It was 23 years ago when Rudy Rodriguez decided he was much too young to have rheumatoid arthritis.
He had been working in the real estate business — a Cuban who was raised in Tampa — and started to develop pain in all of his joints. He was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs when your immune system, which protects your body from outside harm, starts attacking healthy tissue.
There were days when Rodriguez could barely get out of bed. Then he spoke to someone about his diet. Rodriguez was never obese and always tried to eat healthy, but he started to learn about food and what he could do to change things.
Rodriguez, who is general manager of Nutrition S’Mart on 14847 North Dale Mabry Hwy., decided to go all natural and it changed his life.
“Within eight months of eating natural foods I lost 15 pounds,’’ Rodriguez said. “I started to feel like a teenager all over again.’’
Rodriguez gives talks to schools on the history of food and it preparation. A century ago, most food was natural and sold by small stores where the food was mostly natural, right off of the farm. With the expansion of cities, Rodriguez said food needed to be imported, causing more time for it to stay on the shelf, and the only solution was to use preservatives and other ways to keep the food edible.
Most of Rodriguez’s products are organic and made without unhealthy preservatives.
Nutrition S’Mart is a 10,000-square-foot store, one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area, and has been in Tampa since 1999. The products are low on salt and carbohydrates. Rodriguez took to heart the lessons he learned once he went natural.
“You can taste the chemicals, if you think about it,’’ said Rodriguez, talking about regular store foods. He has no problem with the major chains and understands that organic and natural foods might cost a bit more, but he thinks they are worth the extra price and time.
“Yes, it can be more expensive, but if you look at the difference and know that you are getting the right nutrients and the right nutrition, the alternatives make sense.’’
He’s also concerned about childhood obesity and has plenty of items in his store for kids that he said are a lot better tasting and a lot healthier than the traditional products found in most stores.
“Do you realize that a can of cola has about eight teaspoons of sugar? There’s something wrong with that. I may not live to see it, but there will be a day that kids are eating healthier,” Rodriguez said. “I see the pendulum shifting the right way. More and more parents will be feeding their kids healthier products.’’
Rodriguez said that he is not against all junk food for kids.
“You just have to balance it,” Rodriguez said. “You can go too far with all natural. Just keep it in the middle area.’’
Rodriguez said his rheumatoid arthritis will never go away, but he said he feels better than ever and credits it to eating natural, gluten-free food. He has a steady clientele who believe the same way.