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Welcome back, SNO blog readers! This week I’ve been thinking a lot about holistic health. I don’t mean the stigmatized “hippie” naturopathic medicine that may come to mind for some; I mean the dictionary definition of holistic: “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” At this point in 2018, I think some of the lines in the health and nutrition community have been blurred. There is a definite difference between health foods that are holistically healthy, and health foods that are highly marketable. For example, I’m sitting in The Living Room Cafe right now, and I ordered an acai bowl and an iced coffee with almond milk. Those not so deeply submerged in analyzing nutritional aspects of food as are all of you future RD’s might assume that what I just put in my body was “healthy”. In reality, the bowl of sorbet and sugary granola I just consumed probably made my insulin levels skyrocket, and the stored energy it provided me with will most likely stick around in my body for a while, considering I’m sitting here writing this blog post and not hiking up a mountain. The acai bowl is a great example of a heavily marketed “health food” that is not necessarily healthy. Besides the obvious capitalistic dilemma of some foods being marketed as health foods for the profit of the companies selling them, there is another huge aspect of holistic nutrition that I think could be even more important.
There are a lot of health foods out there that, good for you or are not, negatively affect another aspect of our ecosystem. An example that comes to mind immediately is something I’ve seen in juice shops and health food stores countless times: bee pollen. Bee pollen is the pollen from plants collected by bees and subsequently collected from the bees by beekeepers. Bee pollen has long been celebrated for its allergy-reducing and immune-boosting properties, and has been linked to the idea that eating local honey when visiting a new place will help you adjust to the atmosphere and lessen any allergy symptoms due to exposure to new plants and pollen in the air. I had heard about bee pollen’s allergy-reducing properties many times, and worked in a couple of juice shops that used it heavily, but never looked into it. It turns out that the problem with bee pollen is that the process of collecting it involves putting a comb-like screen at the entrance/exit of the hive, causing the pollen to be pulled from the bees’ limbs, but often pulling off their limbs as well. I hate to reference the movie that is essentially one enormous meme, but we could have a Bee Movie situation on our hands at some point. Bees use “stiff hair-like structures” (beeculture.com) on their legs to collect pollen, so if extraction of bee pollen de-legs bees in the process, it can’t be good for pollination and environmental well being in general. Furthermore, the bees need that pollen for the health of their colony, so if beekeepers collect pollen, bees have to forage more often, putting stress on the hives. Pollination is also essential to the growth of flowers, fruits and other plants that we need to survive. According to pollinator.org, “Somewhere between 75% and 95%  of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination – they need pollinators.” (pollinator.org).
Now maybe some of you knew about the downsides of bee pollen, considering it comes directly from the bee, and more and more people are looking into the protection of animals and insects alike with practices like vegetarianism and veganism. What a lot of people might not think about is the negative effects of almonds on our little pollinators as well. Bees and almonds have a symbiotic relationship. The almond trees need pollination from the bees to flourish, and the bee hives become stronger after visiting almond orchards because “Almond orchards provide honey bees with their first natural source of food each spring.” (almonds.com) and almond pollen is very nutritious for the bees. With the almond and almond milk craze taking over in recent years, we have to be very careful which and how much almond product we buy. Almonds are a winter crop, but because of the year-round demand for almonds and almond milk, there is less genetic diversity in orchards, and there is less almond pollen for the bees to forage and subsist upon, making for a less productive relationship between the bees and the trees. When buying almonds and almond products, be mindful of when and how much, and look for pollinator friendly products like Whole Foods “365 Everyday Value® Pollinator Friendly” Almonds and Almond Butter, which, according to the Whole Foods website, are “sourced from an orchard that works with conservationists at The Xerces Society to create a welcoming environment for pollinators. The orchard planted diverse wildflowers around the almond trees to provide year-round sustenance for local bees.” (wholefoodsmarket.com).
Basically, food and nutrition doesn’t stop at food and nutrition. In my opinion, it is imperative to take a holistic approach to health, ours and the planet’s. As important as it is for people like us to know things like the USDA recommendation that 45-65% of your total daily calories come from carbohydrates, or that Omega-3 fatty acids are essential in your diet because your body doesn’t produce them on its own, it’s equally important to remember to assess the external aspects of the food we eat, aspects that indirectly affect all of us, like the effect on our very important pollinators.
Junior.SDSU.Foods and Nutrition Student.