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Healthy Eating

Meet DJ Cavem, the Colorado Rapper Battling Food Insecurity




Ietef Vita promotes access to nutritious food in Denver and beyond through urban gardening, youth-oriented community service, and rap music.

5280 Health 2022

A blazing midsummer sun shines over him as 35-year-old Ietef Vita rattles the fruits that grow in his garden from the fruits – apricots, plums, peaches, apples. Wine-colored balls hang from a tree, tapering like drops. “The red pears are just coming in,” he says. This urban orchard is only half of Vita’s idyllic Westminster home garden. In the front garden, a paradise for vegetable lovers, bees scurry around between onion and echinacea blossoms.

It is not easy to care for such a diverse flora, but Vita has years of experience bringing plants to edible maturity: from 2008 to 2016 he was a gardener for GrowHaus in Elyria-Swansea, a non-profit education center and farm that Co-founded by his mother, artist and cultural activist Ashara Ekundayo, to improve neighborhood access to nutritious food. Even before gardening became his job, his family taught him how to adapt to Denver’s intense sun, low rainfall, and relatively poor soil using tricks like dropping banana peel into dirt to increase potassium levels.

5280 Health 2022

Vita, who grew up in Five Points, credits the nursery for helping him keep his life in order – “Growing seeds, not drugs,” he says. And while he is aware of the intergenerational trauma many blacks experience from slavery in relation to agriculture, Vita believes urban gardening can bridge the gap while bringing better eating habits to communities with poor health. “The most important part is the people who have access [to good food] and at the same time it really heals the post-traumatic stress, which is located deep in the cell memory, ”says Vita.

Since 2007, Vita has been spreading this word through his other passion – rap music – nicknamed DJ Cavem. He is considered the father of eco-hip-hop, a small but enthusiastic genre that combines hard-hitting beats with lyrics about food justice. Its melodies and mission caught the attention of former first lady Michelle Obama, who invited Vita to perform at the White House in 2015 to promote her Let’s Move initiative.

Other high profile appearances included serving as the personal vegan chef for ex-Denver Nugget Wilson Chandler from 2017-2018 and preparing food for a private party hosted by Will and Jada Smith (their son Jaden Smith is a friend of Vitas ). Despite leading a life of high profile names, Vita’s greatest influence could come from his more intimate grassroots work with the next generation.

Ietef Vita in his Westminster gardenPhoto by Jeff Nelson

In a kitchen in a community center in Curtis Park Vita fills a food processor with cashew nuts, maple syrup, coconut oil and whole vanilla pods. He leads a youth workshop through Denver Urban Gardens, which maintains 190 community gardens, the largest network of its kind in the country. The 20-year-old teenagers present watch attentively as he shows how to make a vegan cheesecake, line two pans with a walnut and date crust, add the cashew filling and stick it in the freezer. “As a child, French fries were my vegetable,” he says.

Today, many neighborhoods in northeast Denver – such as Five Points, Globeville, and Elyria-Swansea – are food deserts with few full-service grocery stores and an abundance of fast food options. This leads to an increased risk of food insecurity (the persistent inability to access healthy food), a nuisance that disproportionately affects low-income communities and people of color: 22.5 percent of urban Black Coloradans and 13.6 percent of urban Hispanic Americans are food insecure, compared with a statewide average of 9.6 percent, according to a 2020 report by the Colorado Health Institute. Lack of nutritious food is linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, including high blood pressure, poor oral health, and maternal depression. These effects also affect food insecure children, who are at least twice as likely to report “adequate or poor” health and a third more likely to be hospitalized than their peers who eat a lot of healthy food.

(Read more: How Mo’Betta Green Makes Change in Denver Neighborhoods)

“Who here knows someone with diabetes?” Vita asks. Most children’s hands shoot up. African Americans are 60 percent more likely than non-Hispanic white adults to develop the disease, which is also associated with food insecurity, and are twice as likely to die from the chronic disease. Vita’s grandmother was one of her victims.

Seeding Change Vita has sent more than 20,000 seed packages to urban gardeners across the country.Vita sent more than 20,000 seed packages to urban gardeners across the country. Photo by Jeff Nelson

Vita has been a vegan since she was 14 and remembers walking 3.7 km to Sakura Square in LoDo to find tofu. To ensure that future generations don’t have to follow in his footsteps, Vita co-founded a GrowHaus initiative called Seed2Seed in 2010. The eight-week summer leadership program teaches north Denver high school students about urban agriculture, healthy eating, and community-based social justice. More than half of the students at the Denver Urban Gardens workshop are in the 2021 cohort.

Vita takes the cheesecake out of the freezer and begins to distribute portions in paper bowls. The teenagers are initially calm, seemingly unsure how the motley combination of fruits and nuts will taste. While they try the dessert, it slowly simmers. Hesitation turns into interest, then downright excitement. A student yells to another on the other side of the room, “Would you like to make cheesecake?”

These moments motivate Vita to continue preaching the benefits of the plant-based diet – studies show it can help reduce cardiovascular morbidity and manage insulin resistance – especially for teens. He also wants to convey that nutrition and agriculture can be viable professions. “It takes someone to relate to,” says Rob Payo, director of K-12 education at Denver Urban Gardens and organizer of Vitas Workshop, “to be more effective.”

Illuminated by the pink glow of a salt lamp, Vita’s home studio is playing to the beats of his upcoming album, Koncrete Garden, due out this spring. One of his singles, “Pull up on the Gate,” was released last April and highlights his experience of racism in gardening in affluent Denver neighborhoods. References to people calling the police at his landscaping business flow alongside messages about composting, permaculture and not using pesticides.

Vita's hand while he works in the garden. Photo by Jeff Nelson

The music glamorises a life of growing and eating plants (“I like my food vegan, avocado toast”), but Vita doesn’t want to stop delivering a horticultural soundtrack to his listeners; he wants to give them the tools they need to dig themselves in. While preparing for the tour to promote his 2019 album Biomimicz, he worked with Broomfield-based seed company Botanical Interests to create packages of kale, arugula, and beet seeds. Although the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted his plan to distribute them at trade shows, he still shipped more than 20,000 of the packages to urban gardening organizations across the country. For Koncrete Garden he wants to give away even more elaborate advertising materials at his concerts: complete sets with germination trays, sowing instructions and recipes for the end products.

Nevertheless, Vita’s dreams keep growing. He opened for the Wu-Tang Clan last fall and is already working on his next album. However, while strolling through his front yard, he takes the time to pause and pick basil and mint leaves. During the workshop, he talked about how gardening showed him a new side of the food he ate as a child. “I didn’t know that potatoes had the most beautiful white flowers,” said Vita. These particular plants aren’t in bloom right now, but they will be soon enough.

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Healthy Eating

What is starch? Types, benefits, risks, and more



Starch is a complex carbohydrate. When people hear the word “starch,” they might think of high-carb foods like potatoes, rice, and pasta. However, most plants store energy as starch, including fruits and vegetables.

Starchy foods are the main source of carbohydrates for most people. They play a crucial role in a nutritious, balanced diet as they provide the body with glucose, which is the main source of energy for every cell. They also provide a range of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients.

Starchy foods are also valuable ingredients in the kitchen, as they can thicken soups and sauces without adding fat.

Read on to learn more about starches, including the types, health benefits, and risks of overeating starchy foods.

Starch, or amylum, is a complex carbohydrate found in many foods, including grains, vegetables, and fruits. The main sources of starch are:

Extracting pure starch from food produces a white, tasteless and odorless powder that does not dissolve in cold water or alcohol.

Starch is a natural polymer or polysaccharide, meaning it is a long chain comprising one type of molecule. Starch is made up of glucose molecules. It can come in two forms: amylose and amylopectin.

Amylose is a linear or rectilinear polymer that scientists refer to as amorphous or solid. Amylopectin forms a branched chain and is crystalline.

Different plants contain different ratios of these polysaccharide units. However, amylose generally accounts for a maximum of 30% of starch, with the remainder being amylopectin.

Plants create these starch polymers to store the glucose they create during photosynthesis. For this reason, starchy foods are good sources of energy.

When someone eats starchy foods, the body breaks down the natural polymers into glucose units, which provide energy throughout the body.

Aside from being part of a nutritious diet, various industries – including pharmaceutical, paper and food – use starch in their manufacturing processes.

Depending on their nutritional properties, starches belong to one of three groups:

  • Rapidly Digesting Starch (RDS): This form of starch is found in cooked foods like potatoes and bread. The body quickly converts it to glucose.
  • Slow Digesting Starch (SDS): This starch has a complex structure, which means the body breaks it down slowly. It is found in cereal grains.
  • Resistant Strength (RS): The body cannot easily digest this form of starch, and it can pass through the digestive system untouched, much like fiber. It can support a healthy intestinal flora. Experts further divide RS into four categories, including:
    • RS1 found in grains, seeds and beans.
    • RS2 made from raw potatoes and unripe bananas.
    • RS3 from foods that are cooked and then cooled, such as rice and corn flakes.
    • RS4, that’s in the bread.

Each type of food can contain different types of these starches.

People can buy different types of starch for cooking, including:

  • Potato: Raw, mashed potatoes are the source of potato starch. The liquid starch dries to a white, flour-like powder. It is gluten-free and is used in various recipes as an alternative to wheat flour.
  • Tapioca: This versatile flour comes from the crushed pulp of the cassava root. People can mix it into baked goods or use it as a thickener for soups, stews, and sauces.
  • Corn: This starch comes from the corn kernel. It can thicken recipes and is a base for corn syrup. Doctors also use it to supply glucose to people with glycogen storage disease.

There is also modified starch, a derivative of starch that manufacturers have treated to change its properties. The baking industry makes extensive use of this form of starch because it can tolerate a range of conditions, including extreme heat or cold.

Doctors recommend eating plenty of starchy foods as part of a balanced diet to provide energy and fiber and to increase feelings of satiety.


Starch is the most important source of energy for humans. The body digests starches by converting them into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and circulates throughout the body. Glucose fuels virtually every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. If there is excess glucose, the liver stores it as glycogen.

Glucose is essential for brain function. The adult brain is responsible for 20-25% of the body’s glucose usage.

Learn more about high-energy foods here.


Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate found only in plant foods. Starchy foods like corn, beets, potatoes, beans, fruit, and whole grains are plentiful sources of fiber. Although the body does not digest fiber, these carbohydrates are an essential part of a nutritious diet.

Nutritionists divide fiber into soluble and insoluble forms. Fruits and vegetables are sources of soluble fiber, which can absorb water. Soluble fiber feeds the good bacteria in the gut, slowing digestion and softening stools.

Insoluble fiber does not absorb water. Instead, it passes through the digestive system and adds bulk to keep bowel movements regular and prevent constipation. Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables are good sources of insoluble fiber.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most people in the United States do not eat enough fiber. Government guidelines suggest that adult females need up to 28 grams (g) of fiber per day, while adult males need up to 34g.

Learn more about high-fiber foods here.


Eating starchy foods can help increase satiety, which is the feeling of being full after eating.

Research shows that eating foods rich in resistant starches helps people feel full. These foods can also improve insulin sensitivity and reduce fat storage. In addition, eating high-fiber foods rich in resistant starches can help people maintain a moderate weight.

In a small 2018 study, researchers offered participants breakfast and lunch with either 48 g of resistant starch or a placebo. At dinner, participants were allowed to eat as much as they wanted. The researchers found that eating the resistant starch for breakfast and lunch significantly reduced the participants’ energy intake during that later meal.

Learn about foods that can improve satiety.

For most people, starch poses no risk or side effects. Dietary guidelines recommend a balanced diet of starchy foods.

However, people with certain health conditions, including diabetes and congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID), need to moderate their starch intake.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that people with type 1 diabetes count how many grams of carbohydrates they eat and then balance that with their insulin dose. People with type 2 diabetes should avoid consuming large amounts of carbohydrates in one sitting and instead spread them out evenly throughout the day.

Individuals with CSID must follow a special diet. People with this genetic condition cannot digest certain sugars, so they experience digestive problems when they eat certain fruits, juices, and grains. These problems can lead to malnutrition.

Starch is a carbohydrate and is a natural part of most plants, including fruits, vegetables and grains. Starchy foods are an essential part of a balanced diet as they provide energy, fiber and a feeling of satiety.

The body breaks down starch molecules into glucose, which is the body’s primary source of energy. The brain in particular requires a significant amount of glucose every day.

Starchy foods are safe for most people and do not present any risks or side effects. However, it is important that people with diabetes or CSID carefully consider their starch intake.

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Healthy Eating

Try this winter special ‘paneer stuffed ragi paratha’ (recipe inside)



Winter is the ideal time to have it parathas. Imagine the crispy exterior and soft interior, filled with your favorite ingredient and served with a dollop of butter! Yummy, right? You can eat as much delicious food as you want, but remember that it doesn’t have to be at the expense of your health.

ragi paratha stuffed with paneer is a savory twist on the classic paneer paratha, says nutritionist Nmami Agarwal. According to her, it can be served as a high-protein breakfast or consumed during lunch.

“Ragi is a healthy food, a gluten-free whole grain. It’s full of calcium, good carbohydrates, amino acids and vitamin D. Paneer – also known as “Indian cheese” – has quite a high nutritional value. It’s a good source of calcium and protein and is great for overall health and well-being,” she says, adding that the recipe can be cooked with Oleev olive oil, which “contains 80 percent monounsaturated fats (MUFA), which may help control cholesterol levels.”

The oil is “perfect for Indian cooking, including parathas, due to its high smoke point. It has the added benefits of vitamin K and vitamin E, both of which are essential for optimal body function,” says the expert.


For ragi dough

– 30 grams of ragi flour (cranberry/nagli)
– 30 grams of whole wheat flour
– 1 teaspoon of Oleev olive pomace oil
– salt to taste

For paneer filling

– 30 grams of paneer, grated
– 1 green chili, finely chopped
– A few leaves of mint (pudina), finely chopped
– ¼ teaspoon cumin powder (jeera)
– salt to taste

For cooking

– 1.5 teaspoons Oleev olive pomace oil
– Calories – 202 kcal
– Protein – 6.2 grams
– Carbohydrates – 24.8 grams
– Fats – 8.7 grams


1. Start kneading the dough by mixing ragi and wheat flour. Knead the paratha dough for a few minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
2. Next, add a teaspoon of oil to coat the dough and knead a little more.
3. Cover the ragi paratha dough and let it rest until the filling is ready.
4. The next step is to prepare the paneer filling. In a mixing bowl, combine grated paneer, green chilies, mint leaves, salt, cumin powder and mix all ingredients well.
5. Divide into equal portions.
6. Finally, add the filling to the ragi paratha batter.
7. Dust the ragi paratha dough with flour, flatten with your finger and place on a flat surface. Roll it out thinly.
8. Take a portion of paneer filling and place it in the middle. Next, gather the sides of the paratha dough and bring all sides together.
9. Remove the excess dough that popped out when you put it together. Press down on the filled ragi paneer paratha dough.
10. Dust the filled dough with a little flour and gently roll out to desired thickness and similarly do the remaining portions of paratha dough and filling.
11. Preheat the pan on medium heat and grease with a little oil.
12. Place the filled ragi paneer paratha. Cook over medium-high heat for 30 to 45 seconds and flip.
13. Drizzle a little oil on the parathas and keep pressing the ragi paneer filled parathas to cook evenly on all sides.
14. Turn a few times until both sides are properly cooked.
15. After cooking, transfer to a plate. Serve hot.

The classic way to have it is with some yogurt and achar; Do you want to try?

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Healthy Eating

The Ideal Walking Workout Smoothie Recipe from an RD



I I don’t know why it took so many of us (myself included) a global pandemic to realize the value of a good walk, but now that we’re here, I vow to never break my daily walking habit. And as research shows, we do a lot of good for our bodies when we hit the road. As Well+Good previously reported, walking for as little as 15 minutes a day can reduce the risk of stroke and improve cardiovascular health, and it can also be an effective low-impact exercise.

Like any form of exercise, a good walk requires the right amount of energy. When it comes to what nutrients you need for your walking workout, nutrition experts recommend eating a little differently than you would for a run or other higher-intensity hike. We spoke to Registered Nutritionist Megen Erwine, RD of Let’s Get Checked to find out what makes the perfect pre-walk snack. What’s even better is that it can be reduced to a super easy three-ingredient walking workout smoothie recipe that will soon become your new staple.

How Much Do You Need to Eat to Fuel Your Running Training?

As with any workout, proper refueling and recovery afterwards depends largely on the intensity of the activity. There is a very wide range of walks you can take, from a leisurely coffee stroll to a more rigorous, arm-pumping excursion. A slow and short walk probably doesn’t require much extra energy beyond your regular meals and snacks.

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“Always remember that your daily dietary habits will outweigh any pre-workout or post-workout fuel,” says Erwine. She believes that focusing on properly refueling for the energy expenditures of daily living prepares you for both your afternoon walk and morning meeting, late-night childcare, or whatever else comes your way. “Focus on staying hydrated and eating balanced meals and snacks that contain complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat,” Erwine recommends. You should also support your gut health by eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and sauerkraut so you don’t have to fight the urge to pee when you’re miles from home.

For your longer, vigorous walks, Erwine says you probably won’t need too much extra fuel, depending on your goals. Since walking requires less energy than higher-intensity activities like running or HIIT, you probably won’t need to lose sleep over carbs before a long or short dog walk. That being said, it’s important to make sure you have an adequate meal before engaging in any low-intensity exercise like walking, especially if it’s for an extended period of time. “Plan for a balanced meal 90 minutes before training,” recommends Erwine. “The timing allows for the food you eat to be digested and turned into energy.”

You also avoid nausea by giving yourself a chance to digest before you exercise. If you haven’t eaten a meal within that time frame and are heading out, Erwine recommends grabbing a small, carbohydrate-based snack beforehand. “A piece of fruit is a great example,” she says.

Hydration is also key

Just as important as what you eat before your run is what you drink. Finally, staying hydrated helps your body perform basically all of its essential functions and ward off headaches, fatigue, constipation, and mood swings.

Many factors affect how much water you need, including your age, activity level, and overall health, but Erwine recommends a general fluid intake guideline of about 72 ounces per day for women and 100 ounces for men. If you’re training intensely, add more water to counteract sweat and increased hydration from energy expenditure (and yes, hydration is important in winter too!).

Overall, you should listen to your body’s thirst signals and drink before, during, and after your workout. That balanced meal you eat an hour and a half before your walk? Erwine says you should definitely include 16 ounces of water to keep you hydrated for your activity. Don’t forget your water bottle so you can sip on the go and also avoid getting in a dehydrated state. Incidentally, Erwine says that sports drinks aren’t necessary for low-to-moderate intensity workouts — water will replenish your fluids just fine. However, add one of these electrolyte-rich foods to your pre-walk meal for added benefits.

The perfect walking-working smoothie recipe

If you’re looking for a quick and healthy snack or small meal to prepare before your walk, a smoothie is an easily digestible way to fuel your workout. It’s also easy to have all the ingredients you need on hand so you don’t have to rummage around at the last minute. When designing your ideal smoothie, Erwin recommends making sure to include all three macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fat — for a well-balanced meal.

In this case, in the form of banana, Greek yogurt, and nut butter. “Just mix together a frozen banana to provide complex carbs, a cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt for protein, and a tablespoon of nut butters for healthy fat,” she recommends. If you don’t eat dairy, use soy milk or one of the higher-protein plant-based yogurts on the market, like Kite Hill’s high-protein, almond-based yogurts.

You can play with this simple formula to adapt it to your preferences and what you have on hand. Not in bananas? Sub into another frozen fruit. Your kids or roommates ate all that nut butter without you knowing? Add flaxseed or avocado for that fat boost. Just press shuffle and get ready to hit the street, treadmill, beach or wherever your stroll takes you.

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