Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Posts Tagged: nutrition

Southern Californians get another reason to love pizza

The newly planted pizza garden at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville.
People love pizza, so they are sure to enjoy the new garden growing at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. A circle planted with wheat, tomatoes, bell peppers, herbs and spices, the garden looks like and produces the ingredients for pizza.

“Pizza can be a healthy meal, if you build it right,” said Stephanie Collins, outreach assistant at the Desert REC. “We can teach kids to add vegetables and educate them about whole grains and non-fat cheese.”

Collins initially envisioned the pizza garden teaching tool when she joined UC Cooperative Extension four years ago as a nutrition educator. The recent removal of a large tree stump made the location available.

The pizza garden will be part of the center's UC FARM SMART program, in which about 5,000 school children and “snowbird” winter residents annually visit the station to learn about UC's ongoing agricultural research in the desert area, tour the 255-acre facility on a hay wagon and taste products that are grown in the vicinity.

Green peppers growing in the pizza garden.
When they visit the pizza garden, they'll learn many of their favorite foods come from plants grown nearby in the productive agricultural region. The garden is divided into four wedges. The wheat, which is used to make the pizza crust, and alfalfa, which is an important feed for dairy cows, the source of cheese, is grown in one wedge.

“Alfalfa is cheese in the making,” Collins said.

Tomatoes, onions and arugula are planted in the next wedge. The tomatoes are used for traditional sauce and onions are a healthy and flavorful topping, but arugula?

“Arugula is great on pizza,” Collins said. “It has a strong, peppery flavor.”

In another section, visitors can smell, feel and taste the herbs that season pizza sauce. Oregano, basil, sage, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary fill the third wedge.

The fourth section holds bell peppers and rhubarb.

Fresh herbs and spices fill one wedge of the pizza garden.
“The rhubarb is just for fun,” Collins said.

The garden is encircled with marigolds for the appearance of crust, and the wedges are dotted with a variety of non-pizza plants, like ornamental kale, vinca and lavender. These plants also serve an educational purpose, said Sam Urie, the UC FARM SMART manager at the Desert REC.

“A diversity of plants attracts beneficial insects, so they help the garden out,” Urie said.

The mostly senior citizen visitors pay $20 per person for the station tour, which includes a homemade lunch featuring locally produced foods. This year, the centerpiece of the meal will be carrot-ginger soup.

The visitors' fees help offset the cost of the tours for local children, who pay just $3 each.

For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Urie at (760) 791-0261, surie@ucanr.edu.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, January 21, 2015 at 8:05 AM

Scientists ask USDA to add water to MyPlate

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute would like MyPlate to include an icon for water, such as the one shown above.
The brightly colored divided plate that lays out the USDA's model for healthy eating needs one little tweak, says the director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute Lorrene Ritchie. Don't take anything away, but add H20.

Ritchie has joined with dozens of nutrition and health professionals around the country to ask that the USDA put water onto MyPlate.

“We don't have all the answers to overcoming obesity, but the research on sugar-sweetened beverages is very clear,” Ritchie said. “When you drink beverages like soda, sports drinks or punch, the sugar gets absorbed very rapidly and the body doesn't recognize the calories. The result is excess calories and weight gain.”

The USDA introduced MyPlate in 2011 to reflect the message of its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Federal law requires that the guidelines be reviewed, updated and published every five years.

“USDA officials say that, in order to change MyPlate, there must be more information in the dietary guidelines about water,” Ritchie said. “We are working through the public comment process to ask the advisory board to promote water as the beverage of choice.”

The ultimate goal – a new water icon on MyPlate – is important because of its high visibility. MyPlate is found on elementary school classroom walls and cereal boxes; at community gardens and the grocery store produce aisle.

Drinking plain water is important for child nutrition and obesity prevention.
In preparing for a visit with USDA officials at their Washington, D.C., headquarters, Christina Hecht, UC Nutrition Policy Institute coordinator, asked UC Cooperative Extension specialists in California for input on MyPlate. Their enthusiasm was unanimous.

“They see MyPlate as the face of the dietary guidelines and are very supportive of using the image as a teaching tool,” Hecht said. “They also supported the idea of adding a symbol for water.”

She shared the California educators' thoughts on MyPlate with her USDA contacts. “When they get a story from the field, it really matters to them,” Hecht said.

Ritchie and her colleagues around the country submitted a “Best of Science” letter to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee imploring them to strengthen the language for drinking water.

“Current research indicates that children, in particular, are subject to ‘voluntary dehydration' from low intake of plain water,” the letter says. “Between 2005 and 2010, more than a quarter of children aged 4 to 13 years old in the U.S. did not have a drink of plain water on two consecutive days.”

Instead, they are drinking sugary beverages. National surveys in the early 2000s found that, on any given day, 84 percent of 2- to 5-year-old children drank sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks and fruit punch. The calories amounted to 11 percent of the children's total energy intake.

Lorrene Ritchie, director of the UC Nutrition Policy Insitute, testifies at a congressional hearing about strategies to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.
Since the 2010 Dietary Guidelines were issued, knowledge about the magnitude of risk and extent of adverse effects from sugar-sweetened beverages has increased. The Best of Science letter outlines for the advisory board many of the proven consequences of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in America:

  • Sugar-sweetened beverages – including sodas, juice drinks, pre-sweetened tea and coffee drinks, and fortified or energy drinks – are among the top sources of calories for children and adolescents.
  • Between the late 1960s and early 2000s the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages doubled.
  • While the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men, the average U.S. consumption is 17 teaspoons per day.
  • Low-income populations have higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beveragesand Latino children drink more of them than white children.
  • Cardiovascular disease, present in more than one-third of American adults, is now understood to be exacerbated by the inflammatory effects of excess sugar consumption.
  • Excess sugar consumption is a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a precursor to diabetes.
To learn more, read the Best of Science Letter signed by 14 prominent nutrition educators from around the nation by clicking the link below.
Posted on Wednesday, January 7, 2015 at 7:15 AM

A New Year and a 'new'tritious new you!

It's that time of year when many people choose a resolution that helps them kick a bad habit, but sometimes making a sudden change is hard to stick to. This year, make a resolution you can actually keep by filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Need some ideas to get started?

Breakfast: Drink 4 oz. of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. Top cereal or yogurt with 1/2 cup of berries or sliced banana.

Lunch: Try a salad as your main dish with the dressing on the side.

Snacks: Trail mix with dried fruit or a piece of fruit such as an apple or an orange is an energizing snack that can also be satisfying if you have a sweet tooth.

Dinner: Enjoy a side of mixed vegetables or have fruit for dessert. All forms of produce count: dried, fresh, 100% juice, canned, and frozen. Try a variety of fruits and vegetables so you don't get bored!

Here are some tips for you and your family to try new foods:

New foods take time. Offer new foods many times. Children don't always take to new foods right away.

Keep portions small. Let your kids try small portions of new foods that you enjoy. When they develop a taste for many types of foods, it's easier to plan family meals. 

Be a good role model. Try new foods yourself and describe its taste, texture, and smell to your family.

Offer only one new food at a time. Serve something that is familiar to your child along with the new food. Offering too many new foods all at once could be overwhelming. 

Tex Mex Skillet


  • 1/2 medium head lettuce
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic or 1/4 tsp garlic   powder
  • 2 oz low-fat cheddar cheese
  • 1 (15 1/2 oz) can of black beans
  • 1 pound ground beef, chicken, or turkey
  • 1 (12 oz) bag of frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt and cumin
  • Ground black pepper
  • 8 whole wheat flour tortillas


  1. Rinse and peel vegetables.
  2. Chop lettuce, mince garlic, halve jalapeños, and dice peppers.
  3. Grate tomato, onion, and cheese.
  4. Drain and rinse beans.
  5. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook meat, bell pepper, and garlic until meat is lightly browned.
  6. Stir in corn, beans, water, and     spices. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  7. Make a salsa using jalapeño, tomato, and onion. Stir and set aside.
  8. Divide meat mixture among       tortillas. Top with cheese, salsa, and lettuce. Roll up and enjoy!

Melissa Tamargo is a program representative with the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program state office.

Sources: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/a-new-years-resolution-you-can-easily-keephttp://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/new-foods.html

Recipe: www.choosemyplate.gov 



Posted on Monday, December 22, 2014 at 8:58 AM
Tags: nutrition (95)

Gardens contribute vegetables, ease hunger among San Jose residents

A Santa Clara County resident works in a community garden.
People who grow their own vegetables in a garden typically consume enough fresh produce to meet the USDA Dietary Guidelines for a healthy diet, according to a recent UC Cooperative Extension survey of San Jose residents.

A diet containing lots of vegetables is lower in calories and higher in fiber and good for our health. Yet, not everyone has easy access to fresh vegetables in the United States.

“Growing vegetables and having a garden is an effective intervention to promote increased vegetable consumption among all Americans,” said Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Santa Clara County, who conducted the survey. “This is evidence for bringing back popular home gardens or ‘Victory gardens' of the past rather than investing exclusively in SNAP benefits for purchased foods.”

SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps), now allows participants to buy seeds with their benefits, which helps low-income people who want to grow their own veggies, she said.

Vegetable consumption falls well below the U.S. Dietary Guidelines in much of the U.S., particularly among African American, Latino, low educational attainment, and low-income populations.

Algert and fellow UC Cooperative Extension researchers looked at background characteristics, vegetable intake and program benefits of people who cultivated a home garden versus those who participated in a community garden.

“The home gardeners were significantly younger, had lower incomes, were less likely to have completed college and were more ethnically diverse than the community gardeners,” said Algert, who specializes in nutrition. “In other words, the background characteristics of the two groups varied significantly. In spite of these significant demographic differences, both groups increased their vegetable consumption from the garden to the same extent, by about two servings.”

In fact, by supplementing with food from their gardens, both groups met the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for recommended daily servings of vegetables to promote optimal health.

A lack of experience as gardeners didn't affect the results much. Fifty eight percent of the home gardeners reported having less than two years of experience whereas only one-third of community gardeners were novices.

“This study demonstrates that growing fresh vegetables in either a home or community garden setting can contribute significantly to a person's nutritional intake and food security at all income levels by making it a more affordable to maintain a healthful diet,” said Algert. Urban gardeners also experience a number of other benefits including exercise, stress release, and learning about gardening from their peers and mentors.

The study was a partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of San Jose and La Mesa Verde, a project of Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose. The UCCE research group worked with the Parks Department to administer a 30 question background survey to 83 community gardeners in four different gardens during April through September 2012. The same survey, slightly modified, was administered to a group of 50 home gardeners participating in Sacred Heart's La Mesa Verde project between September 2013 and April 2014.

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014 at 1:14 PM

'Dine in' to save money and eat better

On Dec. 3, prepare and eat a healthy meal together. (Photo: morguefile.com)
On Dec. 3, the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) is asking families across the U.S. to prepare and eat a healthy meal together. The goal of the 2014 “Dining In” for Healthy Families campaign is engaging at least 200,000 families to participate. More information and an online sign up form can be found on the AAFCS website.

Dining in is one of the cost-saving ideas UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program educators share with low-income families. As a UC Cooperative Extension advisor who specializes in family and consumer sciences, I can tell you there are many potential benefits to dining in:

  • Reduced expense for meals
  • Better health and decreased risk of developing chronic diseases
  • Lower medical costs

When people are asked to identify their discretionary expenses, food eaten at restaurants often tops the list. Eating out, along with entertainment expenses, is frequently identified as an item to reduce or cut from family budgets to free up money to save/invest or cope with a reduction in income. This is not surprising because about a third of the money spent on food in the United States is spent at foodservice establishments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over time, the amount of money saved by meals eaten and/or prepared at home (e.g., a “brown bag” lunch) is noteworthy. According to the Eating Away at Your Future poster on the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Small Steps to Health and Wealth website, someone could accumulate almost $50,000 in 20 years by eating out one less evening per week and investing the money saved at a 5 percent yield. Online calculator tools like the Brown Bag Savings Calculator are useful to make personalized calculations of the amount of savings that can be realized with home-prepared food.

People tend to eat healthier meals when they eat at home. (Photo: pixabay.com)
As noted above, the money that people save by eating more meals at home is just the beginning of their potential savings. For additional financial impact, the difference in cost between home cooked and restaurant meals could be invested and allowed to grow over time. Through the magic of compound interest (i.e., earning interest on previously earned interest), small dollar amounts can grow handsomely.

Another way that home-prepared food impacts personal finances is the linkage between restaurant meals and overweight/obesity. People tend to eat healthier meals when they eat at home because they can better control portion sizes and the use of sauces, dressings and other high-fat ingredients.

Following are more specific health benefits of eating more meals prepared at home:

  • Ability to select low-fat, low-sodium and low-calorie ingredients
  • Ability to make healthy ingredient substitutions, such as applesauce for oil in baked goods
  • Less temptation to eat tasty, but unhealthy, foods and large food portions
  • Lower likelihood of children becoming overweight or obese
  • Higher intake of health-promoting nutrients (e.g., Vitamin C and calcium) and dietary fiber
  • Knowing exactly what you are eating, which is especially important if a family member has food allergies

Beyond the money saved by reducing the frequency of spending on restaurant meals and investing it to earn interest, there is a third way that eating more meals at home affects household finances. Poor health and nutrition habits often translate into high out-of-pocket medical expenses. As explained in the Small Steps to Health and Wealth workbook, a person's health and finances are strongly associated with one another and “the greatest wealth is health.”

It is widely known that long-term consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and some types of cancer. People who eat healthy meals at home and adopt a healthy lifestyle with recommended levels of physical activity are less likely to develop expensive health conditions that can drain family wealth, even for those who are insured.

Want to be healthy and wealthy? Start by “Dining In” and prepare and eat a healthy meal with your family on Family & Consumer Sciences Day, Dec. 3.

Field of family and consumer sciences

Family and consumer sciences (FCS) draws from broad and diverse disciplines to develop and provide content and programs that help individuals become more effective critical thinkers and problem solvers. Through discovery and delivery of research-based knowledge, FCS professionals help individuals and families develop essential skills to successfully live and work in a complex world. Professionals in the field are uniquely qualified to speak on many critical issues affecting individuals and families, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wisely managing personal and family finances, and creating supportive relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers. They are located nationwide in a variety of practice settings, including secondary schools, universities, government agencies, and businesses.

For more information, contact: Patti Wooten Swanson, nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, UC California Cooperative Extension - San Diego County, (858) 822-7719, pwswanson@ucanr.edu

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

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