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Two key takeaways from new federal dietary guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans substitute water for sugary drinks. (Photo:
The U.S. government's new dietary guidelines take a bold stand on reducing sugar intake but should do more to promote drinking water, according to nutrition experts from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) has led a push to get the government to make water the drink of choice in the guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide. The guidelines don't go that far, though they do include information that recommends drinking water – in the fine print.

“The guidelines' recommendation to substitute water for sugary drinks is based on solid science. These beverages are the single biggest source of added sugars for our country's kids – and this guidance is explicit and unambiguous and will boost our work in promoting zero-calorie drinking water as the beverage of choice,” said Nutrition Policy Institute Director Lorrene Ritchie. “However, this guidance is presented in a way that gives few Americans an opportunity to see it: on a tip sheet that explains how to use the components of MyPlate ‘to create your own healthy eating solutions — MyWins'. The public health community and the new National Drinking Water Alliance, coordinated through NPI, will build on the potential in this fine-print message by continuing drinking water education, promotion and advocacy.”

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, updated every five years based on the latest advances in nutritional science, serve as a basis for federal nutrition policy and help set the tone for how Americans should eat. The 2015-2020 guidelines, published this month, recommend a “healthy eating pattern” with limited added sugar and saturated fat, less salt, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

For the first time, the guidelines recommend a clear limit on added sugar of no more than 10 percent of daily calories.

“The science regarding the health risks of a high-sugar diet is strong,” Ritchie said. “Not only is sugar associated with chronic disease risk and obesity, but it also displaces foods known to protect and promote health.”

And what's the simplest way to reduce sugar intake?

“Take a bite out of the added sugars in your diet by drinking plain water instead of sugary beverages,” Ritchie said. “This one simple lifestyle change can be an effective response to the latest nutrition science in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Read more UC expert commentary on the new dietary guidelines

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

Posted on Thursday, January 21, 2016 at 9:45 AM
  • Author: Alec Rosenberg

Industry citrus day planned at UC Riverside

A selection of citrus varieties available for tasting at a past citrus day.
The University of California, Riverside, will host the 5th annual citrus field day for citrus growers and citrus industry professionals on Jan. 27 at the university's agricultural operations fields.

Among the topics is Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which is off particular concern to citrus growers at the moment. The exotic pests can spread huanglongbing (HLB) disease, an incurable condition that has already seriously impacted the citrus industries in Florida and Texas. A few trees in urban Southern California backyards have been found infected with HLB and were pulled out and destroyed.

At the citrus field day, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension specialist Matt Daugherty will discuss the potential for nurseries to contribute to Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing spread. Regulations are in place in California that restrict movement of containerized citrus and require specific insecticide treatments. Daughterty is evaluating how well such steps reduce the risk of human-mediated Asian citrus psyllid spread. He is using a combination of monitoring in nurseries, field experiments on chemical control efficacy, and characterization of the effects of nursery practices on psyllid management.

Another speaker, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist Philippe Rolshausen, will explain how bacteria, fungi and viruses associated with plants, either on its surface or inside, can affect plant health and productivity. He will demonstrate how these organisms can be used for disease control using Pierce's disease of grapevines as an example and also drawing a comparison with huanglongbing in citrus.

The event, with a mix of presentations and field tours, is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Advance registration, which is $25, is required. The deadline is Jan. 22. There will be no day-of-event registration available.

To register visit: For more information call (951) 827-5906.

The following is a tentative agenda:

  • 8 a.m. – Introductions by Peggy Mauk, director of agricultural operations at UC Riverside and a subtropical horticulture extension specialist, and Tracy Kahn, curator of UC Riverside's Citrus Variety Collection.

  • 8:10 a.m. – Welcomes from Kathryn Uhrich, dean of UC Riverside's College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and Michael Anderson, a divisional dean for agriculture and natural resources

  • 8:30 a.m. – Minimizing the potential for nurseries to contribute to Asian citrus psyllid spread in California – Matt Daugherty, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist, entomology. 
  • 9:15 a.m. – Microbiota-based approach to citrus tree health – Philippe Rolshausen, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist, subtropical horticulture. 

  • 9:45 a.m. – Low seeded citrus – variation in seed content and its causes – Mikeal Roose, professor, botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside. Roose specializes in plant breeding, particularly with citrus.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Break

  • 11 a.m. – Novel detection methods for Huanglongbing – Wenbo Ma, associate professor, plant pathology at UC Riverside .Her research is focused on developing methods that detect Huanglongbing by monitoring so-called “effectors” secreted from the bacterial pathogens causing the disease.

  • 12 p.m. – Lunch (catered by Anchos Southwest Grill).

  • 1 p.m. – Pesticide safety training – Vince Samons, UC Riverside agricultural operations.

  • 1:45 p.m. – Walk-through of the Citrus Variety Collection, rootstock trial and phytophthora root rot trial.

To make a tax-deductible contribution to the Citrus Variety Collection Endowment fund or the Citrus Research Center & Agricultural Experiment Station support fund go to the following link and select College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences then select the specific fund:

Posted on Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 4:39 PM

Hackers compete for best ag app

Hackers compete in UC Davis app competition
Winning team, Ag for Hire, brainstorms their app at the Apps for Ag Hackathon with the World Food Center. (Photo: Brad Hooker)

Old coffee cups, laptops streaming code, baggy eyes deprived of sleep: all the usual signs of hackers at work. But a poorly lit hacker hideaway this was not.

The overnight competition, called the Apps for Ag Hackathon, featured farmers, food science students and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) extension specialists. They teamed up with software developers to craft quick technology solutions that addressed deep challenges in the planet's food systems.

A summit for solutions

The hackathon, in partnership with the World Food Center at the University of California, Davis, was one of a series of events at the Food, Ag and Health Solution Summit, held Dec. 1-3 at UC Davis. Each chapter of the summit brought together uncommon collaborators to partner on a range of possible agtech solutions.

On the first day, the World Food Center's Precision Ag Workshop focused on paving a long-term roadmap with potential industry partners. Ranging from small startups to global corporations and well-established California commodity associations, each organization was investing in front-end irrigation technologies and looking for new opportunities to collaborate with academic researchers.

The pace switched to rapid-fire for a panel at the summit forum on day three: entrepreneurs from eight different agtech startups had seven minutes to pitch their products to the audience. Delving deeper into the world of agtech financing, a later panel discussion asked professional investors what they would look for in startup models.

Evan Wiig of the Farmer's Guild talks to the hackathon group.
Evan Wiig, director of the Farmer's Guild, helps set the challenges for the hackers. (Photo: Brad Hooker)

Hacking through the night

The hackathon ran alongside the forum and other summit events. Participants had only a 32-hour window to fuse together teams, brainstorm a product, develop rough cuts of their software and present their final pitches to the judges.

"People get a little low on sleep, they get a little silly, the creative juices really start flowing," said Apps for Ag organizer Patrick Dosier to Capital Public Radio. "Software developers often have their headphones on and they're in the zone writing code."

With $10,000 in total prize money and a paid trip to Zurich, Switzerland, at stake, the hackers in their final minutes before turning in their presentation slides were actually focusing more on the human network. The conversations evolved away from talk of web hosting software and .png files to meeting for a coffee later and talking about ways to collaborate in the future. While some groups rehearsed their pitches, others exchanged business cards and phone numbers.

Hacker and pillow
A hacker, carrying his pillow, blanket and overnight bag, waits for the final presentations. (Photo: Brad Hooker)

From the Central Valley to Silicon Valley

By presentation time at the tail end of the conference, the hackers were visibly exhausted, some carrying pillows and others seen napping in vacant rooms. Thanks to blankets donated by AT&T, many were able to grab quick rests during the hack.

On stage, the Ag for Hire team showed off their app. It connected contract farmworkers to farmers looking to hire. A "LinkedIn for agricultural labor," the app idea took first place at the competition.

"As a worker myself, it's hard to find a job where I can apply my skills," said team member Alejandro Avalos, who has worked on farms since he was 12 years old. "Our app helps a worker find a job based on his skills and actually get a decent wage for it."

Nick Doherty, a UC Davis undergraduate student and recent pick for Apple's 20-Under-20 list, was also on the team.

Along with the $5,000 award, the team will be flown to the Thought for Food Global Summit in Switzerland next year.

Second place and a $3,000 prize went to the team for CropRescue, an app that allows growers to communicate directly with food banks to make excess food donations easier and more efficient. The final $1,500 prize went to the Green Thumb team, which created a task-tracking app to enable better communication among crop advisers, growers and foremen.

UC innovation goes global

Patrick Brown, a UC Davis plant nutrition professor and pomologist at the Agricultural Experiment Station, advised the hackathon teams, as well as taking part in other events. UC ANR small farms advisor Margaret Lloyd also participated in the summit.

Sponsors for the Solution Summit prizes included Intel, UC ANR, the UC Global Food Initiative, UC Innovation Alliances and the Royse Law Firm. The Global Food Initiative also sponsored travel for two doctoral candidates at UC Berkeley and UC Riverside. The Solution Summit was held in partnership with the Innovation Institute for Food and Health, the Mixing Bowl Hub and the SARTA AgStart incubator. 

See the Food Hackathon that inspired the competition.

Author: Brad Hooker

Posted on Thursday, December 17, 2015 at 9:08 AM

Both in-person and online nutrition education are effective for teaching WIC participants

WIC participants receive nutrition education and counseling along with assistance to buy nutritious foods. (Photo: USDA)
The flexibility and convenience of online learning doesn't diminish the effectiveness of training for families receiving nutrition education from the federal WIC program, according to new research by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources nutrition scientists that was published in the December issue of Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Established in 1974, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is the only federal nutrition program that provides education and counseling to recipients who receive assistance to buy nutritious foods. Depending on the learning style and time restraints of the recipients, however, staying at the WIC center for training and counseling can be a barrier for participation.

The researchers, who are part of UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI), showed that lessons about the importance of eating a healthful breakfast everyday were as effective when presented in person as they were when the participant completed the class on a smart phone, tablet or computer.

“Access to the Internet has rapidly increased in the United States,” said Lauren Au, NPI assistant researcher and lead author of the research article. “To our knowledge, however, the effectiveness of online vs. traditional classes in delivering nutrition education in WIC has never before been studied in a randomized trial.”

The researchers selected breakfast as the lesson topic because it had not been taught before as part of WIC nutrition education even though there is ample evidence to show that regularly eating breakfast is associated with a higher quality diet and decreased risk for obesity.

During the online and classroom training, participants learned why skipping breakfast can lead to poorer health for children and adults and how WIC foods – such as fruit, vegetables, milk, and whole grain cereals– can be used to make healthy breakfasts. Each of the participants was asked to set personal goals for eating healthy breakfasts and making sure their children did as well.

Before the classes began, the participants took a pretest to gauge their knowledge on the topic, and immediately after the class, the test was administered again. Two to four months later, follow up assessments were made to determine whether the participants breakfast behavior had changed and whether they remembered important facts from the training.

“All the participants increased and retained knowledge about how much juice WIC recommends per day – no more than half a cup – and how much sugar per serving of cereal is recommended – no more than 6 grams,” Au said.

Au said the researchers were pleased to confirm that online education is an effective supplement to in-person training.

“Both education types have advantages and disadvantages,” she said. “There's group peer support in the in-person education, and that can be a very powerful motivator.  WIC appointments can be faster with online education, which can provide more flexibility and convenience. Both of these education approaches are incredibly beneficial for promoting healthy dietary behavior in WIC participants.”

A six-minute interview with Au about the research project may be viewed online.

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

Posted on Thursday, December 10, 2015 at 8:30 AM

Planting the seeds for garden-based education

Students explore pumpkins with UC CalFresh staff.
The UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program in Santa Barbara County (UC CalFresh) is planting new ideas and possibilities to increase teacher use of school gardens.

Each school day, teachers must carefully plan and account for their instructional minutes. For each grade level has specific time recommendations for math and English language arts, so teachers often feel they do not have the time to include extra activities in their already packed schedules. When UC CalFresh gave a brief survey to teachers a Santa Maria school last year, teachers identified the following barriers to using their school garden for instruction:

  1. Lack of instructional time or preparation time
  2. Lack of curriculum and learning activities
  3. Too many students to manage in the outdoor setting

These concerns reflected comments that UC CalFresh nutrition educators frequently heard from teachers who were invited to bring their students to the school garden.

Taking these concerns into consideration, UC CalFresh developed innovative strategies to meet the needs of school teachers, showing how instructional minutes in the garden don't have to be “extra” and can include hands-on learning for English language arts and math, with a focus on nutrition. The strategies include:

  1. Clearly aligning garden-based nutrition education with common core lessons
  2. Providing garden-based curriculum and materials for learning activities in the garden
  3. Hosting Garden Open House Days, during which teachers can bring their students to the garden when UC CalFresh Educators are present to increase educator-to-student ratios.

Students explore pumpkins in the garden with their teacher.
To meet the needs of partnering teachers, UC CalFresh educators developed “No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits,” enabling teachers to teach common core-aligned nutrition education lessons without having to use prep time to make copies or create materials of their own. This year, based on the survey data, UC CalFresh expanded the No-Prep Nutrition Education Kits to include lessons that could be taught in the garden.

The first No-Prep Garden-Based Nutrition Education Kit was piloted in October and featured pumpkins. The No-Prep Kit became fondly known as the Pumpkin Kit. The Pumpkin Kit encouraged teachers to take the lesson out to the garden, increasing students' physical activity time while providing opportunities for students to practice common core skills. The kit focuses on nutrition and cooking while reinforcing math, science and language arts. The kit includes books, worksheets, an oven, and several different pumpkins for measuring, cooking, estimating, and tasting. This kit requires no teacher prep time, is adaptable to any primary grade level, and is an easy introduction to garden-based lesson delivery.

During a Garden Open House Day hosted by UC CalFresh in October, kindergarten students and their fifth-grade buddies came out to the garden. The fifth-grade buddies worked with the kindergarten students to use observation skills (five senses), learn adjectives, and draw the pumpkin life cycle. The older buddies gained teaching and language arts skills while working with their little buddies in the garden. Students got to dissect the pumpkins in teams and used the seeds for counting. Each kindergartener took 20 seeds home to practice counting with their parents, which also served as a budding connection for students' families and the school garden.

"If we had something like this every month, we would be able to go out into the garden more and maybe we could get more teachers to come. This is what we need, curriculum that can be used in the garden," said kindergarten teacher Mrs. Joaquin.

Seed counting and sorting.
Moving forward, UC CalFresh is piloting bimonthly No-Prep Kits for garden-based lessons, featuring the USDA's DigIn! curriculum, as well as other UC curricula. Teachers can teach with the kits on their own in the garden or come during UC CalFresh hosted Garden Open House Days for extra educator support. By easing teachers' paths into the garden, students get to spend time outdoors, engage in physical activity, and participate in learning that reinforces their science, English language arts and math skill development.

“The program has been awesome," said one fourth-grade teacher. "[UC CalFresh] incorporated math, science, social studies into lessons. Students were excited and engaged. Many tried new vegetables they'd never had before and liked them! Kids learned responsibility and pride in designing, choosing plants, maintaining and harvesting in school garden.”

For more on UC CalFresh of San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties see the Facebook page at 


UC CalFresh nutrition education is offered in schools jointly by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and USDA. 

Posted on Tuesday, December 8, 2015 at 8:33 AM

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