March 2012
The Herb Farm

Choose Foods, Exercise In Good Health

March is National Nutrition Month. Therefore, we will focus on eating a healthy diet without sacrificing the full flavors of the foods we love to eat.

Since I love to cook and eat, and I am restricted on what I can eat because of my gluten-free diet, I decided it was time to get some professional advice from a trusted source. I telephoned an expert in the field of nutrition. I called a very nice person who enlightened me on a few things about eating right, nutrition and dieting.


Wellness Dietitian Donna Sibley prepares spinach and bell peppers for a salad with a strawberry smoothie for dessert.


Donna Sibley is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian with 30-plus years of experience in the field of nutrition. She is the Wellness Dietitian for St. Vincent’s One Nineteen Health and Wellness in Birmingham.

There, among many of her duties, Ms. Sibley helps people achieve and maintain good health through education, diet and exercise. Teaching folks how to choose and prepare their foods is paramount in eating healthy. In addition, knowing what ingredients are in the foods we buy is important, especially if we are subject to food allergies.

Since I am gluten-intolerant, I posed a few questions to the dietitian regarding how long this health concern has been known to the general public and just what the official rule is for food to be considered as gluten free.

"As for gluten intolerance, it has been around a long time," she replied. "First-known cases were back in the late 1800s and then after World War II when grains were scarce and improvements were seen in some, it became known what the issue was.

"We really have always had it since the cultivation of grains, but as a growing health concern, it is still emerging. Many people self diagnose themselves, so it isn’t certain whether we have more of it today or whether it has just become a trend.

"In the U.S., the FDA considers foods containing less than or equal to 20 ppm [parts per million] to be gluten-free.

Quinoa. Read the label. It's good stuff!


"There is still no general agreement on the analytical method used to measure gluten in ingredients and food products."

While we were on the subject of governmental regulation of food labeling, I asked Ms. Sibley about the USDA standard for organic certification.

"Certified organic production involves strict criteria including having the soil free from synthetic chemicals for several years (three minimum). A good bit of documentation goes into being certified: An annual plan has to be submitted on production (like fertilizer and pest control, storage, harvest procedures, etc.), an annual inspections and, of course, a fee. All activities have to be documented on a daily basis," she said.

We got on the subject of protein from non-meat foods and she suggested one of my favorites, "legumes." Yep! Beans and peas are a great source of protein as well as tofu. Personally, I am not a fan of tofu, but I have been known to buy it from time to time. Quinoa with four grams is another excellent protein source that can be prepared many tasty ways.

Other veggies notable for their protein include kale (two g) (I must say it, "Eat more kale!"), collards (two g) and spinach (four g).*

I asked what she recommends for meats.

"The fewer legs, the better," she replied.

I believe she was suggesting chickens over pigs, turkeys over cows and fish over poultry.

Desserts should be fruit-based and snacks should consist of fruits and vegetables.

Part of what the Wellness Dietitian does at One Nineteen Health and Wellness is conduct cooking classes to show, hands-on, how delicious meals are prepared without sacrificing flavor.


Be sure you fully understand the nutrition labels. While this one shows 6 grams of protein for ¼ cup dry, the reference in the article shows 4 grams for ½ cup cooked.


In my personal experience with dining out, too often the foods are over-salted or contain too much fat for my taste. On the day of this interview, Sibley was assisted by an intern. Stephanie Flarity, a degreed chef working on credentials as a dietitian at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, suggested herbs and spices be used in preparing foods in order to reduce the amount of fat and sodium.

Sibley’s company also conducts shopping tours at local grocery markets where they point out the good things to watch for as they read packaging labels on the foods we buy.

Cooking classes are among the services provided by One Nineteen Health and Wellness as well as week-long camps for children. Ms. Sibley especially enjoys working with the children. She also maintains an herb garden on the campus.

I don’t know about you, but it really gets me going to see sacks of kids’ meals handed to children at outings where it would have been just as easy to make a nutritious hand-held meal in a corn tortilla, complete with lettuce and tomato and cheese! I’d serve them a peach over a fried pie any day! Maybe there should be more Donna Sibleys in the world training the adults on how to feed their children.

We’ll have more from our new friend later on. Until then, drink plenty of pure water and breathe in and out!

Thanks for reading!

For more information, e-mail me at farmerherb@

Be sure to find me on Facebook at "Herb Farmer-The Herb Farm."

As always, check with an expert, like your doctor, before using any herbal remedy.

*Nutrition information reference: