Melissa Woodworth was introduced to the ketogenic diet long before it became a popular method to lose weight.
Relying on low carbohydrates, high fat and moderate protein, the value of the ketogenic diet in treating serious illnesses was recognized centuries ago, and that’s what led her on a journey she is now passionate about sharing.
“It’s the real ‘why’ behind what we’re doing,” she says of her decision to foray into the business world as an owner.
Between the age of three and four years old, her son Sam, now 19, suffered thousands of major seizures. Doctors at Sick Kids in Toronto could find no cause behind the seizures, and found him unresponsive to any medication they tried.
Then she met someone who recommended the paediatric neurological team at McMaster Children’s Hospital, where the ketogenic diet was suggested as a treatment for Sam.
It has been considered an alternative therapy for its ability to reduce inflammation, she says, and there is some research that connects it with being beneficial for combatting epilepsy and many other diseases.
But when she began her journey with Sam 15 years ago, there wasn’t a lot of awareness about diet, and it was not the easiest to maintain, with no options available to buy ready-made products, says Woodworth.
Out of necessity for Sam, she became an expert in understanding how the diet works, and the ratios of fat, protein and carbs, which are essential for achieving the state of ketosis.
After six months on the keto diet, Sam was seizure-free, and remains so today. In the early years, Woodworth meticulously measured every meal and snack for him, from a very limited range of ingredients, sending him off to school with his little labelled containers, where he had an educational assistant to help out. Even as a youngster, he seemed to understand the importance of the diet in his life, she says, that there was no other option for him, and no room for straying from it.
“For Sam, this was life and death. If his body went out of ketosis, we ran the risk of him having a seizure, or even dying. He couldn’t take part in hot dog days, pizza days, cupcake days or any of those occasions, but he aways showed great courage. He never wavered, never complained, he just did it. He developed a sense of responsibility for himself.”
He’s now a Niagara College student, studying business administration, “and living his best life,” his mother says.
As a mother of four, with an older daughter and two more younger children, Woodworth decided several years ago her best option for earning an income was as an entrepreneur, and began with keto granola for breakfast or snacks, under the name Nolaa Granolaa.
More recently, she’s turned her love of baking, and her experience over the years, into a way to help others, by providing ready-made, keto-friendly, sugar-free treats and solutions, many also gluten-free, for making the diet easier for those choosing to follow it.
Nolaa Granolaa and Nolaa’s bakeries, first in Grimsby, which opened in June, 2020, and one on Victoria Street in Niagara-on-the-Lake set to officially open this week, are named to acknowledge Woodworth’s grandfather, Noel, who she considers her inspiration in life. He passed away at the age of 100, in March, 2020, before seeing this latest venture come to fruition.
“He was a huge presence in my life. He thought it was crazy that I was opening a store in the middle of a pandemic, but he also knew I always did things first and thought about them afterwards. He was more cautious, and nervous about my investment, but he believed in me, and believed in my purpose.”
Her purpose has become to help anyone interested in following a keto diet, for weight loss or health reasons. Her staff understand her journey, “and know there is more to keto than eating a lot of fat. It’s not just a diet, it’s something you can do to improve your life.”
And while opening a business during a pandemic has been a challenge, she says, “everything at the time seems like a challenge and then it turns into a blessing. Locals have been immensely supportive, and they are the reason this location will be successful.”
As the keto diet has grown in popularity for weight loss, it has created some controversy because of the amount of fat needed for ketosis, “but you still have to eat good fat,” Woodworth counters. “You can’t just eat bacon. There are different ways of doing keto, and it isn’t only what everybody is talking about on social media. I want people to know it’s more than that. People come in to the bakery looking for cupcakes, and walk out with my phone number and a plan to talk. It’s a commitment to making a change, to eat healthy, and I want to help. I’ve met a lot of great people on this journey, and I’ve loved them all.”
While the bakery sells delicious, elegant cookies, doughnuts, muffins and other goodies those on a keto diet may crave, there are other products that are great solutions for every-day meal times, options Woodworth didn’t have available to her when she was growing up.
“I want to be the person who can explain to others that there is so much more to keto. I want to be the person who can give to others what I needed when Sam was little. If some of these products had been available then, it would have been easier for me.”
Woodworth grew up in Burlington, and raised her kids in Grimsby, but “NOTL has always been a place of wonder for me,” she says. “It’s such a magical place. I love the town, I love the culture, and I love the people.”
She has been visiting the town for the last 20 years, is happy to be operating a business in the Old Town, and is very excited to be moving here in April. “I’m hoping to make NOTL my home permanently,” she says.
The official opening of Nolaa’s on the Lake Bake Shop is Thursday, March 4 at 10 a.m., serving all day breakfast sandwiches, keto melts and a large selection of low carb, sugar-free treats. The address is 106 Queen St., Unit E, but turn the corner and you will find the entrance on Victoria Street.
For more information visit https://nolaagranolaa.ca.
Visit Nolaa’s on the Lake – Keto Bakeshop Facebook page to learn more about the treats and food products available at the NOTL bakery.