Friday, July 21, 2017

Making the Most of Your Farmers Market Trip

It’s summer in New Jersey – banner planes are flying over the beach, pools are filled with the sounds of happy children and local farmers markets are in full swing. While shopping at your local farmers market is a great way to find fresh, local produce for you and your family, it can be a confusing experience. Here are some shopping tips and tidbits to help you get informed before you buy.

What does organic mean?

Many local farms boast that their food is organic. In the U.S. that means the crops were grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), petroleum-based fertilizers or sewage-based fertilizers.

“Livestock can be organic too,” says Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN-BC, Integrative Nurse Practitioner with Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine. “That means any livestock raised for meat, eggs and dairy products must have access to the outdoors and be given organic feed. They also may not be given antibiotics, growth hormones or any animal by-products.”

What’s the benefit of buying organic?

Organic produce has fewer pesticides and is often fresher because it doesn’t contain the preservatives that allow it to last longer. Also, organic farming tends to be better for the environment.

What to buy?

While buying fresh, organic fruits and vegetables are always a healthy choice, you might be surprised at the other healthy options often available at your farmers market:

Raw Honey 

Raw honey contains many benefits. It’s free from additives and can be used as a natural cough syrup.

“Local honey can also help if you suffer from allergies by making you less sensitive to your local pollen and easing your symptoms,” says Stafford.

Lastly, raw honey is a prebiotic, helping increase the levels of good bacteria in your digestive tract.


Juicing helps you absorb all the nutrients in vegetables and can help hide the taste of some less desirable vegetables, exposing your family to a wider variety of produce.

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Farmers Markets
Hackensack Meridian Health is sponsoring farmers markets throughout New Jersey this season. Find the farmers market near you and check out our healthy recipes:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Got Stress?

By Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN-BC
Nurse Practitioner

Got stress? We all do. The real question is, how well do you handle your stress?

Did you know that 60-90% of visits to primary care doctors are for stress-related conditions?

Research has shown that the safest and most effective way to reduce stress is through mind-body medicine. The field of mind-body medicine is based on the recognition that our beliefs, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships can have a profound effect on the body.

Stress management can help you to either remove or change the source of stress, alter the way you view a stressful event, lower the impact that stress might have on your body, and teach you alternative ways of coping. Using the relaxation response turns off genes associated with stress and disease vulnerability.

Coming in 2018, Integrative Health and Medicine will be presenting the SMART program:

The Stress Management And Resiliency Training (SMART) program teaches self-care practices that help buffer daily stress, making you less vulnerable to it. You will learn to regain control and build resiliency through a variety of mind-body principles and self-care interventions.

Stress management is helpful to everyone and will especially benefit those with:
  • Anxiety-related symptoms 
  • Insomnia or fatigue 
  • Headaches or migraines 
  • Gastrointestinal disorders 
  • Mild depression 
  • Skin problems 
  • Auto-Immune disorders 
  • Asthma and allergies 
  • Chronic pain or TMJ 
The program will help participants:
  • Understand the connection between stress and physical/emotional problems
  • Learn a variety of techniques to elicit the relaxation response
  • Appreciate the role of positive thoughts and beliefs
  • Discover the importance of healthy eating, restorative sleep, and physical activity
The SMART program includes four individual appointments, which are reimbursed by most insurers, and eight weekly two-hour group sessions, which are self-pay.

For optimal health, just like brushing and flossing, stress management needs to be a daily practice. Having multiple tools and techniques will change how you handle your stress and ultimately change your life!

Join Lisa Sussman, PsyD, Health Psychologist and Emma Stafford, Nurse Practitioner at Hackensack Meridian Health Village for this comprehensive training from the Benson-Henry Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. For their complete bios, click here.

For more information and to make a mind-body consultation appointment, call Hackensack Meridian Health Integrative Health & Medicine at 732-994-7855.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

It’s all in Your Gut

By Nicole Cerillo, RD, LDN, CNHP
Integrative Medicine Nutritionist

Gut health seems to be in the spotlight more than ever nowadays and it is for a good reason! We’ve all heard the familiar expression, “It is all in your head,” but what if I told you that 90% of our serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for transmitting signals throughout the body controlling appetite, sleep, regulating mood, and GI motility is primarily located in your gut? Our gut is often referred to as the second brain for this very reason and is directly interconnected to our digestion, mood, both our mental and physical state, and even plays a vital role in certain diseases.

The gut is responsible for such a vast amount of bodily processes. Our bodies host both good and bad bacteria that make up an internal community called the microbiome. Since about 80% of our immune system lies within the gut, it is essential to keep the gut’s beneficial bacteria at a favorable level due to its critical role in the immune system. Supplying our bodies with the necessary foods and bacteria for optimal gut function will keep our immune system strong, help our ability to fight off toxins, aid in digestion, and increase absorption of vitamins and minerals.

A few factors that can weaken our gut overtime and therefore impact our immune system are from antibiotics. However, the majority of antibiotic consumption today isn’t through pharmaceuticals. Antibiotics are now being routinely fed to livestock, poultry, and fish on industrial farms to promote faster growth and to compensate for the unsanitary conditions. According to the FDA, 80% of all antibiotics used in the United States are fed to farm animals! If you’re consuming conventional meat, fish and dairy, you are also consuming antibiotics as well. Although antibiotics serve a purpose when they are truly needed, our immune system takes a hit while exposed to antibiotics because not only will they eliminate the harmful bacteria, but they also wipe out the good bacteria. Studies indicate that the microbiome shows less capacity to absorb iron, digest certain foods and produce essential molecules. This can raise the risk for infections, allergies, resistance to antibiotics, and diseases.

An imbalance in bacteria also causes an increased inflammatory response in the body which leads to various food particles entering the bloodstream and causing food sensitivities and intolerances along the gastrointestinal tract. Several chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), irritable bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimotos, and hypothyroidism have all been linked to an under-flourished and imbalanced gut.

There is no doubt that everything from the bacteria we are exposed to, the foods we eat, the amount of sleep we get, and even the amount of stress in our lives all impact our gut health. Here are a few simple suggestions you can add into your life to help maintain a happy and healthy gut: 
  • Include probiotic-rich foods into your daily diet which contain “live” or “active” cultures. These foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, yogurts, kombucha and other fermented pickled vegetables.
  • When increasing probiotics it is also beneficial to incorporate something called pre-biotics which will help feed and nourish the probiotics. You can get pre-biotics from foods such as onions, garlic, fruits, vegetables, fibers, and cooled starches such as potatoes (known as a resistance starch). My favorite resistance starch and pre-biotics are tiger nuts you can find at your local health food store which are small tuber root vegetables.
  • As always we want to increase whole foods as much as possible and limit processed, packaged, and refined foods. Sugars, gums, preservatives, flavorings, and artificial sugars can increase fermentation in the gut and therefore disrupt intestinal flora. Try switching to natural sweetener in small amounts such as maple syrup, honey, dates, and cinnamon instead.
  • I also recommend incorporating more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet to balance out omega-6 fatty acids that can lead to inflammation. Try increasing healthier fats such as grass-fed butter or ghee, olive oil, avocado, wild caught salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
  • Fiber is also vital for gut health and regulation of optimal bowel function in the process of toxin elimination. Aim for 25-30g of fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
  • Make sure you are choosing high quality meats and seafood as much as possible without antibiotics. Choose wild caught fish and organic, pastured, and grass-fed meats.
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night, eat at consistent and regular meal times without distractions, don’t skip meals, and find a stress management practice that works for you and that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine such as yoga, deep breathing, or prayer.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Power of Independence

By Sara Scheller, BSN, RN, CPN, CCRN
Integrative Health Coach

“I am free to choose with awareness how I participate in challenges I intend to create.” - Elizabeth Barrett

How free do you feel to do what you want to do? What do you want? Independence Day is a time to reflect on not only our freedom as a country, but also on our individual freedom, independence and power to take control of our own lives. When it comes to your health and well-being, are you an active participant in your own life?

According to the 2016 Gallup-Healthways Well-being Index® which looks at Americans’ perception of their well-being in the five dimensions of sense of purpose, social relationships, financial security, relationship to community, and physical health, New Jersey ranked 25/50. On the whole, we have historically low smoking rates, historically high exercise rates, and the highest scores recorded for Americans who have access to healthcare. Yet, chronic disease rates such as obesity, diabetes, and depression continue to rise since measurement began by Gallup-Healthways in 2008. In order to live our healthiest lives as New Jersey residents and members of our greater United States nation, we must look at how we are living as individuals and get to the underlying root causes of poor health.

Do you recognize that you have the power to control your destiny? The word “power” may trigger initial judgments of control, dominance, hierarchy, force, or influence. Dr. Elizabeth Barrett defines power as, “the capacity to participate knowingly in the nature of change characterizing the continuous mutual process of people and their world” (2009). According to the nurse Martha Rogers’ Science of Unitary Human Beings Theory, humans cannot not participate in change. In health coaching, we look at power as knowing participation in change through awareness, choices, freedom to act intentionally, and involvement in creating change; it is an “experiential process” that can manifest in two ways: power-as-control and power-as-freedom (Barrett, 2009). When we look at power-as-control, we recognize our ability to have control of our health and well-being. The science of epigenetics is proving that we have an opportunity and ability to control how our genes are expressed. We may be at risk for chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease based on our family history, but the lifestyle choices we make have influence on those genes turning on or off. When we look at power-as-freedom, we see how a person is free to make choices regarding health promoting changes and their life situation. We can recognize the power of the amount of sleep we prioritize, the amount we exercise, the food we put in our body, the strategies we use to self-regulate our stress and how we live with a sense of purpose and meaning.

Dr. Elizabeth Barrett calls attention to the healthcare revolution going on in our country where we are looking more at “healing” versus "cure." Just as the United States of America is not just a sum of its parts, but is more than and different from the sum of each individual state, in this healthcare paradigm, “the whole person is not a sum of parts, but rather is more than and different from the sum of the parts” (2009). At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we look at health from a whole person perspective; mind, body, and spirit. Our five pillars of health include sleep, activity, purpose, nutrition, and resilience. We are on a mission to partner with the people we serve, and to empower them to access their full potential of well-being. By owning individual power as both control and freedom, we can all be the creators of our future.


Barrett, E. A. M. (2009). Living Powerfully Through Health Patterning. Retrieved from:

Dossey, B. M., Luck, S., Schaub, B. G. (2015). Nursing Coaching: Integrative Approaches for Health and Wellbeing. NY: International Nurse Coach Association, pp.303-306.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Essential Oils Part 2

By Lisa Sussman, PsyD
Health Psychologist

For today’s blog, I will continue with one of my favorite topics, essential oils, specifically focusing on the three methods of application: aromatic, topical, and internal. I’ll also discuss why you might choose one method over another and give some examples of the types of essential oils you can use with each method. 

If you missed my earlier blog, which provides a basic understanding of what essential oils are, how they work, where to find research, and how to check for quality and safety for use, check it out here before reading this one.

Aromatic: In aromatic application, you breathe in the tiny volatile essential oil molecules as they are dispersed in the air. This is a quick way to improve mood (uplift and calm) and energy levels (stimulate, sedate, and ground), as well as affect quality of breathing and clear the air of pathogens. Diffusing with a water-based diffuser, putting a drop or two of an essential oil on a cotton ball, or a lava stone bracelet, or spraying the air and sheets are all great aromatic options. Even inhaling the aroma from the bottle or taking a drop in your palms and cupping your palms near your face and taking a few deep breaths are effective ways to get the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. I caution against using scented candles or a diffuser which works via heat, as although the room may smell nice, you won’t get therapeutic benefits. I wouldn't dream of going to sleep without my routine of diffusing immunity and respiratory boosting and sedating essential oils such as eucalyptus, clove, wild orange, vetiver, lavender, and cedarwood. I also keep my calming, uplifting, and energizing essential oils with me at work and in my purse for deeply inhaling on the go when I'm starting to feel tired, stressed, or upset. One of the things I love about diffusing essential oils is that everyone in the room benefits!

Topical: Massaging essential oils directly on the area of concern, or on the reflex points or on bottoms of the feet, can provide comfort and relief, as the essential oils quickly absorb into the skin and then distribute to the body. Topically applied oils also boost the immune system. Soaking in a bath or applying a warm compress with a couple of drops of essential oil are other forms of topical methods of use. Please take precautions as needed: dilute with a carrier oil such as coconut or jojoba oil or unscented body lotions for hotter oils such as oregano, for sensitive skin, and for young children and older adults. Diluting also slows down the rate the essential oils are absorbed and minimizes evaporation. In addition, avoid getting essential oils in your eyes or ears, and avoid direct contact with sunlight for up to 12 hours when applying citrus oils on exposed skin due to photosensitivity. Every morning I massage essential oils into the bottom of my feet, and I add a drop or two of an invigorating and skin-enhancing essential oil to a dollop of nontoxic, unscented lotion and apply as my daily body lotion.

Internal: Internal use of essential oils supports the intestinal tract, aids in digestion, impacts nutrient absorption for brain health, and influences neurotransmitter activity. Be sure the essential oil is safe for internal use (read the label, look at purity, testing, GRAS, etc.), and remember that just one drop goes a long way. Essential oils can be put in a veggie cap (or pre-made in a soft gel) and swallowed, put directly in the mouth/under the tongue, or added to food and drinks. My favorite ways are adding a drop of peppermint, cinnamon, or ginger to my morning smoothie and a drop of lime, wild orange, grapefruit or lemon essential oil into my drinking and sparkling water. Adding small amounts of essential oils to food and drink has both therapeutic value and adds flavor!

There are so many ways to enjoy and derive health benefits from essential oils. While there is a lot to learn, it is a fun journey, and there are countless resources to assist you as you explore how you can bring essential oils into your healthy lifestyle.