UC Food Blog
The role fresh vegetables play in maintaining good health is no secret. But, according to a University of California scientist, eating from a particular group of vegetables can help protect the body from lethal illnesses like cancer.
These extraordinary vegetables are in the cruciferous family - including broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
UC Berkeley toxicology professor Len Bjeldanes says cruciferous vegetables are good sources of the natural chemical compound diindolilmentano, or DIM. DIM suppressed harmful cells in studies with rats and Bjeldanes believes it can have the same effect in combating cancer in humans.
"We were really surprised to see that we've got about an 80 percent reduction in the amount of virus that could proliferate in those animals when we gave them the combination with DIM," said Bjeldanes, who is conducting the experiments with colleague Gary Firestone, a molecular biologist. "This is really a very strong indication that this is helping the body deal with these immune insults, like in this case a virus."
Bjeldanes said prostate cancer is sensitive to androgen, a male hormone.
“This makes our finding that cruciferous plants contain an anti-androgen important,” he said. "DIM is the first example of a naturally occurring anti-androgen from plants that we know of. So this is quite remarkable."
DIM may also play a role in suppressing breast cancer.
"We had been studying for some time the effects of the vegetables on mammary and breast cancer and there's a fair amount of information that says indeed, they are in fact protective of mammary and breast cancer," he said.
The scientists will next determine whether protective effects of DIM found in experiments with rats will manifest themselves in human studies.
Bejeldanes cautions that eating cruciferous vegetables is not a miracle cure for cancer. But he encourages people to include vegetables rich in DIM in their diets. The vegetables will give a boost to the body’s immune system, enabling it to defend against all manner of illnesses.
"These are chemicals that are important in activating the immune response and help the body fight the bad guys, like bacteria or viruses,” he said.
To get the most immune-boosting compounds from broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, nutrition experts suggest eating them raw, in salads, or lightly steamed. Boiling the vegetables destroys more than half the nutrients.
(Original article by Alberto Hauffen. Adapted to English by Jeannette Warnert.)
Romanesco cauliflower is one of the more unusual cruciferous vegetables.
Central Valley strawberry stands are expected to open soon, and if the next few weeks remain dry, as expected, it looks to be an excellent production year, report UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors in Fresno, Merced and Sacramento counties. One stand in Fresno opened on April 9, and others will begin selling this weekend.
Valley strawberry production is small compared to Southern California and Coastal production areas. Nearly all the farms are just a few acres in size and the bulk of their produce is sold at roadside stands. UC farm advisors work closely with these producers to help them grow safe and wholesome fruit.
The farmers are mainly Mien and Hmong refugees from Laos, a Southeast Asian country that neighbors Vietnam. When the U.S. left Southeast Asia in 1975, thousands of Hmong and Mien fled their homeland to avoid persecution. Over 120,000 were eventually resettled in the U.S. The population today has expanded to an estimated 300,000.
Many of the first-generation immigrants were farmers in Laos and turned to farming in the U.S. These growers lease small plots and grow several varieties of strawberries, such as Chandler, Camarosa, Albion and Seascape. Few have formal agricultural education.
In addition to offering production assistance, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Richard Molinar in Fresno, Maxwell Norton in Merced and Chuck Ingels in Sacramento offer food safety training to reduce the risk of a foodborne illness outbreak associated with strawberries. Working with the California Strawberry Commission, Molinar and Norton have for the last five years held intensive food safety workshops that included hands-on training about proper handling of the fruit and personal hygiene. The farmers were given training materials in Hmong and English that they could use to teach the workers they hired about reducing any chances of the fruit becoming contaminated. Twenty-six growers in the Fresno region and 27 in the Merced region participated in workshops. Many are currently learning about third-party food safety audits with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In Sacramento County, Ingels and a team of researchers provided on-farm training in pest management and food safety. Ingels’ team worked directly with 11 strawberry growers in 2009 and 2010.
“On the first visit to their farms, we found out their current practices and then provided training,” Ingels said. “We came back a second time to do further training and evaluate their progress. We visited the farms a third time to determine whether changes to their practices were being sustained. There was definitely a shift (for the better).”
With an increasing focus on food safety, many produce buyers, suppliers, and consumers want to know that good agricultural practices are being used on the farm. The programs in the various counties help to document and verify that farms are producing fruits and vegetables in the safest manner possible and that the farmer is aware of potential problems and steps to correct them.
Richard Molinar, left, and his assistant Michael Yang, center, work with a Southeast Asian strawberry grower.
If life were a Disney movie, we would have no trouble identifying beneficial bugs in our garden. They would all have big puppy-dog eyes and sing sweet songs. They would not have names like assassin bugs, which, in fact, some of them do.
So when we see creepy critters crawling and flying around our freshly planted vegetable garden, we have to work a little harder to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys. The good guys, by the way, are the ones who feed on what we consider the bad guys – insects like aphids that damage plants by clustering on young shoots, buds and leaves, sucking out the plant juices.
Ironically, in our bug-eat-bug world, your garden won’t attract the good guys without the so-called bad guys, so don’t get too worked up when you see some aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs and such. If you reach too quickly for pesticides, you will kill the allies along with the enemies.
So how can you tell the good from the bad? For starters, you have to get a good look at them, and for that I sometimes use a 10-power hand lens. Even up close, you won't see the good guys wearing white hats, but with practice they become easy to spot. Here’s quick look at the most common vegetable garden allies:
Lady Beetles, aka Lady Bug –
OK, this bug does look a little like a Disney creation, doesn’t it? Lady beetles feed on aphids and other soft-bodies insects. Lady beetles are flighty, so don’t be surprised when they leave your garden for greener pastures next door. But those that stick around will be a big help, gobbling up as many as 50 aphids a day.
These guys are big, about ¾ inch, and they hunt at night, rooting around your leaf litter for insect eggs and larvae.
These bugs are good, well, soldiers, consuming aphids, caterpillars and grasshopper eggs.
With their fairylike green wings, lacewings look like gentle creatures, but they are fierce predators in their larval stage, devouring aphids, caterpillars, mealybugs, leafhoppers, insect eggs, whiteflies and even other lacewings.
Snakeflies are related to lacewings and they consume a wide variety of orchard pests.
Parasitic wasps are a great defense against corn earworm, tomato fruitworm, cabbageworm and tent caterpillars. What’s more, female parasitic wasps lay eggs in aphids, which kills the host.
Assassin bugs prey on aphids, leafhoppers and caterpillars.
Besides being just plain cool-looking, a single dragonfly can consume some 300 mosquitoes a day.
Syrphid flies will defend your garden against aphids.
Spiders can look creepy, but these predators are excellent biological control agents. If you need a reminder of their ally status, just remember Charlotte’s Web.
What are good plants to plant among your vegetables to attract beneficials to your garden? Different crops have different needs, so it’s wise to check with your nursery or local master gardener, but a few of my favorites include statice, sweet alyssum, fennel, zinnia, cosmos, sunflower, marigold, yarrow and lavender. Beneficial bugs and insects also like dill, parsley and cilantro flowers, so when you’re done harvesting those herbs, feel free to let them flower. You’re buggy friends will thank you.
When we first moved to California our rental house came with a prolific lemon tree. New to a climate where citrus could be grown, we thought this was the greatest thing ever -- lemons right outside our door during the rainy gloom of winter. When dinner and party invitations started coming in, we started arriving with lemons as gifts. But when our hosts invariably greeted our lemony bounty with clenched smiles and "Great! Lemons!" we were perplexed. Only later did we realize that practically everyone has lemons.
I recently told this story to someone at a party and they replied - "Of course, lemons are the zucchini of winter! Everyone has more than they know what to do with."
So what do you do with an abundance of lemons?
Marmalade is an easy choice, and one that uses lots of lemons. So is freezing the juice for use in lemonade when the heat of summer arrives. But my new favorite way to use lemons is making salted preserved lemons. They're easier to make than marmalade and a tasty addition to many recipes.
The basic ingredients are lemons and Kosher salt. But I use Paula Wolfert's recipe that also includes spices. Besides adding extra flavor, the whole cloves, cinnamon stick and bay leaf look nice in the jar.
Make sure your lemons are very clean. Backyard lemons often have a rougher outer texture that may take a little extra scrubbing.
Starting with a layer of salt on the bottom, pack the lemons into a sterilized jar and layer them with salt and spices.
Press the lemons to release their juice as you pack them. Finish by adding enough freshly squeezed lemon juice to cover.
Now all that's left is time. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place for 30 days, shaking the jar every day or so to distribute the salt, spices and juice. The lemons will start to break down, so don't be alarmed if the lemons are no longer submerged in juice.
Beautiful gardens are brimming with color and life at the Veterans’ Home in Ventura. These gardens have been planned, planted and cared for by a group of Ventura County UCCE Master Gardeners and many people in the community.
Flowers and ornamental trees provide color and shade. Raised garden beds are filled with a wide assortment of vegetables to enhance nutrition and dinner salads of residents. An orchard of donated fruit trees has taken root on the west side of the building. Garden lectures provide enrichment for the mind.
An additional vegetable garden and succulent garden are planned.
Started shortly after the home opened, the gardens and the activity they generate provide much joy and nutrition to the Veterans’ who reside at the home. To learn more, or if interested in becoming involved, contact Master Gardener Barbara Hill.
Raised garden beds allow elderly residents to garden without bending over.
A resident enjoys a 'dry stream bed' in the Veteran's Home Garden.