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

UC Food Blog

As Americans struggle with obesity and diabetes, help is on the way

Introduction of new nutrition facts labels will provide more information to consumers.
The iconic black-and-white Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods in the U.S. is getting its first makeover in two decades. The federal government's decision last month to update the food label means that for the first time, beginning in 2018, labels will list how much added sugar is in a product.

The decision, reflecting the latest science, will be felt well beyond the label. University of California food experts praised the labeling changes and offered six key takeaways.

1. Listing added sugar is the most important label change.

The new label will list the amount of added sugar in a product, both in grams and as a percentage of the daily recommended allowance.

“That's key,” said Laura Schmidt, a UC San Francisco professor of health policy and UC Global Food Initiative subcommittee member. “That will be really helpful for consumers.”

Added sugar – any sugar added in the preparation of foods such as table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and others – can be found in hundreds of products such as cereal, yogurt, pasta sauce and salad dressing. But the biggest source is sugar-sweetened beverages, which account for nearly half of Americans' intake of added sugar.

One 20-ounce soda will take you over the recommended amount of sugar for an entire day,” said Pat Crawford, senior director of research for the Nutrition Policy Institute of UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “The new label will allow people to reasonably see what they're doing when they're consuming high-sugar products.”

The current label lumps added sugar with naturally occurring sugars in the foods themselves, which is a deceptive practice, said Dr. John Swartzberg, a UC Berkeley clinical professor emeritus and editorial board chair of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter. Listing added sugar “will hopefully guide people away from consuming products with a lot of added sugar,” he said.

Pat Crawford
2. Americans need to consume less sugar.

More than one out of three adults in the U.S. is obese. Nearly half of U.S. adults have prediabetes or diabetes, raising their risk of heart attacks, kidney failure, blindness and amputations. Among U.S. children, more than 1 in 6 is obese, and diabetes and prediabetes rates are rising. Amid these alarming statistics, there's a growing concern about too much added sugar in diets.

“It's important to give the public the information they need in order to modify their diets,” Crawford said. “We are now finding significant effects on diabetes and heart disease rates for those who regularly consume sugary beverages. A large study of women over an eight-year period found that the risk of diabetes among women who consumed one or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages per day was nearly double the risk among women who consumed less than one serving per month. Further, drinking one 12-ounce soda a day increases the risk of cardiovascular mortality by almost one-third.”

Crawford noted that the new federal dietary guidelines for the first time recommend limiting added sugars in the diet to no more than 10 percent of one's daily calories.

“The average amount of added sugar in the American diet is more than 20 teaspoons per day, nearly all of which is added to our foods during processing,” Crawford said. “Since about half of this sugar comes in the form of beverages, we have to rethink our beverage choices. Water should be the beverage of choice.”

Consumers will be very surprised to see the percentage of daily value of added sugar in one soda drink, said Michael Roberts, executive director of the UCLA Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy and UC Global Food Initiative subcommittee member. “Time will tell whether this information changes human behavior, i.e., consuming less soda. To be fair, sugar pops up everywhere, not just soda, so the impact that these changes will have on consumers and manufacturers will be interesting to watch.”

3. Expect manufacturers to make product changes.

When the federal government required that manufacturers add trans fat information on the label a decade ago, the food industry responded by marketing more products with lower trans fats, Crawford said.

“Trans fats are now not allowed to be added to foods during processing, but it all began with labeling,” Crawford said. “We're going to see some big shifts in the marketplace with products lower in sugars such as cereals, yogurts, spaghetti sauces and beverages, of course. We can look forward to recipe reformulation, which will make products more competitive. It's a great first step for reducing sugar consumption. In preparation for the new labels, manufacturers are working on creating products with lower levels of added sugars.”

For manufacturers, the trick will be to keep food tasting good to consumers while reducing sugar, Roberts said. “Other large manufacturers will pursue new products that are not heavy on added sugars,” Roberts said. “For example, Coke and Pepsi sell bottled water.”

“There is a push to at least re-size products,” Schmidt added. “There certainly will be an effort for front-of-package labeling that says ‘low sugar.'”

4. The new label could lead to regulations limiting sugar.

“Including added sugar on the label will be a game-changer for those debates about what is a healthy diet for people in the federal food-assistance programs,” said Schmidt, lead investigator on the UCSF-led SugarScience research and education initiative. “Once you've got added sugar on the label along with a daily reference value, policymakers will be in the position to set standards for the quantity of added sugar allowed in school lunches and other federal food programs.”

Changes like this have happened before, Schmidt noted. “In the U.K., the government said salt consumption is way too high and mandated that packaged food manufacturers reduce the amount of sodium in their products. It worked like a charm – they just gradually reduced the excess salt in foods to everyone's benefit.”

5. The new label makes changes beyond sugar.

The new label also will list more realistic serving sizes and will list calories in a larger and bolder font. “This will help people assess how many calories they are actually consuming,” Swartzberg said. (View a complete list of label changes here.)

6. Further steps could help consumers.

While praising the label changes, UC experts say further steps could help consumers make more informed choices:

  • Adding front-of-package labeling that states whether the product is high in sugar, salt or fat: “This banner on the front of packages would make it simple for a consumer to see whether a food is healthy or whether it has ingredients that contribute to risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity or cancer,” Crawford said.
  • Having food vendors add “stoplight” stickers: “There is the stoplight idea of labeling products with green, yellow and red stickers – green for the low-sugar products and red for the high-sugar ones,” offered Schmidt.
  • Promoting environmentally sustainable food practices: “(We should) consume more plant-based foods and less meat,” Swartzberg suggested.
  • Increasing research: “The label change is not enough: Further research, education and sound policies will need to be developed to motivate more healthy eating,” Roberts said.

 

The new Nutrition Facts label shows calories in large, bold print and specifies the amount of 'added sugars.'

 

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2016 at 8:09 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg

USDA school kitchen grants enable kids to make healthy food choices

Children at Ygnacio Elementary School in Concord pick up lunch from a new serving counter.
Thanks to new equipment in school kitchens, made possible by special USDA grants, schools around the country are now serving fresher, healthier and more appealing food to students, according to research by the UC Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI).

"Years of federal neglect have resulted in many poorly equipped school kitchens, making it impossible to serve the nutritious meals that students need, particularly in light of the obesity epidemic that has affected so many youngster," said Kenneth Hecht, NPI coordinator.

During the past six years, Congress provided nearly $200 million to help schools purchase new equipment. Pew Charitable Trusts engaged NPI to see whether the grants enabled schools to make more meals from scratch with locally grown food and lead children to make healthy food choices.

NPI researchers visited 19 schools across the country to see new equipment in action and interview food service professionals, administrators and students. Their report was issued this month by Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Just one new appliance or serving station can have surprising impact on meal programs and students,” Hecht said. “Because of the USDA's School Kitchen Grants, more students are choosing school meals and they are eating more fruits, vegetables and other healthy options.”

The Nutrition Policy Institute, a statewide program that is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, contracted with Pew to take a close look at a sample of representative schools that received the USDA kitchen equipment grants. The 19 schools – in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, North Dakota and Maine – were chosen to represent a range of sizes, grade levels and community types (urban, suburban and rural).

One of the schools in the study was Ygnacio Valley Elementary School in Concord, where the worn and dimly lit serving line made meals look lackluster. With the USDA grant, the school purchased a new serving counter with heated and refrigerated serving wells to keep dishes at proper temperatures, a salad bar and under-counter lighting that draws attention to colorful produce and other healthy fare.

“Children are taking and eating more fruits and vegetables because they can actually see how beautiful the food is and get to it easily,” says Megan Webb, the school's food service manager.

Another California school involved in the research, Robertson Intermediate School in Daly City, used the grant funds to purchase a large, three-door refrigerator and a warming oven. The upgrades helped the school increase the number and appeal of its entrée options and made it possible to contract with a different meal vendor for the 2015-16 school year.

“We absolutely needed new equipment; what we had barely functioned,” said Audra Pittman, superintendent of the Bayshore Elementary School District.

“The food is really good,” said one student cafeteria helper. “It's much better than last year.”

 

Posted on Friday, June 17, 2016 at 8:45 AM

Citrus industry, UC Riverside and UCCE team up to fight a citrus killer

Leaves on a Florida tree show symptoms of HLB disease. The new biosafety lab at UC Riverside will help scientists battle the disease. (Photo: Beth Grafton-Cardwell)
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, will soon have a new resource to help them fight a disease devastating the citrus industry.

On June 6, citrus industry, university and government leaders gathered at UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection to announce a joint effort to fight huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening disease. Huanglongbing is a bacterial plant disease fatal to citrus trees

The effort will result in construction of a biosafety-level 3 plant facility in Riverside, about two miles north of UC Riverside.

The biosafety-level 3 plant facility will allow researchers, including many from UC Riverside who are experts on citrus pests, diseases and breeding, to conduct work with plant pathogens that previously couldn't be done in Southern California. (There is only one other such facility in California – at UC Davis.)

The new biosafety-level 3 building will be built and owned by the California Citrus Research Foundation, which is funded by citrus growers.

At the June 6 gathering, Kim Wilcox, chancellor of the UC Riverside, spoke about the establishment in 1907 of the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside. That research station eventually grew into UC Riverside. He noted that the research station received a boost after a 1913 freeze that devastated the citrus industry.

“Now, unfortunately, 100 years later, we have a different kind of natural threat, Wilcox said. “It's not weather in this case but an insect. And again the university, the federal government and private partners have come together and said ‘We can address this.'”

Georgios Vidalakis and Mark Hoddle are two UC Cooperative Extension specialists based at UC Riverside who will benefit from the facility.

Vidalakis is a UCCE specialist in plant pathology and director of the Citrus Clonal Protection Program at UC Riverside. The program provides a safe mechanism for the introduction into California of citrus varieties from around the world.

“Having access to live plants that carry the bacteria is very, very important to our program because it allows us to develop and validate diagnostic techniques much more quickly,” Vidalakis said.

Vidalkis has ongoing projects at the biosafety-level 3 plant facility in Davis as well as one in Maryland. Having his experimental material hundreds or thousands of miles away is a difficult, costly and inefficient way to conduct science, he said.

“This new facility in Riverside will help tremendously in the fight against HLB,” he said. “It is also a great investment for future threats to the California citrus industry.”

Hoddle is a UCCE specialist in entomology and director of Center for Invasive Species Research at UC Riverside. In recent years, Hoddle has released two species of wasps native to Pakistan that are natural enemies of the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector of a bacterium that causes HLB.

Hoddle called the biosafety facility a critical resource for righting HLB that will greatly assist UC Riverside researchers.

“This investment will likely allow more rapid and cost effect progress in developing mitigation strategies and novel technologies for managing HLB in California's iconic citrus crop,” Hoddle said.

Posted on Monday, June 13, 2016 at 9:47 AM

Community and home gardens improve San Jose residents’ food security

The La Mesa Verde program in San Jose helps low-income families to establish their own vegetable gardens
Growing food in community and home gardens can provide people with more access to fresh vegetables for a healthier food supply, according to a new study. University of California and Santa Clara University researchers surveyed people in San Jose who maintained a garden in their yard or a community garden and found that gardeners consumed more vegetables when they were eating food grown in their gardens.

Participants in the pilot study, published in California Agriculture journal, reported doubling their vegetable intake to a level that met the number of daily servings recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables are lower in calories and higher in fiber and part of a healthy diet.

About 13.5 percent of California households face food insecurity – reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet and, in some cases, reduced food intake – according to a 2014 USDA Economic Research Service study.

Although Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest areas of the state, some parts of Santa Clara County have “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods without grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices. Even in neighborhoods with grocery stores, residents may have less to spend on food after paying rising housing costs.

“Gardening made a substantial contribution to vegetable intake regardless of socioeconomic background or previous gardening experience,” said co-author Lucy Diekmann, a postdoctoral researcher in the Food and Agribusiness Institute at Santa Clara University.

Cooking classes help gardeners learn how to prepare and cook a meal using their fresh produce.
Growing food saves money

UC Cooperative Extension surveyed 85 community gardeners and 50 home gardeners in San Jose. The gardeners surveyed were generally low-income and came from a variety of ethnic and educational backgrounds. The survey was available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

By growing their own food, home gardeners saved on average $92 per month and community gardeners saved $84 per month.

A number of programs in California, including Sacred Heart Community Services' La Mesa Verde, help low-income families establish their own vegetable gardens. As of 2013, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can also be used to purchase seeds and plants so that low-income households can grow their own produce.

One gardener in the La Mesa Verde program told the researchers that without the savings and access to homegrown vegetables, she would have struggled the previous year. Her garden significantly supplemented her diet.

Wider variety of fresh produce

Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, green beans and cucumbers were the most common crops grown by community gardeners. La Mesa Verde families were given seeds and plants to grow tomatoes, peppers, beans, basil, zucchini, radishes, cucumbers and eggplants.

Culturally favorite foods were also grown by San Jose's ethnically diverse residents in both community and home gardens. They grew crops including chayote, bitter melon, goji berries, green tomatoes, fava beans, okra, collards and various Asian vegetables, such as bok choy and mustards.

Tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, peppers, green beans and cucumbers are common crops grown in community gardens.
“By growing and eating these foods, gardeners may maintain connections to family or cultural traditions,” the authors wrote. “They may also gain access to desired foods that are either not available or are perceived to be too expensive or of poor quality at local retail outlets.”

Gardeners in both groups gave excess produce to their friends and family members. 

Growing demand for gardens

For the study, the authors collaborated with the San Jose Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department, which runs the city's Community Garden Program. The city operates 18 community gardens that serve more than 900 gardeners and occupy 35 acres in San Jose, yet there is growing demand for more gardening space.

“One of the challenges to starting a garden, particularly for low-income gardeners, is a lack of adequate space,” said Diekmann. “La Mesa Verde gardeners are advocating for San Jose to adopt Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones so that more San Jose residents can have space to garden.”

The study was conducted by UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus Susan Algert, Leslie Gray of Santa Clara University, Marian Renvall of UC San Diego Department of Medicine and Diekmann, whose participation in this study was funded by a USDA NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative postdoctoral fellowship.

To read the full report in California Agriculture, visit http://ow.ly/wfWX300Dbzj.

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Inspiring youth leaders to cultivate health

What do you want to experience today?

What are sixth-graders interested in these days? “Cooking!” “Growing food!” “Learning how to be healthier.” “Exercising.” “Meeting new friends!” These enthusiastic answers came from sixth-grade student leaders in Santa Maria, Calif., when asked by educators from the UC Cooperative Extension Youth, Families and Communities program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Through an integrated youth-focused healthy living project, called Food Smart Families, funded by National 4-H, the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program, and the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program, 32 fourth- through sixth-grade student leaders were brought together from three schools in Santa Maria, Calif., for a full-day educational retreat that focused on engaging youth to explore their healthy lifestyle interests and see themselves as leaders.

Throughout the day, student leaders experienced physical activity games, learned cooking skills, participated in garden-based learning, and developed their presentation skills. They focused on skill development, as well as transference so that the student leaders could take these activities into their own schools to encourage and teach their peers. For example, the fun physical activity breaks that were incorporated throughout the day modeled games where no one is “out” or excluded, while moving enough to get heart rates up.

Students practice culinary skills.
After the retreat, the student leaders brought these activities to their own schools, leading their peers in the games during lunch and recess breaks. During the retreat, the student leaders also got to practice knife safety skills while chopping produce to prepare their own veggie pita pockets and fruit salads. With these skills, the student leaders offered food demonstrations and nutrition lessons to their peers during the following weeks.

In the garden, student leaders learned the basics of growing food and how to lead a garden lesson. Students discussed garden tools and how to use them safely, then planted their own seeds to take home. The garden session ended with a gleaning of the school citrus orchard where students laughed and enjoyed the fresh air and fresh fruits growing around them. In their own school gardens, the student leaders have offered lessons and tastings to their peers.

Student Nutrition Advisory Council logo.
The retreat culminated with youth presentations. The student leaders worked in teams with students from different schools to generate ideas and artwork for the Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC) logo and t-shirt design. They presented their concepts to the larger group, practicing their presentation skills. The student leaders voted on the designs and a winner was selected to be featured on a t-shirt for SNAC leaders at each of the three schools. The students leaders proudly wear their shirts as they lead healthy living education, advocacy and engagement activities.

By the end of the retreat, the student leaders were excited to take the information and skills back to their schools and start leading. Students shared their plans to help other students be more active during recess, be healthy, and help other kids be healthier too.

“This was the best day I have ever had,” said one of the students.

Recess activation in progress.
Since the retreat, the student-led initiatives have been numerous and continually evolving. The sixth-graders have encouraged and trained younger students to become their successors as they move onto junior high. Several students co-authored and starred in a video production called “Get to Know Your Salad Bar.”  With educator encouragement, the student leaders developed a script to motivate their peers to try out the salad bar by mixing fruit into their salad to make it sweet or putting lettuce and tomato on your hamburger to make it juicy and crunchy. Beyond leading in their own schools, the student leaders have been working to help their entire community. Many of the student leaders helped organize and conduct game-style nutrition activities at a local food pantry distribution to teach families about shopping for healthy foods on a limited budget. Other student leaders provided education and training to students at neighboring schools, encouraging them to become leaders as well.

Through the efforts of the Food Smart Families program, the Youth, Families, & Communities program in San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara counties merged the strengths of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program and the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development program to provide new opportunities and experiences for students in this community. With interested and caring adults, these student leaders learned to share their passions for cooking, gardening, and healthy lifestyle with their peers at school and others in their community. The rewards for the school, community and adult allies continue to expand as these inspired student leaders, with strong mentorship and support, take on some of the biggest challenges facing our society and world.

Harvesting from the orchard.
Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2016 at 9:46 AM

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