Making Granola Bars a Healthy Treat

Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity granola bars are an American favorite breakfast staple and snack. In fact, granola bars are so popular they even have their own annual day of celebration in January. Often considered a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label may tell otherwise; most are little more than candy bars in disguise loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, and short on fiber and protein. The satiety value is low—in a short time, hunger sets in again.granola bar

How can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more? Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:

  1. Look for a better bar. Check the ingredients and nutrition label. The ingredients are listed by weight, so the foods at the beginning of the list are the most prevalent in the recipe. Specifically, look for bars that include whole grains (oats) rather than enriched refined grains. Also, look for bars high in fiber (3-5 grams) and protein (5 grams), sweetened with fruit, honey, or natural syrups, and including nut butters, nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits to ensure the best nutrition possible. Granola bars are intended to be a snack, not a dessert, so pay specific attention to the amount and kind of added sugars. Lastly, avoid granola bars with hydrogenated oils and those where most of the total fat is saturated fat.
  2. Make or concoct your own. Homemade variations offer the option to choose healthier ingredients, use more whole grains and less sugar, and control the type of fats and add-ins. The cost is usually less than the store-bought versions. There are an abundance of recipes to choose from. Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started. It is packed with fiber and protein and provides half of your daily value of Omega-3’s. Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips.

Granola bars can be a healthy food. Check the ingredient list and nutrition information on the label to ensure they are a good source of fiber and protein, OR find a recipe that provides nutrition rather than just a sweet treat. Making your own granola gives you complete control over the ingredients to create something healthy and personally enjoyable!

Learn more about Buying and Making Healthy Granola Bars from PennState Pro Wellness.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Artichokes

It’s artichoke season! Spring artichokes are now available and at their prime! Upon first glance, an artichoke looks intimidating. Artichokes are an ancient food from the plant known as Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus which is a kind of thistle. The part that we see in our stores and eat is actually the flower bud of the plant, also called the head, which has become a highly regarded vegetable. It’s quite intriguing to wonder how ancient man figured out how to eat and enjoy such a thorny-looking thing.

artichokes
Artichokes at the market. Photo Source: M Geiger

Artichokes are best enjoyed at two different times of the year, spring and fall. The spring season runs from March to May, and the fall season is September and October. 99 percent of our artichokes are grown in California, with Monterey County being the lead producer and the town of Castroville being the “Artichoke Center of the World!” Artichokes are also grown commercially in Oregon and Washington. They thrive best in Zones 7-11; however, they can be grown in colder regions, like Iowa, as an annual vegetable.

Artichokes are fiber-rich, low in calories, and come packed with nutrition. Per the Nutrition Value website, one medium-sized artichoke cooked without salt (120g) provides 64 calories, 3.5g of protein, 14.4g of carbohydrates, and 0.4g of fat. In addition, artichokes are an excellent source of vitamin C and K, potassium, and antioxidants. (For additional nutrition information, see profile at Nutrition Value.) Artichokes contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable (polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanins, among others) and are loaded with an army of beneficial nutrients that can protect the body from cancer per the National Foundation for Cancer Research. While a fresh artichoke provides the best nutrition, artichokes are available in other convenient preparations—frozen, canned, and marinated heart.

While nearly all parts of the artichoke are edible, they are prized for their ‘heart,’ which is found at the base of the stem. The parts of the artichoke which are usually inedible include the choke, outer petals, and thorns. The choke, located right above the heart, is stringy and indigestible. The lower part of the petals, which contain part of the heart, are edible by drawing the lower petal through the teeth with the rest of the petal discarded. The thorns are usually snipped off. 

When purchasing artichokes, choose those that have a tight leaf formation, a deep green color, and are heavy for their size. In general, the smaller the artichoke, the more tender it will be, and the rounder it is, the larger its heart. Artichokes are best used on the day of purchase but can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wash just before cooking.

Artichokes can be prepared by steaming, stuffing, baking, braising, or grilling. Steaming is the most common means of preparation. They are done when the bottom of the stem can be pierced with a knife. Whatever method is used, stainless steel, glass, or enamelware should be used to prevent discoloration and off-flavors. Lemon juice should be used on cut edges to prevent discoloration. 

Dani Spies of Clean and Delicious® has an excellent video, Artichoke 101, where she shares how to buy, store, prepare, cook, and eat artichokes. Check this video out, and artichoke intimidation will be over!


Co-author, Marcia Steed, AnswerLine Specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.


Sources (Accessed 3 March 2023)

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Time for Spring-Dug Parsnips

As the days get warmer and the ground thaws, it is time to dig spring-dug parsnips. Characterized by some as ‘the cream of the crop’, spring parsnips come from seeds sown in the spring of the previous year, grown during the summer, allowed to die back in the fall and freeze in the ground over the winter.

Parsnips.

Parsnips can also be dug in the fall after a frost or two, but those left over the winter are sweeter and more flavorful. The extreme cold converts the starches into sugar and allows the flavor to mellow.  The timing is critical for spring-dug parsnips; they need to be dug as soon as you can get into the ground with a shovel or fork and just as their tops start to show new growth.  If they are left in the ground too long in the spring and the tops start to grow out, they become woody. 

Never had parsnips?  Some mistakenly refer to them as white carrots, but while they may be related to carrots distantly, they are actually part of the parsley family.  They are a cream-colored, gnarled, carrot-shaped root vegetable.  They can be eaten raw but are best prepared by roasting, frying, grilling or steaming to bring out their distinct succulent flavor and nutty sweetness.  They have a tan peel that is typically removed before use; peeling also removes their gnarly surface.  The flesh is cream-white.  They are a very versatile vegetable with recipes ranging from roasted side dishes, soups and stews, mashed, turned into fries, and even made into wine.  They pair well with other root vegetables, too.  Like potatoes or an apple, parsnips oxidize when exposed to air after their peelings are removed. If not prepared right away, cut parsnips should be placed in water to reduce the effect.

Being white in color, one would tend to believe that they offer little nutrition.  Quite the opposite is true.  According to the USDA, a half-cup serving of parsnips are high in heart-healthy fiber providing 3 grams of fiber and only 55 calories. They are a low-fat food yet a good source of numerous vitamins (especially C and K), minerals (especially folate and manganese), and antioxidants.  (Note that the level of vitamin C is somewhat reduced with the cooking.)

Besides the home garden, parsnips are available at the supermarket and likely can also be found at the late fall and spring farmer’s markets. Spring is the best time to give them a try if you are new to parsnips.  If you are lucky enough to find this once-a-year spring treasure, choose fleshy, fresh, firm, medium-sized and even surfaced roots.  Avoid woody, over-matured, long, thin, and tail-like roots as they are off-flavored and have tough fiber.  Also avoid soft, pitted, shriveled, knobby, or damaged roots. 

Fresh parsnips should be stored in a plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator where they should last three to four weeks. Use cooked, refrigerated parsnips within three days.  Parsnips can also be frozen for later use by cutting into 1/2-inch cubes, water blanching for 2 minutes, cooling promptly in cold water, draining, and packing and sealing into containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Fully cooked parsnip puree may also be frozen for up to 10 months for best quality.  Drying is another method for preserving parsnips as well.

For more information on parsnips, check out Growing Carrots and Parsnips in Home Gardens by the University of Minnesota Extension.

Sources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Let’s Go Maple Syruping!

When you think of Iowa, maple syrup probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. However, maple syrup is one of the state’s oldest agricultural crops dating back to pioneer times.  Native Americans were the first to tap Iowa’s maple trees followed by early pioneers who also tapped maple trees for their annual supply of sweetener. 

Today, Iowa has a small number of commercial producers mostly located in the northeastern part of the state and several small commercial or home-use only producers scattered across the state. According to the USDA 2017 Agricultural Census, Iowa reported 53 farms with 13,808 taps. Producers use a variety of methods to collect and boil sap into syrup.  However, the methods are much the same today as used by our ancestors.  Small holes are drilled into the tree trunks (taps), sap drips into buckets or tubes below, and evaporators boil the clear sap into delicious maple syrup.  The color of maple syrup varies depending upon when it was tapped.  Late winter tapings yield a light brown syrup with color deepening as spring advances.  Color is not an indicator of quality; maple syrup is graded by color with color affecting flavor.  Grade A syrup is a light amber color, while Grade B is darker and thicker. Grade A is mild in flavor with Grade B syrups having a deeper, more robust maple flavor. 

On the average, it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of pure maple syrup.  A tree will produce 10-20 gallons of sap per tap on the average.  A tree may have more than one tap depending upon its size/circumference.

While maple syrup is a sweetener, the nutritional benefits of maple syrup are numerous.  One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 50 calories along with the following vitamins and minerals:

  • 20 milligrams of calcium
  • 2 milligrams of phosphorous
  • 0.2 milligrams of iron
  • 2 milligrams of sodium
  • 5 milligrams of potassium

Maple syrup can be used as an alternative to sugar in cooking and baking in a 1:1 ratio. When used in baking, decrease the liquid by 3 to 4 tablespoons per 1 cup substitution.  If no liquid is called for in the recipe, add about 1 tablespoon of additional flour for every ¼ cup of maple syrup.

Iowa’s maple syrup season generally begins in late February or early March and runs 4 to 6 as six weeks. Warm daytime temperatures and cold nights are needed for the sap to flow; the season ends when the trees begin to bud. If you are looking for some early-spring family fun, a number of groups have planned events and demonstrations across the state to allow nature lovers of all ages to take part in this unique agricultural activity. Below is a listing of a few.  Registration and fees may be required and pancakes and maple syrup might be included with some events.

Botna Bend Park, Hancock, TBA

Hartman Reserve Nature Center, Cedar Falls, TBA

Mahaska County Environmental Learning Center, Oskaloosa, TBA

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, March 23-24, 2024

Events are also planned in Minnesota.  For a complete listing, check out the Minnesota DNR website.

Resources:

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Baby-Led Weaning

My son, Thomas, recently reached a milestone – he tired his 100th food at 10 months of age. You may wonder how this concept of introducing a baby to 100 foods came about. Early last November I was very pregnant, listening to Katie Ferraro, RD, speak at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual meeting on Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and the first 100 foods approach. Her presentation solidified that this was the approach I wanted to take when feeding our baby. I will admit I was a bit intimated but was ready for the challenge.

What is BLW?

Weaning is the process of babies transitioning from milk/formula to food. In the traditional method of weaning parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting with baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods to thicker purees, to chunky purees, and eventually solid food. BLW is the process of allowing babies to learn how to feed themselves as they transition from milk/formula to eating solid foods1. From the beginning, we have offered Thomas solid foods (non-pureed, whole) alongside some purees that he has feed to himself. Occasionally we will help load his spoon with food (pre-load), but he will bring the spoon to his mouth. In BLW, baby is offered the same foods as everyone else but with a texture that is modified to be soft enough for his/her developmental age2.

We enjoy having Thomas eat with us at mealtimes and that we can eat alongside him while he feeds himself, rather than one of us having to spoon feed him.

Why BLW?

My husband and I chose to do BLW with Thomas for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it aligns closely with the Ellyn Satter principles on childhood feeding. In the Ellyn Satter approach, the role of the parent is to decide when and what nutritious food to provide, and the role of the child is to decide what and how much of that food they want to eat3. We let Thomas decide if he wanted to eat what we provided him and when he was full. This allowed him to practice honoring his hunger and fullness cues from day one of beginning solids. Introducing Thomas to 100 foods has exposed him to a wide variety of tastes and textures. When he becomes more selective (aka picky) and decides there are 10-15 foods he doesn’t like to eat, we still have 85-90 other foods to offer him. Some studies have shown BLW babies are less fussy and less picky eaters4. Thirdly, it allowed us to expose Thomas to allergenic foods; he successfully tried all the top allergens (egg, peanut, tree nut, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat). Scientific evidence supporting the early introduction of top allergenic foods during infancy for the prevention of food allergies has grown. In fact, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend offering top allergens early and often starting around 6 months of age (in conversation with the pediatrician if babies are at high risk for food allergies)5. For additional benefits and research on BLW, check out the article, Baby-Led Weaning: An Approach to Introducing Solid Foods to Infants from Utah State University Extension.

We started BLW with Thomas when he was six months old. The World Health Organization recommends babies be exclusively breastfed or formula fed until 6 months of age6. Once baby is 6 months old and is showing signs of readiness, complementary foods (foods offered in complement to breastmilk/formula) can start being offered.

Signs of readiness:

  • Baby can sit up unsupported7.
  • Baby can grasp food in hands and move it to mouth7.
  • Absence of tongue thrust 8.
  • Baby makes attempts at chewing, can move food to back of mouth and swallow.

How to Make BLW Work?

First, I did my homework. I read the book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide, to educate myself on BLW. The book taught me more about appropriate food sizes and textures (as well inappropriate foods) to offer, what to expect at different ages of baby, how to adapt food, easy first foods, introducing a cup, and much more. I then printed off a calendar for each month from May – November 2022. Each day of the week was assigned a different category (Monday – fruit, Tuesday – starch, Wednesday – protein, Thursday – vegetable, Friday – challenge). I then filled in the calendar days with foods from the 100 foods list and placed it on our refrigerator.

I used an app called Solid Starts to help determine appropriate sizes and textures of various foods to offer Thomas. There are many recipe ideas you can find online for BLW; I often referred to ideas from my friend, Kara, who is also a dietitian, at Kara Hoerr Nutrition.

We also found several tools to be very handy, including a crinkle cut knife (made items easier for Thomas to grab), hardboiled egg slicer, full coverage bib, washable mat to put under Thomas’ high chair to make clean-up easier, silicone plates that suction to the highchair, and an adjustable footrest to add to our highchair (ours didn’t come with one and it is important to have baby’s feet supported when eating as it helps them maintain good posture and core strength when eating). Living in rural Iowa, some food items (like peanut puffs) where hard to find. Shopping online helped us find products we weren’t able to locate in local stores. And finally, we explained the approach and solicited help from other who feed Thomas. This included our childcare provider and his grandparents.

Does BLW Increase Choking Risk?

A common misconception related to BLW is that this approach increases choking risk. However, studies show that when parents are educated on food sizing and texture, BLW does not increase the likelihood of choking9. Additional studies indicate that BLW babies are no more likely to choke than babies who are spoon fed10, 11, 12. To make sure I felt prepared for any situation, I took an online CPR/AED course through the American Red Cross. It reviewed a variety of topics, including choking for infants, children, and adults. I also posted CPR and choking information inside one of our kitchen cabinets so it can easily be accessed in the event of an emergency. The Utah State University Extension article offers the safety precautions listed below to help reduce the risk of choking.

How to prevent choking:

  • Ensure your baby is always sitting upright during feedings.
  • Make sure the food presented is in the proper shape, size, and texture for the baby.
  • Cut food into long strips they can grab in their fists.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food8.

Our BLW journey has been full of learning, fun, and messes (lots and lots of messes)! If you are thinking about this feeding approach for your baby, I would recommend you do your homework and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Make sure to contact us at AnswerLine if we can be of help.

______________________________________

Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. 

Resources:

  1. Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-Led Weaning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Experiment.
  2. Rapley, G. A. (2018). Baby-led weaning: Where are we now? Nutrition Bulletin, 43(3), 262–268. doi.org/10.1111/nbu.12338
  3. Satter, E. (2012). How to get your kid to eat: But not too much. Chicago, IL: Bull Publishing Company.
  4. Fu, X., Conlon, C. A., Haszard, J. J., Beck, K. L., von Hurst, P. R., Taylor, R. W., & Heath, A.-L. M. (2018). Food fussiness and early feeding characteristics of infants following Baby-Led Weaning and traditional spoon-feeding in New Zealand: An internet survey. Appetite, 130, 110–116. doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.07.033
  5. 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf.  
  6. World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding. (2018, February 16). Retrieved September 21, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infant-and-young-child-feeding.
  7. Rapley, G. (2015). Baby-led weaning: The theory and evidence behind the approach. Journal of Health Visiting, 3(3), 144–151. doi.org/10.12968/johv.2015.3.3.144
  8. Schilling, L., & Peterson, W. J. (2017). Born to eat: whole, healthy foods from baby’s first bite. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
  9. Brown, Amy E. “No Difference in Self-Reported Frequency of Choking Between Infants Introduced to Solid Foods Using a Baby-Led Weaning or Traditional Spoon-Feeding Approach.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 31, no. 4 (December 2017): 496-504. Doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528.
  10. Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A.-L. M., Williams, S. M., Williams, L. W. E., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., … Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772
  11. Pesch, D. (2019). Introducing complementary foods in infancy. Contemporary Pediatrics, 36(1), 6.
  12. Rapley, G. (2011). Baby-led weaning: transitioning to solid foods at the baby’s own pace. Community Practitioner, 84(6), 5.

Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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September is National Honey Month

‘Tis the month to celebrate all things HONEY!  The National Honey Board declared September as National Honey Month in 1989 to promote the beekeeping industry and honey as a natural and beneficial sweetener.  Honey is a great sweetener for many reasons.  However, it is important to note that honey is more than a sweetener and has a long history so let the celebrations begin!

Honey History

Honey dates back centuries.  In 2012, archaeologists discovered what is believed to be the world’s oldest honey in a ceramic jar in Georgia (Eastern European country) which is estimated by scientists to be about 5,500 years old.  However, honey was used long before this and may have a life of millions of years.  Beekeeping apiculture dates to at least 700 BC.  Documentation has been found showing that ancient Egyptians sacrificed honey to their river gods, Roman’s slathered honey on wounds, Alexander the Great was embalmed with honey, and honey was used as a form of currency in Europe.  There are also numerous ancient references to mead, or honey wine, which is the world’s oldest known fermented beverage.

Honey Uses

Honey, as a sweetener, has many health benefits.  Besides being loaded with minerals, vitamins and important enzymes, honey is a natural, healthy energy booster. It is an immune system builder and has both antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-tumor properties. Honey has a healthy glycemic index which means that can be absorbed into the bloodstream gradually resulting in better digestion.  For more detailed information on the nutritional value of honey over table sugar, see Benefits of Honey by Michigan State University.  Honey is denser than sugar. One tablespoon of honey has 69 calories compared to 48 calories in one tablespoon of processed white sugar.  When using honey as a sweetener begin substitutions by replacing the amount of sugar called for in the recipe with half the amount of honey.  Honey can be substituted in equal measure for other liquid sweeteners such as sorghum, molasses, or maple syrup.  Learn more about cooking with honey from All About Honey.

Bee pollen is another important substance found in honey. Bee pollen may provide some relief for those who suffer with seasonal allergies since it contains trace amounts of pollen. Daily trace amounts of pollen may help reduce the symptoms of pollen-related allergies by inoculating the individual.  When used as an inoculant, it is very important that the honey be purchased locally since that is where the allergens are located.

While some of the health benefits of honey have been discussed, the many uses of honey is extensive.  For more honey uses, take a look at some suggestions for honey outside of the kitchen by Sioux Honey™.

Honey Safety and Storage

The primary food safety issue related to honey is infant botulism. Because infants have an immature digestive tract, the spores of the Clostridium bacteria (the pathogen of botulism) have ample
time and environment to produce toxins which may result in infant botulism. Therefore, babies under the age of 1 should not eat honey.

In general, honey is safe for adults and children older than the age of 1.  Mature digestive systems move the toxins through the body before they can cause harm.  Those allergic to honey should avoid it. 

Honey has a very low water content and high acidity, which usually inhibits the growth of bacteria.  However, honey is hydroscopic, which means it draws in moisture. Moisture in honey can create favorable conditions for mold and yeast growth.  To prevent such, honey should be stored in a clean, airtight container and preferably away from light.  When stored properly, honey will remain safe indefinitely. Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, is refrigerated, or is frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm honey in any way. To convert crystallized honey to a liquid form, place the opened honey jar in a heat-safe container of approximately 1-2 inches of hot (not boiling) water. Crystals will begin to disappear; stir as needed. Be careful not to overheat honey; excessive heat can cause honey to change color and flavor.

According to National Honey Board trivia, a single worker honeybee produces approximately 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime. That means around 22,700 bees are needed to fill a single jar of honey!   So celebrate the benefits of honey, the bees that make it, those who work in the honey and bee industry, and enjoy the sweet nectar of their labor!

Sources:

Infant Botulism. Nemours Kids Health.  Medically reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD, Date reviewed: March 2023. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/botulism.html

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Eatin’ the GREEN in March and Beyond

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and green is the theme. March is a good time to “go green” by adding more GREEN fruits and vegetables to our daily diet and reap the benefits of better health by eating GREEN —fresh green foods, that is!

Jam-packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals, green fruits and vegetables are some of the healthiest produce nature has given us. Here’s why.

Green fruits and vegetables are:
– Nutritional power house foods, especially dark green leafy vegetables,
– Loaded with Vitamins—A (as Beta Carotene), B6, C, E and K*,
– Loaded with minerals—calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium,
– Contain antioxidants to fight free radicals and reduce cancer risk,
– Contain health-promoting phytochemicals (from the green color pigment chlorophyll) such as lutein for eye health and reducing age-related macular degeneration (AMD),
– Typically low in calories and high in fiber – dark green leafy vegetables top out at only 10 to 25 calories per half-cup serving, and
– Easily incorporated into diet raw or incorporated into soups, stews, salads, stir fries, casseroles, and so much more.

There are plenty of green fruits and vegetables to choose from. Some of the best nutrient-packing greens to incorporate into your diet to feel your ‘green’ in a good way include:

Kale
Spinach
Avocado
Green Peppers
Asparagus
Green Beans
Peas
Broccoli
Leafy green lettuce
Collard greens, Swiss Chard
Bok Choy
Green grapes
Kiwi
Green apples
Honeydew melon

Fun tips to get green foods into your diet:

  • Add bright green vegetables to a party tray.
  • Add a green salad as a side dish to lunch or dinner using lots of greens, green peppers, green onions, etc.
  • Make the color pop in broccoli and green peas by blanching them briefly in boiling water, then put them into ice water to stop the cooking process. This enhances the green color to make those vegetables more appetizing.
  • Include kiwi fruit, green grapes and/or honeydew melon in your fruit salad.
  • Add avocado slices to toast, salads and sandwiches. To maintain the green color, eat avocados immediately or sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice. 2 tablespoons of avocado have about 5 grams of fat which is mostly heart-healthy Omega-3 monounsaturated fat.
  • Enjoy your favorite veggie dip with broccoli florets, pea pods, and celery or a favorite fruit dip with green apple slices.
  • Make a vegetable pizza with green peppers, asparagus, and/or spinach.
  • Serve thinly sliced green onions over rice, pasta, broiled or baked fish or soups.
  • Add sautéed spinach and kale to egg dishes or fresh spinach and kale to smoothies.
  • Stir-fry with bok choy, collard greens, or Swiss chard.
  • Roast broccoli and/or asparagus with other veggies.

Additional green ideas include spinach noodles, green vegetable soufflés and omelets; parsley garnish; pesto; cream of broccoli, celery, or spinach soup; finely diced spinach, kale, or green onions in chicken noodle, rice or orzo soups; or glazed kiwi over cake. For recipes and other tips, visit UNL Extension.

March is a good time to start the “go green foods” trend and enjoy the many health benefits from eating something GREEN!

*Limit intake of greens containing Vitamin K if you are taking blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin®). Eating too many foods rich in Vitamin K reduces warfarin’s effectiveness and may cause more clotting in the body.  [1]

Sources:
Go for the GREEN on St. Patrick’s Day, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Food
1Warfarin Diet:  What Foods Should I Avoid?, Mayo Clinic, 2021
Eat Green for a Healthy St Patrick’s Day and Beyond, Utah State University Extension, 2016

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Meet the Flours – Alternative Flours

Holiday baking is in full swing.  For most baking, flour is a requirement.  An assortment of wheat flours and alternative flours line our supermarket shelves.  For most baking, all-purpose wheat flour is a good choice.  Why then, do we have so many choices? If there’s anything we’ve learned over the last few years, artisanal baking trends, baking blogs, and tv shows have pushed consumers to open their minds to options beyond using traditional wheat flour. With the popularity of clean living, functional food, ancient grains, and grain-based or gluten-free lifestyles, we’re getting better at expanding our horizons when it comes to flours and using them to bake successfully.

A previous blog discussed wheat flours for baking as well as the protein content of the various wheat flours and how they affect baked products.  Gluten is the protein most often associated with wheat flour making dough elastic and stretchy and trapping gas within baked goods to provide a light and airy structure. Baking with alternative flours that are gluten free or low in gluten can be challenging. This blog will focus on demystifying some of the various alternative flours and how to best use them with wheat flours, alone, or blended with other gluten-free flours for baking.

The variety of alternative flours ground from various grains, nuts, seeds, roots, vegetables and even fruits available to today is expanding and ever changing. While alternative flours are a must for those with gluten allergies, they are also a great option for adding nutrients to many recipes. Depending on need for a lower-calorie, higher protein or nutrition, resistant starch, gluten-free, or easily digested flour, there is an alternative flour to meet nearly anyone’s needs. Alternative flours are of three types—1) grained-based, containing gluten; 2) grain-based, containing no gluten; 3) nut-, seed-, root-, vegetable- or fruit-based, containing no gluten. 

Grain-based, Gluten Flours

In this group we find rye, barley, spelt,  khorasan,  emmereinkorn, and triticale, Like wheat, these grain flours are commercially-available as whole flours (containing the grain’s endosperm, germ and bran) or as refined flours (endosperm only).  While these grain-based flours contain protein and the gluten protein, they are low in gluten.  To be successful in baking, they need the help of wheat flour or other ingredients to give them structure.  They add nutrition, flavor, and interesting textures to baked goods when used. 

Rye flour is likely the most used of these gluten-containing alternative flours; it is sold in both medium and dark varieties.  Rye adds a nutty flavor to baked goods as well as enhancing the flavor of chocolate, ginger, caramel, brown butter, cinnamon, and other similar ingredients.  Rye’s chemistry is different than that of wheat, most notably in that it can retain much more moisture for a longer amount of time due to its complex sugar (pentosans) and enzyme (amylases) composition. When rye is added to baked goods, those products stay fresh longer than those made with all-purpose flour. [1]  Most commonly, barley is used as an add-in ingredient in a baked good for fiber.  Spelt contains enough gluten to be substituted for wheat flours yet some people who have an intolerance or allergy to wheat, find that they can tolerate spelt.  Khorasan and emmer are ancient grains. Einkorn is similar to durum wheat and turns baked products yellow due to its high carotene content. Triticale flour is a cross between durum, rye, and red winter wheat and must be used with a high-gluten wheat flour.

Grain-based, Gluten-free Flours

It’s important to note that a gluten-free grain doesn’t mean that it is gluten-free.  Flours or food products can still have trace amounts of gluten when made in a facility where equipment is shared with gluten grains.  This can be problematic with those affected by gluten intolerance or celiac so it is important to know and trust the source of gluten-free products. 

Most of the gluten-free flours do not do well on their own so are often blended for best flavor and texture in baked products.  There are a variety of 1:1 gluten-free flours (cup-for-cup swap of wheat flour to gluten-free flour in any traditional recipe) on the market.  Each company has a slightly different blend but usually contain some combination of rice flour, potato starch, sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. There are also numerous DIY recipes for those who like to make their own.  Gluten-free flours need binding agents such as xanthan gum, arrowroot powder, eggs, or flax added to the mix to provide structure similar to gluten.  If you purchase a commercial flour blend, read the ingredient list to see if xanthan or guar gum has been added; if so, there is no need to add more. If xanthan is not in the mix, ½-1 teaspoon per cup of flour should be added.  For additional information and tips on gluten-free baking, please refer to Gluten Free Baking by Colorado State University Extension. For best success with first-time, gluten-free baking, it is recommended to use recipes using flours of interest.

Table of Grained-based Gluten-free Flours

Grain-based Gluten-free Flour  CharacteristicsHow to Use in Baking (Substituting or Replacing Wheat Flour or 1:1 Gluten-free Baking Flour)1 cup Wheat Flour Conversion
AmaranthHigh in protein, lysine, fiber, and iron
Provide structure and binding Pleasant flavor  
Replace up to ¼ of the flour in most recipes; can be used alone for biscuits and cookies; use ½ c/loaf in combination with wheat flour for bread1 cup
BuckwheatGluten-free despite name; technically a seed used as a grain (pseudo grain)
Rich in B-vitamins, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants
Strong flavor
Replace ¼ of flour. Best used in pancakes, yeast breads, cookies, muffins, scones, biscuits in combination with neutral flours1 cup
CornSweet, earthy flavor when baked
May be yellow, white, or blue
Versatile flour
Milled from flour corn (corn meal or masa harina is not the same)
Can be used alone for spoon breads, chess pie, corn cake; substitute no more than 1 part corn flour to 4 parts flour1 cup
MilletColor similar to cornmeal
Delicate sweet, nut-like flavor
Similar protein structure to wheat
Can be substituted 1:1 for flour; best used in combination with other flours for breads and muffins1 cup
OatSweet, toasty, nutty flavor
Good source of protein
Lightens, adds ‘chew’ to baked products Ability to absorb liquid helps keep baked goods moist  
Combine with other flours to achieve desired results1 1/3 cup
QuinoaGood source of protein, folate, copper, iron, and fiber
Mild, slightly nutty flavor
Substitute ½ flour or completely replace in cookie and cake recipes; blend with other flours for best flavor; use in pasta  1 cup
RiceWhite and brown varieties
Brown contains rice bran and germ; has a nuttier flavor
Absorbs liquid producing sticky doughs
Commonly used in Asian cooking
Use 1 part rice flour to 4 parts flour;
combine with other flours to achieve desired results
7/8 cup
SorghumSweet nutty flavor
High in nutrition
Add 15% to 25% to flour mixes to add flavor to breads, cakes, and cookies1 cup
TeffLeads all grains in calcium
High in resistant starch
Mild to earthy flavor
Substitute ¼ of the flour in any recipe  7/8 cup

Nut-, Seed-, Root-, Vegetable- or Fruit-based Gluten-free Flours   

Flours made from nuts, seeds, roots, vegetables and fruits provide interesting tastes, textures, and nutritional compositions to food made with them. While they can be used on their own or in combination with other flours, they are often times used as add-ins for taste or texture or to improve nutrition, digestion, or keeping qualities.  Like gluten-free grain flours, binders are needed in baking.  The table below is only a listing of the most common flours in this group as there are many and new ones continually come onto the scene. 

Table of Nut-, Seed-, Root-, Vegetable-, Fruit-based Gluten-free Flours

Nut-, Vegetable-, Fruit, Root-based Flours  CharacteristicsHow to Use in Baking (Substituting or Replacing Wheat Flour or 1:1 Gluten-free Baking Flour)1 cup Wheat Flour Conversion
AlmondMade from blanched almonds; slightly gritty
Low carbohydrate content
Good source of protein, Vitamin E, healthy fats, and fiber
Use in combination with other flours for texture and flavor; works well in cakes, cookies, sweet breadsN/A
BananaMade from green, unripe bananas
High level of resistant starch
Does not taste like bananas
Readily absorbs liquid; results in heavier baked goods
Versatile for baking and thickening.  Use 2 teaspoons baking powder per cup flour to get baked goods to rise.¾ cup
CassavaDerived from the root of the cassava or yucca plant; processing removes cyanide
High in carbohydrates, manganese, Vitamin C
Most similar to wheat flour of all gluten-free flours; never eat raw
Mild, neutral flavor; not gritty
Easy to digest; reduces insulin need
1:1 substitute with all flours; best used in combination with wheat flour for yeast breadsN/A
ChickpeaAlso known as garbanzo bean flour
Good source of protein and fiber
Use in combination with other flours for texture and flavor; works well in dense cakes, biscuits, brownies and quick unleavened breads7/8 cup
CoconutRich in manganese, protein, fiber, fat
Dried coconut meat; byproduct of coconut milk Slightly gritty
Highly absorbent
Naturally sweet coconut flavor
Can replace up to 20% of flour in most recipes; requires the addition of an equivalent amount of liquid. Every ¼ cup coconut flour requires one egg for structure and moisture.¼ cup
PotatoGround from dehydrated potatoes
Neutral flavor
Attracts and holds water; aids in producing moist yeast bread and rolls
Use in combination with other flours; for optimal results with wheat flour:  substitute up to 25% for baked goods, 15% for yeast leavened products; to avoid clumping, mix with sugar5/8 cup
Soy/SoyaDerived from soybeans Slightly sweet, musty flavor Improve shelf life of baked goods1 part soy/soya to 4 parts flour; increases browning so reduce oven temperature 25⁰F¾ cup
TapiocaStarchy extract of the cassava root
Starchy, slightly sweet flavor Excellent thickener
Use ¼ to ½ cup per recipe to sweeten breads made with rice and millet flour; great thickener for pie fillings1 cup
Other NutPecan, Walnut, Hazelnut, Filbert, and ChestnutSimilar to Almond 
Other VeggieFava, GarFava, Lentil, Bean, PeaSimilar to Chickpea 

Sources:
Beyond the Standard Flour, Laura Anderson, Michigan State University Extension, https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/beyond_the_standard_flour
GF Baking Tips & Hints, https://theheritagecook.com/gluten-free-3/gluten-free-baking-tips-and-hints/
Types of Flour Used in Baking, Sarah Bastin, University of Kentucky, https://fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/sites/fcs-hes.ca.uky.edu/files/12ssc_typesflourpub.pdf
Gluten Free Baking, F. Watson, M. Stone, and M. Bunning, Colorado State University Extension, https://foodsmartcolorado.colostate.edu/recipes/cooking-and-baking/gluten-free-baking/
Baker Pedia, https://bakerpedia.com/

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Eggs are Egg-cellent

May is a month to celebrate the arrival of spring, mothers, graduations, the men and women who have died in military service, and the incredible EGG!  

May is National Egg Month and an opportunity to not only recognize the qualities and versatility of eggs, but also to acknowledge our egg farmers! Iowa ranks No. 1 in the nation for egg production producing more than 17.1 BILLION eggs annually from more than 58 million laying hens. Together with Ohio and Indiana (2nd and 3rd producers), the three states produce a third of the total US eggs.[1]

Here is a reminder of ALL of the egg-cellent reasons to celebrate eggs.

Nutrition

Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.  They are loaded with nutrients, some of which are rare in the modern diet.  One large egg has varying amounts of 13 essential vitamins and minerals and 6 grams of high-quality protein containing all the essential amino acids that humans need.  For as many nutrients as they have, eggs are a relatively low-calorie food with just 70+ calories in a large egg. There are no carbohydrates or sugars, and only 5 grams of healthy fat (7 percent of your daily recommended intake).  Eggs are a source of choline, a nutrient that most people don’t even know exists, yet it is an incredibly important substance used to build cell membranes and produce signaling molecules in the brain along with various other functions.  A single egg contains more than 100 mg of choline.  Eggs are also an important source of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are very important for eye health and can help prevent macular degeneration and cataracts in older adults.

It is true that eggs are high in cholesterol. In fact, a single egg contains 212 mg which is over half of the recommended daily intake of 300 mg. However, it’s important to know that numerous recent studies show that cholesterol in the diet doesn’t necessarily raise cholesterol in the blood for the majority of people.  In fact, egg consumption consistently leads to elevated levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and appears to change LDL (bad) particles from small dense harmful particles to large particles. Elevated HDL lowers our risk to many diseases and large particle LDL reduce risk of heart disease. 

Not all eggs are created equal. Egg nutrient composition varies due to how the hens are fed and raised and is usually reflected in the color of the yolk.  Eggs from hens raised on grass and sunshine and/or fed omega-3 enriched feeds tend to be higher in omega-3 fatty acids.  Studies show that consuming omega-3 enriched eggs is an effective way to lower blood triglycerides. 

The color of an egg’s shell has nothing to do with the nutrition; all eggs, no matter the color, are packed with the same protein and nutrients on the inside.   The different colors, or the presence of spots or speckling, come from the genetics or breed of the hen.  All eggs start out as white.  Eggs that are not white have pigments deposited on them as the egg travels through the hen’s oviduct. Brown eggs tend to be more expensive which leads people to falsely believe that they are more nutritious or better in some way. Actually the high cost is due to the maintenance of the hens.  Brown chickens are usually larger than the white breeds and require more food to make an egg justifying an increase in cost over white eggs.

Inexpensive and Easy to Prepare

Eggs are pretty much nature’s perfect food. Beyond the nutritional benefits, they are usually cheap, easy to prepare, go with almost any food, and taste awesome.  Eggs have gained the reputation of a go-to breakfast food but can be enjoyed in so many different ways throughout the day as a protein source in other meals or as a snack; they make an excellent breakfast or anytime food as they not only provide nutrition but also increase satiety thereby reducing the hunger craving.

Eggs can be prepared in many ways – fried, scrambled, soft boiled, hard boiled, poached, baked, or microwaved.  Cooking eggs makes the protein in them more digestible. It also helps make the vitamin biotin more available for your body to use.   (Raw eggs should be avoided unless they are pasteurized according to the USDA; raw eggs may contain Salmonella, a pathogenic bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.)  When cooking eggs, avoid high heat and over-cooking to prevent denaturing of the protein and retain as many nutrients as possible.

Essential Ingredient

Eggs are an essential ingredient in baking and cooking, too, as they serve many functions in recipes. While there are alternatives to eggs for baking and cooking, the unique structures of the yolks and whites make eggs the perfect ingredient for baking and cooking functions. Depending upon how they are used in a recipe, eggs can provide structure, leavening, tenderizing, moisture, flavor, color, nutrition, or thickening properties to baked and cooked foods.  They also act as an emulsifier bridging waters and fats.

One doesn’t have to look too far to find alternative uses for eggs or eggshells. They are used in the cosmetic industry and at home as a hair conditioner and face mask.  They also make a great DIY glue, fertilizer, seed cup, cleaning agent, pest repellant, and more. 

Use May’s 31 days to celebrate the easily served treat that contributes to muscle strength, brain function, eye health, and weight management. Whether hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, or over-easy, a healthy egg dish will always leave you feeling “sunny side up.”

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Cashews, Not Really a Nut

Cashews are not really nuts in the true sense, but rather a drupe seed–a seed from a fruit.  Even though cashews are not technically nuts, we use and enjoy them as such. 

Cashew nut fruits growing on tree

Cashews grow on the cashew tree (genus Anacardium Anacardium) a tropical evergreen tree native to South America. The tree produces a “false fruit” known as the cashew apple. The fruit resembles a small bell pepper being yellow to red in color.  At the base of the fruit is a kidney-bean-shaped hard shell with a single seed inside–the cashew nut.

Cashews are gown in many parts of the world with origin in Brazil.  However, Vietnam is the largest producer of cashew nuts followed by India; cashews are a valuable agricultural commodity for both counties.  The cashew nut industry in these countries (and other producing countries) provide vital year-round employment to millions of people, especially women.  Extracting the nut from its shell is labor intense and requires a skilled workforce of which 90% are women who are paid meager wages. 

Following harvest, the shells are roasted and dried to make extracting the nut easier.  Removing the nut from the shell is the most difficult step in processing.  It is either done by hand or machine, but in either case, it is one shell at a time.  When done by hand, the workers beat the shell with a mallet in just the right way to release the nut unscathed.  If mechanical shelling machines are used, the shells are feed into the machines one at a time to split the shells; however, since the shells vary in size and shape, there is breakage so machines are not a perfect solution.  As a result manual processing is generally favored for nut perfection.  However, Vietnam has been successful at mechanizing the process and, thereby, have increased production rates and decreased the labor force.

Another concern in cracking the shell, is the reddish-brown oil that oozes from the shell composed of various phenolic lipids.  It is an irritant like that found in poison ivy causing skin burns and sores and other health issues if workers come in contact with it.  Following splitting, the nuts require tedious peeling and cleaning before moving along to grading, quality control, fumigation, and packaging.

And what about the cashew apple?  The apple has a sweet flavor but a limited shelf life so it is not a marketable commodity in its fresh state.  However, it is available in local markets and has value as a fresh food, cooked in curries, fermented into vinegar and used to make preserves, chutneys, and jams.  In India, it is fermented and distilled to make an alcoholic drink known as feni.  The apples are also used for medicinal purposes.

Cashews are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber; they may be used interchangeably with other nuts in a variety of culinary applications, including trail mix, stir-fries, granola, nut butter, and nut dairy products.  Like most nuts, cashews may also help improve overall health. They’ve been linked to benefits like weight loss by boosting metabolism, improving blood sugar control, strengthening the immune system, and contributing to heart health.

Cashews are generally a safe addition to most diets.  One should keep in mind that roasted or salted cashews contain added oils or salt. For this reason, it may be best to opt for unsalted, dry roasted instead.  People with tree nut allergies should avoid them as they are classified as tree nuts along with Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts.  Some people have trouble with bloating; soaking nuts overnight will help with nutrient absorption and digestibility.  When eaten in large quantities, cashews can cause kidney damage due to a relatively high oxalate content.  However, in moderation (true of all nuts), such is not likely.  One serving of cashews is 1 ounce and contains about 18 nuts, 157 calories, and about 9 grams of carbohydrate largely in the form of starch1.

Enjoy cashews with a new appreciation to those who grow, harvest, and process the drupes; it is a laborious farm-to-table process. And maybe after knowing a little about cashews and how they come to us, they don’t seem so expensive after all.

Source:
1The Health Benefits of Nuts. Cleveland Clinic.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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