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

Hackathon movement connects consumers to food

Undergrad Constantine Spyrou and nutritionist Sara Schaefer (both UC Davis) developed an app matching meds to foods. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

On a Friday evening in a San Francisco conference room, food and technology leaders – including nutrition expert Carl Keen, a UC Davis professor affiliated with the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Ag Experiment Station – spoke to a mixed audience on the need for innovation in adapting populations across the world to changing food systems.

In the crowd, one inspired undergraduate student from UC Davis thumbed together some notes on his phone. The next day he stood in front of everyone at the event – more than 250 in all – and pitched his newly formed idea for a nutrition app.

It drew a small team: a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a UC Davis nutritionist and a UC Berkeley student. Over the next 40 hours they developed a software application that matches safe foods to patient medications. With the final presentations Sunday evening, the judges announced the winners.

Their project, called Took that? Eat this., won first place at the 2015 Food Hackathon. They now have sponsors and are developing their idea into a real consumer product. They are also flying out to the World Expo in Milan, Italy, in September – the first devoted to food and where an even larger food-themed hackathon will take place.  

(Food Hackathon from FounderLY on Vimeo

Breaking down the silos 

“It's powerful how much happens in such a short period of time,” says Bob Adams, innovation adviser for the UC Davis World Food Center and a mentor for the hackathon teams. “It was a great experience for all the UC Davis students who participated, because they don't normally interact in projects with students from other programs.”

With nearly 9,000 total hours spent in developing the 18 different projects, the hackathon was declared by the organizers a success and a testament to the power of crowd sourcing.

A group of passionate techies, foodies, scholars, investors and entrepreneurs shut in a room for two days pushed them like never before to apply their diverse expertise toward tackling some of the biggest problems facing food and ag. 

Winning team members celebrate with organizer Tim West. Left to right: Spyrou; Cindy Ma; Sonja Sulcer; West. (Clara Wetzel photo)

A university connecting ag and nutrition 

Research and industry leaders are looking to this model as one way to seed California's innovation ecosystem across the state's agricultural horizons. As another example, Mars, Inc., which co-sponsored the hackathon, is investing in a new type of university-industry partnership with UC Davis and the World Food Center by establishing the Innovation Institute for Food and Health.

“All of us win from these new and needed collective investments in innovation in food, agriculture and health,” writes Mars chief scientist Harold Schmitz in a recent Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Howard-Yana Shapiro, also a Mars chief scientist and a UC Davis fellow, sees innovative food technology projects like those crafted at the hackathon as this decade's biggest investment arena.

“The next, larger human generation will face food challenges ranging from climate change and water stress to growing demands for upmarket foods,” he wrote in a LinkedIn article. “But from what I saw at the hackathon, the next generation is on it.” 


See the original story by the UC Davis World Food Center.

Posted on Monday, April 27, 2015 at 12:41 PM
Tags: app (1), diet (1), food (13), hacker (1), medication (1), nutrition (100), Silicon Valley (1), student (1), UC Davis (11)

Tell the USDA that water should be first for thirst

UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Insitute is calling for the USDA to add water to MyPlate.
Nutrition scientists issued their findings to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last month on the proposed 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. During the open comment period, which ends April 8, the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) is encouraging the public to ask the government to make water the drink of choice in their final version of the 2015 guidelines and add a symbol for water on MyPlate.

MyPlate is the infographic used nationally to portray the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“The Dietary Guidelines are the nutrition bible for Americans, and MyPlate is used to teach children and adults alike how to follow them,” said Lorrene Ritchie, NPI director. “Americans have the privilege to weigh in on the guidelines and influence the outcome. It's an opportunity that shouldn't be ignored.”

The Nutrition Policy Institute was created in 2014 by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, the division of the UC system charged with sharing research-based information with the public about healthy communities, nutrition, agricultural production and environmental stewardship. The institute seeks to improve eating habits and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in California children and their families and beyond.

Much of Ritchie's research over the course of her 15-year career with UC has focused on the causes of and solutions for child obesity, which has led her to become a strong advocate for drinking water.

“It is clear from the evidence that a major contributor to obesity is sugary drinks," Ritchie said. "And the healthiest alternative to sugary drinks is plain water.

Before the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee released its report last month, NPI asked the committee to include strong language encouraging the consumption of water as the beverage of choice for adults and children. The committee's report says, “Strategies are needed to encourage the U.S. population to drink water when they are thirsty. Water provides a healthy, low-cost, zero-calorie beverage option.”

“I was very pleased to see that recommendation in the committee's report,” Ritchie said.

Now Ritchie said she is hopeful that the guidelines' most-used educational companion, MyPlate, will reflect the committee's statement. The public can help.

“We are urging people to send comments to the USDA,” Ritchie said. “Tell Washington to make water first for thirst and ask the USDA to reinforce it with an icon for water on MyPlate.”

Anyone can submit comments on the report and many special interest groups, industry representatives, advocates and policymakers are expected to do so. USDA promises to read all comments, so the opinions of concerned individuals – such as parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. – will also carry significant weight.

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute developed a “Take Action!” page on its website with easy-to-follow guidelines for submitting comments on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For more information, see the Nutrition Policy Institute website.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 3:18 PM

New Valentine’s Day trends are good for kids

Last Valentine's Day, Nick Spezzano (Terri's son, in white shirt and bow tie) enjoys fresh vegetables and fruit with his classmates.
At some point in the last few decades, Valentine's Day in elementary schools ceased to be about sharing heart-felt sentiments on simple paper cards. It turned into a candy fest.

Now, with growing attention to the obesity crisis and increasing rate of type 2 diabetes in children, the tide is turning. Many school districts have begun to put limits on classroom parties and teachers are asking parents to provide healthy snacks.

Terri Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor and the mother of two school-age boys, is delighted by the turnabout. She has found that, with a little creativity, healthful Valentine's Day parties can be just as fun for kids.

“Last year, I brought strawberries to my son's classroom. We can get local strawberries in California almost year round,” Spezzano said. “Strawberries are always a huge hit with kids. They're fun and shaped a little like a heart.”

Spezzano, who is also director of UCCE in Stanislaus County, manages a staff of 10 nutrition educators in Stanislaus and Merced counties who regularly visit classrooms to teach children about making healthy food choices. USDA provides funding to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources so UCCE offices around the state can offer these educational programs in schools serving low income families.

“Around Valentine's Day, they'll make strawberry smoothies, because they're pink and delicious,” Spezzano said.

Before bringing goodies to school for Valentine's Day, Spezzano suggests parents talk to the teacher. Even if conversation hearts, cupcakes, fruit punch and chocolate are permitted in the school district, the teacher may not like the idea.

“I wouldn't want to teach a class full of first graders strung out on sugar,” Spezzano said.

Spezzano advocates for healthy school parties, but she isn't opposed to allowing children to enjoy some sugary treats.

“I don't want to tell kids, ‘You cannot have sugar,'” she said. “That can lead to sneaking and hoarding and that's where we see more obesity problems.”

Spezzano offered the following suggestions for making Valentine's Day healthy and fun:

Sharing kind sentiments are a great way to celebrate Valentine's Day. (Photo: Jessica Christman, Factory Direct Craft Blog.

  • Give out Valentine-themed pencils or erasers. “These are available at dollar stores at a really good price,” she said.
  • Provide small boxes of raisins.
  • For a special treat, try the new “sour” raisins.
  • Serve heart-shaped pizza, offered by many pizzerias in mid-February. Be sure to pick healthful toppings like bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and mushrooms rather than high-fat “meat lovers” or double-cheese pizza.
  • Cut fruit, cheese or sandwiches into heart shapes using a metal cookie cutter.
  • Don't be afraid to go “back to basics” and allow children to exchange simple paper cards with a kind note, no candy needed.

UC Cooperative Extension offers two nutrition education programs. UC CalFresh provides nutrition education to low-income adults and youth. The UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program targets limited-resource families and children.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 6:26 AM
Tags: nutrition (100), Terri Spezzano (2), Valentines (1)

Tomatillos add Mexican flavor to California gardens

Tomatillos look like Chinese lanterns growing on a vine.
With spring quickly approaching, it is the ideal time to plan a summer garden in California. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and squash are common and relatively easy to grow. But gardening veterans and rookies alike may want to add some ethnic flavor by cultivating tomatillos.

UC Cooperative Extension advisor Maria de la Fuente said she has planted tomatillos in her backyard garden every year since she moved to California from Monterrey, Mexico, in 1995. De la Fuente serves UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in various roles. She is the director of UCCE in Monterey County, an advisor to commercial specialty vegetable producers in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Clara counties, and the Master Gardener coordinator in Santa Clara County. She said she personally uses tomatillos regularly to make fresh green salsa, green pico de gallo and flavorful traditional sauces for dishes like chili verde.

“You could use green tomatoes, but it doesn't taste the same,” de la Fuente said. “There's really no substitute.”

Tomatillos are native of Mexico and a staple of Mexican cuisine. De la Fuente, who lives in Santa Clara County, said she starts seeds indoors in March and transplants into her garden in mid-May with great success.

“They grow like weeds, but I also buy a lot in the store,” de la Fuente said. “I make a lot of green salsa.”

Tomatillos, small green or green-purple to red fruits that mature inside paper-like husks, can be a healthful addition to family meals, according to the UC CalFresh nutrition education program, which developed a fact sheet in English and Spanish for cooking and eating tomatillos. Tomatillos contain Vitamin C, Vitamin K and potassium and are naturally low in calories.

Crab molotes with avocado tomatillo salsa. (Photo: California Avocados, CC BY 2.0)
Purple and red-ripening cultivars often have a slight sweetness; green- and yellow-ripening cultivars are more tart. Both types can be used for salsas and sauces. The fruits are white inside and meatier than tomatoes, which are in the same family, but a different genus.

To grow tomatillos, spread seeds on moist soil in an egg carton or shallow tray, place in a sunny location inside and keep the soil moist. When the plants are about six inches tall, transplant about three feet apart into garden soil that has been mixed with compost or humus. Select an area where they will get plenty of sun and be sure to plant more than one as two or more are required for proper pollination. The plants will grow to about 3 or 4 feet high and will need support to keep the fruit off the ground.

Tomatillos look like delicate Chinese lanterns on the vine. They are ready to harvest when the fruit fills and splits the husk, but leave the inedible husk on until use. Tomatillos may be kept in a brown paper bag in the refrigerator for about two weeks. For preservation, they may be frozen fresh or cooked. Prepared tomatillo salsa, chutney, relish, jam and sauce may be preserved using boiling water or pressure canning methods.

To prepare tomatillo sauce, gently squeeze the vegetable from the husk. Wash in cool, running water to remove stickiness from the skin. Sauté 2 cups chopped tomatillos, 1 diced onion and 1 diced garlic clove in 2 tbsp. oil. Add ¼ cup of water and heat until the vegetables are soft. Purée in a blender. De la Fuente suggests adding fresh cilantro to enhance the flavor of the sauce.

The CalFresh fact sheet says parents may feed children 6 months of age and older cooked tomatillo and sweet potato puree. Toddlers may be offered small pieces of cooked tomatillos and carrots. Older children may enjoy the vegetable served with cooked potatoes and onion as a burrito filling, or the pureed sauce as a dip with quesadillas, bread or raw vegetables.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 10:36 AM

Shaping Healthy Choices combines approaches to make a lasting impression on kids

Growing vegetables in a garden is part of a program to improve children's eating habits.
You can lead a child to fresh fruits and vegetables, but how do you entice them to eat healthful foods when you aren't watching?

“Simply offering healthy options is not enough to motivate children to make healthy choices,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.

“Moreover, imposing restrictions rather than providing children with options to make healthy choices can have long-term negative effects,” said Rachel Scherr, assistant project scientist, also in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition.

In 2012, more than one-third of children in the U.S. were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have shown that obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, increasing their risk for health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis. To target the complex issue of eating habits, Zidenberg-Cherr and her UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis colleagues designed a school-based program and tested it in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties through the leadership of UCCE nutrition, family and consumer science advisors Terri Spezzano and Yvonne Nicholson.

“Parents shared with me that their children are voicing input on meals and asking if they can add fruit to their salads,” a participating teacher told the researchers.

During the first year that the Shaping Healthy Choices Program was implemented in Sacramento County schools, the number of children classified as overweight or obese dropped from 56 percent to 38 percent. The participating students also improved their nutrition knowledge, ability to identify different kinds of vegetables and amounts of vegetables that they reported eating.

“I tried zucchini and yellow squash when I was little and didn't like it, but now I tried it and I love it!” said a 9-year-old student.

The Shaping Healthy Choices Program takes a multifaceted approach, combining nutrition education with family and community partnerships, regional agriculture, foods available on school campus and school wellness policies.

The garden-enhanced, inquiry-based nutrition curriculum was developed by Jessica Linnell, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology; Carol Hillhouse, the School Garden Program director at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute;  and Martin Smith, a UCCE specialist in the Departments of Human Ecology and Population Health and Reproduction. The family and community partnerships featuring family newsletters were developed by Carolyn Sutter, a graduate student in the Graduate Group of Human Development, and Lenna Ontai, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Human Ecology. Lori Nguyen, a doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology, Sheridan Miyamoto, postdoctoral scholar in the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, and Heather Young, dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, organized community-sponsored health fairs.

School chefs are adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to their menus.
Gail Feenstra, deputy director and food systems analyst for the UC Agricultural Sustainability Institute, helped the schools set up systems to add fresh, locally grown produce to their menus. Jacqueline Bergman, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Nutrition, coordinated school-site specific wellness committees.

The UC Cooperative Extension and UC Davis team worked with classrooms to use Discovering Healthy Choices, a standards-based curriculum that incorporates interactive classroom nutrition, garden and physical activity education for upper elementary school students. Teachers partnered with UCCE to incorporate cooking demonstrations to show the connections between agriculture, food preparation and nutrition. To reinforce the lessons at home, Team Up for Families – monthly newsletters containing nutrition tips for the parents – were sent home with the students. School Nutrition Services purchased fruits and vegetables from regional growers and distributors to set up salad bars and prepare dishes made with fresh produce. The Shaping Healthy Choices Program activities were integrated into the school wellness initiatives.

“My students shared things they learned about safe food handling and safety in cooking,” said a teacher who participated in the study. “Parents said their children want to help in preparing meals at home.”

“My daughter is more interested in trying new foods and eating more fruits and vegetables,” reported one parent. “She often surprises the family by making a surprise salad snack for everyone.”

Preliminary analysis shows that nine months after the classroom education ended, the decrease in the students' body mass index percentiles, or BMI percentiles, was sustained. “This is a big deal,” said Zidenberg-Cherr, while cautiously encouraged by the program's success. “We are in the process of analyzing several aspects of the program — the data set is so complex and I have to feel 100 percent confident in our statements.”

Through a partnership with UC CalFresh, the researchers have expanded the comprehensive program to schools in Placer, Butte and San Luis Obispo counties. Determining feasibility for expansion of the program for broader dissemination is planned for the 2015-2016 school year. 

This project was funded by grants from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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.

Posted on Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 8:38 AM

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