Thursday, October 27, 2011

Blueberry Breakdown: Help Berries Help You!



It’s not just a Dr. Oz favorite food. It’s a superfruit people consume as part of favorite recipes or all by themselves the world over. That’s because of their unique taste, versatility, availability fresh or frozen, and big potential for health. Whenever we make an effort to get the most concentrated nutrition in the form of fruit and veggie servings, wild blueberries are the food millions turn to every day.

But as much as we love them, sometimes it’s easy to set our diet on berry autopilot. Maybe you’ve become a little complacent with your eating habits. Maybe your servings count has slipped from five to one or two – on a good day. Maybe your MyPlate plate looks more like a paper bag stamped with a P.F. Chang logo.

It happens. Every once in a while it’s worth taking stock of what the wild blueberries we rely on are doing to help us – inside and out – as a way to rekindle the flame that keeps our daily nutrition smoldering. Knowing the health advantages of wild blueberries is like doing your morning affirmations. Reinforcing the benefits can help keep blues and other healthy foods at the top of your list every day, where they should be. And every effort you make toward better nutrition in the course of a day adds up to big health payoffs over time.

Wild Blueberry Breakdown

Can’t quite recall what the wild blueberries benefits are? Not to worry. Here’s your blueberry breakdown of the five most compelling ways blueberries, especially wild blueberries, are benefiting your health.

1. Your Brain

When it comes to blueberries, the “brain food” moniker is earned, and antioxidants are the key. They protect against inflammation, which is thought to be a leading factor in brain aging, including Alzheimer’s disease. And blueberries, especially wild blueberries, are higher than nearly all other fruits when it comes to antioxidants. In addition, ongoing brain research shows that blueberries may improve motor skills and actually reverse the short-term memory loss that comes with aging. Other fruits and vegetables have been studied, but it was blueberries that were shown to be effective.

2. Your Cancer Prevention Efforts

Blueberries are especially potent when it comes to the body’s battle against free radicals, and research shows that blueberry compounds may inhibit all stages of cancer. Part of the ongoing research into the benefit of blueberries for cancer prevention includes the exciting studies conducted by Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., and Lynn Adams, Ph.D., of the Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, who demonstrated the potential of blueberries to inhibit the growth of Triple Negative Breast Cancer, a particularly aggressive and hard to treat form of breast tumor. Studies into the link between blueberries and cancer continue, but researchers are already taking a stand – most say eating blueberries is akin to a daily dose of cancer prevention.

3. Your Heart

Who knew something so delicious could be such a life saver? Thank the berry’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents for its cardiovascular benefit. Research indicates that blueberries may protect against heart disease and damage from stroke, and scientists have found a blueberry-enriched diet may protect the heart muscle from damage and regulate blood pressure. What’s more, blueberries may reduce the build up of so called "bad" cholesterol that contributes to cardiovascular disease and stroke, making every blue platter a heart-healthy one, cross our heart.

4. Your Diabetes Risk 

If you have an increased chance of getting diabetes (and today, 1 in 10 Americans have Type 2 diabetes, more than ever before) eating blueberries is a smart line of defense. Consuming low Glycemic Index foods causes a smaller rise in blood glucose levels than consuming high GI foods – an important consideration for people with diabetes. Wild blueberries scored 53 on the GI scale making them a clear low GI food and an excellent choice for those struggling with or trying to prevent diabetes.

5. Your Skin

Nature gave us skin damage and wrinkles. It also gave us high antioxidant foods to fight back. The anti-inflammation properties found in blueberries act as anti-aging agents, fighting off environmental hazards to the skin, protecting the skin from sun damage and even preventing wrinkles. Some studies suggest that eating blueberries regularly can even help improve acne-prone skin. Is it any wonder products like Blueberry Eye Firming Treatment are capitalizing on the blueberry benefits?

Wild Blueberries – On Every Plate. 

We know fruit and vegetable intake is important. While all fruits are good, wild blueberries outperformed two dozen commonly consumed fruits like pomegranates, strawberries, cultivated blueberries, cranberries, apples and red grapes. Researchers are continuing their study into the anti-inflammatory potential of the polyphenols in blueberries, since chronic inflammation at the cellular level is at the heart of many degenerative age-related diseases. Besides the benefits listed above, blueberries hold other promise that has scientists engaged in ongoing research into their potential for mood enhancement, weight loss, appetite control, improvements in vision, and as pain fighters.

There are more than enough reasons not to let your nutrition flame-out. One clear solution that you can start implementing today is to put wild blueberries to work for you. Put them on your plate at every meal, and know you are doing something good for your health and disease prevention.

How much do I have to eat? Getting the recommendation amount of wild blueberries to make a difference is so doable! Recommended daily intake differs depending on age and gender, but approximately two cups of fruit is usually recommended for adults – easy to achieve throughout the day in snacks and as part of meals. And, at just 45 calories per serving, wild blueberries deliver substantial nutrients for every calorie consumed.

Find out more about the health benefits and recommended daily intake.

Need recipe ideas to rekindle your diet? Wild blueberries are easy to cook with and add surprising taste variations that make dishes shine. Search the Wild Blueberry Association’s database of recipes. It includes recipes from some of the best chefs and nutritionists guaranteed to refresh your palate and your plate!

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's Maine Food Day - 10 Little Ways to Make a Big Impact



Happy Food Day! Maine’s governor has officially pronounced October 24, 2011 Maine Food Day, a day devoted to celebrating and fortifying the connection between food and the health and well-being of everyone in the state.

Among the goals of this auspicious day are reducing obesity so members of the state can up their health and prevent disease. Goals also extend to supporting fair conditions for farms operating around the state. Celebrations taking place in Maine include cooking meals exclusively with Maine ingredients, planting gardens, putting on school plays that highlight healthy eating, and taking the Real Food Challenge, an organized effort to put more real food on plates in college campuses.

The food fête isn’t just happening in Maine. Food Day is being celebrated in communities all around the country. Floridians will feature local food cooking demos, Nebraska is sponsoring healthy breakfast giveaway for kids, and Boston is marking the day with a crowd-sourced potluck dinner. At foodday.com, you can get inspired by the many food salutes happening in every state and join the festivities wherever you hang your hat.


The Goals of Food Day

What are the goals of Food Day? In short, to transform the American diet. Here are the tenets:
  • Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
  • Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
  • Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
  • Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
  • Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
  • Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Looking for a way to celebrate? Even small changes can make a big impact on our local food environment! Choose just one of these ten ideas and you'll be doing your part toward building a better, healthier, more sustainable food future.
  1. Make a meal from only local ingredients. 
  2. Include a locally-sourced food at every meal you eat during the day.
  3. Cook recipes from the Free Food Day booklet.
  4. Switch from whole to 1% or 2% milk.
  5. Pack your kids’ lunch with fruits & veggies
  6. Make a call to get involved in supporting sustainable farms, subscribe to a newsletter, or read about local food policy initiatives.
  7. Donate or volunteer at a local food bank.
  8. Have a fruit-and-veggie only day: have berries for dessert and pass on meat and eggs for lunch and dinner.
  9. Have dinner at a local restaurant that's featuring a Food Day menu.
  10. Spread the word: tweet, blog, and tell your friends about today!
Join the Celebration! Find a Food Day activity where you are. Or, find out more at foodday.org or mainerural.org.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Should We Take Food Protests to the Streets?

Some call for a Wall Street-style takeover when it comes to food. Others say OWS’s anti-corporate sentiment encompasses the food movement already.  
great protest signs by didbygraham, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  didbygraham 


In a piece called What If Food Activists Get Loud? the Lempert Report asserts that the protesters out to occupy Wall Street should serve as a model for food activists working to improve the climate of food in our country.  Such a call to arms is predicated by the country’s grim health statistics: 75% of the country’s population is obese or overweight, and many are chronically ill with diet-related diseases. Americans are not eating healthy food, and it is killing us. Can grass-roots protests help us get healthy?

Protesters on Wall Street have been criticized for not having a clear message, but what is clear is that the “occupation” is being done in protest of the economic imbalance in the country. Those protesting contend that they represent the now infamous 99% of the American people, many of whom are struggling financially, which stands in stark contrast to the 1% that continues to accumulate wealth.

In the same spirit, food movement protesters could descend on restaurants, supermarkets, food industry malls, and members of Congress, carrying signs that read “75%”, representing the widening slice of the pie that is in ill health due to poor diet. Or, they could co-opt the 99% signs, using them to represent unhealthy food itself: a ubiquitous flood of junk food, toxic food, dishonestly packaged food, processed food, and genetically modified food that can seem to edge out the sliver of whole foods, fruits, and vegetables. It would provide a template for the unfortunate fact that junk food makes up a huge part (if not 99%) of the daily American diet. Such signs would publicize the proposal that “bad” foods should be the exception, the oddity, the special treat, or the industry lapse, while healthy food should make up most of what we eat.

What are We (Food) Fighting For? 

Would such an assault place appropriate blame or only start a futile food fight? Many blame food prices, availability, and sad capitalistic truths, while recently, others have pronounced these simply myths that we have come to rely upon. Food writer Mark Bittman, in a recent article in the New York Times, attempted to upend the go-to excuse that the poor, a growing part of the consumer pie, eat more potato chips and less broccoli because they are forced to purchase the most calories for their dollar. Bittman claims that junk food is not, in fact, cheaper than cooking real food. While he implicates the consumer for the choices we make, he also calls for “real cultural changes” that will make cooking and eating healthy food normal again, urging a combination self-policing and government policy to “tear down the carnival” of food we find ourselves spinning in.

While some see policy as limiting choices, others argue that it would help create more balanced choice. Self-policing alone will never change the general unhealthiness of how our entire culture eats, says Marion Nestle. According to Nestle, and often-relied-upon authority on food politics and author of Food Politics (the book and the blog), helmet and seatbelt laws serve a parallel purpose. They help us not to make dangerous choices, and food regulation should be no different.

Whether policy or self-policing, most experts agree that we need to change what has become the default way of eating in our culture. Organizing the food movement by creating a Wall Street-style protest could provide a single voice to rampant frustration. What would be the demands? Take your pick: spurring legislators to align with food activities to improve regulations, food safety and toxicity of highly processed foods, food pricing and subsidies, food packaging that misrepresents and misleads, wider availability of healthy food, better education so our children begin to eat well automatically, agricultural practices that promote sustainability, and elimination of corporate control of food supply. A sound bite it isn’t, but most things worth talking about are not.

Letting Our Food Flag Fly 

While the Lempert Report urges action, food activists are not as silent as the piece implies.

For example, Bittman cites zoning changes and financial incentives that are currently at work to change the food movement version of “99%” and eat away at the 75% food-related illness statistics. During the first two weeks of this month, protesters landed at the White House as part of the Right2Know March to voice their support for labeling of genetically modified food. (GM, once a futuristic oddity in supermarket food is extremely common. Corn, for example 93% genetically engineered.) You can learn more about this debate at the Daily Beast.

Another issue prompting vocal debate currently underway involves the Interagency Working Group, a group of four federal agencies that are attempting to set nutrition standards for foods allowed to be marketed to kids. Hearings taking place match those who argue regulations are mere guidelines that can be ignored by industries with those who call it government intrusion. Read more about the food marketing debate. And there are many more vocal food activists taking up the cause for farmers support, better agricultural practices, stricter corporate regulations, and better calorie labeling, just to name a few, both locally and nationally.

Getting Diet & Health Back in Balance

Upending the corporate control of our food market, says The Huffington Post’s Kristin Wartman, is as fundamental a change as the one that has prompted the today's Occupy Wall Street protesters to hit the streets. According to her article, The Food Movement Must Occupy Wall Street, Wartman says OWS protests are part and parcel of the concerns in the forefront of the food movement.

Wartman, who points out that American children born in 2000 are the first generation not expected to outlive their parents, names big business as responsible. “The corporate monopolies over the food supply and the government's role in facilitating corporate control translates into control over the health of the American population,” she said. Tearing down the unbalanced financial status quo could mean a re-balancing of the current food structure could follow.

Whether the resulting policies mean less choice or better choice is one worth arguing. But the picture of the world's most urgent concerns about food requires an even wider aperture. Food politics should not only put the microscope on unhealthy food when one in seven people in the world will go hungry today, despite a glut of food around us. To the extent that government, pricing, and market speculation is responsible, an anti-corporate message may be the appropriate response.

Whether you are heading to Wall Street, joining your local Main street movement, or you are taking your freedom of choice in-house, you can still be a force for the future when it comes to healthy eating. Here are some ways to let your food flag fly:

Michael Pollan's Politics & Policy FAQs

US Food Policy Blog 

School Nutrition Association

Marion Nestle’s Food Politics

Obamafoodorama Blog, White House Initiatives Regarding Food Policy


Maine Resources:

Saving Seeds, Policy Watch & Activism

Maine Network Partners, Sustainable Solutions Initiatives in Maine


Thursday, October 13, 2011

School Lunch Gets Healthy

Local & National Programs Improve Nutrition on Cafeteria Trays

School lunch -- for many, the term conjures memories of tater tots, cartons of milk, and fatty, carb-heavy mystery foods that contribute to obesity and poor nutrition. But today, efforts are underway to undo the poor image of school lunches. The noontime bell may signal a period of health, nutrition, plenty of fruit and vegetable servings, and locally-sourced foods. Old-school lunches may be going the way of the abacus.

That’s especially true during National School Lunch Week which is being recognized by school districts throughout the country this week, October 10-14. The week is the culmination of a campaign to promote healthy choices within the school walls, and it coincides with National Farm to School Month, which takes place in October. Farm to School is a K-12 school program that helps make the connection between cafeteria meals and local farms and improves student nutrition as a result. Farm to School programs exist in every state in the nation as grassroots movements that differ depending on the community that creates them. In Maine, the Farm to School program includes projects such as Maine Harvest Lunch, seasonal tastings of Maine-fresh food, ongoing purchasing relationships with farms, and several school garden and greenhouse projects.

In Maine, Farms Lead the Way 

Because of the advantages to farmers in the state, organizations like MOFGA have led the way to promote healthier school lunches here in Maine. By incorporating local foods, local farms benefit by developing new relationships that help sustain them. Maine Harvest Lunch week, which takes place in September, has increased participants each year since it began. Schools that participate in the program feature local, healthy foods on their school menus that have been provided by local farmers. The Portland Public School district, for example, has increased the amount of local food incorporated into its school lunch menu with support from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Obesity Grant. Grant funds have allowed the district to train staff and purchase the equipment necessary to procure and process local produce in season for consumption throughout the school year. They participate by growing food in school gardens that end up in the school salad bar.

Building a Better Tray

Other school-focused nutritional efforts are going on around the state as well. Schools in the Brunswick school district eat local food one day a week every week of the school year -- some parents report showing their support that day by giving lunch money to their kids who usually pack their lunch. Recently, a Farmington, Maine farm owned by Andy Marble was profiled in the Morning Sentinel. Marble said his vegetables were sold to area schools that participate in the Farm to School programs, providing a local market that keeps him working. In Kittery, grass-fed beef is now on the cafeteria menu at schools in York and Kittery, according to an article in Seacoast Online, where it is used for the menu's hamburgers. Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program has provided grant funds and support for local school programs that combat childhood obesity, including programs that help schools buy foods locally, programs that help them serve grass-fed beef, and programs that ban sodas and junk food from vending machines.

In fact, this year has been good for many school lunch programs in Maine. There have been 39 schools in the state that have applied for the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge through the federal Department of Agriculture, an honor for elementary schools that recognizes them for things such as offering a different vegetable and fruit every day of the week, and serving whole grains three times a week. Elementary schools in Scarborough, Falmouth, Portland, South Portland, Westbrook, Freeport, Yarmouth, Boothbay, Saco-Old Orchard Beach, and District 61 in Naples applied for the national recognition, showing their interest in being part of leading the way for school nutrition.

Facts About Today's School Lunch 

Want to know more about the face of today’s school lunch? Take a look at some things you may not know about what goes on that cafeteria tray:
  • School meals are well-balanced, healthy meals that are required to meet science-based, federal nutrition standards.
  • No more than 30% of calories can come from fat in a school lunch, and less than 10% from saturated fat. 
  • School meals provide 1/3 of Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium.
  • Nearly half of school districts offer locally sourced produce, according to the School Nutrition Association.
  • Farm to School meals result in consumption of more fruits and vegetables with an average increase of 0.99 to 1.3 servings per day –  including at home.
  • Schools report a 3-16% percent increase in school meal participation when farm-fresh food is served through Farm to School programs.
Are healthy school lunches sweeping the nation? While efforts at the national, state, and community level are making improvements, all is not always rosy in the cafeteria when it comes to healthy choices. But there are some good things about school lunches that are contributing to big changes for kids and local farms.

Whether you are a school administrator or a parent, there are plenty of resources on the web to help you take part in making even more progress.

Find Out More on the Web:

Tray Talk has facts about school lunches, success stories, and ways to get involved.

The Lunch Box Project is an online toolkit that helps schools with resources for making school lunches nutritious.

Salad Bars to Schools is a grassroots public health effort created to increase the number of salad bars in schools across the country.

Time for Lunch is a part of Slow Food USA that works to help improve school nutrition.

Maine School Garden Network supports educational gardens for kids, and encourages school programs that teach healthy eating and environmental stewardship.

Maine Harvest Lunch promotes featuring local healthy food on school menus while supporting local farmers.

Is your school doing something to improve what kids eat? Share your story!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Seasonal Recipes Offer Fresh, Simple Food All Year Long

Kathy Gunst Shares Her Wild Blueberry Syrup Recipe & Talks to Wild About Health About the Virtues of Seasonal Eating 

The delights of summer in Maine are obvious. But local author Kathy Gunst has a lock on what makes all seasons in our state delightfully delicious. Gunst is a writer, food aficionado, and TV and radio personality who writes Notes from a Maine Kitchen, a blog that does double duty as a resource for a wealth of recipes inspired by living in Maine year round. Her recently published book of the same name, Notes from a Maine Kitchen (Down East Books, 2011), takes on the seasonal bounties of Maine, from January right through to December. The focus is on regionally-inspired food made from locally-sourced ingredients. While March ushers in Maple Cheesecake with Maple-Ginger Crust, July is the perfect month for Grilled Swordfish with Olive-Lemon Scallion Topping. What a year!

Is eating seasonally in a region where summer is central even possible? You bet, says Gunst. “I try to follow the seasons all year, even here in cold Maine. With winter farmer's markets and a large vegetable garden it's become easier than ever,” she told Wild About Health. “There is no better eating than following the seasons and eating locally.” She says she even tends to naturally eat less fat when she eats seasonally. “Food picked in season is bursting with flavor. I’m never craving ‘something more,’” she says.

More than just recipes, Gunst characterizes Notes from a Maine Kitchen as a literary cookbook. It includes a selection of essays, notably one about a smelt fishing expedition on the Cathance River with Portland Chef Sam Hayward (yes, the Cornmeal-Coated Maine Smelts recipe is included). She also addresses the rise of the winter farmer’s market and offers up already-assembled menus for any occasion, including a Hot Summer Night (cooled by soda with Wild Maine Blueberry Syrup) and an Autumn Apple Brunch (featuring Grilled Gruyere with Maple-Caramelized Apples – you can find the recipe on her recent blog post).

Author Kathy Gunst
Gunst’s food philosophy is one based on simple food that results in fresh, wonderful flavor – garden-picked greens, organically-raised chicken, local lobster, fresh-picked berry cobbler – simple dishes that let the ingredients shine. Chapters of the calendrical book focus on quintessential foodie activities in Maine, such as foraging for wild mushrooms, canning, planting, and uncovering treasures from farmers markets.  Her Wild Maine Blueberry Syrup recipe, which she was kind enough to share below, is a perfect example of her food philosophy. Great for sweetening many dishes, it’s ideal for capturing the season’s wild blue essence for use any time that a entrée, drink, or dessert needs a colorful, tasty zing.

This crisp season you’ll find Gunst all around Maine and beyond sharing her recipes and signing her book. She’ll be teaching recipes at the The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City on Saturday, October 15, and doing demos at Harvest on the Harbor which takes place in Portland, Maine, on Saturday, October 22. You can find details and other local dates on her blog.


Wild Maine Blueberry Syrup

From Kathy Gunst's Notes from a Maine Kitchen (Down East Books, 2011)

“What I like most about this syrup is that you can control the amount of sugar you use to create a natural blueberry soda or spritzer. A tablespoon or two is fabulous added to fruit salads, pie fillings, or mixed drinks (try mixing with vodka or rum and fresh mint leaves). The syrup will keep in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed jar for about a week or two, or it can be frozen (place in empty ice cube trays or plastic bags or small plastic containers) for several months.

You can also use blueberries, blackberries, or strawberries, as well, or a combination of all four.”

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

2 cups fresh or frozen wild Maine blueberries

Boil the water over high heat. Add the sugar, stir, and cook over high heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid just begins to turn a pale golden color. Reduce to moderate heat, add the berries, and cook 10 minutes. Cool off the heat for 5 minutes. Place the berries and liquid in a strainer set over a wide heat-proof bowl and strain the berries through, pushing down to extract all the liquid. Let cool. The syrup can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen in ice cubes trays or a plastic bag for up to 8 months.

Find out more about Kathy Gunst or get a taste of her blog, Notes from a Maine Kitchen.