Judit Beres had worked in clinical and academic research for a decade, but the mom of three in Cary knew she hadn't quite found her calling.
But a layoff - and a book - sent her down a new path and into a career that Beres says is the perfect fit. Beres has launched her own food company, Neomega Nutritionals, which offers a variety of specialty cooking oils.
I checked in with her by email to learn more about her business. Here's a Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: You were laid off in 2015, but were actually excited about it. Why was that good news for you?
Judit Beres: I always had the entrepreneurial spirit in me and was a self starter. I have been searching for what I truly wanted to do ever since graduating high school: I worked many fields from Italian translator to radio advertising agent to tax preparer, waitress and bank teller before entering my career of 10 years in research. But I never truly felt home in any of them.
After reading "Start Something that Matters," by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of Tom's Shoes, I knew that one day, when I grow up, I want to do something like that. So when I was laid off in 2015 from the British company I worked for, I thought, well maybe it is time for me to grow up and pursue my dream. That is part of why I started my own company. The other is a passion for clean and healthy food.
GAM: You're particularly concerned about the kinds of mass-produced foods that fill many American's cupboards. What worries you about those things?
JB: I am concerned because the many additives in processed foods are systematically undermining our health without our knowledge. Unless you do your research, both online and in store and are very selective on what you buy, you may easily end up eating up to 50-70 lb of high fructose corn syrup in one year, which is what an average American eats. How is that possible? Because the stuff is in everything from deli meats to yogurts to ice cream to crackers, soda, bacon, hot dogs and baked goods. The list is endless.
High fructose corn syrup is one of the major culprits in diet related diseases like obesity and a condition called "fatty liver," where the liver gets damaged by all the sugar consumption. It affects 70 million people in this country. Obesity-related illnesses alone are costing our state health care system $83 billion a year. Can you imagine what these statistics would look like if we removed high fructose corn syrup from our diet?
Now let's look at cooking oils. Everyday vegetable oils are adding unnecessary inflammation to our diet. For one, a majority of them are produced from genetically modified crops, which means the seed has the gene of a pesticide injected into it to withstand both pests and spraying it with more pesticide. Is that safe to consume? Well, the jury is still out on that one, but I would err on the safe side and avoid it.
But that is not the worst news. The worst news is that 90 percent of GMO vegetable oils like soy, canola, corn, cottonseed, vegetable oil (a blend of soy, canola and other oils) are also Hexane extracted (a horrible neurotoxin), and heavily refined with powerful chemicals to deodorize them after soaking it in Hexane. They naturally contain lots of Linoleic Acid, a type of fat known as Omega 6 fat which acts as a pro inflammatory in our bodies. It is best to use cold or expeller pressed organic or non-GMO oils that have more monounsaturated fat (Omega 9) and polyunsaturated fats like Omega 3's than Omega 6 (avocado, olive, walnut, hemp oils) or MCT oils like coconut oil.
Continuing on the basics in our cupboards: white flour. Majority of bleached white flour is bleached with a chemical that can damage our thyroids: potassium bromate.
Finally the worst and most concerning to me are trans fats. Trans fats are hydrogenated fats that should have never been part of a normal human diet. It is the worst invention of the food industry that has caused a lot of harm to our health. Our bodies just don't know what to do with it or how to process it. Even though the Food and Drug Administration deemed it as not generally regarded as safe for human consumption, it is still added to many processed and prepared foods like cake spreads and biscuits. On the up side, it is scheduled to be banned entirely by the FDA starting in 2018 - a major victory for the natural food industry.
GAM: You've teamed up with a dietitian to develop "novel and functional foods." Tell us about your products.
JB: Our core products are made up of avocado oil. We source our avocado oil ethically from a U.S. company that manufactures the oil in Mexico. The manufacturer works with farmers in Mexico to grow the avocados and makes the oil by cold pressing the pulp of the avocado and then gently refines it through a non-chemical process where the sediments and waxes from the crude oil are centrifuged and removed through a natural process to make the oil stable, neutral tasting and high heat (550 F).
No harsh chemicals are used in growing or making the oil, and avocados are naturally non-GMO, a very sustainable crop. Avocado oil is a clean, heart healthy culinary oil that is excellent for everyday cooking due to its neutral taste and high heat. It contains 70 percent monounsaturated fat, similar to olive oil. We bottle this oil under our own brand, Neomega right here in North Carolina and also make herbal infusions with it in a facility in Hillsborough.
We make five infusions currently: rosemary, basil, roasted garlic, ginger-turmeric-orange and chili. We use a proprietary artisan process that takes two days to infuse the oil with the most flavor and also the nutritional benefits of the ingredients. The infused oils are flavorful, high heat and versatile. The turmeric-orange oil is naturally anti-inflammatory due to having turmeric in it and because of the citrus flavor it is great for salads, fish or sauteeing root veggies like beets, carrots and sweet potatoes. I love the chili oil for topping, like on hummus or on cold soups, grilled meats or veggies. The rosemary oil tastes just like a handful of fresh rosemary and I love roasting new potatoes in it. For the roasted garlic we roast lots of garlic into the oil and let it infuse for 24 hours. And finally basil is green like pesto and tastes just like it.
GAM: What are your hopes for Neomega's future?
JB: I hope our products become a known and trusted brand for clean, artisan foods like infused avocado oils that people love to use for everyday meals and enjoy them! I also hope for the company to be an agent of change in clean, conscious eating. By conscious eating, I mean knowing where our food is coming from, how it was made and what benefits it has both to our health and the health of the environment. The two are intimately connected in my opinion. My vision for this company is to be a sounding board for sustainable eating and living. We cannot continue on the destructive path we are on: Polluting our oceans, lands and waters through the way we grow our food, and undermining our health through the way we eat.
Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.