Diggin’ into Plant-Based Diets

Following a plant-based diet is very trendy these days. Whether it’s an environmental reason (reduce your carbon footprint) or health goal (decrease the risk of some chronic diseases), many people, including myself are consciously reducing their consumption of animal products.

What does it mean to follow a plant-based diet?  That really depends. Some interpret it is being a vegan or vegetarian. Others view a plant-based diet as being broader, including more plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains, and also fewer animal foods, like meat, fish and dairy. It’s not necessary to give up all the animal foods you enjoy; however, you can consider decreasing the portion sizes so these foods are no longer the main attraction on your plate. 

Ever since attending a 2019 nutrition conference, I’ve been inspired to consume more plant-based foods. It’s unlikely I will give up my glass of cold, fat-free milk in the evening (with one cookie); however, I do consume at least three meatless meals per week, eat smaller portions of chicken, fish, and lean beef and pork, and I load up half of my plate with vegetables (see my grilled vegetable recipe). This summer, my deck garden provided enough delicious red tomatoes to enjoy almost every day on salads. Since making these changes, I’ve maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure and feeling good about doing something for Mother Earth. 

Are you ready to ‘dig in’ and adopt a more plant-based diet? Here are some tips that helped me get started.

1. Go meatless one day a week. Beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of plant-proteins and add fiber to your diet, which makes you feel full. Instead of adding meat to my pasta, I toss it with grilled vegetables. If you like chili, peruse recipe websites for a bean-based chili that appeals to your taste buds.

2. Combine vegetable proteins. Quinoa, is a perfect protein, meaning it contains the 9 essential amino acids your body needs daily. You can also combine other plant foods to get that perfect protein. Some of my favorite combos are black beans and rice, chick peas and pasta, and whole what bread and peanut butter (with some jelly).

3. Re-think your meat portions. You can still have meat at your meals, but in smaller amounts, like 3 cooked ounces (the size and thickness of a deck of cards). Many of meals like soups (winter) and salads (summer) are full of vegetables and whole grains, but I add a small piece of protein, like a leftover grilled and shredded chicken breast or a few slices of pork tenderloin.


Try this recipe for Easy Grilled Vegetables!

Selection of vegetables:

  • Red, yellow or green peppers – cut in half and seeded
  • Yellow and green squash – sliced length-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Eggplant – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick
  • Mushrooms – whole cleaned
  • Onion – sliced width-wise, about ½ inch thick

Additional ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons, minced garlic
  • Fresh chopped or dried herb (parsley, thyme, basil, etc.) for garnish

Instructions:

1. Mix oil, salt, pepper, vinegar and garlic together.

2. Arrange vegetables on grill or in a grill pan (medium heat).

    Note: depending on the size of your pan you may need to work in batches.

3. Grill vegetables 6-8 minutes, brushing with oil, and vinegar mixture.

4. Remove vegetables from grill or grill pan and place on a platter. Drizzle remaining oil and

    vinegar mixture on vegetables. Sprinkle herbs over vegetables and serve.

Fashionable Flavor: Do the spices of your life match what’s en vogue?

At home, we have our dried spice and herb staples. Granted, there are some in the back of the cabinet that get less use than others; we have them on hand nonetheless for seasonal or specialty recipes.

We live in an ever-changing world with technology and resources that make information on anything ultra-accessible. The same goes for spices and herbs, their health benefits, how to use them, where they come from, and the like. Influxes of information can definitely be overwhelming and even confusing at times. People who want the best for themselves and those they care for feel the pressure to be current. Where can one start to process and apply flavor related changes? Well, when it comes to spices and herbs, I say look no further than the past for the present.

What does that mean? It means that the flavors we introduce into our kitchens have been around for a long time. When we embrace the people and their cultures which have been producing and utilizing them, we open up a newfound realm of appreciation for various spices and herbs.

Living in the U.S. affords us a plethora of cuisines. When the 2019 pandemic hit, I was nudged to recreate the foods I typically enjoyed outside of my home. I began to notice a “one off” ingredient I got for a particular recipe is actually common in other dishes from the region or even other regions. By expanding my awareness of cuisines, I accumulated new dishes to add to my meal plans.

Image from Rawpixel.com

Take turmeric for example. Many may be familiar with using it in a curry. With a little exploration, one may find traditional uses in rice or beverage recipes. Colleagues, classmates, cookbooks, neighbors, TV and the internet have brought a wealth of exposure to me and my kitchen. 

The latest research on the positive health effects of *insert spice or herb here* tends to send people (consumers and industry professionals alike) into a frenzy on how to incorporate it into our diets. By being open to a diversified palate, one adopts a lifestyle that complements the waves of science. Hopefully, we fret less about how to incorporate a spice or herb into our humdrum shakes, bakes or pancakes and use flavors as a gateway to bridge our understanding of others’ culinary cultures.

Sometimes, we put too much onus on ourselves to reinvent the wheel. Creativity is certainly an adventurous blessing, though we can consciously leverage the brilliance and benefits of generations past as continued by present cultures. Perhaps, we could view history as more than a subject; it’s a tasty way of life. Please, visit the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and FoodData Central for resources on how to “make every bite count” towards good health.

This post contributed by guest blogger Esu Obu

Food Around the World

Food is a big part of our lives. Different cultures have different traditions and rituals that involve food. It can bring people together to celebrate and mourn. There are several different types of cultural cuisines but a few of the most common are Japanese, Indian, and Greek.

Japanese Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is mostly known for sushi, but there are other popular dishes such as ramen, tempura, gyoza, and sashimi. Tempura is the deep-frying of vegetables, meat or seafood. Gyoza is typically an appetizer or a side dish of dumplings filled with meat and vegetables. Sashimi is thinly sliced raw meat or fish that is often accompanied with soy sauce. Rice and noodles are a staple food in Japanese culture and there are always side dishes that are usually fish or pickled vegetables. Seafood is also very common in this type of cuisine because of Japan’s location being surrounded by the ocean. 

Each dish is usually served in different bowls and plates which relates to Japanese food etiquette and table manners. Each individual eating will have their own bowl and plate and it is disrespectful to eat from others’ plates.

Unlike in American culture, chopsticks are primarily used to eat food. While eating, there are certain things to do and to not do. For example, it is inappropriate to burp while eating at the table because it is considered rude. Yet, it is appropriate to slurp noodles because it shows that the food is good and your appreciation.

Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine is another delicious type of food! The most popular foods from an American point of view are chicken tikka masala, biryani, naan, and samosas. While these are very yummy foods, there are many more great dishes to try. I’ve been able to try other dishes because my roommate is Indian and her family often sends her home with traditional food. One of my favorite dishes is palak paneer which consists of spinach and Indian cottage cheese. Another dish that I love is vada pav which are deep fried potato patties inside of a bread bun with a spicy chutney. 

palak paneer

In traditional Indian culture, once the meal is announced, hands must be washed and dried. People eat with their right hand because the left hand should remain clean. Some families have meals on the floor but that is typically in rural areas, and there are no “courses” like in Japanese culture – all of the food is served at one time. 

Greek Cuisine

Greek cuisine is another great option for hungry bellies! The most common Greek foods are olives and olive oil, dolmades, hummus and tzatziki, meat, fish, and spanakopita (spinach pie). Spices are a very important part of Greek cuisine. Spices such as mint, basil, coriander are most common and typically used in marinades for meats like lamb and pork. 

Greek dining etiquette is different from the other two cultures mentioned above. For example, wine is accompanied at lunch and dinner, and guests cannot eat until the host invites them to. Knives must remain in the right hand and forks in the left.

While the types of cuisines differ, there are also similarities. One of the most common similarities is that almost every culture has a dumpling. A dumpling consists of any type of starch that has a filling inside. In Japanese cuisine, gyoza is a dumpling. In Jamaican cuisine, a beef patty can be considered a dumpling. In Italian cuisine, ravioli and tortellini are dumplings. In Greek cuisine, spanakopita is an example of a dumpling. 

Food is a great way to bring people together and another commonality is that families and friends are able to share special memories with each other while enjoying a delicious meal. Knowing the basic rules of table etiquette for each culture may not be necessary for everyday life, but it could come in handy if traveling! 

Check out this site to look at more healthy and delicious recipes! Some examples of cultural cuisines from the University of Maryland Extension website are bok choy stir fry and Mexican pinwheels. 

This blog post written by Samantha Brenner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

Being Prepared with an Emergency Food Supply Kit

During the winter, it is important to be prepared with an emergency food supply kit. Whether the snow prevents you from getting to the store or ice has knocked out the power, having a fully-stocked kitchen is one less worry for you and your family. Many of these foods may be the usual foods that you buy. Choose foods that store well from each of the food groups to provide the variety of nutrients you and your family need and like. Consider anyone who has special dietary recommendations and include these foods in the emergency supply.

The recommendation is a 3-day food supply for each member of your family (including pets) so pick up a few items each time you go to the store and store it separately from your normal groceries. Be sure to check expiration dates every 6 months so you can use foods before they expire and replace them as needed. Keep a running list of your supply items so it is easier to shop. Plan ahead to stock shelf-stable foods and then all you need to purchase at the last minute are perishables.

One of the most important things to stock is bottled water. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends 1 gallon of water a day for each person and pet in the household to use for drinking, cooking and washing up.   

Shelf-stable foods include a variety of healthy, high-energy foods to meet everyone’s tastes. Include high-protein foods like peanut butter, canned meats and beans. Canned tuna, salmon and chicken will last longer than vacuum-sealed pouches. Canned soups, chili and stews make quick and easy lunches. For healthier choices, choose no salt added canned foods and low-sodium soups. Other shelf-stable foods that need no cooking are cereal, canned vegetables and fruit, 

Snack foods that may be handy to stock in your emergency food kit include chips, pretzels, popcorn, cookies, crackers, granola bars, nuts, jerky, dried fruit, trail mixes and shelf-stable juice. Buying individually wrapped snack foods will keep them fresh longer. Dried pasta and jarred sauce are good choices to keep available for a quick, hot meal. Coffee, tea, and hot cocoa mixes make good beverage choices. An easy way to keep milk on hand in emergencies is stocking powdered milk or milk that undergoes ultra-high temperature processing (UHT) that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and can sit on the shelf for up to six months.

If you anticipate a storm in the next few days, make a trip to the grocery store to pick up some perishable food items that will stay fresh for at least a week. These include apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, salad foods, squash, yogurt, eggs, milk, butter and avocados. Buying fruits and veggies that are not quite ripe will help them last longer. 

Any emergency food supply kit needs some other essentials like a non-electric can opener, flashlight, extra batteries, candles, matches and cleaning wipes. Being prepared is key to staying healthy when there is an emergency.

Celebrate the New Year with Lucky Foods

It is that time of year when people are eager to say goodbye to 2021 with wishes that the New Year will be filled with hope, health and spending more time with family and friends. Whether you are spending the New Year with a small group of close friends and family or having a larger event, think about adding some special foods to bring in the New Year in your celebration. Special foods have often been a part of our new year’s celebrations, promising to bring luck and good fortune in the year ahead.

One of the “luckiest” foods to eat on New Year’s Day is pork. The meaning behind this tradition is that a pig uses its snout to dig in the ground, always moving forward. People tend to look forward at the beginning of a new year with setting goals for themselves. Pigs are also associated with plumpness and eating plenty, which is characterized as a sign of good fortune in the year ahead. The tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut for a New Year’s meal came to the United States from Germany and became popular in New England and with the Pennsylvania Dutch. 

Fish is another common food choice for New Year celebrations. From eating sardines or herring at midnight for prosperity and wealth to other fish dishes served at New Year meals including salmon, cod and shrimp to bring good fortune in the coming year.

Cooked greens are often served on New Year’s Day. The green leaves, which look like folded money, are symbolic of wealth and good fortune. In some parts of the United States, these greens may be collard greens while sauerkraut, made from green cabbage, is from the German tradition. Whatever your choice of greens, some believe that the more greens you eat, the larger your fortune will be in the New Year.

Legumes are also supposed to bring you luck on New Year’s Day. Their small size are symbolic of money or coins. One of the most common American legume dishes is hoppin’ John, a black-eyed peas and rice dish eaten on New Year’s Day for good luck. Some believe in eating one “lucky” pea for every day in the New Year. Often served with the black-eyed peas are greens and cornbread. The cornbread represents gold, which is symbolic of good fortune in the year ahead.

Noodles are a traditional Japanese New Year’s food. The length of the noodle symbolizes a long life and the buckwheat flour used to make the noodles represents resiliency. The trick is to slurp the noodles and not chew them; because if you break the noodle, your luck runs out.

Spain has a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight with each grape representing a different month. The goal is to swallow all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight. It is harder than it sounds and some people even practice week before the New Year. If you are successful, the belief is you will have a year of prosperity.

Try any of these traditions at your New Year celebration, or come up with one of your own!

The Glycemic Index:  A Tool For Diabetes Meal Planning

The glycemic index, or GI, is a useful tool for people with diabetes to manage their diet for better blood sugar control. The glycemic index measures how much a food containing carbohydrates may increase blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycemic index are digested and absorbed quickly which causes a rapid increase in blood sugar levels.  In comparison, foods with a low GI value are digested slowly causing a slower increase in blood sugar levels.  Low GI foods are typically rich in fiber and protein but may also be high in fat, saturated fat and calories.

This index is based on the weight of the food, 50 grams, and not the portion size. For example, 50 grams is about one cup of cooked rice but is 4 cups of cooked beets. Portion control is important for managing blood sugar and weight, regardless of the GI value of the food.  

Image by anncapictures from Pixabay

Glycemic Index is not related to the nutrition quality of the food. Chocolate and carrots have the same GI value of 49, which is considered a low GI food, but obviously carrots are much higher in nutrient value than chocolate. Keep in mind that the GI is based on a single food being consumed alone on an empty stomach but usually we eat foods together in a meal. One way to use the GI system is to combine high-GI foods with low-GI foods to balance the meal or try to select more medium and low GI foods.  

Several factors can influence the GI value of foods. Fruit juice has a higher level than fruit since the fruit has fiber to lower the glycemic index. The ripeness of the fruit increases the GI value, because the fruit creates more sugar naturally, as it ripens. The more processed a food, generally the higher the GI value. For example, mashed potatoes have a higher GI value than a baked potato.  

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

There is no one diet or meal plan that works for everyone with diabetes.  A good foundation is to select high-fiber foods, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, balanced with meat, dairy and healthy fats. Choose more foods in their natural state, and less processed foods. 

Meal plans should be individualized to meet personal food preferences and lifestyle to control blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels and maintain a healthy weight. A registered dietitian can develop a personalized meal plan that works for you. To find a registered dietitian in your area, go to https://www.eatright.org/find-a-nutrition-expert .

The Glycemic Index should not be the only guide to determine food choices but is another tool to use in the meal planning process. For more information on the Glycemic Index, go to the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org.

Discover a Day on the Farm

Where our food comes from can be just as important as what food we are putting into our bodies. Knowing where your food was grown can help you make informed decisions about freshness, nutrition, and quality, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Learning how your food is grown, raised, and brought to market and to your table provides a critical understanding of agricultural systems and the people who work to provide that food.

University of Maryland Extension agricultural agent Racheal Slattery is striving to educate the public on the importance of farm families and understanding food production by offering a virtual tour of a working dairy farm through her Day on the Farm program. 

The public is invited to follow the farm owners, on-farm experts like the herd veterinarian and nutritionist, and UME experts, through a guided tour that demonstrates the birthing and growth cycle of calves to cows, the milking process, animal nutrition and care, and other farming topics like equipment and conservation.

The first Day on the Farm tour introduces the DeBaugh family from Washington County, Md and their fifth generation dairy farm. A virtual map and guided stops takes the public through a video tour of their dairy farm, explaining farm management, facilities, animal husbandry, and punctuated by helpful 4-H youth who explain difficult scientific terms and concepts.

To learn more about where your food comes from, take the tour at https://go.umd.edu/dayonthefarm.

Bag It and Eat It: Ice Cream Activi-treats

Summer and ice cream just go together.  But, taking the family out for this sweet treat can be costly!  How about making your own with the kids?  It’s easier than you might think, makes for a fun activity, and saves money over going out. No appliances are needed. 

What you need:

Ice cream
  • Milk, half-and-half, or even dairy-free “milk,” such as soy or almond, or a combination (use milk for lower fat)
  • Sugar
  • Vanilla
  • Salt (any kind works, but chunkier salts, like kosher salt, work better)
  • CAUTION: do NOT use snow-melt salts, or any salts that have toxic chemicals in them.  Only food grade salts.
  • Two plastic baggies – one sandwich size, and one large size.  
  • Helpful, but not necessary: a strong tape, such as duct tape or masking tape.

Here’s what you do.  For each person:

1. Mix 1 cup milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla and pour into the small baggie.  Seal well, squeezing out any excess air, and cover the seal with tape if available.

2. Fill the large baggie half full with ice.  

3. Add ¼ cup of salt, and shake together with the ice

4. Place the small baggie with the ice cream mix inside the large bag, fill the remainder of the large baggie with ice, and seal carefully. 

Now the fun begins! 

Shake the bag for 10 minutes. This can be even more enjoyable if you make it a game by tossing between people every 15 seconds or so, using it as a counting game, playing music, etc. Get the kids’ suggestions too!

After 10 minutes of shaking, open both bags, add your favorite topping such as sprinkles, nuts, crushed cookies, syrup, or just eat it plain.  Yum!

Bonus: This is a fun science project as well.

The salt in the bag lowers the melting point of the ice, just like salting the roads during the winter makes it harder for ice to form. Adding salt to the ice in the bag makes the bag colder. To demonstrate this, fill a bag with just ice, no salt. The bag with the salt will feel colder, and will freeze the ice cream mixture by pulling out the heat. The shaking, and the properties of the added sugar and fat in the milk mixture prevent ice crystals from forming in the ice cream so the result is a smooth consistency.