Sustainable Eating

How-to-eat-Sustainably

Before I started working for the Sustainability and Nutrition office at UC Davis Dining Services, it never occurred to me that there was such a thing as eating sustainably. I would eat based on my preferences and what I knew was good for me, not giving much thought to the environmental impact of my food choices. That all changed when I met the 2013-2014 Sustainability Coordinators, who opened my eyes to the idea that eating can be a sustainable practice.

Sustainable eating is about choosing foods that are healthy for our environment and our bodies. The benefits of sustainable eating practices are numerous and widespread. Eating sustainably reduces the depletion of limited natural resources such as fossil fuel and water.  It also protects the environment from chemicals and practices that harm farmer and consumer health. There are also health benefits to eating sustainably. Sustainable foods such as locally grown produce are naturally less processed and more nutrient-dense; so eating sustainably encourages optimal nutrition. Here is a guide to sustainable eating that will help you get started:

Shop locally

Buy food at local farmers markets. The Davis Farmers Market takes place in Central Park in downtown Davis Wednesday 2-6 pm and Saturday 8-1. The UC Davis Farmers Market takes place at the Silo Union Patio Wednesdays 11-1:30pm. The last UC Davis Farmers Market of Fall Quarter is next week, 11/13/13.

Grow something

Start your own vegetable garden at home. A $2 tomato plant can easily provide you with 10 pounds of fruit over the course of a season. Check out the Resident Garden at Segundo which is open to all students living on campus.

Initiate conversations about food

Simply bringing up the topic of food is a great way to learn more, find out tips, and discover new resources.

Eat seasonally

Focus on foods that are available in season where you live. Consult a seasonal produce chart here.

Drink from the tap

Invest in a reusable water bottle. UC Davis has hydration stations where you can fill up with filtered water at the Dining Commons, ARC, CoHo, and Student Community Center.

Rethink your grocery list

Buy more bulk foods, minimally processed foods, and plant-based food. These foods use less packaging and waste, require less energy to produce, and contain fewer artificial ingredients.

Vote with your fork!

Farmers grow what consumers will buy. Eating locally grown foods is the best way to ensure that local farms are able to stay in business. There is locally grown produce served in the salad bar at all three Dining Commons locations. Find it by looking for the “Aggie Grown” label.

Fun Fact:

UC Davis has been rated a top ten “Cool School” by Sierra Magazine the past two years for its sustainability practices. Find out more here!

Inexpensive Meals and Ideas on a Budget

Inexpensive-Meals-PhotoAs a college student, I am always on a budget when it comes to grocery shopping. After all, less money spent on food equals more money to spend on fun. However I also value eating healthy, which rules out subsisting on ramen noodles. As a result I have found that with a little creativity and smart shopping, it’s possible to create meals that keep both my stomach and my wallet happy. Here are a few to try:

  • Make a wrap! Grill chicken and wrap it in a whole wheat tortilla with your choice of extras such as avocado, lettuce, and tomato. Or try this recipe for Fajita Ranch Chicken Wraps (pictured above), which are only $2.05 per serving. Alternatively, create a breakfast wrap by substituting scrambled eggs as the protein source.
  • Oatmeal is high in fiber, which helps reduce cholesterol, protect against heart disease, and strengthen the immune system. If you’re still not convinced you should run out and buy oatmeal this second, you will be after you read more about its health benefits here. Instead of purchasing prepackaged oatmeal that is already flavored, opt for plain oats. From here the options for oatmeal additions are endless. For autumn themed oatmeal, add canned pumpkin, pecans, cinnamon, and honey.
  • Make a hummus dipping platter with pita bread and raw vegetables such as snap peas, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, or cauliflower florets. Chickpeas, the main ingredient in hummus, are rich in fiber and protein. They also contain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, zinc, and magnesium. Trader Joes sells hummus for less then $2, or create your own using the recipe here!
  • Make a tuna or egg salad. Canned tuna and hard-boiled eggs serve as an inexpensive base. This recipe for Tuscan-Style Tuna Salad is a fun twist on classic tuna salad, incorporating beans and eliminating the traditional mayonnaise. Spread on whole wheat bread or crackers.
  • Instead of spending money on juice or soda, slice fresh fruit and add it to water. This is a cheap and easy way to create a flavored beverage that doesn’t contain lots of added sugar, and you can eat the fruit that’s left over! If you want to get creative, try mixing and matching fruits with various herbs and spices such as watermelon and cilantro or pineapple and ginger.

As you can now see, eating well does not always require spending a lot of money. There are so many options that are both healthy and affordable. The best way to eat healthy on a budget is with a little planning and a lot of imagination. Happy saving!

What Is SPE, and Why Is It Important?

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UC Davis Dining Services is proud to partner with SPE Certified to bring UC Davis Aggies a healthy and sustainable meal option at the Dining Commons. You can find SPE Certified meals at Segundo, Tercero, and Cuarto Dining Commons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week. So what is SPE? Greg Deligdisch, VP Marketing of SPE Certified writes a guest post:

What is SPE?

SPE stands for Sanitas Per Escam, literally Health Through Food in Latin. It’s an apt “promise” for a unique third-party certification and consulting company that is defining a new way to eat. In essence, SPE Certified enhances the nutritional quality of meals without compromising taste, thereby ensuring that every dish is healthy, sustainable and most of all, delicious.

SPE Certified is the first of its kind, a revolutionary new brand providing a universal, trusted standard for food — similar to what LEED® is to buildings and the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval® is to household products. So when students see the distinctive SPE logo (dubbed a “squiggly, red insignia” by The New York Times), they will know those dishes have been properly sourced, are nutritionally balanced and taste great.

Healthy food need not be boring

SPE was created by Emmanuel Verstraeten, Founder and CEO, to build a bridge between the culinary and scientific worlds and to ensure that for the first time, healthy food did not need to be boring. So in 2001, he brought together a chef and a dietitian (truly an odd couple!) and opened the first SPE restaurant in Brussels named Rouge Tomate, followed in 2008 by Rouge Tomate New York. From the beginning, though, the goal was to expand beyond, with the restaurants serving only as the “incubators”, real-life laboratories for this unique culinary philosophy. So in May 2012, he launched SPE Certified, through which all foodservice establishments — restaurants, cruise lines, school and university cafeterias, airlines, corporate cafeterias, hospitals, etc. – can now access the ultimate in nutritionally balanced, sustainable food.

Within months of launching, blue-chip brands such as Celebrity Cruises, UMass Amherst, Hotel Plaza-Athénée NY and Michelin-starred Danji and Seasonal restaurants jumped on the “health bandwagon” and became SPE-certified. SPE Certified is now proud to partner with UC Davis, the first school to become certified on the West Coast.

Why eat SPE?

The latest health, or rather un-health, numbers are staggering: in 2030, 42% of the US population will be obese, and it is getting worse every year. Increasing numbers of Americans are suffering from diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer – all contributing to skyrocketing health care costs. Verstraeten created SPE with a real desire not only to affect positive change, but also to reach as many men, women and children as possible. And what better place to showcase this compelling brand, indisputably at the center of the current (white-hot) health and nutrition conversation, than in the cutting-edge, sustainably-focused cafeterias of  UC Davis?

Build a Better Salad!

Congrats! You’ve made it through Summer’s hottest months. But if you are like me, you are probably denying that it is ever going to end and still trying to squeeze in that last bit of fun outdoors. As a result, spending time inside cooking is probably last on your list. But with a multitude of end-of-summer activities, you need to fuel your body somehow. So what’s the solution?

Salad! Salad is the perfect easy meal. It’s light, fresh, quick, and since salad leaves naturally contain water, it’s even hydrating. But with so many options for creating a salad, it can be tough to know what to choose. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure your salad is not only healthy but also delicious.

Step 1

Start with lots of leafy greens. This is an easy way to fill out the bulk of your salad while adding a lot of nutritional value without adding calories. Find information on how to choose the best salad greens here.

  • Spinach is the number one salad green, packing over twice the daily value of Vitamin K along with high levels of potassium and calcium.
  • Romaine is a close second, beating out spinach only in Vitamin A content.
  • Other options are Swiss Chard and Kale, which both boast super high antioxidant content. These are not commonly available at salad bars, but can be found in the produce aisle.

Step 2

Now comes the fun part: adding fruits and vegetables to the mix. As a general rule, the colors of fruits and vegetables indicate which nutrients they contain. Focus on getting a little of each color in your salad to maximize their benefits. With so many options this is where you can get creative with your salad depending on your preferences.

  • Excellent veggies for salads include sliced cucumber, cherry tomatoes, shredded carrots, onions, mushrooms, beets, and broccoli
  • Add fruits such as avocado, chopped apples, pears, grapes, cantaloupe or strawberries

Step 3

Add a lean protein. Lean protein will help you feel fuller longer as well as help build lean muscle mass.

  • White meat chicken or turkey
  • Fish is one of the healthiest sources of lean protein because it is lowest in saturated fat. A good choice for fish is salmon, because it contains high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (or good fats).
  • Hard-boiled eggs

Step 4

Add some extra crunch. Nuts and seeds are full of good-for-you fats and are high in fiber and antioxidants. Some great nuts for salads are almonds, walnuts, and pecans. Another way to add crunch without nuts is to use crushed pita chips.

 Step 5

It is smart to use discretion when adding dressing to your salad to avoid dousing your healthy salad with unnecessary calories. A good way to control the amount of dressing is to ask for it on the side. Stay away from creamy dressings, as just two tablespoons of the average ranch dressing contain about 14 grams of fat. Instead look for an olive oil-based dressing like this one,  which contains half the amount of fat but still adds flavor.

Looking to put your brand new salad building skills to work? Try the Hub at West Village’s Kitchen, which has a variety of tasty options at their salad bar. The Hub Kitchen is currently featuring seasonal vegetables grown at the UC Davis Student Farm, including Sungold tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, Basil, and Summer Squash. Don’t forget to ‘Like’ them on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all of the Hub’s specials at https://www.facebook.com/HubWestVillage.

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

How to Bake Healthier

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We all have our weaknesses when it comes to food, what’s yours?

For someone who loves food, it’s truly hard to pick just one. Sushi, ice cream, Nutella sandwiches…basically most foods are weaknesses. But among all of my favorite foods to eat, there’s one that has made it to the top of the list. Freshly baked goods. Warm cobbler, gooey chocolate chip cookies, and don’t even get me started on bread. The smell of freshly baked bread should be an air freshener scent. Really.

When it comes to baking, it’s tempting to grab a box of cake, brownie, bread, you name it, mix from the grocery store. But consider why baking from scratch is better:

  • You have total control! You know exactly what is going into your food.
  • You decide on the type and amount of sugar, fat, and flour used the baked product.
  • Most mixes contain partially hydrogenated oil (yes, that’s trans fat!), food coloring, and preservatives.

While baked goods are often seen as diet splurges, you can still satisfy your cravings while still incorporating healthy fat, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein. Here are some tips to modify any baking recipe to make it more nutritious! These tips can also be applied to baking mixes.

Oil or butter

Fat is used in baked goods to provide moistness, flavor, and texture. Fat is a necessary nutrient for our bodies; make healthy changes by reducing the amount of unhealthy or excessive fat consumed. Try substituting some or all of the fat in a recipe with:

  • Mashed ripened bananas
  • Pureed pumpkin
  • Pureed sweet potatoes
  • Fruit puree (prune, peaches, etc.)

For ideal texture, substitute half of the fat in the recipe with:

  • Plain yogurt
  • Applesauce

Sugar

Sugar plays an important role in baking because it contributes to moistness, browning, and sweetness.

Alternative sweeteners?  Some sweeteners are advertised as being healthy because they are “all natural”. For example, Agave syrup is from blue Agave plants native to Mexico, South America, and part of the United States. The syrup you see sold in stores is a processed product made from the natural sweet liquid that comes from the plant. Little evidence shows that Agave syrup is significantly healthier than sugar. When it comes to sweeteners the bottom line is to focus on the amount that is added rather than the type of sweetener.

  • Overripe bananas are sweeter so you can reduce the amount of sugar you add
  • Cut back on ¼ or 1/3 of the amount of sugar the recipe calls for
  • Top cake with sliced fruit and a light dusting of powdered sugar instead of using frosting
  • Use spices and extracts such as vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, etc.
  • Choose a recipe that has less sugar

Flour

Typically white flour is used in baking but unfortunately much of its nutrients are stripped away during processing. The US Dietary Guidelines recommends half of the grains we consume each day to be whole grains and what better way to incorporate that than with baked goods! Instead of opting for the usual white flour, experiment with new flours by visiting the bin aisle of your local health foods store.

1 cup of all-purpose flour can be substituted with:

  • ½ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all purpose flour (note: whole wheat pastry flour will work better in cakes and muffins)
  • Buckwheat flour works well in bread recipes
  • Barley flour can be used in pancake recipes
  • Almond flour is high in vitamin E, copper, protein, and more! Read more about it here

If the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour you can substitute ¼ or ½ cup of it with flaxseed meal. Flaxseeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and lignans, which have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

Lastly, add nutrient dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to baked goods as a subtle way to increase the nutrition profile. Try these black bean brownies to satisfy your chocolate craving while consuming fiber-rich black beans!

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

Weird Foods Worth Trying

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Is it just me or did your parents also make smoothies out of apple, banana, bitter melon, kumquat, and bell pepper growing up? Really, just me? Oh okay.

When I was in middle school my parents discovered something revolutionary, a Vitamix blender. Thus began their journey of blending every single fruit and vegetable in sight. To this day, my dad still prides himself on his homemade smoothies that contain 20 different fruits and vegetables. During the beginning of their blending obsession, I was introduced to odd fruits and vegetables that I surprisingly enjoyed (granted, I preferred eating them whole). That’s probably the reason why I get excited about trying unique produce that looks strange at first glance.

Although carrots and apples are great, I want to expose you to foods that aren’t well known but packed with nutrition! Don’t worry, I won’t ask you to throw it all into a blender… all I ask is for you to be open-minded and give these yummy foods a try.

Adzuki Beans

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photo by Oprah

Adzuki beans are small red beans that are traditionally used in Chinese and Japanese cuisine. Although we often associate beans with savory flavors, Adzuki beans are often sweetened and used in desserts. In traditional Chinese medicine, this legume is used to support kidney, reproductive, and bladder function. Adzuki beans are high in:

  • Iron
  • Fiber
  • Protein
  • Folate
  • Potassium
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese

Whew! These beans may be small but they’re definitely nutrition powerhouses.

Preparation:
Begin by washing your beans and soaking them overnight in water. If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, you can also use put them in a pressure cooker for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and simmer the beans in water for an hour. Again, you can also use a pressure cooker by cooking the soaked beans in 2 cups of water for 5-9 minutes under high pressure.

Storage:
Store the beans in a sealed container in a dark and cool environment. They will last 5 days refrigerated or 6 months in the freezer.

Use:

  • Add to soups and stews
  • Mash the beans and use for bean tacos with avocado, salsa, lettuce, etc.
  • Pair with other beans to make a bean salad

Dandelion Greens

DandelionGreens
photo by Nourished Kitchen

Dandelion greens are more than merely pesky weeds that have invaded your garden. It may surprise you to know that they help control inflammation in our bodies and have been shown to be beneficial as anti-cancer agents. On top of that, they are also high in:

  • Vitamin A, E, and K
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Fiber

Use the leaves by:

  • Tossing in salads along with your favorite leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula, etc.)
  • Blending with fruits to make a smoothie
  • Chopping and adding them to grains such as brown or wild rice

Feeling adventurous? Try using other parts of the plant as well because the flower, leaves and root are all edible!

Purple Yams

Purpleyams
photo by The Kitchn

If the beautiful violet hue hasn’t convinced you to try these yet then the flavor definitely will. Lightly sweet, smooth and starchy, you’ll feel like you’re indulging when you take a bite into a purple yam. The great news is that yams are full of:

  • Complex carbohydrates and fiber
  • Vitamin C and B6
  • Manganese
  • Copper
  • Magnesium

My favorite way to eat yams is to simply bake them. Wash thoroughly with water and pierce them a few times with a fork or knife. Place yams on a baking sheet or pan lined with foil. Bake at 425 degrees for approximately 1 hour, although the time will vary depending on the size of your yams. Remember to shake the pan occasionally while the yams are in the oven to ensure even cooking.

Baked yams make for a great snack, a quick breakfast on the go, or a healthy way to satisfy any sweet tooth!

Kohlrabi
Kohlrabi
photo by In Sonnet’s Kitchen

Can be eaten raw or cooked

  • Vitamin C and B6
  • Isothiocyanates, which are beneficial against certain cancers
  • Dietary fiber
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium

Try this! Revamp classic French fries by making kohlrabi fries. Begin by removing the stems and leaves from the bulb (you can save them and sauté it!). Next, peel the bulb and slice it into thick matchsticks. Drizzle the kohlrabi with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also spice things up by adding chili powder or paprika. Spread out the fries on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

Wheat berries

Wheatberries
photo by Food Network

Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels that are commonly ground into whole wheat flour for baking. Because the kernel is left intact, it contains all of the health benefits associated with the bran, which include:

  • Fiber
  • Iron
  • Protein
  • Vitamin E

Preparation:
Add 1 cup of wheat berries and 3 cups of water to a pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and cover the pot. At around 30 minutes check the berries to see if they’re done. Look for a texture that is chewy! Continue to check every 5 minutes until they’re ready. You can store the berries in the refrigerator for about one week after they are cool.

Use:

  • Add to chili for a hearty texture
  • Stir into cooked oats
  • Toss with olive oil, corn, red onion, and arugula for a quick salad
  • Pair with roasted fennel and bell peppers

Ask a Dietitian! We are compiling a list of nutrition-related questions readers have for a special post in September. Simply fill out your name, email, and question in the feedback form below. 

What is Your Food Package Telling You?

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Growing up I loved reading mystery novels and playing mystery board games. Yes, I was a Nancy Drew and Clue type of girl. I was captivated by the thrill and challenge of solving crimes with just a few hints…Mrs. Peacock in the library with a candlestick. It was fun decoding things that didn’t always mean what they appeared to be on face value.

Now that I’m older, sometimes I feel like I’m playing a confusing mystery game whenever I shop for groceries. Food packages have a variety of health claims and what do they really mean anyways? Is multigrain better than whole grain? Are organic cookies better for me? And if it says no trans fat then I can eat as much of it as I want, right?

This post is going to walk you through some of the challenges of understanding food packages. So grab your detective gear and let’s get started!

Multigrain vs. Whole Wheat Bread

When shopping for bread, we often automatically assume brown is good and white is bad. This may not necessarily be true. The key to understanding the difference between types of bread is to remember the word whole, which means the bread contains the entire grain. The reason why we look for whole grain is because the outer layer of the grain, the bran, is high in nutrients and dietary fiber. Without the word “whole” listed on packages, you won’t be receiving the health benefits associated with the bran.

  • Whole grain bread includes any grain. Examples of grains include quinoa, bulgur, rye, oats, and wheat.
  • Whole wheat bread only contains wheat as the grain.
  • Multigrain bread simply means that different types of grain were used to make the bread but it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily more nutritious. Remember that the key is to look for the word “whole”!

Remember to look at the ingredients list. You want to see that the first ingredient contains the word whole, such as whole grain, whole wheat, etc.

No Trans Fat

When one serving of the product contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat, it can be labeled as 0g or no trans fat. However, if you see the words partially hydrogenated in the ingredients list, the food contains trans fat. Unlike saturated fat, trans fat is artificially created by the food industry and does not naturally occur in most foods. Try avoiding foods containing partially hydrogenated oils because trans fat has been associated with increased bad cholesterol, decreased good cholesterol, and increase risk of heart disease.

Lightly Sweetened

Products that are lightly sweetened don’t necessarily mean it’s low in sugar. It may surprise you to know that the FDA doesn’t regulate the term lightly sweetened. The FDA does regulate sugar-free and no added sugar, but what’s the difference?

  • Sugar-free: less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving
  • No added sugar: no sugar was added during processing

Organic

The term “organic” means plant foods are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals used for meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones. There are three categories for labeling organic foods:

  • 100% organic
  • Organic: made with at least 95% organic ingredients
  • Made with organic ingredients: made with at least 75% organic ingredients

Keep in mind that foods labeled as organic can still be in high in fat, sugar, salt, or calories. Don’t depend on the organic label to tell you if it’s nutritious, always read food labels carefully!

Natural

The FDA defines foods without added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances as natural. However, these requirements don’t make a huge impact on ensuring the nutritional value of the food. For example, salt and sugar are natural ingredients but it doesn’t mean we should consume them in excess. To avoid falling into the all-natural trap, steer away from products with ingredients you can’t pronounce, which contain preservatives and food additives.