Trim, fit, and naturally aglow, Karlene Karst is the picture of health. It’s obvious she not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk as a registered dietitian, holistic nutritionist, author, and overall natural health advocate in Port Moody, British Columbia. Her passion for health is rivaled only by her love for her family—husband Gaetano and three young children, Luca, Matteo, and Capri.
Karlene’s down-to-earth, bubbly personality puts those around her instantly at ease, and her enthusiasm for healthy fats, protein, and fiber leaves your mouth watering for one of the many nutrient-packed recipes she’s created for her blog. She recently sat down with Good Health Lifestyles to share the story of what led her down an eye-opening path toward proper nutrition and natural healing, and helped shape the way she now raises her family.
GHL: You came into the natural health world from a “place of need.” Can you tell us about that?
KK: In my early twenties, I was diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease, which presents as a combination of lupus-like and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. I felt awful. I was put on a fairly harmful prescription drug and was taking over-the-counter pain relievers every day.
Around the same time, I was finishing my degree and got a job at a company that manufactured flax seed oil. I started to supplement with omega-3s and about three months in, I realized I was no longer reaching for my pain meds. I remember thinking that it had to be the fats. At the time, I was a low-fat diet queen, because that’s what you did back then: eat tons of carbs, consume very little protein, and avoid fat. I think that I was literally starving my body of fat, so I had a very fast and dramatic response to incorporating omega-3s into my diet. That was really the beginning of my love affair with proper nutrition and supplementation.
From there, my career and personal life sort of intertwined into further changes. I started to continually try new things and tweak my diet. I now feel like a completely different person than I did twenty years ago. It’s been a remarkable journey.
GHL: As a mother and holistic nutritionist, how do you get your kids to eat healthy?
KK: It’s not easy. With my first child, it was a lot easier to control what he was eating because there were no external influences. As soon as school started, that all changed. They get a little taste of sugar and it’s game over, because as we know, sugar acts like a drug. As soon as you taste it, you want more. So we have to be role models for our children. What we eat, what we buy, what we cook—especially when the kids are young—is basically modeled into their lives.
When the family sits down to dinner, and there’s wholesome food—vegetables, and healthy forms of protein—they really don’t have another choice; that’s what they’re going to eat. They might not like it, especially the first time they try it, but over time they grow to know that’s what they’re going to eat.
In reality, we can only control so much. We need to make sure kids are getting the nutrients they need, but there are also going to be treats. That’s just the way it is. It’s important to teach them the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time we eat healthy, wholesome foods, and 20 percent of the time it’s ok to stray from that a bit. If you’re too restrictive, it probably won’t end well.
GHL: After the freedom of summer break, the school year schedule can put added anxiety on the whole family. Do you have any favorite ways to counteract stress?
KK: Our family is big on routine. Ever since the kids were babies, I found that having structure and routine was the only way we could get it all done without feeling overwhelmed and chaotic. Our routine involves getting the kids to bed by 8:00 pm every night so that I can carve out time for my own health routine, which includes some quiet time, an aromatherapy bath, and an early bedtime. I’m always up by 5:00 am, which allows me to prepare lunches and be ready for the day. I usually organize backpacks, uniforms, snacks, and water bottles the night before to make mornings easier on everyone. We also plan ahead for meals. On Sundays I spend time prepping food. I like to have an idea of what I’m cooking during the week so I can do a big shop on the weekend. That leaves just “mini shops” during the week to restock on fresh produce. I have a few staple items that I make on Sundays including hardboiled eggs, quinoa, overnight chia or oats, and possibly a healthy muffin or energy bite for the kids. I also wash and cut veggies and store them for the week ahead.
GHL: Any tips for keeping your kids healthy during the school year?
KK: School-aged kids are more susceptible to colds and flus. Their environment is just germy, overall. However, bacteria is not always a bad thing, and it does help build the immune system. Now that they are getting a bit older (my eldest is nine, middle child is seven, and youngest is almost three), I find they get sick less often—and if they do, they’re able to recover faster than before. In order to keep their immune systems as strong as possible, I encourage frequent and proper hand washing and I run a variety of essential oils through the diffusers in their bedrooms daily. Making sure they get plenty of sleep is a must—when kids get overly tired, they’re more likely to get sick. I also make sure they eat healthy food. Now that the kids are older, they are well aware of which foods make them feel good and which ones don’t. Healthy eating isn’t an option in our house, it’s a must. I don’t buy sugary, artificial snacks, so they know if they want a snack it’s going to be something that I’ve made or fresh fruit. I’ve taught them that food is power.
GHL: We know you have a love for healthy fats. How do you think they affect children?
KK: Undoubtedly, omega-3s are one of the most important essential groups of nutrients for the brain, nervous system, and vision. DHA, in particular, is a structural and functional fat that helps to build all these cells. Until the age of five, the gray area of the brain is growing rapidly, which requires a consistent supply of omega-3 to help nourish the brain cells. Research has shown a strong nutritional connection between omega-3s and learning, memory, focus, concentration, IQ, visual acuity, allergies, asthma, and more. The most available and concentrated source of omega-3s are cold, deep-water fish. However, there are other great options for healthy fats including coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds—especially chia, hemp, ground flaxseeds, almonds, and walnuts. Each time we eat we should make sure we have an assortment of healthy fats on our plate.
GHL: Do your kids take any other supplements?
KK: Yes. My kids also take probiotics, which we know help build the immune system inside the gastrointestinal tract. Vitamin D is also important for children, and the omega-3 product they take contains 400 IU of vitamin D3.
GHL: Do you have any “go-to” natural remedies for the times your kids come down with something?
KK: When the kids do get sick we always do a ginger, lemon, and Manuka honey tea. It is so good for them and, of course, helps soothe their throats and little bodies. And I always make a rice congee and bone broth. Nothing beats a bowl of Mom’s homemade soup!
GHL: What would you say motivates you to keep doing what you do in the natural health field?
KK: Honestly, it’s how I feel. I believe that when you have a positive experience with a lifestyle change or with a food (like I did with omega-3s), you become the poster child for that change and you want everyone to try it and feel it.
GHL: What do you predict to be the next big health trend, as it pertains to diet?
KK: The really rich antioxidant superfoods are really popular right now, like açaí berries, matcha, and turmeric extract with curcuminoids.
GHL: And finally, what is your favorite advice to give others?
KK: Your body has an innate ability to heal itself if you give it what it needs. I want people to know that everything they put into their body, every day, influences how they feel. I also strongly believe in the old adage, “You are what you eat,” and love the Hippocrates’ quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” These are principles I believe in and I use them to guide everything I do.