UC Food Blog
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a new food graphic, MyPlate, to remind consumers to choose healthier foods. Work by Cooperative Extension in California that began years earlier influenced the adoption of MyPlate by USDA. Nutrition educators in California began using a plate graphic with USDA's My Pyramid several years ago in a research project with Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program participants. While evaluating the use of their graphic, which was very similar to USDA's MyPlate, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisors found that a graphic depiction such as the one USDA is using for MyPlate is abstract for many families.
“We discovered that our clients need to see photos showing real food combinations in order to apply the MyPlate message to real food choices,” said Cathi Lamp, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor. “They prefer to learn by viewing photographs with foods and meals they eat to see how it works and how they can implement the guide in their lives.”
They evaluated the behavior of consumers who were trained with the revised Plan, Shop, Save and Cook curriculum with photos of food and compared it with the results of the original version of the lessons.
“Everybody enjoys looking at pictures of foods,” said Lamp. “So what we have now in our nutrition classes are lots of photographs of healthy examples.”
To listen to an interview with Cathi Lamp about My Healthy Plate in Spanish, visit Enseñando a comer ‘con sabor latino' con MiPlato at http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/Noticias/radio/?uid=5983&ds=199.
For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
Mary Lu Arpaia is conducting research to change that.
Avocados are native of semi subtropical high elevation rainforests in Mexico and Central America. A delicious and highly nutritious fruit, the cultivation of avocado has spread around the world. In California, growers are having commercial success in areas with year-round mild climates, such as San Diego and Ventura counties.
Though avocados are frost sensitive to be sure, it is not the cold winter climate that is the greatest impediment to avocado production in the state's inland valleys. It's the heat.
“Plant leaves have stomata, small openings that allow water vapor to move out of the plant to cool the leaf surface,” Arpaia said. “It works something like perspiration on people. Moisture exits the pores and cools the skin.”
The stomata on the leaves of Hass avocados – the variety most favored by California consumers – close when the temperature rises above 90 degrees. No moisture is released from the closed stomata and the plant overheats, causing fruit drop.
“To grow avocados in the valley, we need to have a variety that can tolerate heat better than Hass,” Arpaia said.
“The ones that we're testing in the field have eating quality comparable to Hass,” Arpaia said.
Lindcove is situated where the valley floor is gently rising toward the Sierra Nevada. The slope allows cold air to slip down to lower elevations, giving farmers in the area an advantage of a few degrees in the winter. The geography has made the area an important location for citrus production. But heat-tolerant avocados could be an alternative.
East-side citrus farmers may be looking for other options if Huanglongbing (HLB) disease makes its way to the area. Already, the pest that spreads HLB, Asian citrus psyllid, is established in some parts of the valley and spreading. Once a tree is infected with HLB, it cannot be cured.
“Growers have made good money on avocados,” Arpaia said. “In the San Joaquin Valley, water is relatively cheap and we have better water quality than San Diego County. There are good, well-drained soils. Avocados' frost sensitivity is similar to lemons. If farmers have property where they can grow lemons, they could try avocados.”
An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.
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.
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.
- 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.
California parsley is produced typically in high volumes and with high quality. However in the past few years, growers began to observe unfamiliar disease issues in their parsley fields. Leaf spots, blighted foliage and yellowed plants contributed to loss of quality and reduced yields. Steven Koike and Oleg Daugovish, UC Cooperative Extension advisors in Monterey and Ventura counties respectively, stepped in to investigate the new parsley problems. They collaborated with farmers and pest control advisers to understand the extent of the problems and to obtain samples of the diseased crops.
The UC Cooperative Extension plant pathology diagnostic lab in Salinas was successful in isolating and identifying several pathogens that were responsible for causing the disease symptoms. Working with USDA, they found that three new diseases were present in California parsley crops: bacterial leaf spot, Stemphylium leaf spot, and Apium virus Y disease.
Two of these problems are seedborne, so future management will include the use of pathogen-free seeds. The Apium virus Y pathogen is found in weeds, so growers will need to remove poison hemlock, among others.
Previous to this research, some growers were spraying symptomatic fields because they believed that a disease called late blight was responsible for the disease symptoms. Growers have now ceased making these sprays, eliminating the use of unnecessary chemicals and saving costs.
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.
- 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
- Rinse and peel vegetables.
- Chop lettuce, mince garlic, halve jalapeños, and dice peppers.
- Grate tomato, onion, and cheese.
- Drain and rinse beans.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, cook meat, bell pepper, and garlic until meat is lightly browned.
- Stir in corn, beans, water, and spices. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Make a salsa using jalapeño, tomato, and onion. Stir and set aside.
- 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.