Saturday, March 16, 2013

A conversation with Orsalem Kahsai. Part II

                                                   Part II

Molecular Biologist, Orsalem Khasai

Issayas: Your company's (Living Healthy World) product includes flaxseed (entateah in Tigrigna) and chia seed? What are they?

Orsalem: Both flaxseed and chia seeds are exceptionally well-balanced plant based foods, and very popular because of their high nutritional values. Both Flax and chia seeds are known for their high omega-3(ALA) fat content. Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids that benefit cardiovascular and overall health.  Needless to say, our bodies need these essential fatty acids, and since our systems cannot produce them, we must rely on foods and supplements to attain these on a daily basis. Flaxseed is not only high on omega-3 (ALA ) but also very high in lignans. Lignans are phytoestrogens that have been shown to help prevent certain diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. Flax-seed is also an excellent source of fiber, high quality protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorous. For hundreds of years, Chia seeds were used by the Mayans and then the Aztecs as a revered food source. This tiny seed is a great source of antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, as well as those essential Omega-3s.

Issayas: Your products are FDA approved. It's great news! I hear that getting FDA approval is hard and tedious process? Is it true? Would you tell us more about it?

Orsalem: Our products are USDA organically certified dietary supplements. In general, FDA approval is not required for dietary supplements. The FDA has very stringent requirements on making any health claims, which we had to follow. For instance, the FDA approves claims that Omega -3 from EPA and DHA as being able to reduce the risks of coronary heart disease (CHD) on conventional foods and dietary supplements. Since Omega-3 ALA is a precursor for converting Omega-3 EPA/DHA, by consuming plant based omega-3 our body can get the essential fatty acids without the risk for mercury and toxic chemicals from marine sources. The FDA also recognizes the claim that Omega-3 improves cardiovascular health. There is much research that shows Omega-3’s positive benefits for conditions such as cancer, diabetes, inflammation, poor eye sight, some brain functions, and menopause. Currently, there are plenty of research data readily available so we direct people to the information and research literature in order to allow them to make their own informed decision.

Issayas: Nutrition is important to human health. Your scientific investigation and your personal experience of using flax-seed when you were young had contributed in creating your product. You had successfully stabilized ground flax seed for use in products requiring long shelf life. Would you tell us more about this?

Orsalem: Omega-3s provide those essential fatty acids can be obtained only from foods in our daily diet. Flax-seed must be cold milled (a type of grinding) to open the hard shell, so the nutrients are accessible. Chia seed should be ground for optimum nutrient accessibility, but that seed hull is more digestible.  However, once the shell is opened rancidity begins through oxidization and exposure to light.  We had to address this problem.  Having people consume seeds that just pass through their system is not what we wanted.  Having the cold milled seed deteriorate through opening and closing of containers is not what we wanted. Flax and Chia seeds are such abundant sources of the crucial Omega-3s, we took on the problem.  Our company has come up with two different solutions to protect, or stabilize, these vital Omega-3s.

The 1st solution is to design special packaging materials that are heat, light, and oxygen resistant and then vacuum sealed into the individual serve packets. This not only prevents oxidation but also provides convenience -- the products can be used anywhere or anytime, and do not even require refrigeration. The 2nd solution is that our company has a pending patent in the field of nutraceuticals. Our method includes for preparing and compositions comprising plant-based forms of omega-3 fatty acids using temperature and lipid ratio. These methods allow us add these wonderful plant based Omega 3s to foods that we already buy in stores, such as spreads, salad dressings, drinks, etc.   

Issayas: Besides flax and chia, what are other Omega-3 sources of nutrition that are plant based? Marine based?

Orsalem: The two types of Omega-3 sources: Plant and marine based. Plant based: Flax and chia seeds are the highest source of omega-3 ALA. However soy foods, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and canola (rapeseed) oil contain a low concentration of Omega-3 ALA. Marine based: Cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel are an exemplary food sources that are high in Omega-3s EPA and DHA.  Unfortunately, fish frequently contain high levels of mercury and other contaminants which are toxic to humans and lead to impairments of neurological development. The presence of these contaminants decreases the desirability of consuming large quantities of fish.
Issayas: Have you looked into Eritrean diet and analyze what is missing or is too much of?

Orsalem:  If I can speak for myself and our traditional foods, I really think we have a better diet compared to what I have observed in western society but there is plenty of room for improvements by balancing our diet and defining serving sizes. I do believe we consume a fair amount of carbohydrates because of the amount of engera that we eat.   Our cultural foods contain plenty of spices (herbs), proteins, (meat, beans, poultry), dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, groups), and carbohydrates (engera, breads, pasta) but I do not think we consume enough serving of fruits and veggies. Of even greater concerns are the intakes of Omega-3s, those essential fatty acids, that we must have every day. I developed this company in response to this need by providing organic, fully ground flaxseed and chia seed that do not deteriorate. Fish has the Omega-3s but it is increasingly toxic and expensive. We needed a healthy and affordable alternative that can easily be added to our
traditional foods.  Currently, we are seeing type 2 diabetes grow at epidemic proportions in Eritrean and Ethiopian communities. Type 2 diabetes is appearing in young and old people and is putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses. We want the young and old to maintain a healthy diet to ensure a healthy life style and reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes.  In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we recommend a diet with full of Omega-3, plenty of exercise, and proper portion control.
Issayas:  Omega 3, 6 and 9 should be in every diet. I don't have any statistics or facts to base it on, but if I am not mistaken, through observation and discussing with friends, Eritreans don't eat enough fish. I think it is improving a bit, but the image doesn't go with a country that has over 800 miles of coastline. However, in the meantime, to substitute what is lacking from not eating enough fish is it possible to add for example, flax seed and chia seed at the intitial stage of preparing berbere?

Orsalem: You are right. There are abundant resources of fish in our country but traditionally it has been difficult to get these resources to the highlands because of refrigeration and other logistical constraints.  Because of that, fish has never been and still is not a stable part of the Eritrean diet. Incorporating ground flaxseed and/or chia certainly does fill the void in the nutrition gap by adding it to any of the normal diets.  Unfortunately at this time, it is not possible to add ground flaxseed
or chia seeds into berbere at its initial stages.  Flax and chia seeds have high oil content and as a result the oxidation process begins as soon as these seeds are ground making them vulnerable to rancidity. Our company’s website does provides a list of 25 ways to use the ground seed may be utilized and to add these important elements to the daily diet.

Issayas: During our conversation, you mentioned that your product of ground flax seed and chia seed could be added to tsebhi (Eritrean staple dish) and wouldn't change the texture and the taste of the food besides thickening it? How is that?

Orsalem: Both flax and chia seeds are ground milled so fine that they can be added to tsebhi without compromising the taste.  Both these products really have no taste and all they would do is just thickening the tsebhi. These finely ground and vacuum sealed packets are also great additions to soups, oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, salads, and other foods without changing the taste. We are always open to suggestions on the usage and improvement recommendations so feel free to provide
any input.  Our organically certified single serve Chia seed, Flax seeds, or Flax n’ Chia blend can be used on a daily basis as each of them contain over 3,000mg omega-3 (ALA), 900mg omega 6 (LA), average 700mg omega -9 (OA), Dietary fiber (16-20% DV), protein, antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals.

Below is the link to Orsalem's company and her products on Amazon

Issayas: Ever since I received your products, I've been putting it on everything. It is great. I think your product is a good example of a "knowledge based economy". I've been talking about how Eritrea needs to look into its culture (also traditional medical practices,etc.) and invest into this "knowledge based economy". Orsalem, thank you for your time to answer my questions and your "healthy" tips. I wish you good luck with your company!

Orsalem: Thank you.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A conversation with Orsalem Kahsai

Molecular biogist Orsalem Kahsai

Part I

Issayas:  Would you briefly tell us about yourself?

Orsalem Kahsai: My name is Orsalem Kahsai. I was born in Eritrea and grew-up in Ethiopia. My father’s and mother’s names are Yohannes (John) Kahsai and Hadas Tekele, respectively. For the earlier part of my life, I was raised by my mother as my parents were separated when I was very young. Their separation was due to the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia and my father’s affiliation with the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). The political climate at the time forced my father to leave the country of his birth for a life abroad and I did not get a chance to see him until Eritrea’s independence in 1991. My parents always wanted the best for me and wanted me to have access to all possible opportunities so my father ended up sponsoring me to join him here in America. After going through lengthy immigration process, I was able to join him here in the US and to finally get reacquainted with my biological father at the age 17. My father was very patient and understanding and made me feel at ease during my transition and acclamation period here in the new world. He was a father and a mother to me at the time where I needed some familiarity and order in my life. I believe it is the unconditional love and support that I received from both my parents that has helped me get through life so far.

I started school as soon as I arrived in the US and was able to complete my bachelor degree in microbial biotechnology focusing fermentation, from University of California- Davis. I proceeded to pursue and obtain a Master’s of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology from California State University Hayward in 2005. I was also always working while I attended school. From 1998-2005, I worked as a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California. My field of research included sequencing the human genome and studying human genetics codes. My work had been professionally recognized and presented on the cover page for a 2005 “HAYWIRE” news magazine edition. In 2005, I embarked on a new phase of life by getting engaged, relocating and accepting a new research position in Seattle, Washington. I got married to my wonderful husband Esayas Ogbe in 2006 and we have three beautiful children, Adam (5), Alex (4), and Arsema (3). Since late 2005, I have also been with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as a research scientist and lab manager working in the division of public health science cancer prevention program.

Issayas: What is "HAYWIRE"?

Orsalem: "HAYWIRE" is a news magazine for alumna and friends of Cal State Hayward (California). Currently it's known as Cal State East Bay.

Issayas:  As an undergraduate you studied microbiology and as a graduate you studied molecular biology, why the change? What do they do?

Orsalem: Most of the time, a microbiologist studies the growth and characteristics of microorganisms such as fungi, algae, and bacterial. However, I did study Biotechnology, emphasizing microbiology and fermentation. Having said that, most microbial biotechnologists engage themselves in the fields of food fermentation, virology, immunology, bioinformatics, and molecular biology work.  In my case, I was able do much of a molecular biologist job -- sequencing human genome as well as studying human disease, and common form of variations across human DNA segments.

Issayas: When you worked for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, in California, your cutting edge research was sequencing a human genome and studying human genetics codes, which have been recognized professionally. Would you tell us about the aforementioned in layman's language?

Orsalem: As a research scientist at the Joint Genome institute (JGI), I worked in one of five project sites responsible for deciphering the human genetic code. We were staffed with scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National LAB, Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and Los Alamos National Lab. At JGI, we have mapped 11% of the sequence of human genome out of the 3.2 billion human DNA base pairs contained in each human cell. Now scientists around the globe can use this information for new way to diagnose disease, and discover or develop new treatments.

Next: Part II.