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

Posts Tagged: nutrition

An energetic musical reinforces nutrition education

UCCE's Shawna Rogers shows the plush organs that are inside of OrganWise Guy.
It would be hard to forget a couple of kidneys singing the blues, or a disembodied heart demanding more exercise. That's what UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators are banking on. The educators are pilot-testing a curriculum called “The OrganWise Guys” to help children remember healthy eating messages.

“The kids are really retaining the information because it is brought to life,” said Shawna Rogers, UCCE nutrition program coordinator. She and her colleagues take a four-foot doll to schools and peel open the chest to reveal plush toys representing all the organs. “Each time we go into the classroom, we focus on one organ and how they can keep that organ healthy.”

The dolls and nutrition curriculum are provided to teachers so they can be used to teach the children throughout the year.

The classroom series culminates with a lively stage play in which the organs come to life (see the video below). The OrganWise Guys curriculum is being tested at Olmos and Rowell elementary schools in Fresno with 688 students and 27 teachers as a possible supplement to traditional UC CalFresh curriculum, which was developed to extend nutrition education to recipients of CalFresh benefits (formerly called food stamps).

“OrganWise Guys curriculum pairs really nicely with the evidence-based curriculum that UC has put together,” said Shelby MacNab, UCCE nutrition program manager. “We teach about nutrition and healthy foods, and then we can show the students how that leads to a healthy body.”

Judging by enthusiasm, The OrganWise Guys is a rousing success. A more formal evaluation will be conducted by surveying the children's parents, said Kristen Stenger, UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for Fresno County.

“We will ask parents if the kids have mentioned the OrganWise Guys at home or if they have told them what they learned at school about the body, health and nutrition,” Stenger said.

Once the full educational model has been developed with the OrganWise Guys curriculum, it will be offered to additional school sites.

Posted on Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 8:44 AM
Tags: nutrition (81)

UC creates recipes for healthier diets

University of California Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Marc Sanchez brings the fearsome beast with him on school visits to classrooms in Merced and Stanislaus counties.

“Let me introduce to you the Green Monster,” Sanchez says to a classroom of second-graders at Yamato Colony Elementary School in Livingston. “Is anybody scared?”

“Noooo,” the kids roar in defiance of the beast.

Marc Sanchez displays the 'green monster' he uses to encourage kids to eat fruits and vegetables. (Photo: Jose Pantoja)
Sanchez borrows from TV's “Fear Factor” challenges and uses his youthful energy to entice the kids to conquer the Green Monster — a spinach smoothie made tasty with bananas, grapes and pineapples — and embrace a healthy drink made with foods they normally dread.

The school visits are just one of the ways UC researchers, educators and cooperative extension representatives across the state are encouraging children and their families to eat healthier. They also are introducing them to fresh produce, doing cooking demonstrations and helping school districts prepare healthier meals.

About 17 percent of American children and adolescents are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During the last 30 years, obesity rates have more than doubled for children ages 6 to 11 and tripled for adolescents ages 12 to 19. It's an ominous statistic that could be improved if children ate more fruits and veggies.

Connecting schoolkids to farmers

UC's nutrition education programs try to promote better eating habits by connecting schools to local farms and farmers. Known as farm-to-school programs, students learn about where their food comes from and how it's grown — and in the process, learn to eat a balanced diet. Often, the children then become the conduit that brings healthier eating to the whole family.

UC is on the forefront of these programs,” said Theresa Spezzano, UC Cooperative Extension director for Stanislaus and Merced counties and a nutrition, family and consumer science adviser. “The majority of the work is in some sort of school-based program.”

Nutrition education from UC reaches children, families and classrooms in nearly every part of the state.

Cooperative Extension, part of UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, runs two federal programs for low-income families in California — the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program and the CalFresh Nutrition Education Program. Together they reach more than 180,000 people.

Changing the corner store

At UCLA, public health professor Alex Ortega leads an effort to make more healthy food available in low-income urban areas by working with neighborhood convenience stores to replace junk food with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The project is based in East Los Angeles — a predominately Mexican-American community where diabetes and obesity rates are high. Four stores have agreed to restock their shelves and refrigerators. In return, storeowners are being trained in how to market fresh fruits and vegetables. There is also an outreach program that uses local high school students to educate nearby residents about healthy eating and what's available at the transformed markets.

“It's just one part of a very complex puzzle. We understand other things have to be going on, including promoting more physical activity,” said Ortega, director of the UCLA Center for Population Health and Health Disparities that is funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “Providing access to healthy food is significant part of the puzzle. If people don't have access and health education, you can't expect the community to be eating healthy.”

Ortega said data are being gathered on the effectiveness of the five-year project in East Los Angeles. But even if they don't find extensive shifts in behavior, “just getting people in the community thinking about eating healthier is a major step,” he said.

Education + access = healthy choices

Although there have been few long-term studies on the effectiveness of nutrition education programs, one small study of four schools in Sacramento and Stanislaus counties suggests that farm-to-school education and access to healthier food can help lower obesity rates among children.

The schools are taking part in a UC Davis and Cooperative Extension program called Shaping Healthy Choices, which includes an exercise component, along with nutrition education and access to more fresh produce.

That kind of multi-component program is “a promising model for how schools can play a role in promoting healthy food choices and reducing childhood obesity,” said Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, co-director of the Center for Nutrition in Schools at UC Davis, who helped lead the study.

In Sanchez's experience, the best way to reach kids is to make eating healthy food a positive experience and one they are likely to remember.

“I can tell them, ‘eat this because it's better for you,' but they hear that all the time,” he said. “I want to do something that catches their eye. What's more appealing, calling it a Green Monster or a spinach drink?”

View a slide show below to experience Marc Sanchez' interaction with children as he teaches healthful eating:

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 7:42 AM
  • Author: Harry Mok, UC Office of the President, harry.mok@ucop.edu
Tags: Marc Sanchez (1), nutrition (81)

Are you ready for National Nutrition Month®?

It's that time of year! March is National Nutrition Month®, and we're getting ready for this year's theme to “Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right.” Eating right can be challenging as healthy foods are often misunderstood to be bland, flavorless, boring, and not worth the time, but this isn't always true! Eating right can be delicious, flavorful, quick, and easy, and – most importantly – you can enjoy it too!

Seeing "no salt added" on the label is a good sign.
Eat right with less salt

Adding salt is a popular way to add flavor to meals, but that doesn't mean it's healthy. In fact, most Americans are getting too much sodium from the foods they eat, increasing the risk of chronic disease. Try these sodium-busting tips to make your family's meals healthy without banishing the flavor:

  • Choose fresh foods that are naturally low in sodium such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs and milk
  • Skip the salt and kick up the flavor with herbs, spices or fruit juices
  • Drain and rinse canned vegetables to reduce the amount of salt
  • Read the Nutrition Facts label to choose low-sodium foods and look for terms like “no added salt”

Oatmeal with fruits and nuts make a quick, healthy breakfast.
Eat right at breakfast

Eating right can be difficult at any time of day, especially first thing in the morning when you'd rather snooze for another hour or two. It's not uncommon for us to skip breakfast altogether or quickly shove a naked piece of toast in our mouths before hurrying out the door. Are you curious to know what it's like to actually enjoy eating right in the morning? Find out by making traditional morning meals more nutritious and delicious at home or on the go:

  • Top oatmeal or low-fat yogurt with chopped nuts or slices of fresh fruit
  • Blend a quick breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, strawberries and a banana
  • Spread peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla, add your favorite fruit or granola, roll it up, and you're ready to head out the door
  • No time to make breakfast in the mornings? Make a breakfast burrito the night before so it's ready for you to grab and go. Stuff a whole wheat tortilla with your favorite filling like scrambled eggs, low-fat cheese, and black beans

To learn more about National Nutrition Month® and for more tips on eating right, visit www.eatright.org/nnm

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 10:33 AM

Paleo diet not as simple as it sounds

Meat, fruit and vegetables are staples in a Paleo diet.
Around the Internet, on TV talk shows and in some fitness centers, people are touting a new weight-loss trend – the Paleolithic diet. Proponents suggest the modern Stone Age nutrition plan mirrors the diet on which humans evolved over millions of years. Adherents swear off farmed foods like wheat, dairy, sugar and legumes and rely on a hunter-gatherer menu of meat, nuts, fruit and vegetables.

“The Paleo Diet is a lifestyle based on the idea that in the past 40,000 years, our DNA has changed very little,” says the Dr. Oz Show website. “Therefore, eating processed foods like cereals, dairy products, and refined sugars invite disease and weight gain.”

When new diet fads hit the airwaves, UC Cooperative Extension’s nutrition educators hear questions. The nutrition educators are in schools, neighborhood centers, community gardens and health fairs teaching the evidence-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans, established by the USDA, to low-income Californians. At an annual training session held this month in Davis, nearly 200 UCCE educators were briefed on the Paleo diet by Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.

She said she’s open to new nutrition trends, but has some doubts about copying the dietary habits of our cavemen ancestors.

“After all, they only lived for 15 or 20 years,” Zidenberg-Cherr said. “Dr. Oz is going to say anything to get people excited.”

Ancient diets varied widely by location and historic period, making it difficult to accurately reconstruct eating patterns. And some of the published rationale for the Paleo diet is wrong.

“Scientists have discovered traces of seeds and grains on the teeth of fossilized humans,” she said. “Scientists have discovered remnants of grains on stone cooking tools.”

Zidenberg-Cherr said researchers are now beginning to explore the complex interplay of genes and lifestyle on an individual’s weight and health - a field called epigenetics. Ultimately, the research may one day provide personalized nutrition therapies that maximize genetic potentials, prevent chronic disease and improve treatment outcomes.

Epigenetics might explain the rave reviews by some who have been successful with the Paleo diet.

“Some people feel better when they eat a Paleo diet. It might have metabolic effects. It might improve glucose tolerance. It might be in their minds or it might be epigenetic,” Zidenberg-Cherr said.

The constant drumbeat of diet breakthroughs and fads, however, does tend to confuse the public and erode their confidence in nutrition messages.

“It’s our responsibility as nutrition scientists and educators to act as credible sources of science-based nutrition recommendations,” Zidenberg-Cherr told the UCCE nutrition educators.

Posted on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 9:20 AM
Tags: nutrition (81), paleolithic diet (1)

Master Food Preserver program in California is on the upswing

Participants line up for a group photo at the first-ever Master Food Preserver conference.
Home food preservation had been simmering on the back burner for years, but growing interest in eating healthy, local food and a revival of America’s can-do spirit has it jamming once again.

The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver (MFP) program is following the same trend. Established in the 1980s, a small contingent of volunteers offered occasional classes through the years. But a reawakening that spurred rapid program growth was enough to prompt UC Cooperative Extension to hold the first-ever statewide Master Food Preserver conference this month in Stockton.

Master Food Preservers are volunteers who teach people in their communities how to preserve food safely and nutritiously. Nine California counties now have MFP programs and more are planned. Last year, MFP volunteers clocked 15,000 hours teaching courses on safe food preservation. The statewide conference was designed to give the volunteers a networking opportunity, updates on the latest food preservation techniques and tools, and energy to return home and meet the increasing public demand.

“There is a huge resurgence of interest in food preservation among young people,” said Missy Gable, the co-director of the UCCE statewide Master Food Preserver program and director of its Master Gardener program. “People whose parents and grandparents didn’t preserve food now want to learn how.”

At the conference, chef Ernest Miller, a certified Master Food Preserver in Los Angeles County, outlined the storied history of food preservation, which he says predates agriculture.

“You decide to grow food. You’re successful. You have a big harvest and throw the first harvest party,” Miller said. “One week, two weeks later, all the food goes bad. You starve to death and the experiment is over. You need to know how to preserve food before you can switch from hunting and gathering to agriculture.”

A food preservation display at the MFP conference.
Miller believes food preservation is the foundation of civilization and the key to the world’s cultures.

“Where would the French be without cheese? What would the Japanese be without sunomono, the Koreans without kimchee, the Germans without sauerkraut and beer?” he asked.

A proponent of all types of food preservation, Miller can rattle off a litany of processes in a few seconds.

“We teach canning, pressure canning, freezing, drying, pickling, fermenting, curing, brewing, smoking, charcuterie, cheese making and emergency food storage,” he said to cheers from the audience.

Three Master Food Preservers shared proven teaching techniques with their colleagues at the conference.

Sue Mosbacher, UCCE program representative for the MFP program in Amador and Calaveras counties, said she always begins a class on pressure canning by asking who’s afraid of the process. Many hands go up and members of the audience tell of times their grandmothers’ pressure cookers exploded.

“What were they cooking? Split pea soup and the peas clogged the vent. With pressure canning, we’re just using water,” Mosbacher said. “The first thing I do is reassure them that a pressure canner is a very safe tool to use.”

Mosbacher gets her students excited about canning their own beef stew by trying to read the ingredients on a store-bought stew can, and then the ingredients in her home-preserved stew.

“Potatoes, carrots, onions, beef and a little broth, that’s it. And it’s delicious,” she said.

MFP Cheryl Knapp of El Dorado County showed that food preservation isn’t limited putting up plain fruit and vegetables for future consumption. In her classes, she teaches how to make homemade spice blends using dried peppers and other vegetables from the garden.

MFP Linda Bjorkland of Sacramento County demonstrated an automatic jam and jelly maker she received as a gift. At first she was skeptical, but tried it.

“You just sprinkle the pectin, add a half teaspoon of butter, and the strawberries,” Bjorkland said. “What’s the next step? Turn it on. Can you believe that?”

A hot plate heats the mixture evenly and a blade inside the pan stirs continuously. When the maker beeps, add sugar.

“It continues for 17 minutes, and your jam is done,” Bjorkland said. “It’s quick and easy. That’s the kind of thing your public will want to know about.”

The UCCE Master Food Preserver program is setting up a statewide steering committee, will soon launch a new, completely updated website, and a team of MFP volunteers and UC nutrition specialists are writing a comprehensive MFP handbook.

“This is a labor of love,” Gable said. “I’m thrilled about the developments in our program.”

Posted on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 9:20 AM

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