Category Archives: nutrition

Eat More Veggies! 7 Sneaky Ways to Get More Vegetables into Your Diet

Americans don’t eat enough vegetables. This is a commonly known fact. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only one in 10 adults are getting enough fruit and vegetables in their daily diets. Yet government guidelines recommend that adults eat at least two to three cups of vegetables per day as well as at least one-and-a-half to two cups of fruit. So, how can you change your diet and modify your cooking to make sure you’re meeting the recommended guidelines?

Maybe you aren’t a big fan of broccoli, or you aren’t sure how to prepare vegetables in an appealing way. Or maybe, like many people, you just find it inconvenient to eat all of those veggies when there are quick and easy packaged meals ready to go.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to eat enough vegetables because they are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, which can help keep you healthy and help fight off disease, as well as help you maintain a healthy weight.

Here are seven creative ways to incorporate vegetables into your cooking that are both easy and appetizing.

1. Make vegetable-based soups.
Soups are a great way to incorporate several vegetables at once. You can make vegetables the base of the soup by puréeing them and adding spices, meats, noodles, or more veggies. Some examples of vegetable-based soups include tomato soup, carrot soup, creamy cauliflower soup, mushroom-spinach soup, and of course classic vegetable soup. You can find some delicious soup recipes here.

2. Try Veggie Noodles.
If you crave pasta but are watching your carb intake, veggie noodles are a great low-carb alternative and a way to get in several servings of vegetables in one meal. The most common vegetables used for noodles are zucchini, carrots, spaghetti squash, and sweet potatoes. You will need a spiralizer for making veggie noodles: you insert veggies into the spiralizer, and it processes them into noodle-like shapes. Veggie noodles can be eaten just like regular pasta—just add another vegetable-based sauce, such as tomato sauce, and add meat if you like. Toss in some mushrooms and onions, and you’ve met a big portion of your daily vegetable requirement.

3. Add Vegetables to Sauces.
Speaking of noodle dishes, another easy way to increase vegetable intake is by adding them to sauces. When cooking a sauce, such as a marinara sauce, just add in other veggies like chopped onions, carrots, peppers, or spinach. You can also puree other vegetables to make them into a sauce on their own, such as butternut squash or spinach.

4. Use Cauliflower for Carbs.
Cauliflower pizza is all the rage right now. With the popularity of gluten-free and low-carb diets, substituting cauliflower for flour-based crusts allows you to still enjoy pizza, plus it adds in a full serving of vegetables. Blend more veggies into your pizza sauce or add them as toppings for a veggie-rich meal.

Cauliflower rice is another carb alternative and can be substituted for regular white or brown rice. You can use either a food processor or box grater to make cauliflower rice. It’s even easier to cook than regular rice, either on the stove top or in the microwave. You can serve it as a side or use it as a base for other recipes that mix in meat and other vegetables.

5. Blend Veggies into Smoothies.
Smoothies are a really easy way to eat more vegetables and are especially appealing if you have picky kids. They won’t even be able to taste the vegetables or know they are in these yummy drinks! Blending in green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale with fruits such as mangoes, strawberries, bananas, and peaches packs both fruits and veggies into one sweet, icy drink that you or your kids can have for a quick breakfast-on-the-go or for an anytime snack.

6. Try a Lettuce Wrap.
Using lettuce or other leafy vegetables such as kale or spinach as a wrap instead of a bun or tortilla is one of the easiest ways to eat more vegetables. They can be used for several types of dishes including bunless hamburgers or hot dogs, or a low-carb sandwich.

7. Make a Veggie Omelet.
Omelets don’t have to just be for breakfast, plus they’re an easy way to sneak in more veggies. Almost any type of vegetable tastes good in an omelet, but the most popular ones are mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach, and tomatoes. Add in some cheese and/or meat for a filling meal.

By getting creative with using vegetables in your cooking, you’ll be able to increase your daily intake and learn to love eating vegetables.

 

 

 

Eating Right for Gut Health

Everyone experiences digestive problems from time to time. Symptoms such as heartburn, indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation and abdominal discomfort are common and can be caused by a variety of things including diet, age, health conditions, and certain medications. But when digestive distress becomes a constant problem and interferes with your day-to-day life, it may be time to reexamine your diet and make some changes that can help alleviate unpleasant symptoms and lead to better digestive health.

Scientists have discovered in recent years that in addition to improved digestive health,  the GI system is linked to many other aspects of health from immunity to emotional health to chronic illnesses including cancer and Type 2 diabetes. This link is believed to lie in the microbiome—the bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit the stomach and intestines.

It’s important to note that persistent digestive problems should always be checked by your doctor. If you’ve been cleared medically of any underlying health conditions, then changing your diet can help regulate digestion and improve your overall gut health.

The Big Three
Improving gut health revolves around three major sources: foods containing fiber, probiotics, prebiotics, or a combination of all three.

  • Fiber, found in plant-based foods, aids in digestion as it helps regulate the speed at which food moves through your gut.
  • Probiotics in foods are live microorganisms or so-called “good bacteria.” These foods are created through the fermentation process and can encourage a healthy digestive tract.
  • Prebiotics are necessary for probiotics to work in helping the flora in your gut to flourish.

While there are a lot of over-the-counter probiotic/prebiotic supplements available on the market, these types of supplements are not well-regulated, so you don’t know if you’re actually getting what is on the label. It is much more beneficial to get these nutrients through food rather than supplements. The best foods for all three sources are whole foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and dairy products.

Focus on Fiber.
Most Americans do not get enough fiber in their diets. The recommended daily amount of fiber for women is 25 grams and 38 grams for men. Increasing the fiber in your diet should be done gradually, especially if you aren’t already eating a lot of fibrous foods, because adding too much too quickly can cause cramping and gas. By increasing your fiber intake gradually, digestive symptoms should also gradually improve.

To increase your daily fiber intake, eat a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and try adding more of these particular foods to your diet:

  • Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, navy beans, and white beans
  • Berries such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries
  • Whole grains such as barley, bran, and bulgur

Promote Probiotics and Prebiotics.

Research on probiotics and prebiotics is relatively new, so there is currently no specific recommendation for daily intake. Eating a variety of foods containing probiotics several times a week can help regulate digestion and ease mild digestive symptoms.

The best sources of probiotic foods include:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles
  • Cheeses – Gouda, mozzarella, cheddar, cottage cheese

Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, although not all plant-based foods contain prebiotics. Some of the best sources include bananas, nuts, whole wheat, and corn.

By revamping your diet to include more of these foods that promote a healthy gut, you can lessen or eliminate symptoms of digestive distress and improve overall health.

 

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!

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.

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!

 

 

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.

 

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s always impressive when your waiter or waitress presents you with a plate of food that looks too pretty to eat. Many chefs say “we eat first with our eyes (saying attributed to an ancient Roman gourmet).” Have you ever noticed that the more enticing dishes tend to be visually appealing due to the variety of foods and colors displayed?

Eat from All Five Food Groups Daily to Improve Your Health

It’s hard to get that same mouth-watering effect when you have just one thing on the plate. Likewise, the greater variety of food groups you consume, the better the chance you are getting  sufficient quantities of vitamins and minerals from your meals.

According to the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion(CNPP), an organization established in 1994 with the objective of educating and encouraging dietary guidance for all Americans, we should be following the MyPlate.gov model in order to make better food choices and eat healthfully.

The MyPlate model replaced the MyPyramid and the Food Guide Pyramid in 2011, and many people find it much easier to follow. Instead of a pyramid shape, the MyPlate image is designed to look like a place setting, with each of the five food groups displayed in the proper proportions on the plate. It is easy to understand and remember the right ratios of foods we should be eating when contemplating this visual tool.

The reason it is so important to eat from a variety of different foods is that each kind of food has different types and amounts of key vitamins and minerals. If you eat too much of one and not enough of another, you may find that you are lacking in some key nutrients, and over time, this may have a negative consequence for your health. In addition, choosing a variety of foods keeps your meals interesting so you won’t  become bored with your diet plan.

According to the MyPlate Plan, half of our plate should consist of vegetables and fruits, while the other half should be protein and grains. The portion given to veggies is a little bigger than that allotted to fruit, and the portion given to grains is slightly more than that for protein. On the top right of the image is a little circle as though for a drink. This is the dairy group and indicates the proportion of dairy we should have relative to all the other food groups. It is a slightly smaller area than that given to fruits.

The balanced diet presented in the MyPlate Plan is an ideal framework for healthy eating that is easy to remember and follow when creating meals at home or choosing what you want in a cafeteria or restaurant. Take a look at the MyPlate Plan visual tool.

The MyPlate image is not the only helpful tool provided by the CNPP to show you how much of each food group to eat; you can even get a personalized plan specific to your gender, height, weight, and activity level to help you ensure you are eating the right foods in the right quantities. Just go to: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlatePlan.