college students

“Take the Health Food Store with You!”

It can be a tough transition going from the home you grew up in, to a dorm or an apartment.  It can be tough leaving behind that old, familiar pantry stocked with your nutritious favorites to nutrition sourced from the cafeteria or the corner store.  It can be tough trading in your organic shampoo and conditioner for something bright pink and toxic.  Not to mention how tough it can be, at least for some of us, to shop, cook, and clean for ourselves at all!

Here are some suggestions for a care package for first-year college students.  (Although certainly a lot of what’s here could be just as valuable for grad students, families on vacation, or couples celebrating their golden anniversary on a cruise).  The rules for this list are simple: items have to be easy to ship, have to have a decent shelf life without refrigeration, and have to be easy to use without skill or equipment.

1. Protein Bars That Pack Real Nutrition.  We all know how important meals are.  But sometimes, life gets in the way.  Sometimes, laziness gets in the way.  Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we’re out the door before we have a chance to eat.

Having something handy that can be grabbed, unwrapped, and eaten on the go can be a godsend.  Something as simple as a protein bar can set the tone for the whole day.  Protein maintains energy levels, stabilizes blood sugar, reduces the stress response, and cuts down on cravings for unhealthy foods.

These days, you can pick up nutrition bars at any corner store.  But not all nutrition bars are created equal.  Some are loaded with artificial sweeteners.  Others are packed with partially hydrogenated trans-fats.  And then there are plenty that use clean ingredients, but don’t provide much protein.

I think of protein in terms of how many eggs’ worth I’m getting.  I shoot for at least two eggs’ worth, or 14 grams, of protein.  I also like to see a little fiber.  Hopefully, there’s some other nutrition in there as well, whether it’s a green food concentrate, the healthy oils from nuts and seeds, or the antioxidants in berries.

Of the bars we stock, I’m a fan of the Greens + protein bars because of their solid protein, decent fiber, healthy fats, and superfood ingredients like sprouts and chlorella and bee pollen.  They look a little like green play-doh, but they taste alright and really satisfy.  Pulsin’ Protein bars pack a lot of protein in a tiny package.  Organic Food Bars are also worth looking at, as are the Boomi-brand Almond Protein Plus.  The 2:1 Bars (named for their 2:1 protein:carbohydrate ratio) aren’t health food bars per se — they don’t have much in the way of “other nutrition,” and they use plain sugar as a sweetener —  but they taste good, and come in at a very impressive 30 grams protein per bar.

Orgain-brand protein shakes are also wonderful and delicious, if you prefer a beverage.

Try a few brands, see what you like.  If you order ahead by a week or so, we can get you a case (here a case is usually just 12 bars) at a 10% discount.

2. A Good Multivitamin: It’s a nutritional safety net.  It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into all the options – vegetarian and non, big pills and small, food-grown or USP, etc. – but feel free to talk with us.

3. A Great Cookbook.  How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman (a.k.a “The Minimalist” from the New York Times) both live up to their titles.  Bittman isn’t puritanical about health food, but he’s “health food-friendly.”  His recipes are simple and straightforward.  You can easily have dinner ready in a few minutes.  And his basic information on how to cook grains, vegetables, meats, etc. are wonderful for people who want to learn how to cook, not just follow a recipe.

I’m also a longtime fan of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, which provides much of the how-to info that Bittman does, with an ethnic slant and a conversational flair.  The World in Your Kitchen, by Troth Wells (published by the New Internationalist), focuses on “ethnic fast food” — what people from around the world eat when they have almost no money, and almost no time.  Lots of quick, cheap, and idiot-proof dishes perfect for the undergrad majoring in Cultural Anthropology or International Relations.

And of course (I’d be remiss) if I didn’t mention all of the Debra’s Natural Gourmet cookbooks!

4. A Good Cold’n’Flu Herbal Formula: Sniffles and sneezes are probably inevitable, but a full-blown cold or flu is not.  If you knock those first symptoms back, hard, you can wake up the next morning feeling fine.

Consider Wellness Formula, from Source Naturals, if you can swallow lots of large pills; or the Immune Dragon Super Brew if you don’t mind things that taste like decaying elephant.  If both pill size and taste are going to be sticking points, look for the old Chinese formula, Yin Chiao (sometimes spelled Yin Qiao).   A lot of companies sell Yin Chiao.  Among our brands, Pine Mountain sells a good one in normal-size pills that you only take a few of; Jade Dragon sells one in tiny little pills that you take by the handful.

5. A Good Probiotic: I was feeling a bit indecisive, looking to add a third supplement to this list.  I wanted something basic, and good for almost everyone…  What would it be?  Fish oil almost made the cut, for the million-and-one things it does, and the fact that it’s just basic nutrition.  A good ginseng-based immune formula was another finalist, for its ability to maintain energy, vitality, and immunity in the face of stress, sickness, and sleep deprivation (although if you are looking for one, the Astragalus 10+ formula from Seven Forests is spectacular.  I’ve gotten tremendous feedback on it, especially for recovery from mono).

In the end, however, I’ll go with a good probiotic.  A probiotic is a supplement containing beneficial bacteria, particularly those that colonize the GI tract.  A good probiotic helps maintain immunity against colds and flus.  A good probiotic helps the liver deal with toxins.  A good probiotic reduces the risk of urinary tract infections.  A good probiotic promotes general health.  But the main reason I’m putting a good probiotic on this list is because it helps keep the bowels moving.  Often when we travel away from home and the foods we’re accustomed to, we get constipated.  A probiotic, taken regularly, can help keep us regular.

6. Brother Bru-Bru’s African Hot Sauce: A 5-ounce bottle (smaller than a tube of toothpaste) travels easily in a backpack, courier bag, or laptop case, and can jazz up everything from scrambled eggs to pizza.  Yes, there are a 1,001 hot sauces out there, but Bru-Bru’s is the best.  Those (undisclosed) African spices add flavor lightyears beyond the typical vinegar-and-pepper.  Plus Bru-Bru’s is sugar and sodium-free.  And Brother Bru-Bru is a real person: Bruce Langhorn, a.k.a. the “Mister Tambourine Man.”

7. A Night-Time or Stress Tea: It’s nice to have something to take the edge off, to help us relax and get to sleep when we’re away from home.  Personally, I’m a fan of the herbal pills and liquid extracts.  They almost always pack more of a punch than the teas, which generally have to balance efficacy against flavor. (Most of the stronger sedating herbs are quite bitter).  That being said, there’s just something inherently soothing about a nice cup of tea: the ritual of brewing it, watching it steam, sipping…  It feels less like medicine and more like a relaxing indulgence.  

My favorite tea for sleep is Gaia Herbs’ Sleep & Relax.  It’s not delicious, but it’s alright, and it’s effective.  Another tea I like a lot is Pukka Herbs’ Night Time, which is a little gentler than Gaia’s tea, but tastes pleasantly sweet and slightly floral.

For a daytime relaxation tea that’s actually pleasant tasting, Tulsi (a.k.a. “Holy Basil”) is good.

8. A Stainless Steel or Glass Water Bottle.  Don’t settle for the bottles with the epoxy liners.  And remember: all the cool kids show their hometown pride with the purple Debra’s Natural Gourmet logos.

9. Basic Bodycare — Soap, Shampoo, Toothpaste…  This isn’t just about beauty and luxury, but health and wellness: the skin is a big organ, and we absorb a lot of the stuff we put on it, including all sorts of chemicals considered “safe” in mainstream bodycare products.

This really is a matter of personal preference.  Jocelyn, who works in our bodycare section, is a fan of Keys Windsurfer liquid castile shampoo and soap.  The Key Lime scent is fresh and invigorating.  It’s a shampoo and body wash all in one.  Debra points out that Weleda “Diaper Care” cream is wonderful, for all sorts of cuts, scrapes, wounds, and acne blemishes – something that’s just good to have handy.

10. Something to Clean With: For a few years now, we’ve been cleaning our own bathrooms with Modern Mermaid “Sweet Tingly Mint” spray cleanser.  Made locally from all natural ingredients, it smells so eye-openingly minty-fresh, it almost makes me want to clean.  Seriously.

I also can’t speak highly enough of Fresh Wave odor-eliminating crystals and gel.  Basically, open the jar and just leave it there.  For a few months (depending on airflow), the gel evaporates, neutralizing odors while you go on about your life.  Fresh Wave also sells little “pearl packs,” perfect for gym bags.

Finally, I talked to two of the college students on staff, hoping they’d recommend their favorite food, some sort of delicious treat I hadn’t thought of, and instead they both mentioned GREEN DRINKS, which are  basically “salad in a bottle,” powders of concentrated freeze-dried vegetables, and algae, and wheatgrass juice and whatever else the formulators dreamed up.  Many will also contain probiotics (see above), plus immune-strengthening medicinal mushrooms.  If your diet is light on fresh veggies, consider a green drink.

Adam Stark