UC Food Blog
Is there such thing as a nutritionally perfect food? Is there something a human can consume that provides everything a body needs to stay healthy?
“Mother’s milk is the Rosetta stone for all food,” said Bruce German, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at UC Davis and director of the UC Davis Foods for Health Institute. “It’s a complete food, a complete diet, shaped over 200 million years of evolution to keep healthy babies healthy.”
German and his team are now decoding breast milk to better understand its components and why they work so well. They are discovering a wealth of information about how best to feed and protect the human body, lessons that will enhance health not just for infants but for us all.
What are they learning?
For one thing, a large part of breast milk goes into babies' mouths and out into their diapers with no digestion along the way. That's astonishing. Of the 500 calories a lactating woman burns each day to make milk, 10 percent is spent synthesizing something the baby treats as waste. If it didn’t have value to the developing baby, wouldn’t natural selection have discarded it long ago?
Turns out, it has great value. The indigestible matter is a slew of sugar polymers called oligosaccharides that feed specific bacteria in a baby’s gut. The oligosaccharides help good bugs proliferate and dominate, keeping babies healthy by crowding out the less savory bugs before they can become established and, perhaps more important, nurturing the integrity of the lining of an infant’s intestines, which play a vital role in protecting them from infection and inflammation.
“What a genius strategy,” German said. “Mothers are recruiting another life form to babysit their babies.”
So maybe when we nourish our bodies, we should think about feeding our good bugs, too.
How do we do that? Good question. Scientists can’t yet say for sure what a healthy bacterial community in our guts should look like, let alone how best to promote it. But one thing is certain, German says.
“Our good bacteria play a much more important role in our health than we realized,” German said.
So oligosaccharides might support microbial balance in our digestive tracts. Nursing babies can get them from their mothers. What about the rest of us?
Another good question, and UC Davis researchers are on it, identifying, extracting and delivering health-promoting oligosaccharides from various sources, including whey, the waste product from cheese making.
You can read all about it (and more) in this story on the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences website: http://caes.ucdavis.edu/news/articles/2013/09/title-uc-davis-decoding-mother2019s-milk-for-clues-to-lasting-health
When you think casually of “food,” you may think of your next meal or your favorite food. “World food” may broaden your thinking to include international cuisines, global hunger, or a growing population. But the academic fields related to food are numerous. Food is one of life’s basic necessities, and along with its associated issues it is essential to the health and well-being of everyone, whatever their locale, education, or income level.
The new World Food Center at UC Davis will take on a broad purview related to food, including sustainable agricultural and environmental practices, food security and safety, hunger, poverty reduction through improved incomes, health and nutrition, population growth, new foods, genomics, food distribution systems, food waste, intellectual property distribution related to food, economic development and new technologies and policies.
With rapid global population growth occurring on smaller amounts of arable land, coupled with the expected impacts of climate change on food production, understanding the sustainability of food into the future is critical.
The new center’s website notes, “The World Food Center at UC Davis takes a ‘big picture’ approach to sustainably solving humanity’s most pressing problems in food and health. By bringing together world-class scientists with innovators, philanthropists and industry and public leaders, the center will generate the kind of visionary knowledge and practical policy solutions that will feed and nurture people for decades to come.”
In establishing the World Food Center, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said, “We did this to fully capitalize on our depth and expertise as the world’s leading university for education, research and scholarship on all aspects of food, but especially the nexus between food and health.”
UC Davis is the top-ranked agricultural university in the world, and California is the major producer of vegetables and fruit in the nation. Tom Tomich, director of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute and professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, says of the World Food Center’s location at UC Davis, “There’s no place else that has the right mix of educational programs, research facilities, and the engagement with the state.”
The major academic disciplines surrounding food are found at UC Davis — agriculture, the environment, medicine, veterinary medicine, engineering, social and cultural sciences, and management. More than 30 centers and institutes at UC Davis will be pulled together through the World Food Center. The combination of scholarship, leadership, and partnerships at UC Davis has already established the campus as a center for food-related science and outreach. This new center will reinforce that strength and broaden the university’s ability to tackle tough global issues related to food.
Although the founding director of the center has yet to be named, Josette Lewis, Ph.D., was recently appointed as the associate director of the World Food Center. Her background on international research and development for the U.S. Agency for International Development, and director of its Office of Agriculture, honed her skills to take on the World Food Center. It was at US AID that she worked on a major global hunger and food security initiative, establishing her expertise on issues related to global agricultural development and food security.
As the new World Food Center becomes fully developed, it will be well-positioned on campus to continue to solve the major global issues related to food that are a hallmark of UC Davis.
- World Food Center website
- UC Davis video on the World Food Center
- Key facts
- UC Davis Dateline article
- Sacramento Bee article
“Food commands attention and brings people together,” says L. Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, a new interdisciplinary research center comprising five different UC Berkeley schools. “It touches on every aspect of human society.”
It’s bringing academia together, too. Food research centers have been springing up at campuses across the United States as higher education takes on the complex topic from multiple perspectives.
“The academic community is recognizing that when it comes to food, it’s no longer possible to tease out agriculture from environmental, public policy, social justice and public health issues,” Thrupp says.
UC Berkeley’s new initiative is ambitious. In development for nearly two years before its launch this fall, the center has a mission to help achieve transformation in the food and agriculture systems, making them more diverse, healthy, resilient and just — at local, regional, national and international levels.
The Institute will pursue that transformation by supporting and galvanizing collaborative research efforts across its five partner units — Berkeley Law, the Goldman School of Public Policy, the Graduate School of Journalism, the School of Public Health, and the College of Natural Resources (CNR) — and with faculty affiliates throughout the University.
But, as befits Berkeley’s storied history of activism and leadership, the Institute’s vision is larger than publishing in academic journals. Its leaders plan to break down the traditional boundaries between academia and society and connect with boots-on-the-ground stakeholders who can help identify knowledge gaps and use research to bring about real changes in the food system.
“It is not enough to conduct research — the fruits of this research must be delivered broadly to civil society and to policy makers,” says Claire Kremen, a conservation biology professor and one of the Institute’s two faculty co-directors. “That’s why the schools of journalism and of public policy are key collaborators. They have the expertise to communicate our findings to key sectors and actors in society and government.”
Thrupp echoes the point. “Making an impact will require the engagement of multiple sectors, including scientists, farmers, food system workers and policymakers — at all levels,” she says. “The Berkeley Food Institute will help facilitate those crucial connections.”
This fall, two heavy-hitters from far-flung corners of the food world are helping the Institute start making those connections, as its first visiting scholars. Olivier de Schutter, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, fights hunger worldwide and defends food as a “human right.” Saru Jayaraman, head of the UC Berkeley’s Food Labor Center, has fought to improve wages and working conditions for food workers, and to broadly communicate the issues they face.
The next panel, “The Right to Food: Reshaping Policies for Development and Public Health,” scheduled for Oct. 28, is moderated by J-School Dean Edward Wasserman and features De Schutter and public health and ag-econ faculty.
The fall programs culminate with “What’s Next for the Food Movement?” a conversation between author and journalism professor Michael Pollan and, fresh from the Obama administration, former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan. It’s moderated by journalist Linda Schacht.
The dynamic public events series, what organizers are calling “The Food Exchange,” is just a taste of the conversations, investigations, and collaborations to come, both behind the scenes and in a public forum.
“It’s inspiring that so many researchers, students, stakeholders and community members are interested and involved in the Berkeley Food Institute and our mission,” Thrupp says.
- Listen to an interview with faculty co-directors Claire Kremen and Alastair Iles, which aired Sept. 6 on KALX.
Stacked high in the back corner were bags of California pistachios – a reminder of how prominent a producer the Golden State is and a sign of the marketing power of its largest pistachio processor, Paramount Farms. The United States is the world’s leading pistachio producer, and 99 percent of the country’s crop comes from California.
Pistachios are California’s third-biggest nut crop, behind almonds and walnuts, and the state’s sixth-leading agricultural export, with markets spanning from Canada to China.
To help continue to improve production, the pistachio industry is turning to the University of California. In January, the California Pistachio Research Board announced it will donate $1.5 million to support a UC Cooperative Extension specialist to conduct nut and fruit disease research. This specialist position will help UC Agriculture and Natural Resources fulfill its mission as well as serve the pistachio industry’s needs.
UC research plays a key role in keeping California the nation’s leading agricultural state. Partnerships such as the one with the Pistachio Research Board – and previous ones with the California Rice Research Board and California Table Grape Commission – represent a new funding model to extend that role.
On the dairy side, California is known for happy cows; eastern Canada is known for bagged milk. Yes, milk is sold in bags of three, each 1.33 liters. My sister-in-law likes the bags because the packaging is more environmentally friendly than plastic jugs. You even can purchase specially designed pitchers for dispensing bagged milk. The key is cutting the tip of the bag properly, so it can pour smoothly – not too slow and not too fast. It’s an interesting concept, but a little messy. Will milk bags catch on in California? I think that will be a tough nut to crack.
The FoodLink program, called “Nutrition on the Go,” has delivered farm-fresh produce to families for 11 years. Nutrition on the Go made a stop in the community of Farmersville, with a population of about 10,000 and median household income of $31,611, at the end of August. Large commercial bins of apples, yellow plums, pasilla chilies, red onions and tomatoes were placed under sunshades in the community center parking lot. The food was donated by local packing houses, farmers and a volunteer gleaning program. About 150 recipients braved the hot midday sun to collect generous bags of fresh produce.
“The beauty of this program is there is no eligibility. You show up, you get food. It’s a very welcoming program,” said Steve Dresser of FoodLink.
At each food giveaway, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educators provide a healthful recipe that incorporates the produce being offered and samples of the prepared dish. In Farmersville, nutrition program manager Julie Cates and nutrition educator Grilda Gomez handed paper cups of tuna apple salad to recipients as they waited in line.
“These communities are food deserts,” Cates said. “They have a lot of hard working people but they don’t have access to fruits and vegetables.”
The families also lack access to nutrition education.
“We bridge that gap,” Cates said.
Following is the recipe for tuna apple salad UCCE distributed at the Farmersville food giveaway.
Tuna Apple Salad
Makes 4 servings. 1 cup per serving
Prep time: 15 minutes
2 (6-ounce) cans water packed tuna, drained
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 medium apple, cored and chopped
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons fat free Italian dressing
2 cups salad greens
2 medium whole wheat pitas
- In a small bowl, stir tuna, onion, apple, celery, raisins, and two tablespoons of dressing together.
- In another bowl, toss salad greens with remaining dressing.
- Cut pitas in half to make 4 pita pockets.
- Carefully fill pita pockets with equal amounts of tuna and salad greens.
Nutrition information per serving: calories 216, carbohydrate 27 g, dietary fiber 4 g, protein 25 g, total fat 2 g, saturated fat 0 g, trans fat 0 g, cholesterol 26 mg, sodium 544 mg
(Source: Harvest of the Month, California Department of Public Health)
See a video snapshot from the Farmersville food giveaway below: