With the cost of everyday essentials skyrocketing, and the extra SNAP benefits from emergency allotments ending, many families are finding it more challenging than ever to put food on the table.
Our SNAP-Ed team is working to help families ensure that they can use their benefits to find and prepare healthy, affordable meals. Our team has resources for signing up for SNAP or WIC, information on free and reduced price school meal programs, and how to find local food pantries and nonprofit groups like the Maryland Food Bank.
Families and individuals already using SNAP benefits can also find useful information, like how to stretch their dollars by shopping at local farmers markets.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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?
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.
Beating over 100,000 times a day to pump 1.5 gallons of blood every minute through the 60,000 miles of vessels in the human body, our hearts are the do the most work for our physical and emotional well-being.
For 47% of Americans however, hypertension is a reality that puts their hearts at risk for stroke and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and only 1 in 4 adults experiencing high blood pressure have their condition controlled through healthy diets and activities.
The University of Maryland Extension offers workshops and programs to help people learn how to manage their uncontrolled hypertension through healthy actions. Especially designed for populations over 55 years, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH-Plus) plan incorporates a healthy diet plan with regular exercise tips, and self-measured blood pressure monitoring to ensure a comprehensive hypertension management plan.
The DASH-Plus system teaches participants nutritious recipes, how to reduce salt intake, the benefits of fruits and vegetables, how to prepare tasty but heart-healthy sweets, and even grocery shopping and budgeting tips. So for Valentine’s Day, give your loved ones, and yourself, the gift of a healthy heart.
Nothing says comfort like a warm mug or bowl of soup on a cold winter day. Soups come in a variety of styles including broth-based, thick and creamy chowders and bisques, and chunky stews and chili. Whatever you’re craving – there is a soup for you. The great thing about soup is that it usually includes several food groups and can be the main course of a meal or simply a side dish. Soups can provide protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals depending on its ingredients.
There are generally two options when preparing soups. The first comes from the grocery store as condensed canned soups, microwavable cup-a-soup, soup packets, frozen or hot ready-to-eat soups. The advantages are that they are quick and easy to prepare, often just adding water and heating. However, many prepared soups can be high in sodium so be sure to read the nutrition facts label. For example, one can of condensed tomato soup provides over half of the recommended daily sodium intake for American adults. Even though one can has two servings, most people eat both servings (one can) as a meal.
The other option is making your own healthy, low-sodium soup. This can sound intimidating but it is not as difficulty or time-consuming as you may think. The first step is to start with a base, choosing either a broth or cream base. Low fat, low-sodium broths and stocks are available at the grocery store or you can make your own. Cook beef, chicken, sausage or turkey with water. After cooking, refrigerate to allow the fat to float to the top. Skim off the fat, remove meat and bones, and use the stock (broth) for soups. You can also freeze it to use later when making soup. The meat can be frozen as well to use in other receives or in soup recipes. Another alternative for your soup base can be a low-sodium canned soup.
The next step is to choose the ingredients you want to add to your soup. There are recipes to follow but you can also be creative and make up your own. This is a great way to clean out your refrigerator or freezer for leftover vegetables and meats. Some great choices are carrots, celery, zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes. Usually one cup to one-half cup of diced vegetables is good for most soup recipes depending on how chunky you like your soup. Meat options can include beef, chicken, turkey, fish, seafood, ham or sausage. Beans are also a great protein source to add to your soups. Some starchy choices for soups include rice, noodles, macaroni, barley and lentils. Flavor with herbs and spices from your kitchen cabinet to keep it low-sodium.
When making soup, do it big! It takes about the same amount of time to make a large pot of soup as a smaller one, so make it worth your time. A large pot of soup can make enough for several meals so freeze some or share it with others to enjoy. Once the soup is cooked, divide the soup into small containers for 1-2 servings. If you are going to eat it within 3-4 days, you can put it in the refrigerator. If not, freeze your soup and use it within 2-3 months. Be sure to label and date the soup before putting it in the freezer. Thaw frozen soup in the refrigerator overnight or in the microwave. To reheat soup, heat to boiling over low heat or in a microwave. Add water or broth if it is too thick. Add toppings to your soup like homemade croutons, grated carrots, grated cheese, popcorn or sour cream. Homemade soups are a great way to perk up your meals on a cold, wintry day!