectar or brown sugar better than white sugar or sugar substitutes?

ANSWER: In my opinion, no, they are not. Local or raw honey does have some additional fiber and immune-boosting qualities; however these types of honey may be hard to find and are more expensive. The production of commercial honey eliminates any of its nutritional value. Agave nectar is like liquid jam—again, there is some small benefit over white sugar or artificial sweeteners, but not that much. Brown sugar (and raw sugar) is basically white sugar with a little bit of molasses added. Maple syrup that is 100% maple sap with no additives is a better choice. If you really want a good source of sweetness, blackstrap molasses would be my #1 choice. Not only is it sweet, it is also a good source of potassium and iron. Yum!

QUESTION: I am lactose intolerant and can’t drink cow’s milk. Is soy or almond milk better for me?

ANSWER: Nuts cannot produce “milk,” so soy and almond milk are artificial milk substitutes, not milk. I do not recommend these beverages because the flavored types in particular often contain lots of added sugar. There is also some controversy about the role of soy products in our diet and their impact on our endocrine system, with research showing soy’s effects on estrogen receptors. Elevated levels of estrogen have been linked to the growth of fibroids and to certain cancers.

In my opinion, milk is not a necessary requirement for our diet. Yes, milk products today are highly fortified with vitamins A and D and calcium. However, other sources for these vitamins and minerals are natural foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables, and those with red, orange and yellow colors. Instead of milk, try a cup of 100% apple juice in your oatmeal or cereal. Yum!

QUESTION: How much water should I drink every day?

ANSWER: There are many opinions about the exact amount of water we need to drink daily. Some are: drink 1/3 of your body weight; drink eight 8-oz glasses; or drink an ounce of water for every pound that you weigh. Sounds like a lot of water and many trips to the potty! We need to drink water to keep hydrated. Your skin, nails, eyes, sinuses and color of your urine are good indicators of how hydrated you are.  I find that the average person needs a minimum of 30 ounces of water daily. Water should be taken in throughout the day and not in one sitting (you will only eliminate it quickly)! Begin with 10 ounces first thing in the morning. Then pace the other 20 ounces throughout the day and don’t drink any more within an hour or so before you go to bed, or you will likely wake up during the night to relieve yourself.

If you drink caffeinated beverages like coffee or soda, then you’ll need to drink more water since caffeine acts as a diuretic. Drink a glass of water for every cup of coffee or can of soda you ingest.

QUESTION: I don’t like the taste of water. Can I drink flavored water instead?

ANSWER: No. H20 is water. There is no substitute. Flavored, sparkling and flavored “waters” are really juice-like beverages. Incidentally, juice does not constitute water and is not considered a water substitute either. You may get away with a non-caffeinated herbal tea that is not sweetened as a source of water. But pure H20 is best. If you need a little flavor in your water, add freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice.

QUESTION: Is it better for me to eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day or stick to three meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner?

ANSWER: The best dietary practice is to eat when you are hungry. The key is increasing your awareness so that you really understand when you are hungry instead of simply responding to gastric cues from your tummy, which is habituated to eating at certain times of the day. However, this will take some time. If you have health challenges such as blood sugar balance, your healthcare provider may have suggested that you eat smaller meals throughout the day. The challenge of this dietary strategy is portion sizing. What constitutes a “smaller meal?” Success in losing or maintaining your weight with more frequent eating requires that you plan out your meals carefully. You may try using My Plate (see the Resources Section) and preparing three typical meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then divide each of the meals in half and pace these six smaller meals throughout your day. You’ll eat the correct portions while getting the appropriate number of calories to fuel your daily activities and remain within your optimal daily calorie intake range.

QUESTION: I hate exercise! What can I do to motivate myself?

ANSWER: Motivation is a personal discipline that lives in your own heart and mind. We cannot buy it off the shelf.  However, there are some simple ways to build your willpower and get more motivated. First, find an exercise and/or activity that you like to do. Just because you see the Striders run past your window every morning doesn’t mean this is the exercise for you. Walking, bowling, dancing, fishing, gardening, water aerobics, water jogging, hiking… there are many ways to get your body moving that are fun to do. Choose something easy that you like, set a time of day to practice and stick to it! Second, find a partner to exercise with. If your spouse, child or another family member doesn’t want to join you, find someone else. Begin by joining a class or workshop and speak up about looking for an exercise group or partner. Partners are great motivators!

QUESTION: Do I really need to take vitamin supplements? Can’t I get all that I need from food?

ANSWER: As a practicing herbalist and nutritionist, I do recommend supplements based on the individual needs of a person. I also strongly believe that the foods available to us do not provide sufficient nutrients for optimal health. On the flip side, vitamin and herbal supplements have become big business and there are many advertisements pushing these products. Be careful not to fall for the hype that either touts the curative benefits of certain supplements or raises your panic level by leading you to believe you are deficient in certain ways.

The best approach to deciding if you need to take supplements and which are best for you would be to speak to your healthcare provider. Inquire about your blood work and see if there are any indications of vitamin or mineral deficiency. Why take more than you need? That could do more harm than good.

If you like the idea of taking a daily multivitamin, be sure that it is food based and not synthetic.  Food-based supplements are more easily digested and bioavailable.

QUESTION: How do I know which supplements are food-based?

ANSWER: Read the label. A food-based multivitamin will list the actual food source for each vitamin and mineral on the label. For example, if the supplement has vitamin A, the source may list a food like carrots.

QUESTION: I know that vegetables are really good for you, but my family won’t eat them. What can I do to encourage my family to eat healthier?

ANSWER: Most of us have not acquired a taste for vegetables. We are used to sweet and salty tastes and basically reject any other flavor out of habit. The best way to encourage your family to eat healthier is to consistently offer healthier, tastier food choices. Try new recipes to learn how to prepare dishes with herbs and spices that will enhance flavor. Follow the recipe exactly as written until you have learned which herbs, spices and foods blend best together, then you can experiment. I’ve listed several recipes, cookbooks and online menu sources in the Resources section of this workbook.

QUESTION: I don’t know how to shop for fresh produce. How can I tell if fruits and veggies are ripe and ready to eat?

ANSWER: The best-quality vegetables and fruits are produced locally and in season. Community supported agriculture groups (CSAs) and farmers’ markets are great resources for learning about locally and seasonally grown foods in your area.

Grocery stores, however, get produce from all over the world. This way, we can have tomatoes and watermelon in December when they would not grow in our own gardens until late July. Assessing the ripeness and quality of fresh produce in grocery stores can present a challenge because produce that travels long distances likely has been treated with pesticides and other additives to support transport and prolong shelf life. The good news is that most supermarkets label the country and/or state of origin for their foods, so you can get an idea of where it comes from. This goes for meat products too: most lamb in the supermarket is imported all the way from New Zealand!

A few tips can help you select better quality produce: squeeze gently (not hard!) to feel for firmness and sniff for fragrance—you should be able to smell its aroma. If it smells sour, not so good! And check for any bruises, brown spots or mold. Finally when in doubt, ask a worker in the produce section!

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