Nutrition Institute Tour for DOLE Fresh Fest! 9 Wellness Lessons + Scientist Q&A + VIDEO.

disclosure: DOLE paid for my travel and accommodations, but all opinions are my own. I was not paid to write this review, but I am a DOLE ambassador for 2015.

What an amazing and inspiring fruit-and-veggie wellness-filled trip I had a few weeks ago, as I travelled to Charlotte, North Carolina for DOLE Fresh Fest.

A small group of bloggers and dietitians were invited to tour DOLE'S world renowned research campus, the DOLE Nutrition Institute, aka DNI. I have been a fan of the DNI for years, subscribing to their newsletter and following the studies they publish and wellness tips they release. So to be able to walk the grounds, see how passionate they are about plants for human health - they even have an entire building called just that - it was truly a treat.

Basically guys, this post is jam-packed with nutrition chatter. So bookmark it or email it to yourself for a time when you need some nutrition motivation and a good wellness read. 

Check out my 9 Wellness Lessons from my trip, as well as my exclusive Q&A with DOLE Scientist Nicholas Gillitt PhD. You DO NOT want to miss what he has to say on bromelain in pineapples, digesting starches and proteins together, raw vs. cooked plants, plant-based diets and even green tea!

Plus my video of the trip!

Whew!! (I told you this post is jam-packed!)..

Before you read below, check out my VIDEO from the event! It includes footage of nutrition and wellness chatter, some insights from Mr. Murdock and of plenty of fun blogger antics..

Kannapolis North Carolina.

Some of the girls.. (end of post for blogger links!)

Dinner on the last night, with Chef Mark..

Part of the campus..

The ceiling that greets you at the Nutrition Institute..

My favorite building.. Plants for Human Health. Yes!

There was fitness.. Boot camp!

Wall at Restaurant 46 - healthy-delicious lunch:

The salad -- filled with plants!

9 Things I Learned at DOLE'S Amazing Nutrition Institute

1. Mr. Murdock is on a Mission. #Inspiration

I have long been a fan of David Murdock's wellness journey. Mr. Murdock is the CEO and owner of DOLE is currently 92 years old and going strong. You may have seen him on Oprah. He wants to live to be 150 years old and I would not put it past him! He is incredibly passionate about fruits and veggies for health and wellness. He has a special smoothie every day, featuring some unique ingredients like using the peels of fruits -- the stuff we usually toss. But keep reading to hear more about that! Mr Murdock's famous smoothie recipe is at the bottom of this post.

Lesson 1: Loading up on plants, eating well + exercising can help keep you young.

2. Eat the Peel.
As I mentioned in #1, Mr Murdock loves to keep the peels of fruits and veggies ON whenever possible. He even blends his favorite smoothie using banana peels and orange peels. He says that "Anything the sun touches is the healthy part of the fruit." Makes sense, right?

We all know the apple peel is the healthiest part of the apple and I learned on a recent avocado farm trip that most of the nutrients in the avocado flesh are concentrated in that dark green part right by the skin. So while I do not think I will be a regular banana-peel-smoothie fan, I will be focusing on eating more of those precious fruit and veggie skins -- anything the sun touches!

Lesson 2: Try to eat parts of fruits and veggies that the sun touches. Peels, skins, leaves and all as much as possible. 

3. Pineapple for Inflammation
I already knew this lesson, but it is worth repeating! Pineapple, rich in the enzyme bromelain, is excellent for calming inflammation. So pineapple is perfect as an after-exercise snack or blended into the smoothie. Tip: the core has a lot of nutrients, so if your blender or juicer can handle it, try to include the core in your juice or smoothie.

Lesson 3: Choose fresh pineapple as an after-workout snack!

4. Bananas Beat Sports Drinks
Some of the innovative research being done on the nutrition campus involve bananas and athletes. Bananas are rich in potassium, fiber, fruit sugars and are generally very easy to digest. The scientists have been working on showing that bananas beat sugar-y, food-colored sports drinks when it comes to hydration and refueling. "Don’t throw away money on expensive sports drinks — bananas deliver the same energy boost, and a much bigger nutrition bang, for a lot less money!" - You can read more about this study here: Bananas vs. Sports Drinks

Lesson 4: Bananas are a perfect way to fuel during and after a workout! (I like to blend bananas with potassium rich coconut water, for 'banana water' as a super hydrator -- plus it taste SO good!)

5. Rethinking Antioxidants
I read this Nutrition Institute report just a few days ago and found it so fascinating! When we think of antioxidants, we usually say that they neutralize free radicals, right? Well DOLE scientists have discovered that we may need to rethink that stance. Findings: "Many healthful plant molecules may not be direct free radical scavengers at all and might actually work by inducing genetic responses that in turn destroy free radicals and benefit health." - read more on these fascinating published findings here: Rethinking Antioxidants.

Lesson 5: Antioxidants help our long term health and well being - load up on produce!

6. AMRAP is a Thing.
I learned a new term during our boot camp session! AMRAP. It means As Many Reps As Possible.

Lesson 6: Fitness is an important part of wellness. Use AMRAP as your motivator! Do what you can. AMRAP people. AMRAP.

7. Eat Less Meat, More Plants for Protein
The message to the bloggers at the event was to introduce our readers to plant-based sources of protein. To remind them that beans, grains, mushrooms and all plants contain protein. This really excited me to hear!

Lesson 7: All plants contain protein. Some more than others. Fill up on legumes, nuts, seeds and more for animal product free protein sources.

8. Huetrition.
I love this new buzzword huetrition! Huetrition describes what we all have been trying to do for years now: eat the rainbow. Eating a wide variety of colorful foods - everything from red beets to blue blueberries, green kale to orange carrots, yellow bell pepper to pink papaya, white beans to black mushrooms. #Huetrition

Lesson 8: Keep eating the rainbow for wellness #huetrition

9. DOLE Loves Healthy Substitutions: plant based swaps.
Using plants in place of unhealthy foods is a great idea. Here are just a few I found in this Nutrition Institute website Creative Kitchen article:

Avocado instead of mayo
Bananas as ice cream
Chia seeds in place of eggs
Mushrooms in place of meat
Sweet potato in place of butter
Cauliflower in place of pizza crust flour

Lesson 9: Healthy plant-based swaps are easy when you keep a creative kitchen mindset!

My Q&A with DOLE Scientist Nicholas Gillitt PhD
I asked readers to contribute questions for my trip. Here are a few of them, and some of my own..

Q: I have always heard that you should not mix starches and proteins in meals because it can slow down digestion. Is there any truth in this? How about mixing quickly digesting fruit (like melon) with other foods? - HHL reader

A: There isn't really any truth to this or at least none that would matter. The human digestion system is adequately designed to cope with most of what it eats, especially if it is part of a well-balanced diet. Rather than be worried about what order to eat starchy foods or proteins, concentrate on having a good balance of macro- and micronutrients in your diet and making your food taste good—after all, taste and flavor are the main drivers for enjoying food.

2. Veganism. What is your view of a plant-based diet* and overall wellness, from a scientist's perspective? - HHL reader

A: It really is the only way to go! To put your body in the healthiest state it can be, you need carbohydrates and fiber, proteins, vitamins, minerals and, now we know, phytochemicals. Plants have all these and are truly the most efficient, cost-effective, colorful and tasty way to get what your body needs. The consequences of not getting what it needs are too dire for anyone not to want to follow a plant-based diet. My opinion is that overall wellness is both physical and mental, and state-of-mind is based on brain biochemistry, which the nutrients in fruits and vegetables help facilitate. For me, the equation is simple: Lots of F&V = Healthy body and mind.
*Note that Dole does include fish, some dairy, and poultry in recipes. For us, “plant-based” means having fruits and vegetables act as the stars of meals.

Q: Bromelain in Pineapples.. In the BROMELAIN chart it said that most of the enzyme is found in the flesh of pineapple. I have always read that most bromelain is found in the pineapple core. And that bromelain supplements are made from the pineapple core. Is that misinformation? It would be so much easier to just eat the flesh, so I hope so! - Kathy

A: Bromelain is an enzyme, so we measure its "activity" not necessarily the "amount". We know from our own lab work the majority of the bromelain activity is in the flesh; this is a fact. This makes sense—as insects breach the hard woody exterior of pineapple, they will encounter the flesh, so the pineapple needs protection from the pests here. It makes no sense that the most concentrated activity is in the core, and we show it is not. The reason bromelain supplements are made from the stems/core is because it is not cost effective to make them from the flesh; it is worth more as fruit to eat. This is really just a value added part of the business. Core/stem bromelain does differ to fruit bromelain in chemical composition but they all do about the same type of job, i.e., digest proteins. Final word: eat the flesh. It is loaded with bromelain activity.

Q. Blueberries Raw vs. Cooked? Blueberries are so amazing. I love them raw, but I also find myself baking with them a lot. Is the antioxidant activity significantly reduced when blueberries (or any berries) are cooked? - Kathy

A: The effect of cooking food on nutrient integrity is an interesting question. We do know heat can affect vitamin levels for sure and some cooking methods (steaming, light sautéing, even microwaving) are best and only reduce levels by 20-30%. Vitamins don't like heat exposure at all, especially from concentrated sources like grills. Also, we do know some nutrients can leach out during boiling, again reducing levels, but this is still expected to be relatively modest. Baking is expected to reduce levels also just from a heat perspective. However, antioxidants are fairly robust molecules and so are not expected to be reduced by the same extent. There are some studies that even show a slight increase in health properties in food after cooking. I would say overall, even if there is some modest reduction, should that stop you from eating the finished product? No way! If it looks good and tastes good you will be getting some of the benefits. The best diet will include a wide variety of plant foods eaten both cooked and raw. Variety is key to a balanced diet!

Q: Smoothies. Do you notice differences in antioxidant uptake between eating fruit whole and blending it in smoothies?

A: We have not looked at that specifically, but I have read the absorption process is very much down to particle size and good blenders like the Vitamix can make very small food particles, much smaller than chewing! You will probably absorb all of what you eat eventually no matter the method of food preparation, but the nutrients in a blended smoothie may get into your system faster. Is there a real health benefit to this? Probably not. Just eat the fruits and vegetables how you like; the fact you are eating them in the first place is THE most important thing.

Q: Green Tea. Lastly, I noticed you used green tea in one blueberry/tea exercise study. I am a huge fan of matcha green tea and drink it in place of coffee. Have you studied green tea at all (or matcha) and have any anecdotes on its benefits?

A: Yes, we looked at green tea and blueberries on immune function during exercise and saw it reduced the ability of athletes serum (blood) to allow viral replication (spread of illness), offering evidence for a possible mechanism as to why athletes get sick after strenuous events and what they may be able to do about it. We have not looked at green tea on its own but do know it is loaded with antioxidant polyphenols such as the catechins and it would not surprise me if consuming it activated our own protection mechanisms just like fruits and vegetables did in the most recent work we did. I do know that black tea does the same things but when you add milk and sugar the effects are blunted, not good news for the English at tea time!

And finally, for those of you who want to try Mr. Murdock's smoothie, here is the recipe..

Mr.Murdock Smoothie
serves 2

1 organic DOLE Banana, with peel
1/2 DOLE tropical Gold Pineapple, with core
1 orange, with skin
1 tomato
1 lemon
Handful of DOLE Baby Spinach
1 red bell pepper, whole
1 stalk DOLE celery

Directions: Add everything to a powerful blender, pulse until combined. Best enjoyed chilled.

A few of the bloggers I spent time with on the trip:

Cat - Rabbit Food For My Bunny Teeth
Andie - Can You Stay for Dinner?
Taylor - Food Faith Fitness
Brittany - Eating Bird Food
Susan - Doughmesstic
Jeanne - The Jolly Tomato
Brenda - a farmgirls' dabbles
Lisa - Suburban Gourmet
Dan - GlutenFreeGirl
Heather - Farm Girl Gourmet

Thank you to everyone who helped make this amazing trip happen! Bil, Jenny, Jenn, Bob, CarrieAnn, Mark, Christia, Nick and Collin. It was so exciting to meet so many bloggers and dietitians - as well as DOLE's amazing dietitian Jenn LaVardera, MS RD and the other presenters, scientists and chefs. Thank you to Amusement Park Inc PR for planning everything and making sure there were plenty of vegan options on every menu.

And of course check out DOLE and the DOLE Nutrition Institute for more wellness inspiration.

Some more photos from the event..

The girls..


Working out on the green grass..

Cool pitcher of iced tea at lunch..

This vegan soup at restaurant 46 was soooo good!..

Fitness challenge..

Chef Mark was so great!..

And that's a wrap! Where is my pineapple snack?..

Disclosure: I am a Vitamix affiliate and any links to their products are via my affiliate account.
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