Category Archives: Food

It’s All in the (Nutrition) Label!

What! I just ate 460 calories! The label said 230 calories. This is a mistake almost everyone will sometimes make, especially if he or she is very hungry and grabs a snack to ease those hunger pangs. We don’t focus on the serving size or the servings per container on the nutrition label. We only see in large print the number of calories.

Help is on the way. As of January 2020, the Food and Drug Administration is requiring updated information on nutrition labels as well as a label design that will make it easier for consumers to choose foods that support a healthy diet.

On the new label, the number of servings will be shown in a bolder and larger font, and the serving size will represent more accurately the portion most Americans consume. The most noticeable information on the label will be the calorie count of a single serving.

The new label will also give you information about the amount of sugar or sweeteners that are added during processing or packaging of the food—listed as Added Sugar.

More Americans have deficiencies in Vitamin D and potassium which will be listed on the new label, but vitamins A and C will no longer be listed, since deficiencies in these two are now rare.

And the footnote at the bottom of the label more clearly explains the meaning of “daily value.”

It should be noted that companies with more than ten million in revenue must comply with the new labeling by January 2020,  while single-supply manufacturers and companies

Source: https://www.labelcalc.com/

below the ten million revenue mark have until January 2021 to comply.

See the example of the current label and the new label (outlines show changes) that will appear in January 2020.

 

 

What About Those “Added Sugars” in Foods?

You may have noticed new information appearing on some food product labels under the place where it has sugars listed. Here is an example:

Total Sugars – 13g
Includes 10g Added Sugars

Why put added sugar rather than just the total number of grams of sugar?

Many foods, such as milk and fruits, contain naturally occurring sugar. Added sugars are extra sugars that are added to foods during processing or preparation. Food manufacturers add extra sugar to many products, even those that are already naturally sweet, to make them taste good and to boost sales. Consumers may not have been aware of the amount of extra sugar in foods they have been eating.

The new food product labeling required by the Food and Drug Administration will help you to see the amount of extra sugar added to a product, and it is provided to help consumers control the amount of sugar and other less beneficial substances they consume. They can now distinguish between sugars that are naturally present in a food and sugar that has been added to sweeten the product.

Added sugar my be the single worst aspect of the modern diet. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, sugary drinks—any beverage with added sugar or other sweeteners (sodas, pop, cola, tonic, fruit punch, lemonade [and other “ades”], sweetened powdered drinks, as well as sports and energy drinks)— as a category are the single largest source of calories and added sugar in the US diet. And to compound that, people are drinking larger and larger sizes of these drinks.

The American Heart Association informs us that the amount of calories that people consume each day has increased by approximately 150-300 calories over the past 30 years, and approximately 50% of this increase comes from liquid calories—primarily sugar-sweetened beverages. Since there are 8 teaspoons of sugar in one 12-ounce can of a regular soft drink, that is 140 empty calories and zero nutrition. The AHA recommends that women consume no more than 100 calories (6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day and that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons (150 calories) of added sugar per day.

High sugar consumption increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, as well as obesity. Furthermore, higher consumption of sugary beverages has been linked with an increased risk of premature death.

Breaking a habit is easy to say but hard to do, so just cutting back on consuming added sugar can be a step in the right direction. Reading labels on beverages and food products will help us to monitor the amount of added sugar we are consuming.

Sugar Science is a website developed by a team of health scientists from the University of California, San Francisco. Its goal is to help individuals and communities make healthy choices by taking evidence-based scientific information about the impact of sugar on health from medical journals and making it available to the general public. The site reviews more than 8,000 scientific papers that have been published to date, with a focus on the areas where the science is strongest—specifically on diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease.

Are You Getting Enough Roughage in Your Diet?

Roughage, defined as coarse material, is the part of plant foods that our bodies cannot digest, but which is very important to maintaining health. The term “fiber” is used interchangeably with “roughage,” but the name “roughage” seems to convey a more visual image of its true nature than “fiber.”

How does it work?

Varying amounts of fiber(roughage) are found in all plant foods. There are two types of roughage, soluble and insoluble, and the food we eat should have a combination of both types since they each provide different benefits. Soluble fiber absorbs water as it passes through your system becoming gelatinous and making your stools softer and easier to pass. Insoluble fiber (roughage) does not dissolve or absorb water when eaten but passes through your body much in its original form adding bulk to your stool.

Benefits of roughage in your diet.

Adequate roughage in your diet promotes a sense of well-being and health, and the following are some of its positive benefits:

  • Contributes to weight control. (As soluble fiber passes through your system and absorbs water, it stays in your intestinal tract a little longer—promoting a feeling of fullness and satiety which may help to prevent overeating.)
  • Regulates bowel movements and prevents constipation.
  • Slows the rate of sugar absorption and helps to prevent blood sugar spikes after eating.
  • Helps lower cholesterol levels and reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer.
  • Flushes harmful bacteria and toxic substances out of the digestive tract, which helps to maintain a healthy immune system (Up to 70% of the immune system is in the digestive tract.)

How much is enough?

The amount of roughage (fiber) each person needs daily depends on the caloric needs of the individual. According to the USDA, on average, the recommended daily amount for adult men up to age 50 is 38 grams and 25 grams for women. Men over 50 should eat 30 grams of roughage daily and older women should eat 21 grams. However, the Harvard School of Public Health reports that the average adult only eats 15 grams of fiber (roughage) daily.

These are some food sources of soluble fiber: oatmeal, barley, spinach, zucchini, chia, nuts, beans, lentils, figs, apples, avocados, prunes, berries, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and onions.

Here are some sources of insoluble fiber: whole grain foods such as brown rice, wheat bran, cauliflower, okra, corn, kale, green beans, root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes, etc.), celery, cucumbers, the skins of some fruits (such as kiwis, grapes, and tomatoes), nuts, and seed.

Can’t I just take a fiber supplement?

Because of medical conditions, some people may need to take fiber supplements, but fiber supplements don’t supply the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that whole foods supply.

Is there a downside to eating more roughage (fiber)?

If upping your fiber intake, do it gradually to avoid abdominal bloating, gas, and cramps which can happen if you consume too much rapidly rather than slowly. You should also increase the amount of water you drink since soluble fiber absorbs water.

One of the easiest ways you can contribute to your good health is to become aware of the foods that contain both types of roughage and include some of them in your diet each day.

Fish and Seafood: Risk or Myth

Although most people enjoy eating seafood, some will only eat certain  types of seafood while others avoid eating it altogether for fear that it is harmful or unsafe. That may be because of some myths about it that have persisted.

Let’s examine several sayings to discover whether they are myths or if we are taking a risk to ignore them.

  • Seafood is full of mercury, and eating it will harm your body; it should be avoided—especially by pregnant women and young children.

Mercury is a mineral which occurs naturally in our environment. It can be turned into the poisonous compound, methylmercury, by bacteria and natural processes and can accumulate in streams and oceans where it enters the food chain as each fish absorbs the mercury of smaller fish it eats. That is the reason that larger fish contain larger amounts of mercury than smaller ones. Almost all fish contain some amounts of mercury.

Mercury toxicity can disrupt brain function and harm the nervous system. It can pass through the placenta of a pregnant woman and accumulate in the blood and tissues of the developing fetus and can also pass through a mother’s breast milk. So, pregnant women should eat only low-mercury fish (sardines, trout, salmon, etc.) and  limit it to 12 oz. per week. They need to avoid eating raw or uncooked fish since it may contain microorganisms that can harm the developing fetus. Click here to learn more.

Fish and seafood are loaded with important nutrients such as iodine and vitamin D that many people are deficient in, as well as omega-3 fatty acids which are crucial for optimal body and brain function and are strongly linked to a reduced risk for many diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration tests for mercury and the Environmental Protection Agency determines safe mercury levels for women of childbearing age. And most states issue advisories to warn people when they are aware of methylmercury contamination stating the types, size, and amounts of fish that are of concern.

Conclusion: It is safe to eat fish and seafood as long as you choose those that are low in mercury and observe guidelines for the amount you should consume per week.

  • You should only eat oysters in months that contain the letter “R”.

A widely known myth about oysters is that you should only eat them in months that contain the letter “R” like September and October, etc., but not June, July, and August. This used to be true because the warm months were when oysters spawned and not eating them gave them time to reproduce. Spawning oysters do not taste good and warmer waters in the “R-less” months also increased the prevalence of certain bacteria in raw oysters that made people sick.

Raw oysters could make you sick, but strict government regulations lower that risk. Making sure oysters are properly cooked will eliminate that danger.

NOAA Fisheries estimates that the US imports more than 80% of the seafood we eat with approximately half of that produced from aquaculture (or farmed). Currently, there are at least six federal agencies that regulate different aspects of the U.S. Aquaculture industry. These regulations have promoted greater confidence in farmed seafood, and today, people eat oysters year-round.

Conclusion: It is most likely safe to eat oysters year-round because of strict government regulations that govern the seafood industry.

  • Are Oysters an aphrodisiac?

This myth may have started with Casanova, a famous womanizer from the 18th century who was said to have eaten 60 of the mollusks each day to power his amorous adventures.

In 2005, George Fisher, a chemistry professor at Miami’s Barry University, found that mussels contained the amino acid, D-Aspartic acid, which had been found to increase the level of sex hormones in lab rats. Although the study did not include oysters, Fisher was quoted in a number of different publications speculating that the amino acid might contribute to an aphrodisiac effect.

Oysters are a good source of zinc (a zinc deficiency can have a detrimental effect on the reproductive system) which is known to help boost testosterone levels.

But in an article by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, she states “No food has been scientifically proven to stimulate the human sex organs. But foods and the act of eating can suggest sex to the mind, which in turn can help stimulate desire in the body.”

Conclusion: No real aphrodisiac effect has been proven, but if the act of eating oysters creates a sensual pleasure, why not!

Fish and Seafood: Is It Safe?

In summer, as more people are enjoying beach vacations and other waterfront activities, they are also consuming more fish and seafood products—some at their destinations and some that they may be grilling at home.  But how confident can you be that the seafood you consume is safe?

Who Controls (and Monitors) Seafood Safety?

In the United States, highly integrated programs within agencies of the federal government, various state regulatory agencies, and private industry work together to ensure the safety and quality of seafood products for consumers:

  • The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) has the chief responsibility for the safety of seafood products in the United States. In 1997, it established a regulation requiring all seafood processors and retailers to utilize food safety controls (known as HACCP) “to identify any food safety hazards that are likely to occur and to implement a system of controls at critical steps in their operation to prevent, eliminate, or reduce these hazards to an acceptable level.” It also requires any entity in a foreign country that exports seafood to the US to implement the same system of controls. In addition, it monitors food imports and issues alerts for foods that do not meet US standards.
  • A USDA (US Department of Agriculture) regulation requires that seafood sold in large retail stores has a label which identifies its country of origin. So, when shopping for seafood, you can check the packaging to see country of origin labeling on the package. The United States imports more than 80% of the seafood we eat, but a large portion of it is actually caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, then re-imported to the US.
  • NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has among its diverse functions the management of the US fishery resources in territorial waters and operates a voluntary seafood inspection and grading program to ensure safe, high-quality seafood. Its consumer safety inspectors travel to fishing vessels, processors, and cold storage facilities around the world to evaluate seafood processors and retailers who have requested an inspection or who are under investigation. These businesses are considered to be approved establishments if they pass the inspection but must still comply with regulatory inspections by the FDA.
  • The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) carries out investigations concerning all foods including fish and seafood and gives recommendations to the medical community for prevention and treatment.
  • The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) along with the FDA sets standards for allowable levels of contaminants in fish caught recreationally and works with the FDA on managing risk in commercial fishery products.

State Regulations – Each state has regulations regarding the harvesting, processing, distribution, and sale of fish and seafood products within its boundaries. States also work with the FDA in implementing the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) to ensure the safety of bivalve molluscan shellfish (clams, oysters, and mussels) sold in the U.S. These agencies also inspect all food processing plants, wholesale, distribution, and warehouse firms to ensure that they are handling, storing, processing, and transporting all food including seafood in a safe and sanitary manner. They have specific regulations for food retail stores, and state or local agencies inspect restaurants and other food service establishments that sell prepared food including seafood for consumption away from home.

Fish from recreational fishing in the ocean, estuaries, in freshwater lakes, ponds,          rivers, or streams supply approximately one-fifth of the fish and shellfish eaten in the US. These products do not fall under the same regulations as commercial seafood products, but the regulations of most states prohibit the sale of recreational  fish without a commercial harvester’s license. Food safety concerns related to fishing in these waters is governed by state fisheries and health agencies.

Knowing that all of these agencies are involved in protections for consumers is reassuring, but you can do your part when shopping for seafood to cook at home by purchasing from reputable dealers who will be able give you more information on the seafood they sell and its country of origin.

To learn more, click here.

 

How Our Nutrition Needs Change Over Time

Experiencing changes in our bodies as we get older is expected; some we dread and try to prevent, and others we wear as a badge of honor.

As we advance in years, we experience changes in the amount of sleep we need, how quickly we feel full when eating, how quickly we heal, and our ability to see, hear, and even taste. Our risk for injury goes up, and we have a decline in immune function. Some changes, we can’t control, but the good news is that some we can control and taking the initiative to educate ourselves and make the right choices can have a profound effect on our total health and wellness, and even our longevity.

Nutrition is a vital element of overall health and affects the entire process of aging. Nutritional status in older adults has become increasingly recognized for its connection with many morbid conditions such as heart disease, dementia, and cancer.  A great nutritional status can prevent some chronic and acute diseases and impacts the ability to heal.

Unfortunately, malnutrition is regularly diagnosed among older individuals in spite of the fact that it is often preventable. One common change many people undergo is a declining appetite, and when you consider that older adults have the same or greater nutritional requirements than they did when young, you begin to see the problem. The quality of the food we are eating is extremely important as we enter those golden years.

Physical changes older adults experience can result in nutrient deficiencies.  A decreasing quantity of stomach acid reduces the ability to absorb vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, and iron which further indicates the importance of getting enough of those nutrients.

Older adults should ask their doctors if vitamin supplements might be necessary to help prevent dietary deficiencies. Also, to increase these critical vitamins, consider eating these foods that will boost B12, calcium, magnesium, and iron:

Foods Rich in Vitamin B12

  • Eggs
  • Beef, chicken, and liver
  • Fish and shellfish – salmon, tuna fish, trout, and clams
  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Foods Rich in Calcium

  • Cheese (Parmesan is very high in calcium)
  • Yogurt
  • Milk
  • Sardines and canned salmon
  • Beans and lentils
  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards)
  • Fortified food and drinks

Foods Rich in Magnesium

  • Avocados
  • Legumes (chickpeas, black-eyed peas, lentils, soybeans, black and white beans, kidney beans, peanuts)
  • Bananas
  • Seed (pumpkin seed, chia, sunflower seed, flax seed)
  • Nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios,)
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Fatty fish (salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, halibut)
  • Tofu
  • Whole grains

Foods Rich in Iron

  • Beans (kidney, lima, navy)
  • Tofu
  • Lentils
  • Molasses
  • Spinach
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Peanut butter
  • Brown rice
  • Dark chocolate

To ensure that older adults are eating well-rounded diets, it is vital for them to choose a variety of whole foods that are rich in nutrients rather than high in calories. Lean meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables should be chosen over foods like white bread, biscuits, and desserts such as pie, cookies, cake, and candy.

Consumption of sweet tea and fruit juices, as well as soft drinks, also needs to be minimized. Older adults may be less able to recognize hunger and thirst which can lead to dehydration and unintentional weight loss. Adult children can help by monitoring or helping their aging parent(s) to track how much they are eating and drinking each day.

Getting older does require more attention to our choices and overall lifestyle, but by staying informed and taking the right steps for our bodies, we can enjoy optimum health at any age.

Ideas to Make Your BBQ Dishes Healthier!

With the start of summer, people are prepping their grills in anticipation of neighborhood get-togethers and fantastic food. Sometimes those classic backyard party foods spell disaster for your diet. While potato salad and fried chicken are tempting, there are so many tantalizing alternatives.

Kerry Neville, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, suggests switching out the more traditional but unhealthy options for healthier ones, adjusting recipes to make those classics lower calorie or more nutritious, or simply limiting portions of your favorites if you simply must have a taste.

Whether you are attending a potluck or hosting a backyard bash of your own, you can create healthy dishes that are sure to be a big hit. Neville says, “Try using broccoli slaw instead of coleslaw, toss in some shredded carrots, and toss with a light, low-fat poppy seed or yogurt dressing for a great salad that will be still be crunchy and delicious and lower in calories than the typical coleslaw.”

Summer brings a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be incorporated into your menu plan. If there will be grilling at your outing, provide some fresh zucchini and squash, mushrooms, onions, and peppers to toss on the grill.

The author of the Sonoma Diet, Connie Guttersen, RD, says, “Vegetable salads (excluding lettuces) prepared ahead of time will taste even better the next day after their flavors have had time together.” As a dipping option, she also recommends that you try one of the many whole-grain crisps options available such as oat crisps and whole-grain rice chips instead of high-fat chips.”

Hummus, fat-free bean dip, and salsa are great options that are not deal-breakers for your diet. Consider bringing a simple platter of cut veggies or fruit with a healthy low-fat dip, and celery stuffed with peanut butter or low-fat cheese.

Bring on the Burgers

If burgers are an essential component of your party, consider using lean meat patties or even turkey burgers. The fat content will be much lower. Veggie burgers are also quite tasty and give vegetarians more options at a cookout. Likewise, chicken or turkey hot dogs are also available as are meatballs if you are so inclined.

Most burgers are about 6 ounces, with a payload of 460 calories and 11 grams of saturated fat. And when you count the cheese, bun, and condiments, the typical picnic burger can top upwards of 780 calories! By simply cutting out a couple of ounces to make smaller patties, and using 90% lean meat, you can cut out 231 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. A turkey burger, even at the larger 6-ounce portion, has a calorie content that is much lower at 289 with only 2.7 grams of saturated fat.

With veggie burgers, it is difficult to provide an accurate calorie content because there are so many different ways and ingredients used to make the patties. However, most veggie burgers without the bun will range from 70-250 calories—still much lower than either lean beef or turkey.

An alternative to burgers and hot dogs is grilled chicken breasts or fish fillets. These are healthy options that taste great and have such versatility when used with marinades and seasonings. One 6-ounce boneless and skinless chicken breast, grilled, will total around 276 calories. Grill a 6-ounce portion of fish and save even more calories with about a 185-calorie total.

What About Wraps?

Another favorite is sandwich wraps. Many people choose a tortilla instead of two slices of bread, thinking they are making a healthier choice. This is actually not true in most cases. Wraps are more condensed than bread and contain a higher fat and calorie content. Two slices of bread contain on average between 70-150 calories, depending on bread type. A tortilla is typically 170-200 calories. So, skip the wraps and just use whole-grain bread instead. You could set out a sandwich construction station where people build their own sandwiches using healthy sandwich stuffers and toppings.

Beverages

Picnics and potlucks usually have lots of soft drinks, sweet tea, and other high-sugar beverage options. Steer clear of those calorie busters, and opt for sparkling, flavored zero-calorie water, unsweetened iced tea, fresh ice water, or other low calorie beverages. Ice water with fresh lemon juice and a little no-calorie sweetener makes a lovely lemonade. If you are providing alcohol, choose spritzers and low-calorie options in lieu of calorie-heavy beer and mixed drinks.

Desserts

Many of us make it through a backyard party congratulating ourselves for our healthy food choices, right up until we see the dessert table. Then it all goes to naught. By choosing guilt-free desserts, you can still satisfy your sweet tooth without regretting it later. How about dishes of berries or peaches with light whipped topping or juicy slices of watermelon? One cup of peaches contains 61 calories. A cup of watermelon has only 47. One cup of strawberries has 49 calories.

If baked goods are a must, go with light angel food cake topped with berries or light whipped topping. One slice of angel food cake (1/12th of 10” diameter) has only 129 calories. By contrast, chocolate cake has 352 calories per slice (1/12th of 9” diameter), and one slice of pecan pie (1/8th of a 9”diameter) packs a punch with 503 calories.

A simple fruit platter with cantaloupe and different types of melons offers a cooling dessert for those wanting to make healthy choices. For a tropical twist, include mango, papaya, pineapple, kiwi, and coconut on your dessert platter.

Think a fruit platter isn’t exciting enough? What better way to cool off on a hot day than with popsicles? Just freeze blended fruit with Greek yogurt and honey in popsicle molds to produce a delicious low-calorie dessert that will cool everyone off and definitely won’t be ordinary!

Bringing healthy food to a potluck or providing those options at your own party is always appreciated, and it is something you can feel good about. You are helping yourself and others as well in your journey to better health.

A Guide to Gardening Alternatives

Many people love gardening but find that because of limitations in their physical space (living in an apartment), or perhaps limitations of their physical bodies (bad back, etc.), they are no longer able to enjoy this activity. Read on and you may find some alternatives that will prevent your gardening hobby from “wilting and dying.”

Container Gardens
If you do not have space for a garden, you may be surprised to know that you can grow a wide assortment of vegetables right on your back patio in containers. Container gardening is a successful method that requires a lot less work than planting directly into the ground. It’s perfect for apartment dwellers and people who aren’t able to do the more physically challenging work involved with an in-ground garden.

What you will need:

  1. Containers – from $5-$10
  2. Seed – (From 20 cents/packet at dollar stores to $2.50/packet at garden shops)
  3. Tools: hand trowel, spade, gloves – $2-$10
  4. Soil – Plain bags of topsoil cost under $4, but if you get the more expensive kind with Miracle Grow or other fertilizer mixed in, expect to pay $6-12.
  5. Sunny location – Even the best seed and soil won’t produce vegetables without a lot of sun. If you have a porch that receives shade most of the day, you probably won’t have much success growing vegetables. There are plenty of shade-loving flowers though, so you could still enjoy gardening in containers.

When selecting containers, make sure they have enough space for the roots to spread and grow. You’ll need them to be a minimum of 12-14 inches wide, and at least 10-12 inches deep. Drainage is important too, so if your containers do not have pre-drilled holes at the bottom, be sure to drill some, or your plants may get root-rot and die.

These are some vegetables that do well in containers:

  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peppers
  • Green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Squash

Tall plants, such as tomatoes and some peppers, will need a trellis support around them as they grow so that they don’t topple over.

For vining plants such as beans, squash, and cucumbers, you can use stakes and supports that go around the plants, or you can train them to grow up string or yarn that you suspend from above. Some people use one long pole with yarn tied at the top and let the vines grow up the yarn around the pole. Make a “privacy screen” of green leaves by letting the plants grow up a “framework” of yarn string that you hang from the top of the porch. Get creative!

Raised Beds
If you do have space in your yard, and you want to try a small garden, consider a raised bed. They require less space than a traditional garden. Gardening in a raised bed is less physically demanding than an in-ground garden because you do not have to till the soil, and depending on how high it is, you won’t have to bend over quite as much. There is also much less weeding to do than with an in-ground garden, so it is less work overall.

Plants grow more vigorously with a raised bed because the soil in the prepared bed is more conducive to plant growth than the topsoil of your yard. The soil you add to the raised bed is soft and easy for roots to move through, and you can prepare the bed with fertilizer and soil amendments to make it perfect for plant growth. Raised beds have less compaction in the soil, more aeration, and better draining than in-ground gardens, and they are easier to weed. The walls also create a barrier to pests such as snails and slugs.

The richer soil of raised beds (with its higher content of organic matter and compost) can support more plants per square foot than a traditional garden, therefore, increasing your yield. Plants in a raised bed are intended to be planted close together, filling in the bed as they grow, with the leaves touching to provide additional protection from would-be weed invaders.

While pre-constructed raised beds are available for purchase, you can build one yourself much more cheaply with a few planks of wood and some screws. Use cedar; it is rot and bug resistant. Although it is more expensive, cedar lasts many years longer than other types of wood. Avoid using railroad ties as they may be coated in creosote, which is toxic. Thicker wood will last longer. If you opt to use concrete blocks or bricks, be aware that concrete will raise your soil pH over time, requiring that you eventually use amendments to lower the pH.

What you will need:

  1. Wood – $15-$20 (If you purchase from Home Depot or Lowes, they will cut it to your requested dimensions at no additional cost.)
  2. Bag of Compost or manure – $2-$5 per bag
  3. Bag of fertilizer-enriched soil – $3-8 per bag
  4. Wheat Straw mulch – $4-$6/bale
  5. Seed – .20 cents/packet – $3.00/packet depending on store
  6. Hand tiller/trowel/gloves – $2-$10 (Cheapest at the dollar stores)

Choose a location that gets lots of sunlight during the day, at least 6 to 8 hours. Don’t make the bed too wide or it will be hard to harvest from the center. You can choose the depth but keep in mind that most plants’ roots extend 6-12 inches in depth. Consider a design that will allow you to sit on the border of the bed while you work inside it. This will take additional strain off your body.

Prepare the ground beneath the bed by covering with a black tarp to kill off any weeds or weed seed that are currently there. Leave it for 3-4 weeks, and then remove the grass and any weeds that remain.

It is advisable to till the soil a good 6-8 inches deep before building the raised bed. The good news is you only have to do it this first time and then enjoy till-free gardening for years to come!

Next, fill the bed with a mixture of compost, topsoil, organic matter (manure, bone meal, peat, hay, or straw mulch). This provides a nutrient-rich environment for plant growth and helps hold some moisture in the soil.

Raised beds dry out faster, so during the hot months of summer, consider adding straw, mulch, or hay as a layer on top of the soil to hold in moisture. Water frequently when your seedlings first sprout and begin to grow, but after that your raised bed will need very little maintenance.

All the plants that grow well in containers also do well in raised beds. Just about anything can be grown well in a raised bed. Other than the ones mentioned above, some other veggies to consider growing in your raised bed garden include these:

  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkins
  • Asparagus
  • Beans
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Pumpkins
  • Broccoli

Whether you opt for a raised bed or a container garden, don’t let space or a bad back be a limiting factor in your horticultural adventure! Get out and grow!

 

 

Meal Kit Delivery Services: What Can You Expect?

Preparing balanced meals is a top goal for most of us, although we don’t always have the time, energy, or ingredients to make it a reality. And let’s face it, our own skill in the kitchen sometimes leaves us a little short, and the family starts begging for take-out alternatives.

If you are struggling to satisfy picky eaters, can’t find the time to get to the store and plan out healthy meals, or if you are facing specific eating restrictions among your family members, you might want to consider a meal-kit delivery service. These have become wildly popular because they are so convenient and offer great meal options. Catering not only to different cuisine preferences, but also to a variety of dietary restrictions, this could be your solution to those hectic nights when you really don’t have time to go to the grocery store and plan out dinner.

There are many different services available, but the plans are all similar. Just select which service you think would provide the types of meals best-suited to your family’s preferences, and then when you sign up, you choose how many meals you need per week. The services have some variability in cost, but they average out at about $9-$12 per meal. Many offer promo-codes, so before signing up, do some online searches to locate potential cost-saving coupons. It’s also a good idea to determine what time frame is needed when cancelling so that you will know in advance of taking any vacations or should you want to try a competitor for a while.

What Can You Expect?

You will receive high-quality, fresh foods in your kit, along with recipes and everything you will need to create your meals. You do need to have some basics on-hand, such as salt and pepper, cooking oil, and possibly eggs; all other ingredients are supplied in your kit. You do also need to have your own pots and pans, knives, and occasionally an item such as a blender, cheese grater, or mixer.

Tailored Options and Extras

Some meal-delivery services provide optional extras, such as the available wine-pairing offered by Blue Apron, or the select cuts of specialty meat which can be purchased as an add-on from Home Chef or Sun Basket. Want to enjoy a decadent dessert after that amazing dinner? PeachDish and Plated are two that offer a dessert option.

If you are trying to tailor your diet around specific restrictions such as gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, or the Paleo-diet, then you may be surprised to learn that choosing a meal-kit delivery system might be an easier way to stick to the plan than going it alone. The Purple Carrot offers exclusively vegan meals, while Sun Basket has vegetarian, Paleo, as well as gluten-free choices. While some services only have a few recipes to select from each week, others have a wide assortment, so you should shop around to determine which service will best meet your needs.

In addition, some services assume that the person cooking has experience in the kitchen and there is variability in how much instruction you receive. Some very helpful resources offered by BlueApron and HelloFresh are their apps and video tutorials. This can really be a great asset for those among us who don’t have a lot of cooking experience and may need a little added help.

Whatever you are looking for, you can find a meal-kit delivery service that fits the bill with just a little looking. Signing up online is easy and straightforward, and with most you can pause or cancel your subscription just as easily. Below are some links to popular meal-kit delivery sites:

 

 

Eating Healthier: In-Season Veggies and Fruits

The arrival of spring brings more people out running, going to the gym, and dieting (sometimes “crash” dieting) to be prepared for spring break, spring and summer vacations, and to “become healthier.”

One way to become healthier is to improve the quality of the nutrients you consume by eating locally grown, in-season fruits and vegetables. In-season being the time of year when a fruit or vegetable is usually harvested, is at its peak ripeness, and is most plentiful.

You may see fruits and other produce in your grocery store during all seasons of the year, but much of the time, it has been shipped from a distance—even other countries—where it may have been many days since it was harvested, and it also may have questionable nutrient value.

Benefits of Eating In-Season Fruits and Vegetables

Flavor. The flavor is more intense: Freshly harvested produce just tastes better than produce even a few days older. Think of biting into a fresh, crisp apple that is so fresh it squirts its juices with each bite, or a fresh peach which gives off its inviting smell before you even bite into it.

Higher-quality nutrients. Produce picked before it ripens does not have enough time in the sun for the nutrients to fully develop in the flesh of the fruit or vegetable. In-season fruits and vegetables have a higher vitamin C content which lowers the risk of infections, unlike the infection risks from the pesticides and preservatives in canned and processed foods. Canned fruits and vegetables rapidly lose anti-oxidants like vitamin C, folate, and carotenes when they sit on store shelves, but freshly picked ones are loaded with these health-giving substances.

Price. Seasonal produce and fruits are in abundant supply, so the price per pound is less—making it not only better for you but also cheaper. For non-seasonal produce shipped from other places such as California and Mexico, the shipping cost is passed along to the purchaser, resulting in higher prices. Transported produce must be picked before ripening, chilled during transportation to prevent rotting, and upon arriving at its destination, possibly heated in a hothouse to artificially ripen, which changes the texture and taste as well as greatly reducing the nutrients.

Avoiding Contaminates. Because of the stringent regulations on food grown in the United States, we can feel safe consuming foods grown here (and if there is an outbreak caused by foods grown in some areas, we are notified and told to return or throw out the named food). However, many countries overseas (from which some of our vegetables and fruits are sourced) have very relaxed laws concerning chemicals that are sprayed on crops grown there. They may not conduct or regulate soil contamination tests to ensure safe ground in which to grow fruits and vegetables. In some of these agricultural areas, heavy metals and other toxic contaminates have been found coming from industrial sites located in or near the same areas.

Community. Most communities have a farmer’s market or food co-op, and these are not only great places to get the freshest of in-season produce, but you can also talk with the farmers who produce these foods and learn about the methods they use. It is a plus to be able to support farmers who work so hard to provide healthy foods for the community and to help build connections which benefit everyone.

If you don’t have the time to visit a farmer’s market, you can often find some locally sourced produce at your grocery store. Many stores will even have it labeled as locally grown.

Another option is to invest in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Before harvesting time, you pay a lump sum to a local farm or group of regional farms. This gives you a “share,” which means that you receive weekly boxes of locally harvested and ultra-fresh produce. This arrangement is mutually beneficial since the farmer has improved cash flow to help with harvesting, and the share owner is guaranteed delicious and fresh produce from a known safe source.

A study from Johns Hopkins University and a recent one from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) found that only 11 percent of adults consumed the recommended daily servings of vegetables and fruit. But more than half exceeded their daily need for protein and grains and ate excessive amounts of sugar, saturated fats, and salt.

All of us need to improve on the amount of fruits and vegetables we eat daily to become healthier. Eating in-season produce can help us to achieve that goal.  Click here and enter your state in the drop-down at the top of the page to see what fruits and vegetables are in-season in your area.