We have big news to announce – ZEGO is now a B Corporation! I love talking about our company because ZEGO is so much more than delicious, Free From snacks. But it’s hard to convey all we hold dear in a Tweet or Instagram post. If you had the time, I would want to tell you we are a family-based business that grew out of a desire to provide delicious and nutritious snacks that are safe for nearly everyone to eat–no matter your dietary restriction, that we are passionate about providing food safety data through dynamic labeling, and how we use our labels to communicate food safety information to you. I would tell you we believe you have a right to know what is in your food and encourage you to demand it from all the companies you buy from – especially when it comes to toxins like glyphosate or cross contact with allergens.
I would want you to know that we are about more than transparency, nutrition and taste. I would want you to know that we work hard to support U.S. farmers by buying locally and regionally grown food for our products. We use our packaging to inform consumers how they can advocate for a cleaner food supply, and that we donate 2% of our revenue to improve nutrition for low-income kids. As you see, it takes us awhile to tell people about all we do, which is why we are so happy to be officially certified as a B Corporation!
What is a B Corporation anyway?
B Corp for business is similar to Fair Trade or USDA Organic for food, but much broader. It covers how you treat your employees, your corporate governance, and your commitment to protecting the environment and giving back to your community. Because not every question on the assessment is relevant to every type of company, to get certified you must score 80 points out of 200. ZEGO scored a full 113!
Being B Corp certified allows us to use one symbol, the B badge, to show that we care about a lot more than profit. It means that we strive to make our business a force for good in our community and in our world.
Why Did We Get B Corporation Certified?
We didn’t get certified as a marketing tool. We got certified as a B Corporation because it’s not enough for ZEGO to be an independent “good guy” company. To be a force for good, we need to join forces with other B Corp food companies to define new, higher standards both in food labeling and food / social responsibility. By working together, we can encourage other food companies to follow the same path. The benefits will be felt for generations.
It is part of our bigger commitment to always improving and setting the standard for transparency for food companies!
What Does Our Being a B Corporation Mean to You?
We have been doing the things that B Corp certified us for since we started ZEGO back in 2013, but it does make a difference to be certified. The certification actually holds legal weight as it is woven into your corporate legal structure. Most importantly, because re-certification is required every two years, you can be confident that as we grow, we will hold true to our values.
How You Can Help
So, here is our call to action for you — It truly matters if you support companies that are making a difference by how they do business. It’s simple, we can’t be a force for good if we don’t have enough sales! So when you are choosing which product to buy, look for the B Corp logo, help us spread the word about ZEGO and other B Corp companies, and ask other companies that you love to consider getting certified! Most of all, thank you for your support.
By Liam Puknys, guest blogger for ZEGO
I generally distrust anything claiming to be a “wonder drug”. They are incredibly rare, and even seemingly miraculous “wonder drugs,” heck, even vitamin supplements, often have harmful side effects that we only discover years after widely using them. The smallpox vaccine drove its target, which used to kill one-fourth of all humans, to extinction in the wild, but also caused a mild sickness. Antibiotics, perhaps the greatest wonder drugs of all time, decimate opportunistic infections and have saved millions. But even with antibiotics there is trouble, as antibiotic resistance has become a real threat to the ability this class of drugs to continue protecting us.
Even still, antibiotics have been very successful over time in repressing once fatal infectious diseases. The problem rising in its stead is autoimmune disease. It seems for many of us, our immune systems are malfunctioning. In fact, over 23 million Americans suffer from autoimmune diseases today, such as Chrones, Colitis and Celiac Disease and that number is rising. That does not count other diseases like depression and diabetes that can also have autoimmune causes. In comparison, cancer affects about nine million.
We are still developing ways to fight this new pandemic. There is no proven wonder drug yet. However, recent research has pointed to a new drug, low dose naltrexone, as possibly being the revolutionary remedy that could help curb our “autoimmuning.” Naltrexone is an FDA-approved drug that you may have heard of because it stops heroin and opioid overdoses (it saved the artist known as Prince a few years ago). What does this have to do with your immune system?
It turns out that endorphins, your body’s natural opioids, play a vital role in regulating your immune system. They signal your T cells, which are the coordinators of your body’s immune system. Naltrexone blocks your brain’s opioid receptors.
In a large dose, this stops an opioid overdose. But, taken in small doses over a period of time, naltrexone causes your brain to send a signal to your body to make more endorphins. The extra endorphins help better coordinate your T cells and improve your immune system’s response to just about everything. By improving the functioning of your immune system, low dose naltrexone, or LDN, has the potential to enable your own body to cure these otherwise incurable autoimmune diseases.
We still do not understand the full potential of LDN> We need to do more research on it. The preliminary results are promising. A recent clinical study showed 65% of Chrones and Colitis patients participating showed marked improvement in symptoms, even without any dietary changes. Other studies have shown that taking LDN results in reduced inflammation, but much of the evidence supporting this is anecdotal or has not had rigorous review
Still another recent study by affiliates of St. George’s University in London suggests that LDN may even help your body fight off cancer. We need to do more research on this drug to learn more about its benefits and its side effects. However, the side effects so far seem to be minimal.
One of the most interesting parts of LDN is that patients are reporting very few negative side effects. The most severe seems to be moderate trouble sleeping in the first week, though this tends to fade quickly and is easily solved by lowering the dose. In fact, patients are told they may see an improvement in their mood over time from the increased production and uptake of endorphins—what a welcomed change of pace on a drug warning label!
And, in addition to the minimal side effects, LDN is cheap, ranging $45-$90 for a monthly supply, though it needs to be purchased from a compounding pharmacy, which can be hard to find. There is a benefit to using a compounding pharmacy, though, if you have food allergies. You see, the LDN dose is so small they need to use a filler, like lactose or cellulose, to make the pills a size that is easier to keep track of. So if you have allergies, a compounding pharmacist can use a safe filler for your medication.
Low dose naltrexone has the potential to revolutionize the way we treat autoimmune diseases and possibly cancer. What I like most about is is that, unlike many other drugs, it doesn’t try to overwhelm or supercede your immune system. It addresses to root of the problem via your T cells and encourages your body to fix the disease itself.
While we still need to conduct more research surrounding the drug, if you have an autoimmune disease, or multiple (my doctor rejects the diagnosis of numerous autoimmune diseases and just say that you are “autoimmuning”), ask your doctor. Many doctors are not aware of LDN treatment, so you may need to give them time to research it. It is prescription only, though, so you’ll definitely need your doctor’s support.
Does Celiac Disease affect your whole family, like mine? I have found it so much more challenging to diagnose and raise Celiac kids than I thought it would be. After all, I am Celiac myself.
=====I wasn’t diagnosed with Celiac Disease at 15 years old, I started showing symptoms much earlier in childhood. Very few people knew what Celiac Disease was in the 1970’s and 1980’s, so it took a long time to figure out what was going on. Anxious to avoid delayed diagnosis, I’ve been vigilant with my kids, sure I wouldn’t miss any sign that they may have the same issue.
=====I had my kids on a gluten free diet from about age five until they were ten years old (they are now 11, 14 and 17) because they complained of frequent gut pain. This wasn’t easy in the 2000’s when gluten and food allergy awareness was much lower. Many moms strongly suggested that I was being over protective and potentially damaging my kids. This was particularly the case with my son.
=====By first grade, it was clear that my son not only should not have gluten, but that he was wildly sugar sensitive as well. He had all the symptoms of Diabetes but his blood sugars measured as normal. On the advice of our pediatrician, we put him on a low glycemic, no sugar diet and his symptoms cleared up. After following that strictly for five years, he now can handle sugar if it is part of a meal.
=====At age ten, I let all the kids make their own choice on their diets. My son was so reactive to gluten, he stayed gluten free and low sugar. He won’t even go back gluten on for a few weeks so we can do the official Celiac test. The girls, however, jumped into a bowl of wheat flour like kids at the opening day at the pool.
=====During this time, I charted their growth meticulously. I quizzed about diarrhea. I steered them away from overindulging in bread. And, everything seemed fine for a year or two.
=====But then I noticed both girls had developed small bumps on their upper arms, a common side effect of Celiac Disease. They also displayed rashes on their faces that flared up from time to time. But adding confusion to the matter, not all their symptoms were the same.
=====My older daughter seemed to be slowing down in growth and weight gain. My younger daughter was growing like a weed but was the first person ever to break her arm in a local trampoline class, a possible sign of weak bones. I was watching, but confused by the disparate symptoms and the fact that no one was having diarrhea, a classic Celiac indicator. So, I waited longer and watched more. In the end, it was a Lenten ritual that told us what was going on.
=====My teenager gave up gluten for Lent this year. During that six weeks, her skin issues nearly cleared. So I had my younger (eleven year old) daughter go gluten free and saw the same improvement. They also had other symptoms that resolved, though we are still waiting for my older daughter’s growth to reboot.
=====I surely did not want this for them, but given my history, it’s pretty clear all my kids are Celiac or at least very gluten sensitive.
=====To be honest, it was a LOT easier when it was just me. Navigating menus at restaurants for just me was not very hard. I like lots of kinds of food and could quietly make my choice with a sidebar with the waiter.
=====But for all four of us, there is a lot more discussion required. My kids are pickier eaters than me and picky in different ways from each other. Finding four appealing gluten-free entrees at a restaurant is exponentially more challenging. It can be really stressful and take the “communion” out of the experience. This is ironic because we most often choose to go out to eat to relieve our stress and give us space to bond. It’s like taking a cab in Paris. It seems like it should be a treat but walking is a lot less stressful.
=====I want to put the communion back into our dining out experiences, to have our mealtime be a relaxing, bonding experience where we nourish our bodies and souls. We could just eat at home all the time, but we live in San Francisco and enjoying the wonderful restaurants here is part of the experience, not to mention that our busy schedules dictate that we eat out at least once or twice a week. We all share in cooking dinner, but there’s just not someone available to cook every single night.
=====As the school year starts, I’m having to think about this more. I’d love your suggestions. What have you learned raising Celiac kids? How do you keep mealtime joyous and happy and avoid the stress when eating out or at events like weddings? Share your tips and I’ll republish for all of us to benefit. We can share in a virtual communion and help each other build a better bonding experiences for our families.
At least twice a week I’m asked why so many kids are being diagnosed with food allergies these days. I’m quick to say that they are right, and it is occurrence that has climbed, not just diagnosis. Since 1997, peanut allergies are up 600% and overall food allergies are up 50%. Celiac Disease occurrence (not just diagnosis) is up 500% since 1950. And, there is a multiplier effect. Because food allergies can cause fatal reactions, many schools and other venues are banning peanuts and treats from their campuses. So even though only a few children may have allergies in the school, hundreds of families are changing their purchasing patterns to keep those allergic children safe. This is having a big impact on America, whether people and companies realize it or not. In order to know how to improve this situation, we all should be better informed on the likely contributors to the problem. There are a number of strong theories, some of which are backed by very promising preliminary research. Here is my summary.
Antibiotic Overuse: This is a fairly new area of exciting research and it folds into the microbe theory that I’ll explain next. The issue is that many children are exposed at a young age to repeated periods of antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics don’t just kill the bad bacteria, they also kill a lot of good bacteria. A 2014 study showed that mice with compromised gut bacteria exposed to peanuts developed an allergy to them. But when scientists reintroduced a mix of clostridia bacteria into their guts, the allergies went away (introduction of other bacteria did not yield the same result). We are now on the second and third generation of increasing antibiotic use. Since a baby’s gut bacteria at birth is a reflection of her mother’s, this bacterial imbalance, even in absence of antibiotic use later in the infant’s life, can be passed on at birth.
Reduced Exposure to Microbes: With our non-agrarian society and urban lifestyles, children are less exposed to the microbes in our soil. Our bodies need to be exposed to these microbes so that we can have a healthy balance of bacteria in our bodies. It’s like our body is having a conversation with nature to keep us in balance. Our gut bacteria help our bodies to interpret and digest food correctly. When that balance is off and a food like peanut is introduced into the system, the gut bacteria have difficulty figuring out if the food is healthy or dangerous. It’s like when your radio “scan” function is stuck between radio stations and can’t decide which one to land on. Sometimes the body makes the right decision and treats the peanut as food, sometimes it does not and the person develops an allergy.
GMO manipulation of proteins: Soy is the best example here. When soy was genetically modified, one of the proteins in it was increased many fold over the natural level that it normally occurs in soy. It turns out that particular protein is the one that is the most highly allergenic and the timing of the rise in food allergies aligns pretty well with the introduction of this new GMO soy. Soy is a legume, as is peanut, and people who are allergic to one legume are sometimes allergic to all legumes, this this soy issue could have influenced the rise in peanut allergies as well. (Note, wheat is not a GMO crop, see pesticide/fungicide issue below on wheat.) In addition, some GMO foods are causing allergies themselves. People who may not be allergic to two foods whose genes are combined may be allergic to the resulting new food.
Over Cleanliness: The idea here is that our use of antimicrobial soaps and cleaning fluids that kill bacteria reduce our exposure to bacteria. This reduces the strength of our immune systems because we are not having to work as hard to kill off bad bacteria. Our compromised immune systems are more susceptible to developing allergies to foods.
Pesticide/Fungicide Toxicity: There are two issues to talk about here. The first conversation is just starting in research but it shows promise. There was a recently documented allergy to a pesticide that originally appeared to be a food allergy. More research will surely come to see if this is the case for other children as well, that their allergies are to pesticides on the food as opposed to the food itself. There is also concern that our constant exposure to pesticides through food has compromised our immune systems and confused the ability of allergic individuals to properly interpret whether food is good or an invader. This dovetails with yet a third concern that crops like peanuts are grown near or in alternating years with tobacco. Chemicals used on a non-food crop like tobacco are not allowed on food crops because they are considered dangerous to eat. However, the chemicals from the tobacco crop leach into the peanut crop through the soil and air.
Further, many people who experience difficulty digesting wheat in the U.S. find that they have no problems digesting wheat in Europe. The theory being discussed here is that U.S. wheat is soaked in Roundup prior to harvest while wheat in Europe is not, and people are reacting to the Roundup, not the wheat itself.
Environmental Toxicity: Chemicals used in our furniture, airplanes, cars and cleaning agents as well as pesticides, prescription drugs and plasticizers are among the toxins often found in our bloodstreams and our babies. Chemicals banned as far back as the 1970s still show up in our system today. Breast milk has measurable amounts of jet fuel in it. These factors compromise our immune systems and many believe that children are born standing on the edge of a toxicity cliff. Small things that should not cause their systems to malfunction do so because their bodies are already dealing with so many internal toxins. There is evidence that fetuses are particularly vulnerable to neurotoxins during certain periods of development and scientists are exploring this as a potential cause of the increase in autism rates.
Delayed introduction of foods: Pediatricians now say that they are part of the problem. For over a decade, they have been recommending delaying adding foods that tend to cause allergic reactions until at least a year of age. They now know that delaying the introduction of these foods has actually increased the number of allergies to them, not decreased. There are promising trials going on right now where children are given measured and increasing doses of the allergen daily. This is working but the problem is that these children have to keep taking the exact right amount of the allergen every day, say a tablespoon of peanut butter, throughout their life. If they don’t they risk dire allergic reaction the next time they eat the food.
I’m sure there are a few more theories out there but one thing we know for sure, food allergies are on the rise and not just in kids. Anecdotally, I hear all the time from adults who have recently been diagnosed with food allergies too. It’s time we seriously look holistically at all these factors for the answer. We aren’t going to cure this by treating it as an individual problem. We are going to need to clean up our food system and dramatically decrease our use of antibiotics. And, that’s a lot harder than telling someone else to take a pill or eat a peanut every day.
Colleen Kavanagh is the CEO of ZEGO allergy friendly nutrition bars www.zegofoods.com and is the Executive Director of A Better Course, a nonprofit dedicated to improving nutrition for low-income children. www.abettercourse.org
I am ground zero for questions about fake food allergies and gluten intolerances. I have Celiac Disease. My kids are undiagnosed but on gluten-free, low sugar diets, and they go to nut-free schools. I recently started a company, which makes healthy energy bars that are free of the top eight allergens and gluten, called ZEGO, and frequently do product demos at stores. What I’m typically asked is, “When people who aren’t Celiac claim they need to be gluten free, doesn’t that hurt real Celiacs?” Another is, “Aren’t a lot of these fake allergies? I mean, really, not all these people can have food allergies.”
Spoiler alert: the answers are NO and NO, but I understand where they are coming from. Food allergies and intolerances are relatively new to the general public, and they are SO common now that they may be hard to believe. But believe me that these restrictive diets are so hard to follow, no one would do it voluntarily for long unless they experienced huge health benefits.
Food allergies grew 50% from 1997 to 2011 according the Center for Disease Control, that’s an epidemic proportion, and Celiac Disease diagnoses have grown exponentially during that time as well. But for people born before 1997, there probably weren’t many kids they grew up with who had severe food allergies or gluten intolerances (in 1981, my Tennessee doctors told me only one other person in the entire state had Celiac Disease). Based on their experience, this sudden, dramatic increase in “Bobby can’t have peanuts” and “no bun, please” may seem like a dietary trend of choice, or an overreaction to a condition.
Another source of confusion is that sensitivities vary–some people can have a deadly allergic reaction to 1/500th of a peanut while others can eat up to 4 or 5 whole peanuts and be fine. Gluten sensitivities can vary similarly. But with gluten, the reactions are usually ones people want to keep more private, like digestive trouble or depression. So when one mom seems laid back about her child’s food restrictions and another seems freaked out, it probably has more to do with the child’s sensitivity rather than the mother’s personality. But to many people, it looks like one is over reacting or exaggerating, while the other is giving their child healthy space to make their own decisions and still enjoy being a kid.
As a Celiac mom of 3 kids who have food sensitivities and intolerances, I don’t have the deadly allergies to worry about, but I really feel for people dealing with suggestions that they are faking their allergies and intolerances, or the severity of them. I have dozens of examples of people telling me that I was being too restrictive on my kids’ diets or that I was making up symptoms for myself, or my children. Sometimes this came from doctors, sometimes from well-meaning people who love me. The memories go back far, and, honestly, they bring tears to my eyes even still.
The first time was when I was a scrawny 12 year-old. I swung my skinny legs from the exam table and cried quietly as an orthopedist told me I was making up my bone pain to get attention. He had no diagnosis for me, so he decided I must have been making it up. That year, I broke 5 bones in a series of very minor falls. My history of broken and painful bones ended at age 15, when I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and went on a gluten-free diet. I didn’t know my symptoms had a dietary link. I had no intuition about what was happening to me at all, but I did know it was real.
But it felt surreal on a sunny fall day 5 years ago when a well-meaning doctor told me in front of my 10 year-old son that it wasn’t fair for me to have him on a gluten-free and sugar-free diet, even though he would get acute stomach pains and headaches if he ate as little as a spoonful of ice cream, and suffered from chronic digestive upset when gluten was in his diet.
The problem was, he didn’t test positive for Celiac or Diabetes—no diagnosis, no public validation for my dietary choices for my son. This opened the door for skeptics—doctors, other parents, and friends. We were lucky in a way, his reaction to sugar and gluten were so severe it was a clear to me that we should ignore the doctor and go with my parental instincts and observations. My youngest daughter’s symptoms, however, have been a bit more illusive.
My youngest daughter was experiencing hyperactivity and distractibility, problems sleeping, elevated anxiety, and chronic stomachaches. Many folks suggested ADHD drugs, including some parents and some teachers at her school, but my intuition was that at least some of our answer was in diet. And, maybe a dietary approach would be enough to enable her to manage without the meds. The results have been impressive, though not the slam-dunk that we saw with my son.
When we took gluten out of her meals, the stomachaches went away. Then we took sugar and chocolate out of her diet, and she had less anxiety, slept better and was less hyperactive. And, though I’d like to see even more improvement for her, she is so much better than before that we aren’t even thinking about introducing ADHD meds. I didn’t need a doctor’s diagnosis to validate that she shouldn’t eat these foods. I needed some time for dietary trial and error and to trust my observations and intuition.
Almost everyone is more aware of food allergies and intolerances these days, but still there is a lot of skepticism that many people are selectively diagnosing their own issues and imposing that on other people (this is particularly the case with gluten).
For me, what it comes down to is this. If someone or their child functions or feels better by not eating certain foods, let them follow that diet without casting suspicion on their choice. They are clearly trying to get better or avoid getting sick, and may not have the time, energy, or desire to share their story with you as to why.
If it’s you or your child with food issues, be unapologetic for following diet that maximizes your health and well-being, but recognize that your diet is your responsibility. People and businesses can be very helpful but you can’t expect that always to be the case.
Figure out ways to make it easier for others to welcome you to the table, so to speak. I usually eat before going to a party instead of expecting the host to have special food for me. If it’s a sit-down dinner, I will offer to bring a gluten-free dish. I try to remember to call the restaurant before booking a reservation to ask if they can accommodate our family’s restrictions. I have treats in the freezer for my kids to bring to birthday parties, and when they were younger, if their issue was severe enough, I stayed at the party to keep an eye their eating.
It’s a challenge to be healthy. It’s a challenge to raise healthy kids. Let’s support each other in meeting these challenges and not engage in debates over whether other people are faking their dietary needs.
Colleen Kavanagh is the CEO of ZEGO www.zegofoods.com, a nutrition focused company making allergy friendly snacks. She also is the executive director of A Better Course www.abettercourse.org, whose mission is to improve nutrition for low income kids at school and home.
I’ve seen so many people on social media and journalists post and comment that Celiac Disease is not on the rise, just the diagnosis of it (and that much of it is fake). I want to do my part so that everyone is informed on the research so we can move on to more helpful topics, like, what to do about the rising rates of Celiac Disease.
There are several seminal studies, two from the same community in Missouri (I’ve posted some citations below but you can find the original research on line). Spoiler alerts: rates are up about 500% since the 1950s, a disproportionate amount of that increase is seen in older age groups.
Celiac Disease Rates Over the Years
- 1 in 501 in 1974
- 1 in 219 in 1989
- 1 in 100 current day (some sources say 133)
Two Missouri studies echo this, showing the disease rate
- up 450% in the 50 years after blood samples were taken from military recruits in the 1950’s
- up 50% from 2000 to 2004 (and seems to have plateaued through 2010 when the study ended-note, these two studies are not additive but are supportive)
The chance you will have Celiac Disease rises with age, and you are more likely to have it if you have a relative with the disease or if you have another autoimmune disorder. Many common problems, like infertility, can be caused by Celiac Disease. There are over 300 symptoms to the disease, and only about one-third of Celiacs have gut issues. Well over 90% of Celiacs are undiagnosed and diagnosis takes on average four years.