It’s not surprising that many people want to ensure that their pets live the longest and healthiest lives possible. To help achieve that goal, more Americans are starting to purchase pet insurance policies.
Garlic Breath for Good Health
Celebrate the flavor of garlic during National Garlic Month. Garlic is closely related to onions, shallots, scallions, chives and leeks, since they all are members of the allium family. Garlic is rich in nutrients especially vitamins A, B1, B6 and C as well as potassium, calcium, zinc, iron, manganese and selenium.
Garlic is known for its pungent smell, on your hands and your breath. The smell can be removed from your hands by running them under cold water while rubbing a stainless steel object. Chewing on fresh mint or parsley leaves, apples or lettuce after eating garlic can neutralize the sulfur compounds that cause the odor and minimize “garlic breath.”
These sulfur compounds are made from the active ingredient, allicin, which is thought to be responsible for garlic’s health benefits. Allicin is formed when a garlic clove is chopped, crushed or chewed. To get the most health benefits, let the garlic sit on the cutting board for at least 10 minutes before cooking it.
Garlic has a long history of popularity for its taste as well as its health benefits, dating back to Greek and Roman times. Health benefits often associated with garlic include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduced risk of cancer, an improved immune system and anti-inflammatory effect. Not all of these claims have strong research to support them. Many of the studies have used various forms of garlic such as fresh, supplements or oil; while others have looked at overall intake of allium-family vegetables. Many small studies show promising results for continued research.
The strongest evidence of a health benefit is the association between garlic intake and heart health, specifically reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure. It is not intended to replace medication but may be a complement. However, be sure to check with your health care provider before increasing garlic in your diet or taking garlic supplements. They may interfere with some medications, especially blood thinners. A word of caution: some people are allergic to garlic or develop indigestion after eating it.
When purchasing garlic, select firm, tight, heavy bulbs. Avoid ones with dry skin, sprouting or dark areas. Each segment of a garlic bulb is called a clove. A single bulb may contain 10-20 cloves, depending on its size. Store unbroken garlic bulbs in a cool, dry place and it will keep for 3 to 4 months. Once the bulb is broken, the individual cloves will only stay fresh for 5 to 10 days. You can also store whole garlic in the refrigerator until ready to use. Leftover minced or peeled garlic can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or the freezer up to 1 month without losing flavor. Purchase garlic in small amounts to avoid keeping it too long, the fresher garlic has more concentrated active ingredients for flavor and health.
Spring into Financial Literacy
April is financial literacy month, but what exactly is financial literacy, and what does it mean for us? Everyone has different levels of experience with financial products, terms, and organizations. We also have different levels of confidence with using them. University of Maryland Extension has a team of personal finance educators offering educational workshops and trainings across the state. Learn more about our programs on our website.
Let’s discuss some different financial health measures and how we can use them to evaluate our own personal finance situation.
Financial literacy is personal finance knowledge. It is what we know about topics including saving, investing and debt, and insurance, along with related concepts such as interest rates and creating budgets. Financial literacy also measures our ability to make informed decisions about financial products like investment accounts, loans, health and life insurance, and more.
The idea of financial literacy education assumes that if individuals have more financial knowledge, they will manage their financial resources better and have a stronger sense of financial well-being. How is your financial literacy? You can take some self-tests and find out.
Financial confidence. Financial confidence is a different measure than financial literacy. The problem with financial literacy measures is that we can have knowledge about something, but still feel uncomfortable using that knowledge to grow or protect our money. As the term implies, financial confidence describes how comfortable an individual feels about managing their finances. For example, we can know how about savings accounts and the importance of emergency savings. We could know how to compare interest rate yields. However, if someone fears going into a bank or is not comfortable talking with a bank representative about opening an account, the knowledge, or financial literacy, is not helping them achieve their goals.
Financial empowerment is a frequently used term. Financial empowerment combines the concepts of financial literacy and financial confidence. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial empowerment means you’re both informed and skilled. The sense of empowerment builds confidence, helping you effectively use your financial knowledge, skills, and resources to reach your goals. Try this financial empowerment assessment tool.
Financial wellbeing is another important personal finance measure. Financial well-being determines how much your financial situation and money choices provide you with security and freedom of choice. It is a measure of how you feel about your money situation and your sense of control over your finances, regardless of how much money you have. There is a widely used financial wellbeing self-test which you can take at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/financial-well-being/. You can read more about financial wellbeing and the self-assessment here.
How do you feel about the results of these assessments? Do you want to know more about financial products, or are you with an organization that helps people manage their resources? University of Maryland Extension has educators, programs, and resources to help. Connect with us to partner together on our journey.
It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
Who doesn’t love a PB&J? April 2nd is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, so celebrate with one of America’s most popular sandwiches. Soldiers in World War II are credited with the popularity of this sandwich combination because peanut butter, jelly and bread were on the Army’s food ration list.
Let’s look a little closer at the history of the mainstay of this sandwich: peanut butter. Peanut butter is a food-paste made from ground-roasted peanuts. It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12-ounce jar of peanut butter. This popular nut butter made its debut as a protein substitute at the 1883 Chicago World’s Fair. After the commercialization of the peanut industry in the early 1900’s, peanut butter became more affordable for everyone.
Many people avoid peanut butter because of the calories and fat, however there is more to know about the nutritional value of this nutrient-dense food. A 2-tablespoon serving of peanut butter provides around 200 calories. This portion also provides fiber, protein and fat; which helps to keep you full longer. Although it is high in fat, these are mostly healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. In fact, peanut butter has the same ratio of saturated to unsaturated fats as olive oil. Peanut butter also provides important vitamins and minerals including vitamins E and B6, magnesium and potassium.
I recently was shopping for peanut butter in the grocery store. It is amazing what you learn when you turn the jar around and read the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list. Don’t be fooled by statements on the front that say “natural”. Peanut butter made solely from peanuts is easily identifiable. The ingredient list is simple: peanuts.
When you look at the jars on the shelf, they are the ones that have a layer of oil above the peanut paste in the jar. This is the natural oil from the ground peanuts. Before using, stir the oil into the paste to create a creamy texture. This can be tricky to maneuver but once you have stirred the oil into the peanut paste, it will give you a smooth, creamy mixture that is easy to spread. Store the jar in the refrigerator upside down to keep the mixture from separating.
So, what is in those other “peanut butter” jars on the shelf. First you need to know that products that are called peanut butter must be at least 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, flavoring, or preservatives. Other brands that do not meet these criteria are often called peanut butter spread. Here are some things to look out for in the ingredient list when selecting a peanut butter:
- hydrogenated oil
- sugar or honey
Some brands mix other ingredients like grape jelly, honey or chocolate into the mixture. Look at the nutrition facts label to learn more about calories, saturated fats, sugars, and sodium. For example, reduced-fat peanut butter has less fat but often adds sugar to replace the fat, which increases the calories. The higher the sodium content of the spread, you have less natural peanut flavor.
There are many variations to the traditional PB&J sandwich today. Try it on whole wheat or raisin bread. Add a new flavor of jelly like strawberry jam. Add some fruit like bananas, apples, or blueberries. Try grilling the sandwich or making it into a French toast. Sprinkle a layer of dry cereal or potato chips to give it some crunch.
Keep in mind that peanut allergies are the second most common food allergy in children so use other nut butters as a substitute. Be sure to alert others when you are serving peanut butter because the allergy can be triggered just by being close to the peanuts.
Although peanut butter is a great source of protein and contains healthy unsaturated fats, it can be high in calories so portion control is important to maintain a healthy balance of calories.
Financial Spring Cleaning
With Spring finally here, many people are thinking about Spring Cleaning. For many, it is a time to tidy and organize around us so that we can focus on all the new things that Spring brings. That could involve cleaning out your closet, organizing your shed, or anything else that makes you feel ready for the coming season. This spring, consider doing some Financial Spring Cleaning! It is a great way to make sure that you and your money are ready for the year ahead. Here are some Financial Spring Cleaning suggestions:
1. Check your credit report.
Checking your credit report is a quick and easy way to protect your identity and review your financial picture. If you go to https://www.annualcreditreport.com, you can request a copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion). Once you have it, you want to review it to make sure all the information shown on the report is accurate! The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great tool that walks you through the process for checking the accuracy of your credit report, you can find it here: https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_your-money-your-goals_review-credit-report_tool.pdf
2. Have your tax paperwork ready to go.
Remember that the deadline to file taxes is April 15! To be ready, gather all the documents you need and put them in a safe place. You don’t want to wait too long to get started on your taxes. Many of us hope to receive a refund, but if you do end up owing taxes you want to make sure you have the time you need to figure out a plan to pay that bill. You should also keep in mind that appointments with a professional can fill up quickly and even filing online with tax software can take longer than expected. But if you are ready well in advance, you can file your taxes on time and move on with your spring!
3. Review your spending habits.
It’s always important to know where our money is going. One way to be more in touch with your spending habits is to look at bank records or credit card statements for January and February. You could go over them generally to see where you are spending money. You could also put expenses into specific categories and add them up to see how much you are spending each month on bills, groceries, going out to eat, or other categories. This is important because we often underestimate our spending and it can make budgeting very challenging! If you review your spending regularly, then you should have a much clearer idea of your spending habits.
4. Consider creating a chart or visual for an important part of your financial life.
If you want to take reviewing your habits a step further, then consider creating a way to visualize some part of your financial life. One example is creating a bill calendar. You can use a generic calendar (as in one that is not for a specific month) to show the dates your major bills are due. That way you have a quick way to know which bills need to be paid on what dates. Another option is to create a picture of your debt. This could be a chart that shows student loans, car loans, credit cards, or other debts and their overall balance. It can be especially useful if you are working on paying down your debt!
5. Create financial goals.
Finally, prepare for the season ahead by creating financial goals! Having a clear picture in your mind of what you want to do with your money can help you make financial decisions in the future. For example, it might help to carry a written reminder of your financial goals. If you are getting ready to make a purchase, seeing that written reminder could encourage you not to make the purchase and keep saving or to more deeply consider whether the purchase is necessary. The reminder is helpful because it changes your way of thinking. It helps you keep in mind that you are saying no to purchasing something right now so that, in the future, you are able to achieve an important financial goal!
Wishing all of you a happy Spring!
Wild-Caught Versus Farm-Raised Fish: Is One Better?
As a kid I remember getting up at the crack of dawn with my dad, and with fishing poles in hand, we walked to the Atlantic ocean with high hopes of catching our dinner. If successful, we would enjoy fresh-caught blowfish, snapper, flounder, or bluefish with home grown vegetables for dinner. We loved living off the land (and sea), for a few weeks each summer! Now, as an adult, out of convenience, I purchase seafood locally at markets.
Eating seafood continues to gain popularity in the U.S. Annually, we increased our consumption from 11 pounds (1968) to 19 pounds (2020). Nutritionally, this is great news! Seafood is an excellent source of high-quality protein, is low in fat and high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are heart-protective. But, meeting the rising demand for these aquatic powerhouse foods is challenging, nationally and globally.
Aquaculture or ‘fish farming,’ has been successful in increasing the seafood supply. However, many questions have been raised about ‘farming our fish.’ As a registered dietitian, I often receive and respond to questions regarding wild-caught versus farm-raised seafood. For example:
Are farm-raised fish safe to eat?
Like all foods, there are food safety hazards associated with seafood. Farmed-raised and wild-caught seafood can be safe to eat; however, it’s important to consider the source. Seafood from the U.S. has high inspection standards and is closely regulated. This may not be the case in other countries. Contaminants have been found in both. Antibiotics and toxins have been found in some imported farmed seafood and mercury and pollutants have been found in some wild-caught fish.
Does farm-raised fish have the same nutrient quality?
Like farm animals, the nutritional quality of fish depends on what they eat. Wild-caught fish consume diets natural to their habitat (ocean, lake, stream) and can be lower in calories and saturated fat than farm-raised varieties. Farmed fish may be slightly higher in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids but also saturated fats, which should be limited.
How do I know if I am buying or eating farm-raised fish?
Check COOL (Country Of Origin Label). It’s required on all fresh or frozen seafood sold in the United States. Frozen seafood will also have a label indicating where the fish was packaged. Read the label carefully. Fish caught or farmed from another country can be packaged in the U.S.
Wild-caught or farm-raised? The choice is yours. Read the labels and do your research so you can make informed choices about your seafood. Check out the Seafood Nutrition Partnership for some great recipes!
PFAS – Not just Forever, but Everywhere and Harmful – What to Know and Do
My last blogpost introduced the group of chemicals, polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS, also known as “forever” chemicals, and their risks to the environmental and public health. For this post, I want to stress the extent of our exposure to these chemicals and their impact to our health.
The fact that there are more than 4,500 PFAS compounds produced ought to tell us that they are found in a huge number of products. Also, the question of why do we need so many non-stick like chemicals comes to mind. Most of us may only be familiar with only a few of products that contain PFAS — non-stick cookware, and stain resistant fabrics for clothing, carpet, and furniture. In reality the number of common everyday products containing PFAS number in the hundreds, and many of these will surprise you. For example, PFAS can be found in some: candy wrappers, cleaning products, cosmetics, dental floss, electronics and circuit boards, fire-fighting foams, food packaging, hydraulic fluid, inks, metal plating paints, pesticides, photographic processing paper, polishes, shampoo, surfactants, and other related products. With PFAS in so many products we use or are in contact with daily, it is no wonder that 98% of us have PFAS in our blood, and the extent that they are found in our water and the environment. So, including the descriptor “everywhere” in addition to “forever” is reasonable.
Being forever and everywhere alone is reason for alarm, but combining the growing understanding of the impacts to human health, greatly escalates the danger of this group of compounds. Research studies on PFAS and human health are relatively recent, but the variety of adverse health risks known to date are highly significant and should prompt immediate response. Studies have shown the health effects include increased risk of: asthma, diabetes, decreased birth weight, cancer (kidney, testicular), increased cholesterol, kidney and liver disease, decreased immune response, decreased fertility, obesity, thyroid disease, and reduced vaccine response. These health impacts are what we know now from studies that have only looked into a small portion of the PFAS compounds.
All this information on the persistent, ubiquitous, and harmful characteristics of PFAS compounds should be a wake up call for all of us — consumers, manufacturers, regulators, and policy makers. Fortunately, the level of concern and action is slowly increasing in society. EPA is investing many resources in new regulations and research, and some states are moving rapidly to set higher drinking water standards and bans of PFAS in some or all products. A few recent examples include:
- California banned PFAS in paper products and requires cookware to disclose the presence of PFAS, and further they will ban PFAS in children’s clothing
- Colorado banned use of fire-fighting foams with PFAS
- New York state ban of PFAS in detergents and paper products in 2022
- Maine banned the intentional addition of PFAS in food packaging in 2019 and has banned added PFAs in all products, and will be phased in
- Pennsylvania has limited two common PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS in drinking water to 14 and 18 parts per trillion.
- Vermont will ban PFAS in food packaging, carpets, rugs and ski wax
- Washington state prohibited PFAS in food packaging in 2022
Unfortunately, there is still much to learn, and we can expect new research to expand our understanding of the risks and seriousness of this issue. What can we as consumers do now?
A couple of suggestions are:
- Become informed about PFAS
- Beware of products that state they are free of one PFAS compound, e.g. PFOA. They simply substitute another PFAS chemical
- Ask or research if the products you use contain PFAS. If they do, consider other products – your purchasing decisions can influence manufacturers overtime
- Shop for PFAS free products:
Check out these other tips from Clean Water Fund.
March is Living Well Month! The National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (NEAFCS) encourages families to live well through raising kids, eating right, and spending smart.
Physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally strong families provide strength for future
generations and Extension initiatives enable Maryland residents to build the knowledge and skill to lead full and productive lives.
The University of Maryland Extension Family & Consumer Sciences team provides comprehensive education for individuals in a variety of areas including nutrition, physical activity, mental health, chronic disease prevention and management, personal finance, and so much more.
Celebrate healthy living and the great work FCS professionals do to educate individuals, families, and communities in Maryland, and across the country, by engaging in one of the Living Well Month activities!
Follow the recommendations of the NEAFCS, or come up with some of your own goals to start Living Well!
It’s National Community Supported Agriculture Farms Week!
We all know that we’re supposed to eat lots of fruits and vegetables as a part of a healthy diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that women over 30 eat 2-3 cups a day, and men over 30, 3-4 cups of vegetables per day. Produce provides important nutrients for our bodies like vitamin A and C, potassium, and dietary fiber, all which help to prevent or reduce your risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol levels, maintain healthy blood pressure, keep healthy skin, bones, eyes, and even helps a body heal from wounds.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) is encouraging residents across the state to participate in Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) to get fresh local produce, while supporting local farmers during “National Community Supported Agriculture Farms Week,” February 20-26, 2023.
Community Supported Agriculture works on a membership basis with a subscription fee that allows members to receive a regular package of fresh produce. Some CSAs may provide delivery, or may deliver to a central location for easy pick up. CSAs help keep money in Maryland communities, bolstering the local economy and providing farm-fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits to families in the area.
To learn more about Maryland CSAs or to sign up with one of the state’s farms, go to the Maryland’s Best website that provides a listing of statewide CSAs.