I’ve always known bees are important to our ecosystem, though it didn’t really hit home until the Almond Board of California invited me as part of a group of dietitians up to Lodi, California to learn more about almond farming. After that trip, I signed up for a beekeeping class at San Francisco Honey & Pollen Company, which left me incredibly inspired to help the bees in any way possible. The following Spring I set out to home my own honey bee hive.
When I received my hive, the beekeeper and I were chatting and he said something along these lines: “Wait, so you’re allergic to bees AND you don’t really like honey? Why are you getting a hive?” Me: to help save the bees and the food industry!! Little did I know that I actually do like honey, I just hadn’t had much exposure to it until I became a beekeeper myself (sounds silly, but it’s true!). And let me tell you, fresh honey is on the next level of deliciousness.
The more I learned about bees, the more I discovered just how fascinating they are. For instance when a bee finds a good source of nectar or pollen, she returns home and tells her fellow bees by doing the “waggle dance.” The different movements of the dance indicate the direction and distance of the source so that the other bees can go there too. You can watch a clip of this adorable dance through the Smithsonian Channel.
Here are some photos of my first hive and honey collection!
Why the concern for bees?
Bees are responsible for pollinating over a third of the food we eat. Can’t live without your morning cup of coffee? Bees pollinate your beans. Love fresh cherries in the summer? Bees pollinate your fruit. Are almonds your go to snack? Bees pollinate your nuts. When we really start thinking about our favorite foods, bees are at the heart of their production, pollinating over 90 different crops.
Unfortunately, bee hives, particularly honey bee hives, have been declining for many years. Causes include fungal pathogens (read more here), pesticides, losing their habitat when rural environments turn urban, and from new threats like the Murder Hornet. Climate change is also causing some flowers that bees feed on to bloom and die too early while bees are still in hibernation for the winter. This means less food and nutrition for bees when they are looking for it. With bees disappearing, this puts our agricultural systems in a bind too. Domestic and wild bees really need our help!
How can we help the bees?
For the month of September, also known as National Honey Month, the National Honey Board (NHB) is celebrating bees and all that they do for the world. NHB has teamed up with Kashi, Justin’s and Frönen for their Honey Saves Hives program, which helps raise money for honey bee research. These companies will make a donation every time you purchase these select made-with-honey products:
Donations will go directly to bee health research organizations, including Project Apis m., the largest honey bee non-profit in the U.S. which researches ways to help honey bee colonies and improve crop production
Supporting these products means supporting beekeepers and their efforts to keep bees healthy!
Wishing you well,
February is American Heart Month, raising awareness about heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and woman: 1 out of 4 deaths (1)! Heart disease includes conditions such as atherosclerosis (when arteries become clogged due to plaque build-up) that can result in coronary artery disease and ultimately cause heart attacks, heart failure and strokes by obstructing the flow of oxygen and blood to the rest of your body (1,2).
What causes plaque build up? It’s mainly low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL aka ‘bad’ cholesterol) mixed with fat, calcium and other miscellaneous materials found in your blood (1,3,4). LDL cholesterol is found in animal food sources such as meat and whole milk dairy. Many processed foods, especially commercially produced baked goods, that contain trans fats from hydrogenated oils or shortening are also high in LDL cholesterol.
The good news is that maintaining healthy nutrition habits can help prevent heart disease.
A heart healthy diet includes:
Limiting: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt/sodium, alcohol
Incorporating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (i.e. eat your fiber!)
Unfortunately, many traditional baking recipes use butter, which is no doubt a fantastic tool in adding texture and flavor to baked goods but alas a major dietary source of ‘bad’ cholesterol and saturated fat. Simply put each Tablespoon of butter is loaded with fat (11g), saturated fat (7g), cholesterol (30mg), salt (95mg) and very high in calories (100 kcals) (5).
I remember at my first post-college restaurant job we had THE best granola on the breakfast menu and we employees definitely took advantage of our endless access to it. But when I started working in the kitchen and had to make it for the first time, I nearly fainted learning that the recipe called for 4 pounds of butter. Granted we were mass-producing this tasty treat, but still!! Granola is one of those tricky food items because us dietitians keep telling you to eat more whole grains (which oats surely are) because fiber helps lower cholesterol levels, but typical granola is usually coated in butter and sugar (negating oats' benefits) and mixed with other nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and nuts. Not heart healthy!
That said, I do love granola for it’s delightful taste and texture from oats, fruits and nuts but since it is very high in calories per serving, it should only be used in small amounts, such as a topping to some nonfat Greek yogurt or low-fat ice cream, and not eaten like regular cold cereal. Granola is also easy to make at home where you can control the ingredients and lower the fat, sugar and calorie content per serving, making it a healthier food in your diet and for your body. Recently, I was reading my Real Simple magazine (love Martha!) and saw a recipe for Applesauce Granola. I didn’t make her recipe (it includes butter), but I did steal her applesauce addition (think: natural sweetener) to create this Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola. It’s delicious granola but with much less fat, no added refined sugar, and packed with whole grains, fiber, healthy fats and protein. Now that is heart healthy!
Tropical Ginger Applesauce Granola
(adapted from Real Simple)
Combine the oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, coconut and ginger together in a bowl. Add applesauce and maple syrup and toss until fully coated.
Spread oat mix evenly on a baking sheet (I line mine with a Silpat).
Bake ~60-80 minutes @ 275*F, stirring the oats every 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Yields: 2 pints
This year, I've just fallen so in love with pomegranates (maybe it's because they remind me of one of my best friends who introduced me to the fruit and who sadly for me is temporarily living overseas). I keep using the arils in my smoothies and to top my yogurt, oatmeal or salads, but I really wanted to try them differently - more of a dessert way. So, I broke out the mini muffin tins, melted down some dark chocolate, and began layering chocolate, almonds, coconut and pomegranates until the tins were leveled off. After they chilled, I popped them out, took a bite, and WOW!!!
Each bite just bursts with fresh and sweet goodness! These little taste satisfying, stress reducing homemade treats are full of antioxidants, flavanols, protein, fiber, 'healthy fats,' and believe it or not may even help reduce the risk of heart disease. But while healthier than a store bought processed candy bar, always remember: moderation is key and a little goes a long way!!
Chocolate Pomegranate Coconut Almond Cups
Start with a layer of chocolate and alternate the ingredients until the tins are leveled off. Chill at least 1 hour. Pop out of molds and enjoy! :D
Yields: 20 mini cups