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The devil -- er, bacteria -- made me do it

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want.
Many people worry about the outside of their gut – watching their weight and suffering through sit-ups in search of six-pack abs.

Research from UC San Francisco is showing that we also should pay attention to what's inside the gut.

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity, according to an article published this month in the journal BioEssays.

Researchers concluded from a review of recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said corresponding author on the paper Carlo Maley, director of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.”

We also can influence this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, by altering what we ingest, Maley said, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change.

“Our diets have a huge impact on microbial populations in the gut,” Maley said. “It's a whole ecosystem, and it's evolving on the time scale of minutes.”

The gut is a growing field for research.

Michael Fischbach, a UCSF assistant professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, studies gut bacteria and how they could help reveal the causes and new treatments for Crohn's disease and obesity.

“When I look at a person, I don't just see a warm, shiny human being,” Fischbach said. “I see bacteria crawling all over you and living on every surface that's exposed and not exposed in your entire body. And you're lucky that they're there because these bacteria do very important things for you. They make your immune system function properly. They help you digest foods. And they produce important chemicals that serve as vitamins for your body.”

With advancements in genetic sequencing technology, Fischbach and colleagues are mining gut bacteria for natural products – small molecules from microbes – that could hold the key for treating diseases.

“You used to have to travel to the coast of Palau to mine the ocean sediment for drugs,” Fischbach said. “Now we can just check our gut!”

Fischbach discussed his gut research with collaborator Justin Sonnenburg, a Stanford University microbiologist with degrees from UC Davis and UC San Diego, at the recent New York Times Health for Tomorrow conference at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center.

“The beauty of being in basic research is you don't know where you're going to end up,” Fischbach said after their panel presentation. “It's nice to be on a journey where you don't know where the ship lands. I hope it's going to improve human health.”

Read more:
-Do gut bacteria rule our minds?, UCSF
-Our microbiome may be looking out for itself, New York Times
-The next frontier of medicine, Slate
-Culturing for cures, UCSF

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Walking the talk

San Joaquin County nutrition educators exercise together after work.
San Joaquin County nutrition educators are not only promoting physical activity to the families they teach, but walking the talk together every day.

Family nutrition educators from University of California CalFresh [UC CalFresh] and Expanded Food Nutrition Education Program [EFNEP], two federally funded nutrition education programs that provide free nutrition workshops to low-income families, have joined together to practice the lessons they teach to their participants in San Joaquin County, including exercising for at least 30 minutes a day. 

“I wanted to exercise more regularly,” UC CalFresh nutrition educator Lorena Hoyos said. “But doing it alone wasn't working, so when the idea of working out as a group came about at training, it was the perfect opportunity. Exercising with others is a great motivator, they keep you active.”

Using home-brought exercise videos like T-25, The Firm, Hip Hop Abs and others, the nutrition staff have been sweating to the beat.

“I noticed that my endurance has gone up,” EFNEP nutrition educator Houa Lee said. “I have more confidence at work and in conducting the physical activity breaks at my classes.”

Prior to the videos, the nutrition staff, along with other San Joaquin County UC Cooperative Extension employees, were doing activities like walking around the block or going to the gym together after work. Some educators even participated in weekend races or rides, such as the Color Run, Hit the Street for Hunger Run, The Electric Run, Cinderella Bike Ride and others. 

“I think it's important to show participants that we are not just preaching the goals, but living them,” said Raquel Fernandez, a program representative for the UC CalFresh and EFNEP programs. “This makes them seem a lot more attainable and helps us relate better to our participants. It also helps establish trust and credibility to our lessons.”

Participants have been asking for more physical activity,” EFNEP nutrition educator Monica Radrigan said. “It's the main reason they come and they love it! And as a result, we've noticed retention has been increasing too.”

The exercise sessions have also improved team-building efforts.

“I like to be able to come into workplace where we can support each other,” Community Nutrition Action Plan facilitator Tina Her said. “Not only in a work setting, but on a personal basis as well. This helps me connect with my coworkers better.”

UCCE nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Anna Martin said after-work exercise program is a win-win situation.

“I am proud that our staff has initiated activities that not only promote their own physical health, but improves their relationship as a team," Martin said.

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 9:43 AM

Sugary drinks are hiding under a 'health halo'

UC Cooperative Extension nutrition educator Estela Cabral de Lara teaches a class about the drawbacks of heavily marketed beverages.
Manufacturers of soda alternatives - like Gatorade, Vitamin Water and Snapple teas - are promoting misleading claims to entice health conscious consumers to buy their products, according to a report released today by the Atkins Center for Weight and Health at UC Berkeley.

Researchers investigated the growing and often confusing list of supplements added to the drinks. In most cases, they found, the beverages provide little or no health benefits, and might be dangerous.

"Despite the positive connotation surrounding energy and sports drinks, these products are essentially sodas without the carbonation," said Patricia Crawford, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley.

The study looked at 21 popular drinks touted by manufacturers as "health and performance enhancing." In addition to sugar, caffeine, non-caloric sweeteners, sodium, vitamins and minerals, some drinks included the supplements guarana, ginseng, taurine, gingko biloba and ginger extract. Of the five herbal supplements, only ginger extract is classified as "likely safe" for children, Crawford said.

Because they contain caffeine, marketers promote the beverages as improving energy, concentration, endurance and performance. The study, however, documented harmful effects, such as increasing stress, nervousness, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, tremors, hallucinations and seizures.

"(Drink manufacturers') health marketing claims are the 21st Century equivalent of selling snake oil," said Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, which commissioned the study.

The full report is at


Posted on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 at 11:00 AM

4-H Cooking Throwdown

The 2nd annual 4-H Cooking Throwdown at the California State Fair took place June 22 and 24. Youth ages 9 to 18  had one hour to create a three-course meal with each course containing the designated "secret ingredient." The theme was "Fair Food Done Healthy."

All of the dishes were judged on originality, taste and the USDA's MyPlate standards. Healthy living is a major component of the 4-H Youth Development Program and this contest was introduced to help teach youth to cook and learn portion sizes.

On June 22, three junior teams composed of 9- to 13-year-olds competed. In Round 1, the secret ingredient was a hot dog. The Fat and Furious Team made a mini corn dog, a "speedy" Italian sandwich and a funnel cake with homemade whip cream and candied hot dog. The Blond, Brunette and Ginger Team made hot dog nachos, seafood stir fry and cinnamon chips with fresh creme and strawberries. The fresh cream was infused with hot dog. The food was very original and very tasty. The Fat and Furious won the round.

The Blond, Brunette and Ginger Team.
The Fat and Furious Team.

Action shots: 

Round 2 secret ingredient: zucchini 

The Cuisine Queens Team made a berry zucchini crepe, chicken salad, and a berry zucchini smoothie. 

The Cuisine Queens.


In the final junior round the secret ingredient was watermelon. Fat and Furious Team made a watermelon mint goat cheese appetizer, a wasabi bread crumb pork chop with a watermelon reduction sauce and fried watermelon for dessert. The Cuisine Queens made a fruit salad, fruit and beef kabobs, and a baked funnel cake for dessert. 

The Fat and Furious team were the junior champions.

July 24 was the senior competition of the State Fair 4-H Cooking Throwdown. Six teams competed for the champion title. The youth were between 14 and 18 years old. 

Round 1
The Cookin' Coyotes vs. The Culinary Ninjas
Secret ingredient:  berries. 

The Culinary Ninjas focused on the health aspect of the competition. They cooked a chorizo caramel apple appetizer, egg roll in a bowl as the main course and a mini churro for dessert. The Cookin' Coyotes made guacamole and chips for the appetizer, fish tacos with a fruit salad for the main course and a baked funnel cake with berry infused fresh cream. The Culinary Ninjas won the round. 

Round 2
Lamorinda Iron Chefs vs. Organic Fanatics vs. Clever Clover
Secret ingredient: broccoli 

The Organic Fanatics made a sweet and tangy yogurt sauce for a kabob appetizer, a veggie stuffed burger on a lettuce bun, and a baked funnel cake. They focused on creating a healthy, well-balanced meal. 

The Clever Clovers made baked potato chips, chicken and broccoli kabobs, and a dessert smoothie.

The Lamorinda Iron Chefs made zucchini and broccoli backed chips, a gyro with a broccoli sauce, and a chocolate, broccoli and avocado mousse. They focused on a tasty balanced meal.

The Lamorinda Iron Chefs won the round with the Organic Fanatics in 2nd and the Clever Clover earning 3rd place. 

Action Shots:

Final Round
Lamorinda Iron Chefs vs. Culinary Ninjas
Secret ingredient: dried seaweed 

The Lamorinda Iron Chefs made a seven-layer bean, salsa, seaweed, guacamole chip, chicken on a stick with a apple and onion slaw, and for a dessert a baked funnel cake with seaweed flakes in the batter and topped off with seaweed and strawberries. 

The Culinary Ninjas made a zucchini chip with seaweed hummus, a baked vegetable and seaweed pizza and a berry mouse pretzel cookie. 

Action shots:

Lamorinda Iron Chefs were the senior champions of the day.  They are eligible to represent California at the Texas State Fair in the National 4-H Cooking Challenge. The contest will be held during the State Fair of Texas in Dallas, October 7 and 8, 2014. The National Food Challenge will not only include a contest, but an educational day as well. More information can be found here: 

Posted on Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition

During summer break, healthy food and fitness often take a long vacation. For many, the vacation is ending and it's time to do some homework. Study these back-to-school tips for the start to a healthy school year. If you follow a balanced diet and stay physically active, there's no way you can't get an 'A' in back-to-school nutrition!

  • Don't skip breakfast! Studies show children who eat breakfast perform better in school.
  • If you pack a homemade lunch for your children, include a good balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat free dairy products, and lean meats and proteins.
  • Provide new options! Pack exotic fruits like kiwi or allow your child to pick a fun new fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. They are more likely to eat their lunch if they helped prepare it.
  • Reinforce cleanliness and remind your children to wash their hands before they eat or pack a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in their lunchbox.
  • Physical activity and exercise are important and help improve a child's health. Children should be active for at least 60 minutes a day, and adults need to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Make exercise a family affair and get the physical activity everyone needs! Go for a weekend hike, walk the dog together, or ride your bikes after dinner.

Try this quick and easy recipe for your child's lunch or mix it up and substitute a variety of their favorite vegetables instead.

Chicken pita pocket with spinach leaves and red bell pepper.
Chicken pita sandwich


  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 4 ounces cooked skinless, boneless chicken
  • 1/2 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat Italian vinaigrette
  • 1 (6-inch) whole-grain pita, cut in half


  1. Combine spinach, chicken, bell pepper, and vinaigrette in a bowl; lightly toss and mix ingredients.
  2. Cut the pita pieces in half.
  3. Using a spoon, fill each pita half with the tossed ingredients.
  4. Once assembled, lay them flat and pack them up for your child to enjoy during lunch.

Recipe source:,,10000001983452,00.html


Posted on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 9:16 AM

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