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Color, color and more color

When my daughter was a young swimmer, she wanted to collect a ribbon of every color. Picking up on this, my husband and I encouraged her to eat many colored fruits and vegetables as a game. Red strawberries, green kiwis, and hmmm, what kind of fruit is white? Bananas! Then we have green cucumbers, red peppers, purple eggplant. You get the picture. 

We all know we need to eat more fruits and vegetables, so why not make it a game? If you had an orange with your cereal for breakfast, have a spinach salad with red onions, mushrooms and sprinkle of bacon for lunch and blueberries on yogurt for your afternoon snack. Let’s see, that covers orange, green, red, white and blue. I guess we’re having a spaghetti dinner! It’s interesting that much of the nutritional value of a particular vegetable can be found by just looking at the color of it.

  • Red — lycopene, anthocyanins — Heart and circulation health, urinary tract health, memory function
  • Yellow/orange — carotenoids, bioflavenoids — Vision health, healthy immune system, heart health
  • White — phytochemicals — Cholesterol levels, heart health
  • Green — indoles, lutein — Healthy bones and teeth, vision health
  • Blue/purple — anthocyanins, phenoles — Healthy aging, urinary tract health, memory function  Phenol

Now that we know what the colors do for us, let’s make sure to keep all the nutrients we can. After planning, shopping and preparing, you don’t want to cook the health right out of your veggies! Of course most people eat their fruit raw, which, in general, is the best thing to do with all fruits and vegetables. An exception is tomatoes. Heat processing actually enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing the lycopene content that can be absorbed by the body, as well as the total antioxidant activity. The best way to cook veggies is to steam or stir-fry for the shortest time possible. If you can avoid it, don’t boil your vegetables as their nutrients leach into the water.

Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that keep you and your family healthy and thriving. Try adding more colors to your diet today starting with this delicious recipe from Family Fun magazine.

Chicken Lo Mein

The best part about this colorful dish is its versatility -- you can pick and choose the vegetables you include to accommodate your family's tastes.

  • 1/2 pound angel hair pasta
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced

 

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sugar snap pea pods, halved
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Chinese baby corn, drained and cut in thirds
  • 1 to 1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size strips
  1. Cook the noodles according to the package directions until just tender. Drain out the water. Rinse the noodles with cold water, drain them well, and then set them aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce, chicken broth, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Then set the sauce aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir-fry the ginger for 30 seconds. Then add the onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrots and stir-fry 2 minutes more. Finally, add the broccoli, pea pods, and corn. Stir-fry the vegetables for 2 more minutes, then transfer them to a plate.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the pan. Add half of the chicken and stir-fry it until it's no longer pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer it to another plate. Stir-fry the remaining chicken, then return the first batch to the pan. Add the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce. Turn the heat down to medium.
  5. Using two spatulas or wooden spoons, lightly toss the mixture until heated through, about 3 minutes. Serves 6 to 8.
Posted on Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 8:13 AM

Stomach share

What would you think if someone told you that they were fighting for a “share” of your stomach?  Bring to mind organ harvesting? Invasion? Theft?

I first heard this term a month ago when I took part in a gathering of food experts. Someone recalled recently overhearing soda company executives brainstorming how they could increase what they referred to as “stomach share.” They were seeking to expand their product lines (from sodas, to juices, waters, and exercise drinks) to make sure that whenever someone drank a beverage, any beverage, it was theirs. What was particularly disturbing, he recalled, was how little the consumer figured in the equation. The goal was to get product into stomach, as often as possible.

The story reminded me of another phrase I’d come across in my research for my book Empty Pleasures — “prosperity stomach.” Coined in 1966 by Henry Schacht, an executive from a diet-food company, and mentioned in his talk that year to newspaper editors called ‘How to Succeed in Business without Getting Fat,” the phrase referred to a troubling problem faced by the food industry. Because people (at least the middle class) did less manual labor and could easily (and cheaply) purchase abundant food, they had begun to worry about weight gain — and count calories. This was causing sales to decrease, and, in turn lowering the profits for food companies and marketers. Schacht’s answer? Diet Foods. By developing more foods with fewer calories, the industry could sell more by promoting it as less.

“Stomach share” and “prosperity stomach” — terms invented nearly 50 years apart — remind us that there are real reasons why it is so difficult to consume only when we are hungry.  Given their resonance, the wonder is not that our stomachs have expanded, it’s that they have not expanded even further.

Companies vie for space in consumers' stomachs.
Companies vie for space in consumers' stomachs.

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 8:18 AM

Getting to know persimmons

On a wet and gloomy winter afternoon, there are few sights more cheering to my eyes than a persimmon tree loaded with its brilliant fruit, hanging from dark boughs like a mass of orange lanterns. But if you come across this bright spectacle on a winter's walk, don't rush to take a bite of that tempting fruit unless you're sure you know what's what.

See, there are persimmons, and then there are persimmons.

The type of persimmon that you can eat right off the tree is the Fuyu variety (left), a firm-fleshed, yellow- to orange-skinned fruit that is flat on the bottom and wider than it is tall—sometimes twice as wide. You can eat the fresh, sweet fruit like an apple or cut up in salads or you can dry it on the stem or cut in slices for a home dehydrator.

The fruit of the other main variety, Hachiya (right), is far from sweet when its flesh is firm. Hachiyas are orange to almost red, often somewhat pointed at the bottom, and about as tall as they are wide, sometimes taller. If you bite into one of these before it ripens, your mouth may stay puckered for week. If you can wait until the flesh is soft, though—almost as squishy as a water balloon—you will find something inside that's almost like ready-made jam. Just don't eat any of the peel if you don't want a pucker. You can dry Hachiya persimmons, hung from a cut-off bit of stem, or bake the fresh, ripe fruit pulp in a variety of recipes. Here's one:

Aunt Pat's Persimmon Cookies
This recipe for Hachiya persimmon cookies has been in my family for generations and is always a special treat in the cold months. The cookies have a moist, cake-like consistency and can be eaten fresh or bagged up by the dozen and stored in the freezer. They're quick to thaw and they taste great. We usually make a double or triple batch just to take advantage of the fruit's availability, so cookie storage can be an issue.

CREAM TOGETHER:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine

LIGHTLY BEAT AND ADD:
1 egg

ADD:
1 cup Hachiya persimmon pulp (about 3 ripe [very soft] persimmons)
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts

SIFT TOGETHER AND THEN ADD:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Drop the dough in generously rounded teaspoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a pre-heated 350° oven for 12 to 14 minutes.

More on Persimmons

Check out these links for more information on preserving, preparing, and growing persimmons:

(Photos: Wikimedia Commons)

Posted on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:53 AM

UCCE nutrition educator is eating on a Food Stamp budget

A TV report about eating on a Food Stamp budget compelled UC Cooperative Extension nutrition program manager Kathleen Nolan into action.

“The reporter was reaching for a processed meal in a box, and I was yelling at the television, ‘You can’t buy anything in a box!’” Nolan said. “The reporter couldn’t survive on the budget, but I know that I can.”

To prove her point, Nolan decided to take her own Food Stamp challenge. For the month of January, she is eating healthy on a Food Stamp budget and blogging about her diet on Facebook. Nolan writes about menus, shopping lists, recipes, nutrient analyses, cost analyses and the personal impact of changing the way she eats.

To size up the budget, Nolan used the USDA’s online calculator, starting with a typical low-income person her age, living alone with no assets. She also calculated the benefit for a family of six with a typical farmworker income and rent. The average benefit was $5 per person per day.

USDA’s Food Stamp program was renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2008 to more accurately reflect its purpose. The benefit is not really meant to cover all food expenses, but to buy supplemental groceries. In California, the program is called Cal-Fresh.

Whatever name is used, Nolan said there are recipients trying to feed their families for about $5 a day per person or less. She believes it’s doable, and could even be healthful.

“It’s not difficult, but it’s challenging emotionally and culturally,” she said. “I’ve had to change my expectations about food.”

To begin with, Nolan is cutting way back on meat.

“Meat can be viewed as a garnish or a flavoring,” she said. “For a lot of people in the world, that’s how they eat.”

In addition to modifying her food preferences, Nolan is taking a hard look at how she shops. Some people have suggested discount grocery stores and even the dollar store. Nolan believes that with careful planning and attention to in-season produce and store specials, the local neighborhood grocery store need not be off limits.

“I start by building a shopping list based on nutrition needs - how many portions of grains, or vegetables and fruit, or protein-rich foods will be needed for the week? I match up those needs with advertised bargains and make a list.”

On the first day of the challenge, she purchased whole-grain hulled barley in bulk.

“I never really ate barley this way before,” Nolan said. “I thought of barley as something to add to soup.”

Nolan mixed ½ cup cooked barley with shredded zucchini, a little cheddar cheese and eggs to make a frittata.

“It was very satisfying,” she said.

Nolan also turns to alternative sources of food, such as friends and neighbors. In one post she wrote about an elderly woman on her block who shares produce from her garden.

“Her late husband made a special shelf on the fence where she puts lemons from her trees so that passersby can help themselves,” Nolan said. “The neighbor to the north has rosemary in her yard - so why would anyone buy it at the store?  In turn she gets apples from me and I get collards from a fellow farther down the road. Isn’t that the way life should be?”

By documenting her Food Stamp budget experiences on Facebook, Nolan is hoping to inspire others to eat right and spend less on food. She hopes to further the effort after her January challenge ends by enlisting volunteer families to try to eat on a Food Stamp budget and share their experiences online.

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 8:00 AM

How to really lose that 5 pounds this year: Be realistic, think positive

Have you resolved to lose 5 pounds in 2011?

Join the club.

Losing a little weight is a perennial goal on many people’s New Year’s resolution list … and failure to achieve that goal is the primary reason why we keep resolving to lose that 5 pounds year after year.

Judith S. Stern, UC Davis nutrition professor and author of hundreds of articles on obesity and nutrition, says that setting a weight-loss goal is a good thing. “If you don’t make a resolution, you don’t have something to reach for. Resolutions are about hope.”

But no one said it was going to be easy. “Losing weight is even harder than quitting smoking. You can always not smoke, but you can’t not eat,” Stern says. “You’ll die without food.”

However, Stern — who has been on her own weight-loss journey — advises resolution-makers to set realistic weight-loss goals. Here are her recommendations:

  1. Keep a journal of what you eat and write down your weight every day. “We need cues to help us deal with weight,” Stern says.

  2. Buy a scale that registers to one-tenth of a pound. “Those whole pounds can be hard to deal with,” Stern says. “I tell my husband when I’ve lost two-tenths of a pound.”

  3. Get a pedometer, and steadily increase your average daily numbers (rather than, for example, trying to achieve the recommended 10,000 steps per day at the start). “If I don’t make my numbers, I walk around my house and put things away one at a time,” Stern says. “When I started I was walking 3,000 steps per day, and now I’m averaging around 8,000 steps.”

  4. Aim to lose about 3 to 4 pounds per month.

Most importantly, frame your weight-loss resolution in a way that doesn’t court failure. Setting short-term goals is a good way to go, such as losing 3 pounds in 3 weeks, or exercising 10 times in the coming month.

A positive resolution for many people, especially those who have already lost some weight, may be to simply maintain their current weight throughout the year.

“When you make a New Year’s resolution, think about what you want to accomplish. Figure out how to do it so that you feel good about yourself,” Stern says.

Posted on Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:11 AM
  • Author: Janet Byron

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