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Meet our Education Manager: Lisa Petty, PhD

I was always interested in what most people would call “healthy eating,” but my fascination with nutrition really took off when I became a mother. I decided to study holistic nutrition, which, as I often explain, is similar to the concept of that song Dem Bones. Do you know it? The lyrics describe how the “Toe bone, connected to the foot bone; Foot bone, connected to the heel bone…” and so on.

In other words, all our body parts are connected. I know you know that, but the way we practice medicine now seems to have forgotten it most of the time. Our current system tends to focus only the troubled organ or joint and, as a result, might not be getting the full picture of your health.

For example, recurring headaches could very well be related to poor digestion or the deficiency of a certain mineral or fat in the diet, and not necessarily a problem in the head that would be visible on a standard medical test. Holistic nutrition remembers to think about the whole body.

The more I learned about the interconnectedness of things, the more I understood the difference between the quality of food we eat and how we feel. I discovered the difference between organic foods and other farmed goods not only on human health, but on the health of the soil we rely on to grow that food.

As I studied the impact of chemicals on foods, I began to make connections about the damaging impacts of chemicals in our personal care products, like soap, shampoo, deodorant and make-up that we use on a daily basis with the uptick in chronic diseases. “Natural” beauty became a focus of my career for many years.

Through writing, workshops, lectures and media appearances, I taught about how to create beautiful skin, hair and nails by correcting underlying digestive and nutrient-deficiency issues, and filling gaps with nutritional supplements. I also shared how to protect health by avoiding potentially dangerous chemicals in the products we use. In 2006, I published a book about how to create and preserve healthy good looks through the diet and personal care choices we make.

Over time, I also came to realize the impact of pollinators on our crops and gardens. I learned the value of planting flowers, trees and shrubs that are native to the region where you live, so you provide habitat for the pollinators and insects that feed the native birds. I learned that native plants require less care, meaning not so much time spent chopping, pruning and relentlessly mowing to keep things tidy.

I found out that landscaping with native plants uses less water because the plants have adapted to withstand whatever harsh weather realities occur in their environment. And when you grow native plants, there’s no need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides so they’re better our health and the health of the planet.

My own urban yard in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada is a mix of organically-grown vegetable and herb gardens, along with native perennial flowers, bushes and trees. I have only enough lawn left to give our beagle Mabel room to do what she must when she goes outside. And I have to say, I have more birds and butterflies on my yard than the other houses on my street.

And each year, I have more neighbours stopping by to request seeds or a plant, or simply to ask questions. I confess that my secret mission is to get all of them to shift to native gardening. (I guess it’s not so secret anymore.) But I know how difficult it can be to break habits – whether that means gardening habits or habits about what to eat and how take care of your health.

That’s part of the reason I returned to university after my kids were fully grown – first for my master’s degree and then for my PhD. My goal was to study behaviour change, and to understand why we do (or don’t do) the things we say we want to do, and how to help people navigate the obstacles to changing things up. (Go here and here if you want to read some of my research findings.)

Despite my experience with gardening and my training in nutrition, I had only a vague understanding of mushrooms until I came to Optimi. But the more I learn about them, the more my imagination catches fire.

For example, I had no idea of the important role that fungi mycelium plays in the interconnectedness of things. These tiny “threads” (the underground part of the mushroom organism) connect not only with other mushrooms, but also with plants and trees. Through this “woodwide web,” trees communicate, and plants transfer carbon, nitrogen, water and other minerals to where it’s needed.

How powerful is that?

And as I explore research studies and discover the treasure trove of health benefits of mushrooms that have been used in traditional medicine for millennia, I’m seeing connections, too. Of course, I see how whole mushrooms have been used to boost immune system health, to improve endurance, to support healthy metabolism, and to support focus and concentration. But for the curious, like me, the research studies help to explain how they do what they do.

Yet we are only at the very beginning of understanding all the ways in which mushrooms benefit us. And as the research is published and as I continue to learn and make connections, I will continue to share that information with you. (So please visit our library regularly if you also like to follow your curiosity.)

And I’ll also share the connections with our innovations team, so stay tuned for some creative products as we continue to grow as a company. For now, though, we’re focused on providing the best quality, organically grown, whole food mushroom supplement you can find.

With my own roots as a nutritionist, I’m most excited about the fact that mushrooms are food. Your body knows what to do with Optimi products because they are food. There isn’t a great long list of potential side effects to weigh out. And as with any whole food, the right mushroom nutrients will be sent to the body system that will most benefit from them.

And given the right raw materials, your body is remarkably adept at healing. The toe bone is connected to the head bone, after all.