Posts Tagged: nutrition
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.
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:/h3>/h3>/h3>
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!
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”
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
“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.
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.”
“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.”
But the truth is, dietary advice is nothing new. Some of our rules for eating date back to ancient times as part of religious teachings, and food traditions are central to our understanding of culture. What is new over the last century or so is the application of science to our diets, so that we can know more exactly what nutrition science tells us is best when it comes to filling our plates.
A new book by a UC Davis researcher argues that modern dietary advice is not merely scientific, but also continues to have cultural, ethical and moral messages attached to it.
“Eating Right in America: The Cultural Politics of Food & Health” analyzes how modern dietary reform movements in the United States do not just tell us how to eat right, but how to become a good person and a good citizen. Can eating a certain way make us into different, somehow better people? And who defines what sort of people we should strive to become, though improved eating? Author Charlotte Biltekoff calls for changing the way we think about what it means to “eat right.”
The book analyzes four dietary reform movements over the last century:
- the rise of domestic science and home economics,
- the national nutrition program during World War II,
- the alternative food movement, and
- the anti-obesity movement.
These reform movements cover nutritional advancements such as the science of cooking, the discovery of vitamins, the shift in emphasis from contagious to chronic diseases, and the increasing importance of diet and lifestyle as a part of health. The book examines how dietary ideals have shifted, how social ideals have shifted alongside them — and the relationship between the two. Notions of middle class identity, good citizenship and individual responsibility each have been mixed in with nutritional advice before it is served to the public, according to the author.
Rose Hayden-Smith, leader of UC ANR’s Sustainable Food Systems strategic initiative and a historian of gardening, said she can't wait to read this book.
“This whole idea of both empirical and ethical considerations of food choices really makes sense to me, rooted in the Progressive Era,” she said. “All of these scientific advances don’t matter if people don’t adopt them. So I think it’s really important for scientists to understand the cultural context into which their work is going.”
Beth Mitcham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, was intrigued by a presentation given by Biltekoff at UC Davis recently.
“This expands my way of thinking about the struggles we have with food choices and the potential for complicating well-intentioned messages,” she said. “We can’t ignore the scientific evidence that food choices have a huge impact on our health, but we must also realize when the things we’re saying are charged with judgments."
In a recent interview on Capital Public Radio, Biltekoff pointed out how analyzing history can shed light on difficult truths.
“History is such a great tool for learning to see things differently,” Biltekoff said. “The history that I tell in the book suggests that we worry so much about what is good to eat because of the social stakes involved in 'eating right.' Because it’s not just about our physical health, but also about our sense of self and about our social standing. There's a lot at stake that we may not be conscious of, but really is part and parcel of the conversation about 'good' food.”/span>