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Posts Tagged: nutrition

What makes food nutritious?

Workers sort tomatoes at Russell Ranch

Part of our mission at the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis is to ensure access to healthy food. So we’ve focused much of our work on the intersection between agriculture and human nutrition.

An interesting new field of study in this area looks at flavonoids, which are compounds in fruits and vegetables thought to have beneficial antioxidant effects and other medicinal value – they may even help reduce cancer risk.
Measuring the amount of flavonoids is one way we can figure out just how nutritious the food we’re eating really is.

At our Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, UC Davis Food Science professor Alyson Mitchell has looked at the relative nutrition of organic and conventional tomatoes by measuring flavonoid levels in samples from dried tomatoes over a 10-year period.

Aerial view of Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility

She found that flavonoid content is greater in organic than conventional tomatoes, and the differences have increased with time. Over time, it also appears that an increase in flavonoid content is correlated with lower amounts of organic nitrogen application.

These results suggest that over-fertilization can result in lower flavonoid content – and a reduction in the health benefits of tomatoes. You can find out more about this research here.

Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 4:51 PM
  • Author: Colin Bishop

You've counted calories and carbs - now count catechins

Catechins are phytochemical compounds found in plant-based foods and beverages. Consumption of catechins has been associated with a variety of beneficial effects including: ability of plasma to scavenge free radicals, blood vessel expansion, fat oxidation and more.

High concentrations of these helpful compounds can be found in many foods and beverages including: red wine, broad beans, black grapes, apricots, strawberries, apples, cherries, pears, raspberries, chocolate and both black and green tea.

To learn more about the benefits and research related to catechin rich foods, please see UC ANR’s free publication, Nutrition and Health Info Sheet Catechins.




Posted on Monday, May 10, 2010 at 7:28 AM
  • Author: Chris M. Webb
Tags: catechins (1), nutrition (106), phytochemical (2)

Summer strawberry smoothies

I’m lucky enough to live about a mile from a small, family-run strawberry patch in Yolo County. From some time in April until October, the Laotian family members pick berries in the mornings and sell them from their small wooden stand until they run out of fruit for the day.

Flats of 4 or 6 baskets are the most economical to buy. I carefully place the flat on the floor of the passenger seat; by the time I have walked around to the driver’s seat, the fragrance of the fresh berries has filled the car with instant summer.

Once home, I don’t wash the berries unless I plan to eat them right away. Instead I keep the berries in their baskets and cardboard flat and just cover them loosely with a paper towel. They keep their flavor and texture up to 5 days this way.

According to UC ANR Food Safety Specialist Linda Harris, washing berries in a sink filled with water can spread contaminants from one berry to another; it’s best to hold them under running water, drain them in a clean strainer and pat them dry with a paper towel. I use a clean grapefruit knife with a serrated, slightly curved tip to cut out just the green stem and white part of each berry.

On summer days I get up early and prep the berries like this before my dog and I head out for a run in the cool morning air. Then all I must do when we return—hot and thirsty—is toss the smoothie ingredients in a blender and turn it on.

You can keep your smoothie simple or pack it full of healthy ingredients, as I do below, so it essentially serves as a full breakfast. Either way, its fresh strawberry flavor is one of the culinary pleasures of an early California summer.

Strawberry Smoothie
Serves two; exact amounts are not critical

3 – 4 ice cubes
1½ – 2 cups washed strawberries, stem and core removed
1 banana, peeled
½3/4 cup protein drink, such as Odwalla Super Protein
½ cup pomegranate, orange or any real fruit juice
½–2/3 cup nonfat vanilla yogurt
Optional: a handful of other fruit such as a peeled, cored pear or a slice of cantaloupe

Place ice in the blender first, then add fruit, yogurt and juice. Cover and blend 1–2 minutes or until ice and fruit are pureed.

If you don’t use a full flat of strawberries, you can freeze, dry and can the extra berries. See Harris’ Strawberries: Safe Methods to Store Preserve and Enjoy http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8256.pdf for information on those methods.

Cleaned strawberries ready to be prepped
Cleaned strawberries ready to be prepped

Posted on Friday, May 7, 2010 at 9:30 AM
Tags: food safety (4), nutrition (106), strawberries (5)

UC Davis' Nutributter to go beyond Africa

UC researchers who created Nutributter and tested it successfully in several African nations are now preparing to reformulate and evaluate the dietary supplement for Bangladesh and Guatemala. The research aims to determine whether specially developed Nutributter can prevent stunting and abnormal motor development in a variety of cultures where children are at risk for malnutrition.

The Africa Nutributter studies found that children preferred a sweet paste, but the scientists believe regional flavors may make the supplement more appealing. For Guatemala, they plan a cinnamon-flavored Nutributter; for Bangledesh, the paste will be flavored with cumin and cardamom.

UC Davis nutrition professor Kathryn Dewey, who leads the project, said it remains to be seen whether Nutributter will be adapted for American consumers.

“I personally think it is marketable,” she said.

Each four-teaspoon serving of Nutributter paste, which comes in a ketchup-packet-like pouch, contains 40 essential vitamins and minerals. Unlike most other nutrient supplements, the product also provides 120 calories of energy plus protein and essential fatty acids. Nutributter is not meant as a replacement for local foods or breast milk, but rather to be added to youngsters’ and pregnant mothers’ traditional diets.

"More than 3 million children die each year of malnutrition due not just to a lack of calories, but also to poor diet quality, particularly insufficient intake of micronutrients like zinc and iron, which are so critical to healthy growth and development," Dewey said.

The idea for the nutrition supplement came from the successful use of Plumpy'nut, a peanut-based food developed by French researchers for famine relief. Each Plumpy-nut packet has 500 calories and children can gain 1 to 2 pounds a week by eating it twice daily. Plumpy-nut is meant to temporarily serve as the sole food source in emergency situations.

The UC Davis Nutributter team heads the International Lipid-based Nutrient Supplements Project (iLiNS). Last year, the project won a $16 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant. A 2008 UC Davis news release announcing the Gates Foundation grant gives more details about Nutributter and its use in African nations. More information is also available on the iLiNS Web site.

Posted on Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 12:00 PM
Tags: Africa (2), Kathryn Dewey (1), malnutrition (2), nutrition (106)

Nutritious beans stretch food budget

Families today are starved for time, starved for money and starved for well-balanced meals, and USDA projections hold another piece of bad news: food prices are likely to increase 2.5 to 3.5 percent this year.

The good news is there is one powerful five-letter word that will save you money on your food budget, allow you to eat healthier and cook less: beans.

Beans and legumes are a powerhouse of nutrition, heart healthy and very economical. There are endless varieties of beans and legumes and just as many ways to cook them. They can be served as a main dish, a salad and as a dessert. (See below recipes.)

Besides being a great source of protein, beans are naturally low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals.

Most beans contain only 2 percent to 3 percent fat and no cholesterol. They even help lower your cholesterol because they are so rich in fiber. Most beans contain 20 percent protein and are high in complex carbohydrates. In addition, they are rich in B vitamins and iron.

To save money at the grocery store, try eating beans and legumes once or twice a week. Cook your own beans instead of using canned and save even more. If you cook up a big batch, freeze some for use in future recipes. Delicious bean recipes can contain as little as four ingredients.

3 can chili

  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of whole kernel corn
  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of diced tomatoes (can use Mexican-style tomatoes with chilies added)
  • 1 14 1/2 oz can of beans or 2 cups of cooked beans (pinto, kidney or your choice)
  • Chili powder to taste

Add all ingredients and heat and serve. For added flavor you can add chopped onions and peppers.

Eggs Mexicali

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 2 cups of salsa, store-bought or homemade
  • 1 15 oz. can of beans (pinto, kidney, black, etc.) or 2 cups of cooked beans
  • 1/4 cup of shredded cheese

Heat salsa and beans in a pan over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Crack an egg in a bowl and add one at a time. Cover and cook until eggs are firm -- about 6 minutes.

Uncover and sprinkle with cheese. Cover until the cheese melts. Serve with rice and tortillas.

Lentils cooked with smoked turkey leg

  • 1 pound of lentils rinsed and sorted
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 2 cups each chopped celery and onions
  • 2 cups of sliced or chopped carrots
  • 1 large smoked turkey leg

Add to a pot, cover with water and cook until lentils are done. Remove the cooked turkey leg from the pot and remove the meat. Chop the meat in bite size pieces and add back to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving. This recipe can be cooked in a crock pot.

Bean fudge
  • 2/3 cup canned milk
  • 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 1 1/2 cups strained pinto beans
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup nuts
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips
Combine sugar and milk in kettle then boil 5 minutes stirring constantly. Add remaining ingredients and stir until marshmallows melt then pour into buttered pan. Cool and cut into squares.


By Margaret Johns
Nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, Kern County

Beans are an inexpensive form of protein.
Beans are an inexpensive form of protein.

Posted on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 9:23 AM
Tags: beans (1), legumes (1), nutrition (106)

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